Yuletide in Lord of the Rings Online

I haven’t had a chance to play LotRO much lately because of the holidays, but yesterday I managed to get on for awhile. I trekked from west of Bree to the Shire, partly finishing a quest for Celandine Brandybuck in the process. The Shire is an amazing location and I love exploring it. The sights are fascinating…especially the Hill and the surrounding environs there. The plots of a certain ill-meaning hobbit up that way came to my attention, and of course I did something about it.

The end result was I finished a level 1 quest chain with a very entertaining storyline and got a Yule Tree yard decoration for my efforts.

If anyone hasn’t done this quest yet, I highly recommend it. Lots of fun!

Minstrels in green linen

My guild, the irreproachable Crescent Order, has seen fit to grace me with a full outfit of custom-crafted light armor and a new cloak. All of it is a verdant hue, with intricate patterns weaved into the cloak. My armor score shot up something like 50 points, heh.

I didn’t get around to composing music as I thought I would. I got distracted by SOE reenabling my Star Wars Galaxies account for a trial week. My greatest accomplishment in either game, though, was reaching 13 with Ceolrigan. I didn’t spend a lot of time in-game.

That said, a quest that was giving me a lot of trouble – defending a hobbit by name of Constable Bolger from waves of attacking bandits – was finally completed last night. Just as I was about to be defeated again by the bandits, a level 28 guardian came by and killed all of them for me. It was a happy moment, heh. He disappeared before I could thank him properly.

Web standards, browsers, and the future of the web

Recently, the CSS working group and the W3C in general have come under fire as Opera launches an assault on Microsoft. A counterculture of pro-proprietary technology advocates has risen up against the web standards movement. The web standards crowd has responded with fire and passion, sending up a rallying cry against what they see as a return to the browser wars of the ’90s. All of this begs the question – what are we really trying to do with web standards and the Web in general? James Bennett asks the same question, though more eloquently and with greater background than I present here.

The point of the World Wide Web is to provide people with information. It used to be nothing more spectacular than that. The type of information varied – marketing, scientific studies, news, etc. – but it was all information. With the advent of RIA technologies and new usage of the Web, though, that’s starting to change. People are starting to do more than just research and purchase on the Web. The lines between desktop applications and web pages are blurring.

With AIR, Flex, JavaFX, Silverlight, and other possible vehicles for innovative usage of the Web proliferating like mad, we are left with the question – what can’t we do with the Web? That question is what drives research and innovation in the Web. It doesn’t play as much of a factor, though, in industrial and commercial common usage. For example, when was the last time you overheard any non-developer talking about Web 2.0 or rich internet applications? How many people actually know about and use Google Docs? I’d be willing to wager that not many outside our world do. That will change in the future, of course, as clever and useful new technologies frequently are wont to be adopted.

However, it seems that we – that is, web developers and other Internet professionals – often confuse research with production. The development of other new technologies, such as integrated graphene circuits, is kept largely out of the public eye. While not expressly hidden, there is no attempt made to put such bleeding-edge breakthroughs into immediate public usage.

Web standards and the development of proprietary Web technology is slightly different, but not much. Web standards are supposedly akin to such things as the Railway Group Standards in that they make the Web easier and “safer” to use and develop for. By taking away the difficulties inherent in producing for multiple different platforms, web standards allow developers to spend their time innovating in more specific ways.

The problem is that web standards are not keeping up with technological development, and so developers on the cutting edge are not able to utilize new technologies without resorting to proprietary platforms. Many developers give up on web standards so that they can implement the latest and greatest products of the commercial or open source worlds. I personally would love to see XHTML taken beyond its HTML4.01 roots; the WHATWG tends to agree with me on this. However, with the current leadership of web standards, that simply isn’t possible.

We need new standards. The W3C is not keeping up with the pace of development, and therefore should either be revamped or replaced.

The Lord of the Rings Online: Introducing Ceolrigan

The first MMORPG I ever played was Everquest I. I bought the game at the insistence of some friends when I was living in New Zealand and loaded it onto my PC. I created my character and started killing bees. And more bees. And more bees.

It bored the hell out of me. I uninstalled it after a day of playing and gave the game, and my account, to another friend. That “friend” still owes me money (unrelated event), but that’s a story for another time.

Around the same time I read Lord of the Rings cover to cover – 1100 pages – in two weeks. It fundamentally changed how I viewed fantasy. Back to that in a bit.

In July of 2003, I played my second MMORPG ever: Star Wars Galaxies. I had belonged to a pre-release guild for over a year at that point and was absolutely enthralled by the game for over two years. SWG was different from any other game I’d seen before, and while the grind was still present, it was present in a form that was enjoyable.

Of course, we all know what happened in 2005 to SWG. It doesn’t bear repeating here. I kept playing off and on after that, but eventually (2007) I permanently canceled my account.

Over the years since 2004, I’ve been playing various other MMORPGs in an attempt to recapture some of the enjoyment I experienced when first trying SWG. The list is long, and none held my interest for longer than a few months at most. World of Warcraft holds the record for second-longest played MMORPG for me, but I never got beyond level 37 due to the return of the Bees Syndrome.

Enter Lord of the Rings Online.

I tried this game out on three separate occasions with three different trial accounts. The first two times, I was very impressed with the graphics and the epic feel of the introductory quest lines, but couldn’t get into it for reasons that now escape me. It probably had something to do with time commitments and absence of a guild.

The third time was different.

This summer I read most of the Silmarillion. I loved the flowery writing style, the epic tales, and relived the two weeks of Lord of the Rings that I’d experienced years before. This was after the second trial, but before the third, which started a mere week ago.

My “Third Age” of LOTRO trials finally bore the fruit promised so long ago by the creation of this online Middle Earth. And now, retail copy and subscription firmly in my hands, allow me to introduce the persona that may one day equal Scin Karetyr in my memory:

Ceolrigan of Rohan, Minstrel and Spider-Foe.

At time of this writing, Ceolrigan is a level 11 Minstrel dressed in stylish purple and blue garb. Regrettably, his weapon of choice at the moment is a not-particularly-attractive club; as soon as I acquire the necessary bronze, he’ll be properly wielding a longsword once again.

What is so enjoyable about playing Ceolrigan is the musical quality of combat. The various melodies that erupt from his lute during battle lend it a somewhat more fantastical quality than seems usual in MMOs.

More than that, he is a Historian. I’m a history graduate, so this naturally strikes me as ironic. I have yet to sample crafting in LOTRO, but if it’s as enjoyable as combat, then I’ll likely spend equal amounts of time doing both. My time as a Doctor, a Shipwright, and an Architect in SWG matched my time spent slaying Rebels and Ewoks. There’s nothing quite like a break from battle to make it seem all the more enticing.

I rejoined one of my old SWG guilds, the Crescent Order, as a member of their Kinship in LOTRO. They’re good people, and being in a good guild always makes for a more memorable MMO experience.

Last night, shortly before logging out of LOTRO for the night I discovered a player neighborhood. Player housing in LOTRO is much different from any other MMO’s housing scheme. It seems to combine features of EQ2’s instanced housing and SWG’s global housing. While the neighborhood is instanced, it contains an entire area with street names and numbers and, apparently, decoratable exteriors and yards. While the price of a house seems very high at my current level, it’s going to be one of my main goals to acquire and furnish such a place. I can see many entertaining player events taking place in neighborhoods and look forward to it with great enthusiasm.

Other than acquiring a house, my main goal in LOTRO is to experience the story. In retrospect, every time I cancel an MMO account, it has been because I had no clear goals. SWG lasted longest, but unfortunately the game simply didn’t provide enough incentives anymore to create goals. LOTRO gives me incentives, and it gives me gentle proddings in the general direction of leveling that are unusually well-hidden for an MMO. I actually enjoy leveling for once.

Over the next few days, weeks, months, and perhaps years I will be updating this blog with the adventures, misadventures, and musings of Ceolrigan of Rohan, as told by his player.