Posted in Star Stable Online

Star Stable Online – MMO World of Horses

Today I want to talk about a guilty pleasure of mine as a horse lover – Star Stable Online. I somewhat blame this on the folks over at Massively Overpowered for always covering the game. It was ultimately an article on the 10th Anniversary of Star Stable (and the free anniversary horse they were giving away) that nudged me over the line into trying the game back in September.

Apparently I had created an account already, though I don’t know how long ago that was. I’d already picked a character name and a horse on an account that used my normal login name. I remember way back when that I saw that while there is a F2P option for the game – which is probably fine if all you want to do is ride horses around – if you want to level beyond level 5, see the wide world and have access to all the quests, it requires cash to become a Star Rider. They do run free Star Rider promotion events from time to time, though.

I think I stopped at that point during sign up and never actually downloaded the game. I wasn’t looking to spend money back whenever I first signed up. So by the time I wanted to try it again this time, whatever free trial period I had was long gone. But, I could still log in for free and check it out, so that’s what I did.

It didn’t take long for the game to sway me. While it is aimed towards a much younger female audience, it was done in a way that it wasn’t a turn-off for adult horse-loving me. I find it curious that this is a MMO style game directed towards girls – you can’t create a boy avatar as far as I know. That doesn’t mean boys can’t play – but in a time where there’s a lot of games where you’re restricted to making only male characters, this is interesting to me.

And don’t think that aiming towards a younger female audience is limiting the number of players. Every time I log in to hub cities or events, the place is usually hopping – especially weekends. I don’t quite understand all the racing and role play groups that are forming in the global chat, but I see it all the time. There’s a healthy population of players and I’ve never felt like I was the only one there.

The Halloween event was pretty fun and is still taking place right now!

Back to the cost of becoming a Star Rider. There’s a few options – a monthly sub, quarterly sub and a lifetime account. All grant you a stipend of 100 Star Coins a week (the cash shop currency).

If you want to buy new horse breeds and special holiday horses as they come out, you’ll need to save up your Star Coins (or buy some). The only way I’ve seen to get new horses is to spend cash shop currency. I didn’t know it at the time, but the devs giving away a free anniversary horse was a big deal. It’s a pretty attractive horse to boot!

Anniversary Horse

New horses can cost quite a bit of Star Coins, not to mention the outfits and cosmetics. So I can see where this game could get expensive. But I could also see where this could be a learning tool for children – you get only so many coins a week and if you want that pretty horse, you need to budget and save up for it over time.

In the end, after trying it out and getting a feel for the game, I ponyed up (heh) for a lifetime Star Rider. I just didn’t want to mess with the subscription and it really wasn’t all that much more expensive than buying a triple A Steam game at launch. I’ve heard there are times they drop the price on the lifetime sub, too, which makes it a much better deal. Still, $8.49 a month for a MMO isn’t a bad sub price overall.

What I Enjoy

So what made me choose to pick up this game? It has a very casual nature to it – you can log in, care for your horse, then ride a couple of trails or jump courses to level your horse each day. If that’s all you want to do, that’s perfectly fine. Or, if you have more time, you can explore and take on quests, which eventually open up more of the world and the game’s characters/lore as you go.

While the writing isn’t the best I’ve ever seen in an MMO, it’s done well enough and with enough spirit that I generally enjoy questing. There’s some fantasy elements blended into the modern day elements, and that gives you the feeling that there’s much more going on in the world than it seems at first glance.

I enjoy seeing other riders around, the many horse breeds, and the tack/accessories on the horses. The Halloween horses are great – I picked up a couple for myself- and I’m looking forward to seeing what Christmas brings in terms of special horses, too!

What can I say? The game just feels chill. And sometimes I need a chill game with lovely horses.

My Nitpicks

While I enjoy the current art style – I know it’s gone through many iterations and the devs are still upgrading some areas of the game – it still might be too cartoony for some people. For me, that just gives horses more of a personality – think of it like the Spirit movies. I feel it’s a good balance of stylized and realism, especially since it’s aimed towards a younger audience.

It’s come a long way from the first generation of horses if you ask me.

Again, no disrespect, but I probably wouldn’t have bought into Star Stable if all I’d seen was the first or second generation horses. I feel like the third generation looks good in comparison. Oh and you can still buy the old generation horses in the game if you’re a fan, which I thought was interesting!

The environments have also gotten a nice overhaul over the years apparently – check out this article on The Mane Quest to see some before and after comparisons!

So. The things that I actually don’t care for in this game.

Rider graphics. The horses have gotten some love but my rider’s face is a little… flat looking. I did pick up some new hair to help her look a bit better, and the actual clothes and accessories are nice. But…

The movement system. It’s fine when you’re on your horse. Not so good when your rider is on foot. The camera doesn’t respond well when I try to turn my rider around. Either I end up running into something or I have to manually turn my camera (which isn’t an issue when I’m on horseback at all). That wouldn’t be a big deal except…

Getting off the horse for quests. There’s so many quests that require you to get off your horse to interact with an object. But not every quest requires it. It’s confusing why some let you stay mounted and others force you to get off. And every time I get off, I’m faced with having to deal with the wonky movement system of my rider.

Drag and drop mechanics. It’s somewhat oldskool to have a game that requires you to drag an object out of your inventory to interact with an object in game. For example, to muck the stall in a daily quest, I have to open my inventory, then drag the icon of the shovel to the pile that’s on the ground. I’ve gotten used to it, but it wasn’t intuitive to me at first because I haven’t seen a game that has used that kind of UI in a while.

Yes, there’s quests to clean up poop in this game. It is a true MMO.

Quests don’t stick. This is a weird one. If you pick up a quest and log out, when you log back in the next time, the game doesn’t remember you’ve picked up the quest. You have to ride back and pick it up again to activate it. So don’t grab a bunch of quests and log out. It doesn’t work.

Settings don’t stick. In the same vein, it seems like any settings I mark while logged in don’t persist after I log out. This isn’t a big deal, but it would be nice to mark the “ignore invites” and keep it that way.

Basically, it’s a lot of small things I can overlook that belie an older engine of a smaller, niche MMO. None of this is game breaking to me, and the feel of the horses and the riding (which gets more responsive as your horse levels up) outweighs the small annoyances I have.

These are just things to keep in mind if you’re shopping for a horse MMO. Aside from this, I’ve found my time among the Star Stables to be charming and enjoyable. I’m taking my time – only level 6 at this point – exploring when I have some extra time on my hands, and mostly leveling my horses through trail rides and jump courses.

I do want to eventually get my horses leveled up, at least, before the holidays come. I know there will likely be a winter horse I want to add to my collection. And by then, I should have the Star Coins saved up for it!

So there you have it! I’ve indulged my secret gaming guilty pleasure. Be sure that I’ll be writing more about Star Stables in the future!

Posted in Gaming, Second Life

Second Life: Modding My Arabian Horse

When I was growing up, like many girls, I loved horses. And there was one series of books that fueled that love — Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion. We had a small bookmobile that came from our main county Library and stopped by my neighborhood. They almost always carried a book from this series, and if they didn’t, I could put in book requests to get more.

I devoured these books as a child, fell in love with the Arabian horse, and the art on this book cover in particular was my measuring stick for all horse artwork I drew:

blackstallion

I probably still have a box set of these books somewhere in my closet. And if I don’t, I might just take it upon myself to go and collect the series with this particular cover art just to keep for myself.

Anyhow, what does that have to do with video games? Well, a few weeks back in Second Life, I stumbled upon the Water Horse Riding Horse… which isn’t really a horse but a fantastic, realistic bento add-on to your SL avatar. The Posse has been getting a lot of mileage out of our horses as we explore some really awesome places on the grid.

That little spark of Arabian horse love still burns in me, so I knew when I saw the Arabian Horse Mod for the Water Horse weeks ago that I’d be making that a project of mine. Over the weekend, I did just that.

While I think that my original Warmblood bento horse is very lovely, I have to say that the Arabian mod has transformed it to something above and beyond.

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A lot of work from talented creators went into this horse. I wanted to take a look at how all that comes together and give them my props for wonderful creations that bring me joy!

It Started With a Skin

I’m a huge fan of Hap’s work at Painted Pony. There’s a lot of great content out there for these horses, but her skins and content keep pulling me back in. She develops a lot of work for the Arabian mod in particular.

When I saw the new specular silver coat in her Highlights section, and noticed it could be used with the Arabian, I was struck by it immediately. I can’t really explain how this coat catches and reflects the light, but it’s amazing in person. I can just sit here and look at the way light plays off of my stallion… Beautiful work!

Painted_Pony_Vendor_--_Silver_Specular_coat

So, this prompted me to head to the Jinx store (another creator I really love) to pick up her Arabian mod. This was the most expensive part of the modding process, and also the most tricky.

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This is a full body replacement for the Water Horse. This means when you add this to your avatar, you essentially have two horse bodies. You make the original horse body and tack transparent, and somehow this mod meshes beautifully to show instead.

It uses the Animation Override within the original Water Horse tack, so it moves and controls exactly like the original. Here’s a video of this horse in action (Note: lightly dressed female avatar warning):

If I had to nit pick about anything in this mod, it’s the tail portion. I’m not sure what it is about the tail, but the textures in the originals just don’t render right for me. Especially the white tail.

But that’s easily fixed with a texture replacement from Painted Pony. I picked up the Arabian Tail Fat Pack 1 and the Happy Tail add-on (which makes the tail swish from time to time like a real horse).

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And the final cosmetic piece was, again, from Painted Pony. I already had this from making my Miss Daisy setup — a lovely Tropicana Blue eye.

Painted_Pony_Vendor_--_Tropicana_eye

Syn and Amoon like to tease me that the eyes make my Arabian look spooky, so I’m almost tempted to name him Specter. XD

Anyhow, I needed one final touch to really make this all come together. If you watched the video above, you’ll see the custom Arabian animations created by Mythril in action. Great stuff!

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So, I learned how to mod the tack AO to replace the standard animations with these. They included a very regal idle standing pose, a floating trot, and a lovely canter replacement. I also picked up a new gallop animation that I really liked.

What’s even better about this animation set is that it includes sidesaddle animations, which I was looking into picking up to fit a medieval dress that I bought. So a medieval warmblood project might be my next focus — we do have the Fantasy Faire coming up this week in Second Life!

And finally, the tack. I chose the new Sultan tack by Jinx. This is currently exclusive to the March Fantasy Collective, so I have no idea how much longer it’ll be there, or if Jinx will sell it in shop after the event is done.

sultantack

Much of the Arabian tack available is quite ornate, so I liked that this was less flashy and didn’t take away from the horse. These are cosmetic add-ons, and not a replacement for the AO tack. They look great and come with a HUD that allows for color change and minor modifications.

In the end, I’m very pleased with the overall results of the mod. What do you think?

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