It is Never Too Late to Head to Mordor May 20, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Lord of the Rings Online.
Tags: Brandywine, Free-To-Play
I stood again in Middle-earth.
In was in Archet, one of the small towns around Bree, and the forces of Sauron prepared to strike.
I was in Lord of the Rings Online.
My new character was set to start out on the long… six years long at this point which, if we were following the timeline of the books, would put us past the Grey Havens and into the Fourth Age… road to Mordor to throw down the dark lord.
Or, more likely, to get about as far as Rivendell then give up in a fit of ennui and go off to play some other game.
About two years back I wrote a post titled “LOTRO – Our Story So Far” that covered the various “ages” of the game for myself and our group. I probably need to update it. At that point we had been through three “ages,” which were launch, return, and return again, each time on a different server, rolling up fresh characters. The fourth time was going to be different, as we were going to pick up again on the same server. And I did make it into Moria that time around.
But eventually that petered out for the group, once again at the far end of the Lone Lands. I have been through the Lone Lands enough times that when NPCs greet me by name, I am pretty sure it goes beyond simple coding.
There was a fifth run at the game at some point last year, when I joined the Nazgun on yet another server, with the usual result. I have characters at least into their 30s on Windfola, Nimrodel, Firefoot, and Silverlode.
And now I am at what I would guess is the sixth “age,” joining our EVE corp in Middle-earth. Of course, while the odds of picking a server where I already have a character grows ever higher as the years go by, they still missed. And so I ended up rolling fresh on the Brandywine server.
Much is still the same with LOTRO, including my need to take the same screen shots every time.
Since it is time again for another plunge into Tolkienland Online, I thought I would mention a bit of what has changed in virtual Middle-earth.
More after the cut due to an excess of pictures and uninformed opinions.
Tags: Google, Google Plus, Google Reader, iGoogle
Just about two months back it was announced that Google Reader was going to be shut down.
The reasons given were declining usage and the Bizarro world excuse that killing it would lead to a better user experience.
I cannot speak to the former, except to say that Google pushed a lot of people off the bus themselves when the screwed up the UI for a few weeks, but the latter still smacks of “More people using Google Plus would make the user experience there better.”
I point at the work they have done to further integrate Blogger into Google Plus as evidence of what is important to Google.
But whatever the reason, there was much talk about jumping ship before the July 1 end date and the “declining user base” ran off and pretty much swamped every comparable service. Numbers clearly mean something different at Google.
I too began looking around. I put together a list of possible alternatives, which I will reproduce here:
And then… I pretty much did nothing.
July was still a ways away. There seemed no point in joining the rush. And who knew if Google would change their mind. Stranger things have happened. So I decided to let things settle down a bit.
Now the dust has settled. Or I hope it has. We have about six weeks left in the life of Google Reader. So I am wondering how things are going for people who have moved off of Google Reader. For this, I will use a poll.
Feel free to embellish your choice or warn people off of bad choices in the comments.
Meanwhile, Google continues to do its best to make me not use Google products. In addition to Google Reader, they are also shutting down iGoogle, which has been my default home page for years now. They have been tinkering with YouTube, including making me link my YouTube account directly to Google Plus, which ended up unpublishing all of my videos for a while. More on the “what is important to Google” evidence pile. And they let Bob Scoble loose with Google Glass, which everybody calls Google Glasses, because that is what they are, which sent the message, at least to me, that they are perfect for crazy people.
And then there is Google Plus, the gifted child at Google, the web app on which they are devoting their focus. How was that last update for everybody?
I swear, every time I look at Google Plus, something happens to piss me off. They banned me for using a pseudonym, then quietly let me back a couple months later. Then they made changes, screwed up my account, linked it to YouTube, which screwed up that account, and now they have made their bad UI even worse for the moment.
Yes, I realize that “bad” is relative. You might like only being able to see four our less posts at a time, each with a big picture, the author’s avatar, an excerpt of the first paragraph, and the first few comments.
Me, I read a lot of things online. If I cannot see 20 or more headlines at once, I end up doing too much scrolling. I want a list with title, author, source, the first sentence of the post, and maybe a general topic tag. A UI like the one they are pushing is high on the list of reasons I do not invest much time in Facebook. The interface does not suite my needs.
The irony here is that, if Google gave me a UI more suited to my needs… make it an option if not the default… added in RSS feed reading with the ability to share with circles and the like, and just stopped pissing me off for a little while, I would probably go use Google Plus. There are already people there I would follow.
Ah well, the life of an outlier.
Time for a Hiatus from our Hiatus May 16, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, Rift.
Tags: Exodus of the Storm Queen
Whatever happened, we need to find out why it happened. But clearly it should not have happened.
-Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland)
We are reaching that time of the year when the sun is shining and various members of our regular Saturday night instance group are sometimes lured outside to see the world, visit relatives, or move across town or across country, judging from past experience. The summer hiatus is nearly upon us.
Which would be fine, except that so far 2013 hasn’t been the best of years for the group getting together. Take the weekend before last. Four of us were available. We got into Rift. We poked around. We ran into the Exodus of the Storm Queen instance.
You can tell that is a recent picture because the little orange dino pet from the recent Raptr promotion is there by my side.
We went through the first two boss events and then ended up at the third boss, Valthunder, where we again failed the DPS check, being short on person, and ended up in the usual state of affairs.
Then we chatted a bit, did a hunt rift, and called it a night.
So it has gone. The five of us haven’t been on together since the first weekend of the year.
I am going to guess that it isn’t for lack of desire. It isn’t as though one person has said, “screw it” and just stopped showing up. All of us have missed weeks and then have come back. There is usually a notification in advance that somebody won’t be on because of some event or another.
And now we are at the point where we traditionally break for summer, usually reconvening in late August for a return to our game of choice. So the lack of a full group will continue.
Which means Rift, as least for our main characters, is probably off the table for a while. Not that there is anything new coming in Rift that would impact us greatly. There will be a summer festival of some sorts. I forget what they did last year. And some tweaks no doubt. But the biggest news of late is the free to play transition which means… pretty much nothing to the group. There is another zone coming in, and signs that we might be getting some more dimensions options to decorate. But given the state of my own dimension, that isn’t a big draw for me.
So the question becomes, what should the summer be about?
Should we carry on as we have been? We have a set of intersecting games depending on who is online. We play World of Tanks when it is just the boys. We play Need for Speed World sometimes when the group includes some combo of Earl, Potshot, and myself. We were playing the Neverwinter Nights 2 with just me and the Potshots. But we still end up with intersections of people where Rift is the only game in common, and four player Rift only gets us so far with instances.
(I did suggest the last time around that we could just get the
dungeon finder looking for group tool to assign us a DPS player, but we eventually decided that having one person in the group not on Skype with us would end up feeling odd.)
So should we let Rift go fallow for the summer (unless we all happen to show up) and go for a nostalgia run?
We could go back to the Lone Lands in LOTRO and play some more anachronistic music with Anderson Cooper. My corp in EVE is looking into a summer run in LOTRO. The server they have chosen is Brandywine which, of course, is not one of the servers where I have characters. That is always the way.
We could get some scrolls of resurrection for WoW (Earl is still subscribed) and see what has changed in Azeroth. It could become the summer of dailies and pet battles.
We could even go really old school and take another stab at EverQuest. That is doable in groups of less than five.
I think most of the group has Guild Wars 2 at this point. Oddly, despite its “no need to group” focus and its “every man for himself” view on roles, I think it could work as a group game on the overland content. I ended up standing by myself in a bunch of group events, so bringing your own group would clearly be a help there.
Or is it time to explore something new and different. Neverwinter is out, which is new, but I am not sure how different it really is nor do I have a sense of how noxious the free to play aspects of the game are. There are crazy ideas like Darkfall or Planetside 2 or the like, which promote grouping but where level differentials do not keep people from playing together. Or we could explore co-op games. There is Diablo III, which at least three of us own, or Torchlight II, which is damn cheap for what you get. There is even Borderlands 2, which Gaff made me buy a few weeks back when it was on sale ($25 for the game + all DLC up to that point), but which I am so hilariously bad at on my own that I haven’t gotten very far and have pretty much stopped playing.
I think MOBAs like League of Legends are out, primarily because I cannot stand the genre.
Is there anything else we should be looking at as a possible summer hiatus game?
Further Mutterings about MMO Revenue Models May 15, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Need for Speed World, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Tanks, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Free-To-Play, MMO Subscriptions, No Real Point
A few years back, at the height of the housing boom, we decided to move. We listed our house at the market price for our neighborhood, and the first day on the market we got an offer for roughly 60% of what we were asking. Somebody sensed, as we all were beginning to at that point, that the bubble was going to burst soon, and wanted to know if we were desperate.
We were not, and actually sold the house for what we were asking a couple weeks later. But there was no possibility that we were going to come to an arrangement with the person who made that first offer. Their offer was so insultingly low that it made it completely unlikely to be able to negotiate any deal at all.
We have a garage sale at least once a year. Often we have two, one in the spring and one in the fall. Just the process of finding stuff to sell helps us keep the house clear of clutter, so that our home, with the exception of my office and my daughter’s room, feels clean, open, and spacious.
We tend to put out all manner of things on the driveway for sale. I often have a pile of books that have made it into the category of “won’t read again” out on a table. At one garage sale I had done a big purge and had 40+ paperbacks lined up, with the asking price was 25 cents each. Cheap enough that anybody with an interest would pick them up, and it wouldn’t kill me if I decided to give a couple away to any kid who looked like they wanted to read one. And, as always, quantity discounts are available.
A woman, who rolled up in an expensive car, offered me a dollar for all of the books, and then started gathering them up like it was a done deal. A dollar turned out to be exactly the right price to start a fight.
In the cold logic of hindsight, it was just an offer I could freely reject.
In the reality and emotion of the moment, it was insulting. I started with “no” and worked my way up to using them for kindling before I would sell her one at full cover price. Her offer stayed at a dollar throughout, leavened with sneers and insults. But we could have stopped after our first pass through offer and rejection, as no deal was possible after that point. I cannot imagine she thought her negotiation technique was going to be effective. It is always interesting to meet people who are worse at interpersonal relationships than I am.
What did those two little stories have to do with anything? We’ll get to that. First, a foundation of words needs to be built.
With the announcement that Rift is moving from the once traditional monthly subscription model to a cash shop driven free to play model, there have been the usual range of reactions, from feelings that no good will come of this to expressions of joy at the demise of yet another monthly subscription barrier to entry. Some people really hate the subscription idea.
My own response is somewhere in between.
Good things will come of this change. I know that.
More people will play Rift. It won’t make it suddenly popular with people who wouldn’t play a fantasy MMORPG in the first place. But people who wouldn’t otherwise commit to $15 a month will want to play.
An annoying amount of words, and some irrelevant pictures, after the cut:
DUST 514 Has Launched May 14, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
Tags: Ambivalence, Dust 514
Or so says the press release.
My ambivalence towards the game continues however.
I like the connection with EVE Online, the idea of continuing the struggle on the surface of planets, the possibilities of the combined in-game markets, and, most of all, the idea of bombing DUST players from orbit while in my spaceship just for the sheer hell of it.
That last bit represents the height of my interest.
But shooters… and console shooters… just really are not my thing.
So, while I have a PlayStation 3, I still have not bothered downloading it.
I am not on the Derek Smart “just going to fail” train, but I wouldn’t bet heavily on success either. Player numbers are starting to become available. But I couldn’t tell you if they are good or bad yet. How much is enough with a free to play game?
Meanwhile, I just haven’t seen or heard anything that makes me want to play yet.
DUST got a boost with the Uprising update. That all sounds good. But there isn’t the anything I just have to have, anything that is a big draw.
Maybe, like EVE, it would benefit from more public drama.
Or, maybe, like EVE, it will start slow and build over time.
Where will it be in a year?
Rift to go Free to Play on June 12 May 14, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Rift.
Tags: Free-To-Play, PLEX, REX
I was wrong.
Another subscription MMO caves in, unable to make a go of things on monthly fees alone. Or they feel that the grass must surely be greener on the free to play side of the fence.
Of course, my prediction was back when Scott Hartsman was still on board and before they put the cash shop interface into the game. And with WoW, the game Rift sought to out do by speed and emulation, dropping subscriptions in huge, game killing chunks (for any game except WoW), the subscription model takes has taken another blow.
Anyway, Trion has announced that Rift will go free to play come June. They have a video and such on the official site. And a producer’s letter. And a FAQ. And an interview over at Massively to reinforce all of this.
They will even have something called REX, which sounds remarkably like PLEX. You think?
The beginning matrix of who will get what has been announced.
People who subscribe will now be called “Patrons” and will get a set of benefits. Will they be worth $15 a month to people?
That feels more like World of Tanks, what with the short term options available. They are certainly trying to mix in all they can.
But still, the cash shop will now rule the roost and new content will likely falter while Trion begins the endless race to figure out what will sell best. Those who buy from the cash shop will drive the game going forward.
Some people will be cheering, feeling that every game needs to be free, that there is only one right model.
Either way, it will change the game. Nobody can deny that. And it will likely bring in some new players to start. But eventually the cash shop chase will begin.
What do you think?
Addendum: Green Armadillo has some thoughts on Rift’s new plan.
Waiting for Civilization May 13, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
Tags: Civilization II, Civilization Series, Civilization V, Performance Issues
Last week my focus was a huge game of Civilization V.
Early in the week I started a few games on the largest map size (going with the Lakes option, so lots of land warfare) with a dozen competing civilizations and the usual complement of city states until I got a situation that looked good. The first time out I was wedged in a corner between the Huns and the Mongols, which did not bode well. The next time I was the Huns, but I managed to get into a war of annihilation with three other civs very early in the game, and while I managed to get to peace while still holding on to my capital, I was set back so badly that any rematch was going to go badly for me.
The third time out I drew the Germans which helped me build up my military quickly and avoid getting penned in early. The Germans have a somewhat imbalanced attribute that allows them to recruit barbarians to their side a certain percentage of the time when they defeat a barbarian camp.
I actively went after barbarian camps, which allowed my city production to stay focused on buildings and wonders. You don’t get the best units that way, but you get a lot of them. My barbarian strategy actually ended up yielding too many units and some points, though I was able to gift them to city states in return for influence. The Germans also pay less for land unit maintenance, so that helped with the budget.
I ended up playing all the way into Sunday evening in sessions of an hour or more. In the end it was down to five civs, all of whom feared my military might and all but one of which, the Carthaginians, who were my game-long ally, I was chipping away at, declaring war, taking a city, getting another city as part of a peace settlement, and then turning to the next in line.
However, my enthusiasm for conquest was starting to wain, so I decided at around turn 1,100 to just go for the cultural victory and end it about 30 turns later. I saved before I started, so I could go back and continue the military victory… or the political victory… or the religious victory. All were still viable. But I was tired of waiting.
I was tired of waiting because, in the last 500 or so turns, that was what I was doing most of the time; waiting. I would make my moves, update production, tweak some improvements, then end my turn only to wait and wait while the computer handled each of the other civilizations, the city states, and finally the barbarians. Then the game would come back to me.
It is a truism of the Civilization series that each version is launched at a time when they really need the next generation of CPUs to run them effectively. I remember getting a new computer and seeing the time it took to play a game of Civ II drop dramatically. I recall writing a note to Firaxis about the slow performance of Civ IV back when it launched, at a time when I had a pretty high end machine in terms of processing power. Their response was quite snotty in my opinion and could be summed up as “play smaller campaigns if performance matters to you, there is nothing wrong with our game.”
So I am left wondering when we will reach the point where average CPUs will be up to the task of speedy turns in Civ V and where the bottlenecks really lay. The game appears to at least be multi-core aware. Looking at Task Manager, at least four of the eight cores in my CPU look like they are in use, though none of them are capped out or even showing usage beyond 50%. So the game doesn’t seem CPU bound. RAM appears to be available, so it isn’t like the game is paging out constantly… or it shouldn’t be in any case. And while there appears to be some issue with I/O… the game takes me four long minutes from launch before I can resume a game already in progress… and four minutes might not seem like much time, but try sitting in front of your screen waiting, clicking to skip through any video possible, and listening to the required speech about your civ and its leader, then it is the “watched pot” scenario… I cannot imagine that they are doing much of that for each turn.
So when will we be set on this front?
I hope that the next Civ V expansion, Brave New World, will include performance improvements like those that came with the Gods & Kings expansion… yes, performance was even worse at launch… because CPUs not only are not getting faster in the ways they used to back in the day, but the CPU doesn’t seem to be the limiting factor at the moment. A long campaign like last week’s, where the last third of the game was mostly me waiting on the computer, puts me off the game.
But it does make me want to dig out my Civ II disk, which is still lost somewhere in my office. The game isn’t as sophisticated as Civ V, though there is some appeal to its sometimes crude simplicity.
But the game itself runs like a dream, the AI zips along, and most of any match is spent doing rather than waiting. There are many reasons I always go back to that game, and speed is certainly one. Yes, you can get mired into epic stalemates, but at least the turns move quickly.
So far this week has not bee full of good news for Blizzard.
There was the 1.08 patch for Diablo III, rolled out on US servers the day before yesterday, which was touted as bringing serious improvements to the game, including changes to the surprisingly popular auction house.
Unfortunately, one side effect was the introduction of a bug that allowed players to basically create gold out of thin air… or virtual thin air… thus putting the whole in-game economy in peril. I don’t think that was the auction house fix they were looking for, and continues along with Diablo III’s somewhat hard luck tale.
Blizzard jumped right on this, once they noticed it, shutting down the auction house. They have since reported that the bug has been fixed. However, there remained the question of what to do. There was talk of a complete roll-back to a pre-patch save. However, they chose to do it the hard way, opting to manually fix each account that used the bug. I have not seen any word about people being banned for using what was obviously an exploit, but I suspect there will be some sanctions.
As of this time, the auction house on US servers remains closed, and will stay so until all current auctions expire.
The updated has been fixed and should roll out without the exploit on EU and Asian servers.
Then there was the Activision Blizzard quarterly report where, after a rise in subscribers with the release of Pandaria and then holding steady the next quarter, a drop of 1.3 million subscribers was announced for the past quarter, the subscriber base moving from 9.6 million to 8.3 million players.
As has become a standard part of these sorts of announcements, it was stated that most of the losses were in China, which have a much smaller impact on revenue, it was allowed that there were subscription losses in the west and that the company expected the subscriber base at the end of the year to be smaller than it is now.
Expect nothing new for WoW this year I guess.
Bobby Kotick was quick to point out that WoW remains one of the most successful video game franchises and, no doubt, continues to be insanely profitable.
The quarterly report is available here.
Memories, Timelines, and the Bigger Picture May 8, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment.
Tags: blah blah blah, Charts and Graphs, GEnie, George Clooney, Misty water colored memories
There is a horribly worn out old book on the book shelf in my office. It is a soft-bound copy of The Twentieth Century – An Almanac.
I used to pick up that book and read through sections all of the time, to the point that the book looks very worn out. There wasn’t anything particularly startling or new or exciting about the content of the book, except that it was history, which I enjoy.
What drew me to the book was the format.
At its heart, the book is a simple listing of details, year by year, decade by decade, in chronological order, without breaking them out into the usual topics. So rather than reading just about WWII or the Great Depression or any other events that we tend to look at in a vacuum, everything is woven together, giving a better sense, to my mind, of the complexity and parallel nature of history.
There are always a lot of things going on at once. Just because the Korean War was going on did not stop politics, the arts, diplomacy, and a whole host of other conflicts, brewing, in progress, or otherwise, from continuing apace. The world never stops.
Of course, the book’s title is a bit misleading. As it was published in 1985, it was only an almanac of roughly 84% of the 20th century. And since no update or revision was ever done, the 20th century ends with Reagan’s re-election, while the Cold War continues on.
Still, I enjoyed the book immensely. I have never found another work that combined the detail and parallel flows of history so well.
And to a certain degree, that book influences what I have ended up trying to do with this blog. Part of the blog is a chronicle of my own gaming adventures. But I also try to include bigger events, things that are landmarks in the time stream of gaming, not because I aspire to be a news site, but because they indicate what else was going on in the field.
It is an attempt to make my own almanac of gaming I suppose.
After the cut, there are lots of words about the distortion of memory, old games, and what I was playing when in a general sense, along with some charts. The charts are an attempt to provide a framework for memory, and are a work in progress themselves.
You have been warned.