My First MMO? Neopets

I used to say Maple Story was my first MMO, even though it was quickly discarded for World of Warcraft. But before I picked up a staff and collected squishy liquid blobs in Maple Story, I played Neopets. I didn’t think about it as an MMO for a long time, but one day I must’ve had MMOs on the brain and saw something related to Neopets, and it clicked.

How Neopets looked when I used to play frequently!

Neopets was is an MMORPG.

Note: I’m not sure what tense to use here. Neopets still exists and the owning company has made some very small strides to attempt to move the flash-reliant site to something people can still play in modern browsers. But the experience is nowhere near the same as what it used to be. All this said, I’m going to go with “is” since it’s still technically around and parts of it are playable.

In case you’re not familiar, Neopets is a virtual pet website where users take care of digital pets called Neopets, buy and sell digital products with the in-game currency Neopoints which could be earned by playing flash games, and various other activities.

When I started writing this, blog post, I eventually realized I’d written over 1000 words about Neopets (the history, how I played, current drama) and thought it might make sense to attempt to split up my thoughts into multiple posts. But first, I want to continue the argument that Neopets is an MMO. I think it’s not usually categorized this way because you’re not moving a character around in a 3D space. You don’t really create a “character” per-say, instead you create and adopt Neopets and act as their caretaker. I still argue it fits the definition of MMO.

Aishas were my favorite because, come on, they look like cats!

It’s massively multiplayer. According to this undated Neopian Times article, there were, at one point, 60 million accounts. I have no idea if these were all active, or even what the peak active players was for the game. I remember active forums, guilds, and a steadily flowing economy. You compete with other players for game trophies and can duel them (or, your Neopets can dual their Neopets–it was more like Pokemon) in the battledome.

It is definitely online: the whole thing is played from a browser.

Neopets didn’t have roleplaying, per say, but there are likely forums and guilds dedicated to it. (It wasn’t something I participated in.) Like modern MMOs, it has as much or as little roleplaying as the player wants to put into it. It also has other features you’d commonly associate with MMOs: quests, battles, guilds, housing, and even daily activities users can do to earn Neopoints.

And it’s obviously a game. It’s a thing people play.

Faerie Bubles was my favorite mini game.

I think modern MMOs could learn a thing or two from Neopets. The game was sticky. I might do an entire post about the Neopets economy, which is above and beyond better than any other MMO I’ve played to date. The customization options are beyond the usuals like housing to teaching an entire generation HTML. (One way to tell the difference between an older and younger millennial is if they learned HTML on Neopets or MySpace.) It offers so much to do that you can pick and choose which aspects of the game interest you–there was something for just about everyone.

Perhaps that last part should be past tense–I’m not sure what you can still actually do in the game. I’ve poked around the revamped site a bit. It looks like Neopets finally adopted the Web 2.0 aesthetic with all the overly rounded corners and drop-shadows. It seems to have gone the way of other old MMOs, owned by a company that doesn’t really care about it and is ready to let it slowly decay with a few half-hearted attempts to keep it kicking.

I think Neopets deserves better. I’d love if Neopets were something I could show my 5-year-old, as a way to slowly introduce him to the internet. Neopets is like an old friend, one where you’ve both changed so much you hardly recognize them. One that you miss, even though they’re still around, because you miss the people you both used to be.

Cover image: Faerieland, one of the many zones (yes, let’s call them zones) in Neopets.

The screenshot of the old Neopets site I found at this blog post from someone who worked there for 12 years. I never played the poker game. Sorry.

Six Things I Love About New World (And Four Things I Don’t)

I’ve been playing New World. I’ve been wanting a new MMO to scratch my itch in just about forever, and this one seems to be doing the trick–at least for now. As with any game, there are things I love a lot, and things I love, well, a little bit less.

Six Things I Love

1. A World to Explore

I enjoy going off and exploring. New World seems to have ample opportunity for this, at least so far. I’m sure eventually I’ll see every nook and cranny, but for now I’m enjoying the journey. There are even town project missions you can do that are exploration based. I haven’t picked one up yet (I’ve been too busy crafting) but I’m looking forward to trying one!

2. A Creepy Atmosphere

Some of my favorite games aren’t horror, but they are creepy. Don’t Starve is probably the perfect example. It’s not a horror game, but it’s creepy. You don’t know what’s going to be around the next corner, or if the thing you find will be useful or harmful.

Most of the stuff in New World is useful, but it still has that “I could get hurt here and I don’t know what’s behind that boulder” feeling that I love. The sound effects in the game really make it–you can hear other players fighting in the distance.

3. Visual Appeal

Hi. My name is Alli, I can be a bit of a graphics snob. I don’t like voxels or anime-style graphics. I can dig pixels. I like things that are super stylized. And I like realistic, if it’s done well. It’s done well here. Combined with the incentives to explore and the game’s atmosphere, it’s definitely a place I want to spend time in.

Stopping to admire the view while hunting for iron

4. Gathering

One of my favorite things to do in MMOs is gather. In New World you could probably spend your entire time gathering. If there’s a tree, you can chop it. If there’s a boulder, you can mine it. If there’s a shrub, you can harvest it. Of course, certain things are rarer and more valuable than others. But I just love the fact that you can gather everything! It gives me even more incentive to explore.

I think I’m going to need a bigger bag.

5. Gathering, Though

This needs a second point because of how awesome it is. If you’re wandering around and someone is chopping down a tree, you can hear it. And you can see it falling. It might even fall over the path you’re walking on. (It would be extra fun if it gave you damage from falling on your head, but I haven’t seen that.)

6. A Good Place to Start

I liked the intro/tutorial. It was detailed enough to give me what I needed to play the game, but brief & entertaining enough that having to repeat it to create a new character doesn’t sound like pure torture.

Something I like about playing new games vs joining an older one years after launch is that older games tend to get bloated with various systems, many of which become useless as new ones are added in subsequent expansions. I’m not feeling any system overload yet–it’s at least spacing out the systems to new players in a way that’s manageable.

Three Things I Don’t

1. Locked Servers

When I initially made my character, I did some googling to find the unofficial RP server. I find people on RP servers to generally be more mature and not have incredibly irritating character names. Of course, the unofficial RP server was full. I joined a different server in the same server…cluster? I’m not sure of the official term. Amazon has a forum post on server transfers, but check out this line:

You cannot move your character to a full world.

So if I’m understanding correctly, I wont be able to transfer my character to the unofficial RP server if it’s still full. (How would a server become not full?) Or if I want to join Belghast but his server’s full, I’m still SOL. I don’t think I need to explain why this is terrible for the game. I think everyone gets it. Belghast’s post Fragmented Community digs into why this happened a bit more.

2. Somewhat Boring Storytelling

The quests aren’t that interesting. There does seem to be some stories and I’m enjoying some of the NPCs but the quests are very much of the “kill 10 rats” variety. Not my favorite. I am someone who cares about story, so this is an issue for me. I know this was originally designed as a PvP game and PvE was added later, so it makes sense that the quests seem like an afterthought. I’m hoping it’s something Amazon will improve on in the future. And don’t get me started on the factions–I need an entire post about why they’re fairly boring (at least early on in the game).

3. Lack of Character Customization

Alright, maybe I’m missing something. In which case, refile this under “confusing character customization.” And don’t interpret this as me saying the characters look bad. They look good.

But after selecting your face, that’s it for facial features. You can’t pick face 5 but change the nose. And there’s no body type selection, so you can’t make yourself fatter or thinner or taller or shorter, you just are. On top of everyone being a human, it makes everyone look kind of the same. Pretty sure, but boring.

Which leads me to my one question: I thought this game was supposed to have pistols! Come on, Amazon: where are my pistols?

Cover Image: Concept art for the game, via the official site.

We Bought A Switch

Months ago. Many months ago, we bought a Nintendo Switch.

We bought the Switch long before I decided to do Blaugust again, only to fizzle out three entries in and then not post a thing for the entire month of September. I’m not even sure when we bought the Switch, but now’s when I’m finally getting around to writing about it.

The Switch was mainly intended as something to do with Indy. We got into playing Super Nintendo Classic games with him before bed, and thought the Switch might be easier. It’s definitely easier on my back to play with a wireless controller!

We picked up three games with it: Super Mario 3D World, Super Mario Odyssey, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. (The Zelda game was for us.) We’ve since purchased Super Smash Bros, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Splatoon 2, and Mario Kart 8. The kid is, well, not particularly good at any of them, but he manages. I’m aware that one day he’ll surpass us and we’ll fondly look back at the time he handed the other parent the controller to get past something particularly difficult, or when we didn’t have to jump off the cliff several times so he could win Smash Brothers at least once.

We refer to this as “the kitty game” for obvious reasons.

“Remember when?” We’ll ask each other, when we slip on the banana he left yards ago as a rushes into the finish line in Mario Kart. Remember when he would play upside-down and stop looking at the screen?

I got so fed up at playing Luigi’s Mansion 3 with him I started watching Lego Masters instead. We’re almost finished with season 2 so I’m scrambling to find a show that might actually interest both of us. He’s gotten pretty good at Lego building with instructions and I was hoping the show might inspire some creativity, but so far all we’ve gotten is occasionally making critters with leftover bricks or sticking two instruction-based builds together and calling it a “mash-up.”

This has me thinking though–I bet he’d enjoy the Lego games! Maybe Lego Jurassic World because he likes the show on Netflix. I don’t know if he’s familiar with any of the other IPs. If you have any suggestions for two-player Switch games a 5-year-old might love, leave ’em in the comments. Lego Jurassic World is arriving Saturday.

Cover Image: Why do I love Super Mario 3D World? Because you can turn your character into a kitty. Obviously. Mrow!

I Was Supposed to Be Camping, but Instead I Played Sims4

We went camping for one of what was supposed to be three nights, and it poured. It was nice and sunny all day, and then at night, it felt like buckets were being tossed over the tent I was sharing with my son (daughter was in my parents’ trailer with them, husband was in a hammock). Despite the heat and humidity, I had to cover myself with a sleeping bag to prevent drops from landing on me as I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to sleep.

In the morning, my child accidentally put his plushie cheetah into a tent puddle. The day’s forecast was cloudy with the Lake Michigan undertow too strong for swimming, with rain that night and the next day. And the next night. The next morning we decided to go back home.

After returning and setting all our camping supplies on the lawn to dry out, I quickly jumped into where I left off in The Sims 4: the Country Living expansion pack. Llama’s, y’all lamas.

Fluffy, the llama (along with my human sim)

I created a new sim, Sutton, with the new Country Caretaker aspiration. Whenever I make sims I always create their life story in my mind. Sutton is starting out with not much cash but an interest in rural living. But eventually she’s going to turn into an obnoxious lifestyle blogger.

Inspired by Aywren’s haunted house story, I decided to actually take some screenshots of my game. After moving in and getting her llama, Fluffy, settled in and her garden started, Aywren set out to get to know the people of Henford-on-Bagley, which is like cottage core on steroids. She meets one of the pub owners, Sara Scott, and some other sims. She takes them fishing, where they bond over not catching anything.

She also meets the mayor.

Love your hat, Ms. Mayor!

After selling much produce and llama fiber, Sutton is able to update her house with a bedroom and get rid of the tent she was sleeping in. After my ill-fated tent adventures, I was relieved for her. The next thing she needed to kickstart her homestead lifestyle empire was a husband.

Sutton kept going to town and meeting women. Women love the rural life, apparently. Sutton was making some great friends, but not meeting the ruggedly handsome photo prop of her dreams.

But then she met Michael Bell, the creature handler. Sutton was smitten.

Beard needs to be a bit longer, but he’ll do.

Michael must’ve seen something in her too, because he invited her to the Romance Festival. But soon after their arrival to the festival, Michael takes off for the bathroom leaving Sutton to herself. With the flirty vibe of the festival, it isn’t long before Sutton is approached.

Sutton and Dominic seem to be hitting it off, don’t they? We could have a love triangle on our hands.

Cover Image: screenshot of the current state of Sutton’s little farm.

8 Excuses for Not Blogging

You started a blog. Maybe you started it for Blaugust or another blogging initiative, or maybe you did it all on your own. Either way, it exists, and now you have to write in it. Except–you don’t. Days, weeks, maybe even months go by without a word. What’s a writer to do?

Make up excuses of course!

1. You forgot about it

A 100% legit reason to not post during Blaugust. Summer goes by quickly: one day the snow is melting and the next the leaves are starting to change. One might forget the entire month of August exists. It’s completely understandable.

2. You got sick

You got a cold/food poisoning/covid/plague/poison ivy/you name it. How can you be expected to blog when you’re projectile vomiting or scratching yourself silly? And unlike work, you don’t even need to make sure you sound appropriately sick on the phone!

3. You went on vacation

August is in the summer. In the summer, people like to go on vacation. But honestly this excuse could work year round: color tours, ski trips, getaways to coastal beaches. Just make sure you take a few pictures to put in your blog when you get back.

(I’m going to need this excuse next week because I’m going camping!)

4. Your dog ate it

I’m not sure how a dog would eat a blog, but I’m 100% down with this excuse.

My dog, Maebel, will eat your blog.

5. You had a family emergency

This sounds dire, but it could be that little Johnny spilled his milk two weeks ago and you just haven’t had the drive to write in your blog since then. No one really wants the details, anyway.

6. You were too busy with work

You’ve got deadlines to meet. This quarter will be done before you know it!

7. You’re having technical difficulties

Your PC is in the shop. Your internet’s been down. You dropped your phone down a sewer grate. What are you supposed to do, write blog posts on pen and paper like people wrote in journals in the olden days? Ridiculous.

8. You’re no longer interested in the topic your blog is about

Your blog was supposed to be about simulation games from the 90s, but now you’re only into adventure games based on popular IPs. You don’t think your audience can make the shift, so you stop blogging for a while until the urge to play Sim Isle comes back.

Cover Photo by Roxanne De La Peña on Unsplash. Would you be blogging if you were here? I don’t think so!

Blaugust 2021 Introduction Post

Hi, my name is Alli, and it’s been about five months since my last blog post. I decided to participate in Blaugust, a month long blogging festival. I wanted to briefly introduce myself and give a little update on what’s been going on in my life since my last blog post.

I am not a llama. We’ll get to the llama thing at the end.

Except here’s the thing: not really much has been going on. My daughter is now one and my son is 5 (I used to call him “Indy” here because he was a very independent toddler, but now it’s a very inaccurate name–hopefully he’s just being 5.)

We bought a Switch.

We decided to move to Atlanta, and then we decided to stay in Michigan.

I’m hoping Blaugust can jumpstart a return to blogging for me. It doesn’t hurt that my WordPress subscription renews in July.

Cover Photo by Hugo Kruip on Unsplash because while I’ve pretty much abandoned PC gaming in favor of the Switch, The Sims 4 has llamas now. Llamas!

Help, My Kid Sucks at Super Nintendo Classic

We had a Super Nintendo Classic: my husband bought it for me as a gift 3 or 4 years ago, and I barely touched it. After the kid and I finished playing Ikenfell, I remembered it. I thought we could give it a try.

He likes it, but holy cow is he bad at it. I thought I was fairly awful–I am 99% a PC only gamer–but he just has no idea what he’s doing. We play Mario Kart and it’s a blessing if he can get through an entire race without wanting to give up. We’ve used it as a teaching tool for persistence: it doesn’t matter if you win, just finish the race. He seems more interested in trying to pick up goodies and coins than winning, anyway.

He also likes the Mario RPG a lot, but it’s single player, so he watches us play. I’ve decided I don’t want to play that with him anymore, though, because I find the jumping puzzles frustrating. (Maybe I need a lesson in persistence.) My husband has played the game a few times already so he’s taken over on that one.

But, I didn’t expect him to be this bad at it. Maybe 5 is too young, or it takes more practice than I thought. I remember my brother picking it up more easily, but I think he was a bit older when he got his first console (Game Cube). His tablet gaming skill doesn’t seem to translate to console gaming.

I feel like this post should come with a recommendation: do I recommend the Super Nintendo Classic for kids? I’m not sure. I want to wait and see how he does when he’s a bit older and can read. And since all the Super Nintendo games are available free on the Switch, it probably doesn’t make sense to buy both.

Cover image via this Polygon article–I don’t think we’ll be entering any Super Mario Kart competitions anytime soon.

Taking Care of Myself

In January 2021 I didn’t want to make any big New Years resolutions or set any big goals. We’d just made it through the toughest year of many of our lives, and I was feeling content to just live. I’d also had a baby less than six months ago and started a job within the previous two weeks. It seemed like enough. It was probably more than enough.

I had one thought, though: “I’d like to write in my blog a bit more.”

It’s now mid-February, and I have one published post in 2021. This year had a rough start–remember the new job and baby? Those are big, huge life-changing things. I’m still figuring them out. And in early Feb, I went through a rough point. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of where my head and emotions were at, but I’ll just say it was a bad place. And I knew I needed to make some changes. Here’s what I did what I’m doing to try and take better care of myself:

I take a break after work.

For a half hour or so after work, I take a break. I used to have this thing called a “commute” after work, where I’d spend 20-30 minutes in the car, driving listening to an audiobook or podcast as I drove home. It allowed me to have something that separated work from the family care I’d be doing when I walked in the house.

I’ve been working remotely for over three years now, and I miss the commute. My husband finally told me to take some time for myself in the office when I’m done working. I initially balked. He’s with the kids all day long, and now he should wait even longer for me to emerge from the office so he can do something other than care for them? How is that fair to him?

He told me he could take a break after my break, or later on, and he’d rather have me feel refreshed and actually ready to spend time with the kids, instead of just mentally drained.

It works. After a 20-30 minute break, I’m ready to play with my kids until it’s time to make dinner.

I started therapy.

I’ve known for a while that I’d probably benefit from therapy, but I hesitated. I went through quite a bit of it as a kid and never found it that helpful. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that it wasn’t my idea, and I didn’t have anything I wanted to get out of it. I started thinking that maybe if I did it on my own terms now that I’m an adult, and have some goals in mind, I might get more out of it.

What finally made me pull the trigger was that I realized that as a tiny benefit to this horrible pandemic, it’s all being done virtually. No need to go to a physical office. I can’t tell you now if it’s successful or not, but it is nice to have someone who is being paid to listen to you without judgement.

I started ADHD medication.

I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD twice (this is fairly normal for adults with ADHD who were initially diagnosed as children) but haven’t been on much medication. I was managing it myself.

The self-management worked for a long time, until it didn’t. Remember the new baby and the new job? My responsibilities were increasing. I hit a “I can’t do this like this anymore” wall. I’m now working with my doctor to find the right medicine and dose to help me be my best self.

Rethinking “Self Care”

The term “self care” is popular, but I usually hear it paired with one time things like taking a bubble bath or watching a feel-good movie. These aren’t bad things. But what I’m trying to do, and what I think self care should be more about, is beyond that. I think self care should be about making changes to make your life better. I’m hoping the changes I’m making will help me lead a more contented life.

Cover Photo by Sean O.on Unsplash. I miss summer.

It’s Ikenfell!

Do you:

  1. Play video games?
  2. Like Harry Potter, but you’re angry with how J.K. Rowling has hurt the trans community?

If both of those things are true, I have a video game for you: it’s IKENFELL!

Image via the game’s Kickstarter (full disclosure: I backed it!)

In Ikenfell, you play the twin sister of a witch who attends the magic school Ikenfell. You don’t have magic, though, you’re just an Ordinary. But after not hearing from your sister for longer than is reasonable, you head to Ikenfell to make sure she’s okay. While you’re there, something happens and suddenly you have magic, too.

I started playing Ikenfell by myself in the evening, and it was the perfect thing to play thirty minutes of before getting ready for bed. But then I started playing one afternoon, while the baby was napping and my son was playing on his tablet. I had my headphones in, so he must’ve seen something coming from the office. He pulled in a footstool to watch.

Soon I was reading the dialog and explaining the combat mechanics. My kid even helped me get through a tricky puzzle involving frozen floors and switches that moved blocks this way and that.

The games cute pixel art graphics, unique puzzles, diverse characters, and hilarious bosses (ever fight a blob that likes to steal hats? or a star that wants to eat you?) have captivated both me and my kid. One of the best parts for him is that many of the enemies, after being defeated, will help you out. They were just momentarily in a bad mood and wanted to fight you.

My one criticism is that the fights can get a bit long and tedious. I feel that way about most fights in video games though, so take that with a grain of salt.

The best part of the game? It’s how you save and heal.

That’s right–you pet the cat. Ikenfell is available on Steam for PC and for various platforms.

Cover Image: Petronella (bottom right) is my favorite.

Cyberpunk 2077: It’s Fun, Alright?

I’ve just finished helping a friend who just found her lover dead in the bathtub, suicide. We’re on the roof of her apartment and she wants me gone so she can mourn on her own, and I’m about to leave when I’m struck by how beautiful the city is in this game.

I enjoy the aesthetics of the cyberpunk genre. Neon pops in a sea of cool grays, rust, and oil slicks. My Cyberpunk 2077 character, V, has a face like mine but cropped magenta waves and know how to load up and fire a sniper rifle.

Unlike most RPGs, I’ve decided to make my character good. Kindhearted. She wants to survive Night City, but not at the expense of everyone else. Even still, she’s not above plowing bullets through the sort of turds who are out killing people for their implants.

It’s probably a given, but this is not the sort of game I’m playing in front of my 4-year-old. This is a wait until the kids are in bed, pop in the headphones, and disappear into another world for an hour before bedtime kind of game. I know there’s been some negative reviews of the game even aside from the glitches, but I’m having a blast. I play on PC and have noticed less than a handful of glitches* in my 16 or so hours of playtime, nothing more than I’d expect. My PC’s good but a couple of years old and not top of the line.

It’s not perfect: I wish I could customize my character’s appearance after starting the game—I’d like to try some different hairstyles. It doesn’t seem replayable. The side quests aren’t very interesting.* I’m not a big side quest person (“the side quests are better than the main quests” is not a game selling point for me) and I’ve mainly been doing them as a way to get a few more eddies (the game’s currency). But it’s got the important things: an intriguing story with a customizable protagonist, a vibrant setting, and combat that doesn’t suck. I’ve also enjoyed changing up my gameplay: I started off doing purely stealthy takedowns, then I got a sniper rifle and started using that. Lately I’ve gotten more into the tech aspect.

I know the game is unplayable for a lot of people, and that really sucks, and part of me is hesitant to write a positive review (if you could call this such) of a game with so many issues: glitches, flashing lights that cause seizures, and the fact that my female avatar is hurled sexist abuse by enemies. As a developer, I’m also sensitive to studios forcing their devs to work long hours to finish a product. I’m not about to armchair-solve the problems in the video game industry (except for the gendered cursing–could’ve made that generic and saved a bit of time, too). I am going to buy games that look fun to me, because there aren’t a lot of AAA games that speak to me these days.

*I played this evening after I wrote everything above. While I was on an interesting side quest, I started having a glitch where I could see NPC skeletons and skulls inside their heads for a brief moment before the rest of their bodies appeared around them, sometimes leaving empty space for a moment where a body part should be. I think more interesting side quests open up as you progress in the main story meeting more characters and gaining street cred. As for the glitch, I’m not sure if it’s the game or my cybernetic implants.

Cover Image: Some promo art. The game makes me miss living in a city.