['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column focuses on the blogging efforts of an EverQuest 2 player.]

Aggro MeWorld of Warcraft's MMOG-glossary lists the definition of 'Aggro' as "This means the monsters are mad at you and you've 'activated' them to attack you. They are now in the motion of trying to reach and attack you." That fairly accurately sums up the writings on the blog Aggro Me, a now mostly-retired site that focused almost solely on the EverQuest 2 title developed by Sony Online Entertainment.

While for the most part his commentary ran to the esoterica of EQ2 patch notes and a weekly humor column, he was also fairly well known for some inflamatory statements made in the heat of the blogging moment. In particular, his scathing dismissal of the Penny Arcade comic early last year garnered a lot of attention on forums around the Internet. He also vigorously decried the concept of the SOE Station Exchange when it was originally launched, and expended a good deal of effort in examining its flaws and shortcomings.

Aggro was kind enough to answer a few questions for us, and so today we have a look behind the screen at the gent who has (for good or ill) done a fair bit of aggroing of his own in the last two years. We had a chance to talk about his past with Massive games, the reason his blog has been so quiet of late, and I've got a plethora of links to some of the best content the Aggro Me site has to offer. Read on for a look at a focused blogger, who has never been afraid to let you know about that chip on his shoulder.

Aggro Who?

Michael: If you don't mind my asking, what is your home life like? Do you have any children? A spouse/girlfriend? What's your day job?

Aggro:I’m an attorney and I work at a prestigious (read: intensely stressful) law firm in midtown Manhattan. A lifetime New Yorker, I currently reside on the Upper East Side. I am in a serious relationship (you can figure out the time it started by reading my blog and seeing where the daily posts dropped off). That’s cut down on my writing and gaming a bit, but, as Shakespeare once said, “Love is the phat-est lewt of all.”

Michael: Do you have any hobbies outside of Massive gaming? Do you do any more traditional PC/console gaming?

Aggro: Fantasy is a common theme in my hobbies as I enjoy reading fantasy novels (stay tuned for a fantasy novel review blog) and playing fantasy sports. I do occasionally zone outside the apartment to complete the typical NYC quests like getting reservations at a hot restaurant before midnight, finding a play or musical to buff my cultural stats, and conducting raids on area museums. I’m not a huge console player but my PS2 is the only place I can find good SRPG’s (Disgaea 2 currently) and rock out with Guitar Hero 2. I have yet to take the next-gen plunge but I do own a DS (great) and a PSP (horrid). I definitely do a lot of PC gaming, although these days it’s usually more casual games. I find it’s the casual, independent games that often have the most innovative and interesting design.

Michael: How would you characterize your experience with Massive games? Do you consider yourself more casual or 'hardcore'? Ever done any raiding?

Aggro: I’m so hardcore that at the same time I’m answering this question I’m leading two separate high level raids for fabled drops by dual-boxing (on an Amiga and Atari ST I’ve hacked to run Vanguard). My actual preferred play style is semi-casual play with a static group. But I have ranged the gamut from being part of a hardcore raiding guild to casual soloing, so it really depends. I find it mirrors life: It’s good to be alone sometimes, but you get bored (soloing); parties are fun but you don’t want go to one every night especially since there’s always one or two annoying people there (raiding); and in the end the best thing is to share some good times with a group of friends (static single groups).

Michael: How many MMOGs have you played? What was your first game?

Aggro: I played some BBS door games back in the day like Legend of the Red Dragon and messed around in a few MUD’s. But I was a total noob when it came to real MMOG’s until relatively recently. I tried Everquest but never had the time to really get into it. City of Heroes was the first MMOG I spent significant time with. Its amazing character creator and streamlined play served as a great introduction to the MMOG world. I consider CoH/CoV a perfect first MMOG for people new to the genre. Anyway, that’s when the love affair started and I’ve since played every major MMOG release and many minor ones. I’ll try any MMOG once, no matter how horrible it looks.

Michael: What would you consider your favorite game? Your least favorite?

Aggro: I’m going to have to go with Fantasy General by SSI, because I’ve never really stopped playing it. It’s fun and intuitive to pick up and play but has an incredible depth of strategy. The replayability is almost endless and the choral music is my favorite game music to date. I was so into my first single-player campaign that I renamed every single unit and the game had such a lasting impression on me that I still remember some of those names. I’m currently running Sorceress Mordra through the third continent and after all these years, I still have a lot to learn about Fantasy General. Runners-up are Heroes of Might and Magic and Shining Force.

Least favorite is trickier. I don’t mind games that are hilariously bad. For example, I actually spent a decent amount of time playing the awful MMOG “Prison Server” and I had a good time doing it. Doom III is probably the most recent game I finished and absolutely hated. The Movies was probably the biggest disappointment to me in recent memory. I hate Myst-clones or any pixel-hunting game. If you’re only talking about MMOG’s then EQII is definitely my favorite. There are so many bad ones but I found DDO to be especially repulsive.

Michael: To follow up with that, do you have a favorite memory from a Massive game? I like to call it 'something you'll tell your grandkids about." :) Anything like that?
Well, a lot of my favorite memories spring from trying to grief my friends. Just the other night I managed to annoy them in Planetside by piling up vehicles near a ramp in the training area. That gave me great pleasure.

Aggro: I have some wonderful memories from PvP. I used to have an EQII guild named Aggroculture on Nagafen and we would schedule wars with the Brownie Troop guild from EQII Daily (home of the EQII Daily Podcast). Those were always a hilariously good time. But probably the most memorable experience I’ve had is slaying Darathar with my first EQII guild. It was a long, fantastic quest culminating in a return to the Isle I had first started on at Level 1. The fight was dramatic and challenging and the reward was amazing. It was wonderful to accomplish such a difficult goal with people who had become friends.

Michael: Conversely, do you have a bad memory that's tainted your experiences with Massive games in general? A horrible group, or something like that?

Aggro: I love horrible groups, because they give me ideas for humor columns. My worst memories in an MMOG are probably technical issues. I remember there was a named in Zek my group and I fought for literally forty-five minutes in the early days of EQII. The server went down when he had just a sliver of health left. It’s also incredibly annoying to have the server go down in the middle of a raid and be faced with a lockout timer.

Michael: What is it about Massive games that appeals to you? What makes you keep playing these great big beautiful games?

Aggro: When I was younger I asked one of my friends, “If you could live in a world with wizards and dragons and be a hero, would you do it?” The answer for both of us was: in a second. Massive games let me pretty much live out that dream while still pursuing a career and enjoying non-digital relationships. MMOG’s are simply the most entertaining thing in existence. What keeps me playing is always the people I group with and the bonds I form in a game’s community.

Michael: What made you start a blog in the first place? How did you decide on a name?

Aggro: I actually had an idea for a novel related to MMOG’s. The protagonist had a blog named “Aggro Me.” I decided to create the “faux-blog” as preparation. Of course, the novel never made it past the first chapter, and, meanwhile, Aggro Me has hundreds of lengthy posts. I discovered just how much I loved MMOG’s and just how much I loved blogging. When thinking of a name, the first step was eliminating the MMOG slang already used in other blog titles. I really wanted a name with an aggressive connotation and it actually does fit my play style. I just aggro-ed an entire zone in Vanguard last night, culminating in a gigantic train. And when I play a DPS class, it’s only a matter of time before I give in to my overnuking urges.

Michael: What keeps you going, writing on the site?

Aggro: It’s really the fact that I get so passionate about these games that if I didn’t write down the things in my head, I’d probably explode. I also love getting comments on my posts and I’ve met so many great people through the site and its forums, some of who I group with regularly in MMOG’s.

Michael: You seem so well-rounded, both in and out of gaming. What got you hooked into Red Dragon and the BBS games?

Aggro: I just loved the whole BBS thing. I remember that incomparable sound when your modem connected; I remember poring over the phone book to see which 516 area codes would still be billed as local from my 718 zone; and I remember having to send away by regular mail for a password to one BBS and the excitement I felt when I received a return mailing. The amount of time you could spend on certain BBS’s was originally limited by a timer. Then one day I came across a game which allowed you to gamble your time allotment and win additional time. I was completely hooked. From there on I sought out and loved any BBS game.

Michael: Your appreciation for EverQuest 2 is obvious to anyone who has read your blog for a bit. What about SOE's flagship has kept you hooked when others have fallen by the wayside. You said EQ never really grabbed you, so it's not the nostalgia some players feel. What keeps you in Norrath?

Aggro: EQII is just a good game that has gotten markedly better since I started my blog. The community of players is the most wonderful I have seen. I’ve also gotten the chance to meet some of the EQII team and they’re truly a bunch of passionate, intelligent people.

Michael: Your discussion of writing outside of your blog is interesting. What drives you to write things like your 'Aggro Me'-protagonist novel? Are you working on anything right now?

Aggro: I just love to write. Nothing else gives me that feeling of flow, of complete focus, enjoyment and passion. I’m currently working on a detailed script for a (non-existent) SRPG/wargame called Res Aciei. It’s intended to marry strategic play with a strong, involving story. Additionally, I’m working on a list of concepts for an artist friend of mine who wants to submit his comics for publication but needs an original idea. So I’m creating the backstories, settings and characters for him to choose from. I’m pretty sure neither of those projects will actually come to fruition. But it’s the journey I love. People tend to dismiss daydreaming and fantasizing in our culture as somehow worthless or even reprehensible. I think it’s an awesome time.

Michael: Is there anything that you'd like to say to your site's readers? Anything you'd like them to say or know in specific?

Aggro: I love you

Smells Like Froglok? Or Maybe SOE.

The primary focus of the site, then, is EQ2. As you can imagine, this means Aggro offers up a fair bit of kvetching about the minutia of EverQuest 2's systems. There was his two part discussion of update 24, notes from testing update 18, and some extremely harsh commentary on update 17. Most of the time, though, Aggro focuses on higher level conversations. He has notes from the releases of the Kingdom of Sky and Desert of Flames expansions, and his discussion of the Frostfell Event was part of the reason I started playing the game in the first place.

This high-level focus extends to the EQ2's sister titles as well, and general commentary on Sony Online Entertainment in general. Aggro's talked about SOE's digital download service, the all-access pass, GM services, and future SOE MMOG development. He's also had some very specific words to offer on the recently released Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. For some interesting comparison of 'then and now', it's worth looking back to Aggro's debate with the blogger Quylein the Mage about the title from last summer.

One specific issue that Aggro has focused on since it was originally announced is the SOE Station Exchange. From his first angry initial reaction recent discussion of the white paper, Aggro has been one of the loudest decryers of institutionalized RMT. He commented on the service as it morphed from their initial announcement, being honest about what they were amending in the face of public pressure, and then wrapped up the first year of trading with an insightful look from a player's point of view. I still find his initial reaction to be the most interesting:

"Being relatively new to MMORPG's I don't have the built up ill will towards SOE that some do. I have often given them the benefit of the doubt when more experienced players have not. I gave them kind of a free pass on the Froglok nonsense. I have been willing to accept their mistruths and missteps and have always tried to take everything in a light and humorous way. But not today. Not on this day.For years I have listened to SOE and other MMORPG companies vilify IGE and the secondary market to the point where they have become the devils that cause all that is evil and wrong with online gaming. Whether this is true or not is a matter for another debate. But now I know why SOE was bashing IGE. Not as an enemy, you see, but as a competitor."

You've Got Your Funny, And Over Here Your FanFaire

More than any other blogger, though, Aggro has made an effort to keep conversation light. Every week during his heyday of posting, Aggro made sure to put up a Friday humor feature themed around EQ2. Some of them, like EQ pick-up lines and 'player types' ... strain the definition of humour a bit. Luckily, he's a pretty funny guy, and more often then not there was some goodness in his weekly offerings. My personal favorites include the MMOLympics ("Pick-up Group Survival: One contestant at a time groups with five randomly chosen group members. How long can each contestant survive the horror?"), Looking for Group 'Advertisements' ("Group LFM: Hot wood elves only."), and Rejected Expansion Ideas (Mogloks: Let's tell players there is a new race in the Expansion called the Mogloks, waiting to be unlocked and that all they need to do is finish some quest. Eventually we'll finish the art, character design and animation for this race and then announce it.)

Some other excellent Friday features include EQ2 glossary terms I and II, some EQ-themed limericks, and Everquest 2 Motivational Posters.

I usually find posts made while traveling to be some of the most interesting writing a blogger can do. It should be no surprise, then, that some of my favorite Aggro posts were made 'on the road'. He went to last year's FanFaire event (the annual EverQuest get-together), as well as the SOE Community Summit for 2005, and wrote extensively about both experiences. The now two-years old Community Summit is especially interesting to read through, as it gives a snapshot of the game less than a year after the game had launched. His FanFaire coverage is even more in-depth, offering up details on changes to PvP and Tradeskilling, many of which we've now seen implimented in the game. There, again, it's great to look back at what the future was going to hold and compare it to the here-and-now of EverQuest 2.

"'Polished' is a word often associated with WoW. And no, I'm not saying 'OMG EQII copies WOW lol.' But maybe recent times in the MMO world have shown that the general market prefers polished content even at the cost of lack of new content on a timely basis. Now, I'm not saying SOE is going to mirror Blizzard, who I'm sure is going to be releasing an expansion sometime this decade. But they do seem to be moving a bit more to the "polished" model which is something I think both the game designers and players will appreciate. However, I think you will still see SOE continue to push new content on a rapid basis, as today's Live Update shows. That pace may just be slowed from a sprint to a run."

At the end of the day, it's always great to read someone who is passionate about a specific topic talking about something he loves. That kind of enthusiasm is something that I think everyone responds to ... whether positively or negatively. Aggro may not be posting regularly anymore, but his body of work stands as a testament to what many people see as the 'other' big Western MMOG. Even if EQ2 hasn't captured the imagination of millions, it can still arouse the passion of one man. And that, that is nothing to sneeze at.

[Michael Zenke is also known as 'Zonk', the current editor of Slashdot Games. He has had the pleasure of writing occasional pieces for sites like Gamasutra and The Escapist. You can read more of Michael's ramblings on Massive games at the MMOG Nation blog. ]