The EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition December 12, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
Tags: Call me a shill, Collector's Edition, EVE Online Second Decade Collector's Edition
A couple weeks back Jeff of Lewis PR dropped me a note asking me if I wanted a free copy of the EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition.
I naturally assumed that this was some sort of scam because, EVE Online. Right? I ignored it.
Trooper that he is, Jeff persisted in trying to give me something for free, and around the third note from him I finally responded with my suspicion that this was a scam. By that point I had looked up the company, which turned out to be up the freeway in SF and did, according to its web site, represent CCP.
He said that suspicion was not an uncommon reaction. Once we got on the same wavelength he got my address and the very next day a big box dropped on my doorstep containing the whole big thing. It is heavy.
And it is heavy because it has a ton of stuff in it. The first things you see are the big things, all nicely tucked into the box. There is the model of the Rifter, probably the most recognizable ship in the New Eden, which is also a USB hub. I am not sure how many people will actually use their Rifter model as a hub… just having the Rifter model itself seemed like enough for me… but you have that option. Me, I am leaving my free of cables so I can run around the house with it and strafe the cats when the situation calls for it. (I like that the official YouTube video about the USB Rifter got about a third as many views as the video of somebody “flying” their Rifter through the CCP offices.)
There is also a copy The Danger Game, which was the first product that CCP created. I am not sure what I can really say about this, except that this was the first product CCP shipped, and it brought in the money to bankroll EVE Online. So it has that going for it. There is a fuller story narrated by CCP Guard on YouTube.
And then there is the the book, EVE – Into the Second Decade.
This is the meat of the “big” items in the box. Coming in at just over 190 pages, it describes the birth and evolution of the game EVE Online. While heavier on illustrations than details, it does take a pretty extensive look at the first decade of EVE Online. It is coffee table book comparable to the 10 year celebration tome that SOE put out to celebrate 10 years of EverQuest.
The books are quite similar as the both describe the foundations, the launch, and the arc and developments of the respective games, leading looks forward to the future, with EverQuest Next figuring in one and DUST 514 in the other. Where the EVE volume differs is how much more focused it on the players. There are little tidbits that mention things like Hulkageddon, Burn Jita, and the boot.ini episode. That is sort of like SOE bringing up Planes of Power bugs, the Mystere incident, and Fansy the famous bard as part of their memories of EverQuest, something that just wouldn’t happen.
And when the chapter about the Incarna expansion hits… entitled The Long Walk… CCP is pretty clear that the player base was in revolt. The follow on chapter that picks up the story… after a detour into DUST 514, is Redemption Arc.
Add in the guest essays from various people in and around the game and this is something to have, not a detailed history but a trail of images, impressions, and emotions that really evoke a sense of connection to the game. Good stuff. The best of the big items and something I really wanted.
And then there is the little box within the big box.
The first thing in the little box is the music from the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra’s performance of some of the music from EVE Online from Fanfest back in April. I missed this performance because, like so many CCP events, it happened while I was at work, but I have been dying to hear it. So now I have a new twist on a series of tracks that are among the most played on my iPod. The songs on the CD are:
- Stellar Shadows
- Below the Asteroids
- Shifting the Balance of Power
- Rose of Victory
- I Saw Your Ship
- All Which Was Lost
- A Surplus of Rare Artifacts
- It Ends Here
- The Jovian Front
- Smoke from Down Below
- Merchants and Looters
Tucked in around the the music CD are the game code cards. There is one for EVE Online, the contents of which CCP has detailed on their site. Implants, cosmetics, a special ship and some blueprints come with the code.
Then there is a code for DUST 514, which is part of the EVE Online universe… though not a part in which I participate.
There is a 60 Day new account code that you can give to a friend… or use to create another alt.
And then there is the Collector’s Edition Mystery Code which was… for a while… a mystery. Then they announced some of the items, which included a PLEX, more in-game cosmetics, a special ship in the upcoming EVE Valkyrie (which looks a lot like one of the EVE Online drones), and some of what they call in-game collectables.
I think that, like some of the entries in the collector’s edition book, the in-game collectables give some insight to how CCP views the game and the players. They could have dropped in a bunch of things that celebrated game milestones like expansions and such. Instead, they are focused on player achievements. There is a set of tokens for each of the alliance tournaments celebrating the winner. And there are a bunch of one-off items, like ticket stubs for the premier of Clear Skies.
Others include notable events from the history of the game as created by the players.
These are actual in-game items. They do not do anything within the game, but you can sell them, trade them, or store them away for another day. Like the implants and other in-game items you get with the collector’s edition, they are not locked down to your account. You are free to do with them as you please. I have seen the “golden pod” implant, which goes in a special socket and survives clone jumps and being podded, on the market for several billion ISK.
So what to make of all of this stuff.
If you are a hard core EVE Online player… well… you probably already own a copy of this. But if you somehow missed it, you can still get one via the EVE Store or Amazon.com. The list price is $150, but Amazon has had it available as a flash sale for as low as $99 at some points.
Is it worth the price? Hard to say. For me, yes. I wanted the book and the CD, which are probably worth at least $45 right there. Add in the PLEX and a substantial bit of the cost is covered by tangible items of value. I am not sure what I would have paid for a Rifter model… I would have paid quite a bit for the LEGO Rifter, which gets a mention in the book… and The Danger Game isn’t much of a draw for me. And the rest is digital, stuff made of ones and zeroes and accessible to me only as pixels on a screen.
It was worth it to me.
At this point you are probably thinking, “Well of course it was worth it to you, you got the damn collector’s edition for free!”
Well, I did get a copy for free. But I had already pre-ordered the whole thing before it came out. So I speak from the perspective of somebody justifying their expense, not as somebody who got something expensive for free. Or something. I paid for a copy and am content with that.
Collector’s editions always carry some controversy. If you don’t like them, they can seem a naked cash grab. If you do like them, they can be a way to own something extra, something special, from a game you enjoy. I can go either way on the topic, depending on the game and what is being offered.
Now I have to figure out what to do with this other copy of the collector’s edition. I promised I wouldn’t turn around and sell it on eBay. No fun in that anyway. I think bits of it might serve as prizes for a contest. Maybe something after the holidays, when things settle down a bit.
I already know somebody who is interested in the USB Rifter. I owe him for some home made salsa.
Quote of the Day – CCP Layoffs and World of Darkness December 11, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
Tags: CCP, Quote of the Day, World of Darkness
CCP today made strategic adjustments to the staffing on the team working on the World of Darkness project in Atlanta that resulted in the elimination of approximately 15 positions at the company. The change was due to our evaluation of the game’s design and ongoing development needs. While this was a difficult decision, CCP remains committed to the franchise and our promise to make a compelling, rich, and deep World of Darkness experience.
Ned Coker of CCP, following rumors of layoffs
Not much to be said except that there is no “good” time to be laid off. I have been down that path a couple of times myself, though never right in the teeth of the holidays.
The move was focused on the World of Darkness team, which also faced a cut back in October of 2011. The 2011 cut reportedly reduced the team working on the project to 60, and now 25% of that group has been cut. No matter what mollifying phrases are used, this cannot be seen as a positive spin for the future of a game based on the franchise.
CCP bought White Wolf, the creators of World of Darkness, back in 2006, and have been working on an MMO version seriously since 2009.
Diversion to Mount Hyjal December 11, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Mount Hyjal
It looked like we might get a third straight week of the whole group on together, but Ula was not feeling well and had to bow out.
That left four of us looking for something to do. The group, as it stood on Saturday night:
- Earlthecat – Level 82 Human Warrior Tank
- Skronk – Level 82 Dwarf Priest Healing
- Bungholio – Level 82 Gnome Warlock DPS
- Alioto – Level 82 Night Elf Druid DPS
- Ula – Level 82 Gnome Mage DPS (Out, not feeling well)
All of us had managed to make it to level 82, which was our max level target. So the first thing we did was head off to find the NPC who turns off experience so that we would not inadvertently rise too far in levels before we finished off the Cataclysm instances. Skronk had scouted this out previously so we all met up in Stormwind keep where the XP guy resides. I actually couldn’t find him at first, and needed to go stand by Skronk before I saw him. You see, the NPC is a rogue who is in stealth mode… so you cannot really see him until you are close to him.
I am not sure what message Blizzard is trying to send with that NPC. Are they saying they put this feature in but are not really happy about it? Or that you just need to work/suffer a bit if you want to turn off their highly tuned vertical character advancement system?
Anyway, we found him and all paid the 10g fee to turn off experience and saw our XP bars vanish. Now the question was, how important is such advancement when playing as a group? We decided to test that out by taking a trip to the other early Cataclysm zone, Mount Hyjal.
We chose Mount Hyjal for two reasons. The obvious first one was that we were all in sync in Vashj’ir after last week, so we didn’t really want to mess that up. The second reason was that there was not a lot of enthusiasm to head back to Vashj’ir. There were some complaints of disorientation and a touch of motion sickness after last week. The idea of going back under the sea was one of the reasons Ula decided to sit out, as she felt that another run at the zone would just make her feel worse.
Fortunately, the Throne of Tides instance appears to be dry land under the sea as opposed to a 3D swim-a-thon, so I think we’ll be okay doing that. But we might otherwise be done with Vashj’ir. A couple of us can, if need be, swim out there and bring the rest out using the summoning stone. Dry land for us.
First we had to get ourselves lined up and out to Mount Hyjal. As it turned out, each of us was at a different stage in relation to the zone. Bung hadn’t started the quest chain to get there yet. Earl had started it but then moved on after arriving in Moonglade. I had brought Alioto out there to harvest herbs and had done the first couple of quests. And Skronk had started on the Mount Hyjal quest line a while back and was a ways down the line.
So Bung and Earl started off getting to the zone, which didn’t take long, while Skronk and I took the portal out. Then the group started doing quests, with people joining in as it hit where they stood. All in all, it went pretty well. The quests seemed to work when run as a group, with almost no cases of updates not being shared when it might have been appropriate to do so. (I can only think of one point when that happened.)
There were even some nice touches, such as an escort quest that three of us were working on, along with a couple of other players players, where each of us could only see the NPC that was specific to our version of the quest. Games have often enforced this in the past by simply allowing only a single version of the NPC to exist in the game. The Pengail quest in the Lone Lands springs to mind. While you could get the quest as a group, if somebody else was shepherding him through (or directly into) the goblins, you had to wait your turn.
So that went really well, with a pile of people able to do the quest in parallel without the obvious hitch of multiple versions of the NPC in question wandering about. (Though there is always that awkward moment where “your” version of the NPC spawns while the original is still visible, so for a short bit there are two of them.)
That was also the only point during our evening when phasing split the group. Everybody on the escort quest was phased into a different version of the underground area until the NPC was delivered. Skonk, who had done the quest, remained in the original version of the area. However, once the quest was completed, we were moved back into the same version of the zone as Skronk. It seems like they went for a lighter touch with phasing, at least with what I have seen so far. Nobody has been stuck on the wrong side of a phase wall so far.
I had also forgotten how much being able to fly in Mount Hyjal affects the zone. Since it, along with Twilight Highlands and Uldum, are just adjuncts to the current world, as opposed to being new continents, if you can fly in old Azeroth you can fly there. So it is easy to just skirt danger and set down close to where you need to be. We just fly off here and there, dropping in only where we had to.
That is the flip side of flying, as it really cuts back the bite any zone has unless the zone is designed well. It is always a double edged sword. Flying is wonderful and really sets you free while at the same time trivializing and ground obstacles. I was happy enough when I couldn’t fly in Pandaria until 90 and I hope we won’t be able to fly until level 100 when Warlords of Draenor comes out.
I was also a bit surprised at how crowded the zone was. Sure, it was a Saturday night and there has been the whole soft server merge thing going on. But still, this is one of the starter zones for Cataclysm, which is now three years old and hasn’t been the new thing since Mists of Pandaria rolled out a year back. But I have seen some of the same thing in The Burning Crusade; overland content isn’t that well populated, but you can get into a Dungeon Finder group… even as DPS… pretty quickly even on a weeknight. So Blizz seems to be doing okay on making the world seem alive, at least in the server group where our server, Eldre’Thalas, resides.
And, as it turned out, we were fine moving along through the zone with experience turned off. Gold was made from quests, equipment upgrades showed up now and again, and there was some resource harvesting on the side. Plus, there was still advancement of some sort. While our experience was turned off, we still were generating experience for the guild. The guild had just hit level 10 earlier in the day… up from level 3 when we rolled back into the game about a month ago… and our evening worth of work put it about half way to 11.
I find the guild experience mechanism mildly interesting as a design choice. Essentially, the prime way the average guild member earns experience for the guild is by completing quests. But quest completion gives a flat rate return of 60K guild experience. So if I do a level 90 quest in Pandaria, the guild gets 60K. If I roll a new character, getting him in the guild, and do the first “Hi, hello!” quest, it also earns the guild 60K. So if you are not doing other things as a guild… raids, challenges, scenarios, or whatever… everybody can contribute at the same rate via quests. It is very egalitarian, and certainly makes it more likely that we will have a level 25 guild some day. Was it always this way, or was that a change that came in after we left for greener pastures?
Anyway, we ran through maybe a third of the zone living… or reliving… the content. Eventually we hit a boss-like mob on one quest chain that seemed like a good end point.
After that we did our semi-traditional group shot just to commemorate the evening.
So that was our Saturday night run. Hopefully everybody will be in good health and ready to tackle our first instance next time around.
Tags: Prophecies of a Great Plague, RMT, WoW Shop
Well, that is a corner turned. Blizzard has followed the rest of the industry and put a cash shop directly in the game.
While they have sold special mounts and pets for World of Warcraft for some time, there was always an out-of-game aspect to them. You might see them advertised on the launcher, but if you wanted to buy one you had to wander over to the Blizzard store. You certainly didn’t see ads or pricing or a store front actually in the game.
It is there now.
Sure, it is just a tiny little button down there between the dungeon journal and the game menu/connection status buttons.
But it opens up a store front.
And there it is, real world money in Azeroth.
I suppose it is something that they did not also introduce an RMT currency as well. Baby steps down that path I guess, because I hardly think they are done on the in-store shopping front. I doubt Blizzard would intend for the store only to sell pets and mounts and then leave a line item like “consumables” in the screen shots for the official store announcement.
Now, the sky isn’t falling, the end of the world is not at hand, and World of Warcraft isn’t going to go free-to-play with the next patch. But you can hardly see something like this happen without wondering where it is going. So I am marking the date when the boundary was crossed, when you could buy things in World of Warcraft for real world cash.
And where do you think this will end up?
Addendum: After a bit of experimentation, I will add the following:
You can turn off the store interface if your account has parental controls applied to it. By default the store appears to be off with parental controls. I happened to have parental controls turned on with my account to ensure that RealID was, and remained, off. When off, the button (which is tiny to start with) is grayed out and informs you that it has been turned off via parental controls.
The store check-out interface makes you enter your password, but then uses what it considers to be the default credit card for your account. For my account, that happened to be an expired card that I probably ought to remove, but never got around to killing off. The transaction stopped there, as there is no way to select an alternate payment method.
The store failing to check out seems capable of messing up the game client. A friend of mine was also trying out the store and reported that she had to eventually exit the client and log back in after a failed transaction. In-game assets… NPCs, critters, and her own mount… started disappearing from the game.
Finishing the Burning Crusade December 10, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: The Burning Crusade
The Burning Crusade came out quite a while ago, didn’t it?
That sounds like something of a “well, duh” question, but as I started out on this post I had to look up the ship date for the expansion, as it was in that hazy time range of “not recent, but since I got married.”
The Burning Crusade went live on January 15, 2007, which would put it about four months after I started this blog. The blog passed the 7 year mark a while back. That would put us back to the days when Vanguard and Microsoft Vista were both launching. And what a problematic pair they turned out to be. Lord of the Rings Online was in the near future, while Warhammer Online seemed ages away at that point, and EverQuest II was feeling revived after the Echoes of Faydwer expansion. I was buying my last AGP video card.
And then there was The Burning Crusade.
This has never been my favorite World of Warcraft expansion for a number of reasons.
The first was that I simply wasn’t ready for it. The instance group started off fresh with its weekly adventures during the October that preceded it, so that by the time it launched we were still shy of level 40 as we took on the Scarlet Monastery. So, while I bought the expansion the day it shipped, we were months getting there.
And then once we were there, it wasn’t exactly a thrill. As Blizzard’s first expansion to WoW, the philosophy for the overland content seemed to be, “If killing 10 rats is good, then killing 15 must be better!” It seemed like an illustration of how to annoy an MMO player. All the things we complain about were there. Kill 15. Loot 10 items that only drop about a quarter of the time. Murder shopping lists, to kill 8 of these, 12 of those, and 5 of the other. And everybody’s all time favorite, where you have to run back through the area you just cleared… which has now respawned… and kill the boss. Couldn’t you have put him on the list before I went out there the first time?
Then there was Hemet Nesignwary and his first 9 quests, which required you to slay a total of 270 mobs.
Everything was a long slog and quest hubs handed you as many as a dozen quests at once. Directions in the quest text was vague at times, wrong at others. I remember spending a lot of time finding the right location for a number of quests in Zangarmarsh. And if you were not paying attention to your quests, you could find yourself covering a lot of ground repeatedly.
It was not ideal.
The instance group itself did not actually get into the first instance, Hellfire Ramparts, until over a year after the expansion launched.
And thanks to summer vacations and a hiatus into Warhammer Online, the last instance I recorded us hitting was Sethekk Halls, the 8th of 16 instances, the week before Wrath of the Lich King launched.
After that, we were into Northrend, starting with our epic ride to Utgarde Keep, and into what I would call the peak of the instance group in Azeroth. We dove into the expansion and played it to its fullest.
Meanwhile, Outland lingered behind us. On short handed night we might drop back into it to run an instance over level. At some point I did the faction grind in Nagrand, because I have all of the talbuk mounts on my list. But I never got into the end-game dailies or even the actual end of the story. We did get back to Outland for a bit in the horde version of our group at one point, but that stopped once Cataclysm got close. And I have run a couple of characters through it. But the whole expansion has remained something like fly-over content… literally, now that you can fly at level 60… on the way towards level cap.
So when I ended up with a druid spec’d for healing sitting at level 61 in Outland after my return to the game back in September, I decided to buckle down and follow the progression of the instances. Instances are far and away the easiest route through The Burning Crusade these days and, thanks to the cross-server nature of Dungeon Finder and the propensity of WoW players to roll up alts, it is surprisingly quick to get into an instance, even as DPS, during peak hour.
So I queued my druid up for each instance in turn and leveled my way to 70. It was quite a fun review of the content. I am not sure that anybody would find it all that challenging. The many reworks of classes over the years, which always focuses on the most recent expansion, has made characters pretty powerful relative to the way things were back in 2007/2008. Death Knight tanks… and you run into a lot of Death Knights as you run through these instances… are particularly durable. Monks also do well as tanks as do Paladins. Warriors seem less over-powered in that role, though there were relatively few warrior tanks as part of my run.
The usual problems one associates with Dungeon Finder did come up now and again. At off-peak hours, getting a group is heavily dependent on a healer and a tank being in the queue with you. And if you are in a group late on a week night and your tank disconnects, you aren’t likely to get that instance done.
And the tank really sets the pace for the run. I was in groups where the tank made sure everybody was with him and at least announced when he was starting a boss fight, and I was in groups where the tank was clearly interested only in speed. I was on one run where the tank literally did not stop moving until we hit the final boss, leaving a trail of trash mobs in tow for the DPS to clean up. And then he complained about the wait when we had to stop and listen to the monologue before the final fight. At the end he said he had a bet with a guild mate about how fast he could run the instance with a random group. I am not sure if he won the bet, but we sure did it quickly. As healer, I just follow the rule of keeping line of sight on the tank and keeping him healed. Good thing druids have some insta-cast heals, as I was also constantly in motion.
As things moved along, I chucked my “in order” plan, as queues for specific dungeons were starting to take longer and longer. You can get a Hellfire Ramparts groups in seconds, but at the far end of the list people are starting to level up and into Northrend. So I just started queuing for instanced I had not done yet and eventually got down to the last three, which according to my achievements, I had not completed with any character; Shattered Halls, Arcatraz, and Magisters’ Terrace.
It was late on Friday night when I was at that point. I managed to pull Magisters’ Terrace first, where I got to see Kael’thas Sunstrider.
That happened to be the super speed run, so while we finished fine and I got the achievement, I queued for that one again so I could actually do the quests and perhaps see what was going on. And I got another, slower run at it, which was worth the time. The last fight is fun, though it must have been tough back in the day.
Next I managed to get into Arcatraz which also went smoothly enough. The tank wasn’t in total “run run run” mode and I felt like I got the full tour.
Then I was left with just Shattered Halls. I queued for that one and it took a while. It was getting late and, though we seemed to be able to get a tank, the DPS players kept timing out when the group got called. I suppose they had been sitting there for a long stretch and had gone AFK. Eventually a group was rolled where everybody joined and we headed off into the last instance. And then, after the first boss, the tank disconnected.
We waited for another tank to queue, but it didn’t seem like it was going to happen. So I called it a night one instance shy of my goal.
The next afternoon four of us were on and working on alts when I said I was going to try to finish off that last instance. As it so happened, all four of us had characters in the right level range. So we formed up, one player shy of a full group, and headed to the instance on our own. That meant finding the right entrance, which isn’t all that obvious. But with flying mounts it was manageable. Later, when I died and nobody else could ress, running back to the instance on foot as a ghost took quite a stretch.
The instance used to require a key to enter, but all of those locks have long since been removed, so in we went. And, as I mentioned before, even with just four of us, we seemed a bit over-powered. When I died it was in the middle of a “pull the room” moment where an early heal hit before Earl had aggro solidly in hand and the whole crowd switched to me and pummeled me into paste. Fun fun.
That moment aside, we did make it to Kargath Bladefist, the final boss and one of the orc chieftains mentioned in the Warlords of Draenor presentations at BlizzCon, and managed to defeat him, which set off a chain of achievements.
In addition to the achievement for the instance itself… which got shoved off screen before I could get a screen shot of it… the guild got credit for a guild challenge, earning us some additional guild experience and gold for the guild vault and I got the Outland Dungeonmaster achievement, which means I have now done all the five person, normal mode instances in The Burning Crusade.
Which, just as capping off the last three instances in Northrend meant we had “finished” Wrath of the Lich King at last, meant that I now felt like I had finally “finished” The Burning Crusade. It just took me nearly seven years to get there. And now that I have a druid through that lot, it is time to work on my Death Knight. The instances are fun, not too difficult at this point in time, and represent quite a bit of the history of the game at this point as they are mostly unaltered… aside from moving the quest givers into the instances… since back in the day.
As for the group, now all of the unvisited five person instances lay ahead of us in Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria.
NSA Unable to Tie Your Guild to Al-Qaeda December 9, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, World of Warcraft.
Tags: much rolling of eyes, Sarcasm may be evident, Second Life
So many C.I.A., F.B.I. and Pentagon spies were hunting around in Second Life that a “deconfliction” group was needed to avoid collisions.
ProPublica Article, Word of Spycraft
One of the stories floating around at the moment is a report from ProPublica, The Guardian, and the New York Times about the various security agencies in the US and the UK conducting surveillance and collecting data on players inside games like World of Warcraft and Second Life. You can read the ProPublica story here. It has links out to the other two sites.
That the various alphabet soup of agencies were interested in online games as a potential communications channel for terrorists has been known for a while now. (At least I remember this coming up a few years back. Oh yeah, this.) But now, with the documents stolen from the NSA by Edward Snowden, we are getting a sense of how much effort went into this and what sort of returns were achieved.
Cutting to the chase: A lot and not very much at all.
There is that quote at the top of this post for starters. The article goes on to talk about ongoing efforts to infiltrate groups, recruit informers, and steal data to allow the various agencies to discover the real life identities of players. The government even went to the private sector to fund studies of online games, which eagerly jumped to get on the government funding teat, and yielded up such gems as the fact that “players under age 18 often used all capital letters both in chat messages and in their avatar names.”
Meanwhile, the results seem rather modest. The agencies discovered that a wide swath of the population plays online games, including people who might be potentially be recruited by various parties. But while there were plenty of “We’re in!” sorts of memos about getting data, documents showing that intelligence collected lead to terrorists, or any plots thereof, seem to be missing… or were never there in the first place.
Our government(s) in action.
I do find it interesting that Second Life seemed to get such focus. The tales seem to spin around World of Warcraft, Xbox Live, and Second Life, at least two of which were/are very popular. The security agencies seemed to believe the media hype of a few years back that Second Life was the future and that we would be doing business, conducting conferences, and attending concerts in a virtual world. Remember those days? Somebody at the CIA must have read Snow Crash as well.
On the flip side, there was no mention of EVE Online. Of course, Glenn Beck showed us that EVE is controlled by the CIA through Goonswarm, so they may be diverting attention from that, right?
No Coloring Outside The Circle December 8, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Books, entertainment.
Tags: Books I Read, The Circle
Secrets are Lies!
Sharing is Caring!
Privacy is Theft!
They are watching you. At least in Dave Eggers‘ novel The Circle they are.
The Circle starts off with Mae, an Ivy League graduate who has come back to her home town after graduation to fall into a job at the local utility company.
She does not fit in.
The utility company is straight out of the 1960s and simply having grown up using technology as an every day thing make Mae stand out even amongst the IT department. Her talents and education are clearly being wasted in that position.
Then her college roommate Annie throws her a lifeline in the form of an opportunity to come and work at The Circle.
The Circle is mash-up combo of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever other variations on social media you can think up. But their real break-through, their “secret sauce” as it were, is TruYou. This requires anybody who uses the services of The Circle to do so only with their verified, real world ID. This of course completely cleared up all of the bad stuff on their services (because nobody ever says anything mean, stupid, hateful, or whatever using their real name!), making them the front runner and allowing them to buy up all the competition. So if you want be involved in social media, you have to go to The Circle, which means using your real identity.
Annie is a rising star at The Circle, so her word gets Mae in the door and into a position in customer support where she quickly goes to work and does well. She enjoys the immediate feedback that the company rating system gives her and the company offers a vast array of perks and benefits. It is every Silicon Valley fantasy campus you have ever imagined. But she stumbles a bit as the requirements of the job are made clear to her.
The company expects her to be an active participant in their social media at all times. She is called to her bosses office when she disappears for a weekend because of a medical emergency at her parent’s house. He understands the need to be with family and is primarily critical that Mae made no social media posts along the way. This is framed as selfishness as he asks if other people facing similar situations wouldn’t benefit from reading her experiences in dealing with the medical issue. Mae meekly agrees and promises to do better.
Mae continues to stumble as she is introduced to each aspect of being a part of The Circle, the social media requirements, the corporate ranking based on employee activity, the conversion rate that indicates how much her activity has influenced buying habits, all of these become challenges for her. By I was that far along in the book, the progression of the book was pretty well charted out in my mind.
You and I might find the requirements of The Circle far beyond the pale, but young Mae… and The Circle favors hiring young, just out of college employees that they can mold… just like real Silicon Valley… reacts like Boxer in Animal Farm and vows to work harder at being a good employee of The Circle and spends nearly all of her waking hours toiling in the social media fields.
Meanwhile, The Circle has other plans. The have a tiny, low power, inexpensive, high-def camera system that they plan to produce by the millions. This will let anybody set up cameras anywhere that can be watched by anybody on the net. The Circle is interested in absolute transparency and predicts that once every action is seen and recorded by the cameras… all their data is stored away in data centers run by The Circle… crime will be a thing of the past.
They get their local congresswoman to wear such a camera at all times, making everything she does available for view on the internet. She has gone “transparent.” Soon there is popular pressure for politicians in general to go “transparent” and the cry becomes loud enough that many fear they will be seen as hiding things. There is a waiting list to go “transparent.”
Of course, some oppose this sort of thing, citing a right to privacy. The Circle sticks to the well worn line used by nascent totalitarians everywhere, that you have no need to fear transparency if you have nothing to hide. And, sure enough, any public figure that speaks out against The Circle is discovered to be involved with child porn, illegal drugs, gambling, or some other serious crime that discredits their objections completely. Mae’s Luddite ex-boyfriend notes how convenient this is for The Circle.
Mae will have none of that and her journey into the depths of The Circle are far from over. The Circle doesn’t want anybody… individuals, governments, corporations… to have any secrets. Well, except for The Circle itself. Proprietary information… trade secrets… you understand, right?
Every discussion of this book I have seen heads pretty quickly towards Orwell and 1984. Cameras everywhere, enforced orthodoxy, the ruthless destruction of all opposition and the co-opting of all fellow travelers… that all lines right up. But unlike 1984, where this was all in the furtherance of an endless war to consume resources and keep people poor and afraid, The Circle offers safety and happiness and freedom from worry while promising a world of consumption and distraction. That gets us more into Brave New World territory.
So the ideas behind the book are in no way new and if you have read much in the dystopian genre (throw Player Piano and Fahrenheit 451 on the fire as well) the book is going to evolve along a pretty predictable path for you. The setup of each scene in the book seemed to telegraph the results. If you are looking for surprises, The Circle won’t deliver.
What The Circle does bring to that genre is a fresh coat of possibility/plausibility.
The book takes place in the not too distant future and the technology that is brought up to accomplish the goals of The Circle feels all too easily reached from today. 1984 requires permanent war and a ruthless tyranny. Brave New World revolved around strange technology and the wholesale replacement of religion with consumerism as mandated by the government.
The Circle just has social media and a few gadgets that don’t seem that far off. Its power grows much more organically, and plays on things we already wonder about. Is that Xbox One watching you day and night through the Kinect features? Doesn’t your smart phone know where you are at all times? Are you sure that, when you tell Google not to track your web searches to be stored away and analyzed, that they aren’t just doing it anyway. Add in the fact that The Circle feels a lot like the HR-strangled, youth oriented, “everybody mouth the politically correct party line about work-life balance” while the company demands access to all of your waking hours attitudes that pervade the big companies in the valley these days, and it feels very close to being real.
So Mae travels further into The Circle. Her own actions set her up as a pioneer at the company and she ends up going “transparent,” carrying one of The Circle’s cameras on her person at all times, becoming the tour guide to the world inside The Circle. That is, in essence, her new job. Everything she says or does is recorded and broadcast live and she wanders The Circle campus. She can turn the camera off while she sleeps and can mute the audio for up to three minutes while using the restroom, but otherwise everything she sees, hears, and does goes out live. She is streaming her life all waking hours.
This makes Mae incredibly popular. Millions follow her at key points during her day. Feedback is immediate and almost universally positive. Her influence is huge. If she mentions a product or a person, they are immediately inundated.
Of course, this comes with the common issues we know from the internet. She is popular, but many people feel that they now “know” her. They offer up opinions and feedback on everything she does. A small subset of people ask for favors, demand acknowledgement, and otherwise act entitled. But Mae always responds, representing The Circle as she does. And when she reads aloud a note from her ex-boyfriend critical of Mae and The Circle, the backlash is immediate. Discussion of him and all his flaws surges and it is clear that her followers would make his life hell (or more hellish) if Mae just gave the word.
In the bubble around her, everybody is obviously aware that they are on camera. People’s behavior changes. The Circle wants to create a better society and knows that people are always on their best behavior when watched, so that is good. However, Mae’s friends avoid her and her family dreads her visits. Her friend Annie stays well clear of Mae and her audience. Even Mae feels the pressure of being always on, though she thinks that must be something wrong with her. How can always being her best… because that is what people do when they know they are being watched… cause her so much stress.
And The Circle’s various initiatives to correct the ills of modern society… when you have limitless video cameras, more surveillance is always the answer… go further and further. The only question is, where will things end?
Reviewing My Goals for 2013 December 6, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, World of Tanks, World of Warcraft.
At the beginning of each new year I have a special post. Sometimes if it predictions. Some times it is demands. Back in January I decided it should be goals.
So I wrote out a list of eight goals for 2013, then promptly forgot about them as set out into the year.
Now here we are, into December and we have reached the time to review. In theory, I could run out and complete at least one of the incomplete goals on my list. But in reality, it isn’t going to happen.
Each of my eight goals were well within my ability to accomplish. How many did I manage?
1- Finish Rift
There was a specific definition of “finish” in the goal, since MMOs are pretty difficult beasts to tame otherwise. And it wasn’t even the whole game I had to finish, just the Storm Legion expansion. The base game was already finished per my definition.
All I had to do was get a character to the new level cap and finish the five person dungeons with the instance group. Level cap should have totally obtainable… I had four characters at the old cap, one in each base class… and we were starting in on the first instance back at the start of January. I figured this was a gimme.
And then I had problems getting into Storm Legion. That dragged. I wandered off, then came back and gave it another shot and made it a bit further. But on entering Seratos I lost all momentum and that was that.
Meanwhile, the instance group had problems even getting online at the same time. We didn’t actually finish the first instance until the end of June.
So that goal was pretty much a bust and Rift lies fallow for me even now. The group as a whole hasn’t been back since we poked our collective noses in to see how the F2P transition went.
Goal not achieved.
2- Find a new goal in EVE
This isn’t looking good either. I had some idea about what I could do. I even trained up some skills. But here it is December and I am still playing about the same way I was back in January. I wait for a fleet op to get called, I log in, join the fleet, and go shoot things. Or fail to shoot things. My role is still pretty much that of “aligner to whatever, presser of F1, and clicker of PAP links.”
Not that I don’t enjoy that. I still goggle at large fleet battles. It is my place in the game for now. But it isn’t anything new.
I did train up to fly a carrier. I even purchased an Archon.
But flying a new ships is a constant and flowing thing in EVE Online. But unless you have a plan for what you are going to do with that ship once you have it, it isn’t the kind of goal I meant. And I haven’t done anything with the Archon since I bought it.
Goal not achieved.
3- Get to Tier IX in World of Tanks
Another goal I though would be a gimme. At the time I was closing in on a tier VIII tank and I was driving the KV-4 by mid-April, leaving me a good 8 months to make my goal.
And then I stopped playing World of Tanks around the beginning of May and I haven’t really been back since.
That is the way it goes with video games sometimes.
Goal not achieved.
4- Finish that Second Instance Group Video
This was to follow up the first instance group video I did, which reviewed our first year as a group in Azeroth. You can read my post about it, which includes the video and the whole director’s commentary. It included music performed by Earl and his musical friends.
I did actually start on this. I had decided that the second video ought to focus on our run through Wrath of the Lich King, which was arguably our peak in the game up to this time. We ran all the instances and had some adventures in the open world, so it seemed like good enough topic. I even went through the screen shots from the period and started pulling out and cropping potential candidates. I got about half way through that.
And then I got hung up on the music. I mentioned that in writing the original goal, that the music is an important part of the process for me.
I really need something to make the whole thing come together. At one point I was leaning towards ELO’s Don’t Bring Me Down, which I thought had the right ironic tone for the assault on Northrend, plus is a good tune. But I never quite got there. Then I got a bit twitchy about music after I ran into some trouble with one of my videos.
I understand the the holders of the rights to the music are entitled to profit from them. They claim the rights on YouTube, slap ads on them, and collect a bit of revenue. I am fine with that. But for one of my favorite videos, the horrible slog through time dilation to the battle at Q1U-UI, the rights holder insisted I remove the music. Apparently the reputation of the song Theme from a Summer Place, the most stereotypical elevator music ever, was being harmed by association with internet spaceships or something. Perhaps EVE was too exciting for it. I don’t know. But Google muted the audio until I clicked the button and let them remove the music from the audio track.
Google did a surprisingly good job at that, but now the video lacks much of its charm. It is just a bunch of slow spaceships with people laughing about how slow they are going.
Anyway, this made me a bit leery of doing anything else with musical tracks I happened to have in iTunes. Maybe I can get Earl and his group to record a version of Don’t Bring Me Down.
And then I got distracted with other things, the instance group was having trouble forming up, and I never quite got back to it.
It remains on my “to do” list, and now that we have actually done the last three instances in the expansion, maybe I will get back to it. But I still have the music thing to deal with.
Goal not achieved.
5- Retry an MMO That Didn’t Stick
Complete and utter failure on this one, at least for the definition I gave. I put out a potential list with titles such as Vanguard, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, Runes of Magic, Warhammer Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Pirates of the Burning Sea.
And I did not go back and play a single one of them.
I did try to log into Warhammer Online, but only after they announce it was going to close, and only for nostalgia tour reasons even then.
And I failed at that, as I could not coax Warhammer Online into letting my log into the game.
Goal not achieved.
6- Scout for the Next Instance Group Game
This was just vague enough that I can claim to have done it. Potshot was really the leader of the scouting expedition in 2013, leading the way into things like Neverwinter Nights 2 and Neverwinter. Some sort of theme going on there.
But for me to really lay claim to achieving this goal, I think I would have had to scout a game that we actually ended up playing.
Which I did.
I stepped foot into what would become our next game. I lead the way. I was there first.
It just happened to be a game we were already invested in, World of Warcraft. So I am pretty sure the group’s move back there had more to do with our investment in the game, and the BlizzCon announcements, than anything I did.
Goal not achieved.
7- Book My Autumn Nostalgia Tour Early
I think I managed this one. Every autumn I, usually accompanied by Gaff or Potshot, end up going back and playing some MMO from the past. This year I managed to this twice.
For the really early nostalgia tour, Gaff and I and our EVE corp went off to Middle-earth and indulged in a summer of Lord of the Rings Online.
Then, when that was wrapping up… I was on the far side of Moria and the rest of the corp had wandered off… my daughter wanted to go back and play World of Warcraft. So that was declared the Fall nostalgia run… for specific definitions of nostalgia in any case.
That ended up turning into the destination for the instance group, so it became more current and less nostalgia. Still, I think I managed this one.
8- Blog Stuff
My goal here was pretty much to stay the course… which isn’t really much of a goal. It is like riding a bicycle and making your goal “continue to pedal.” 334 posts later, I think we can confirm that I managed to carry on as always.
So that was a meager eight goals, out of which I managed to achieve two.
And the two that I achieved were vague targets to do what I expected I would do in any case. That certainly doesn’t reflect well on my ability to define a goal and achieve it.
I think that for my 2014 New Year’s post I am going to go back to predictions. Those are more fun to discuss… I cannot resist throwing in some silly or outrageous ones… and more fun to review at the end of the year. So look for that come January 1st.
Blog Side Bar Experimentation December 5, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in blog thing, entertainment, Feeds.
Tags: RSS, side bar
Not a gaming post
In what was a bit of a conjunction of two things, I started tinkering with the side bar of the blog last night.
The first thing was my ongoing insane jealousy over the side bar blogroll feature that bloggers who use Google’s Blogger have access to. The bit that shows the latest post, sorts by date, and so on. This turns the blogroll into a living thing that people actually look at and use. My referral stats bear out the idea that blogs that have this feature correctly implemented deliver more traffic than comparable blogs that do not.
I am dying for WordPress.com to implement something similar. Instead, they seem content to break things and every so often rework the user interface if somebody mentions it is working well. Seriously, I spend most of my time doing three things with the interface; writing posts, viewing comments, and glaring at stats. WP has taken it upon themselves to make sure that moving between these three things is as awkward as possible, forcing me to just keep three tabs open.
So, to make up for the fact that I have a very static and boring blogroll… if you get more than 10 referrals a month off of my blogroll, you are doing well… or are at the top of the list… I have used the blogs RSS feed from VirginWorlds as an addition to me side bar. VirginWorlds remains a great resource! Pillar of the blogging community! A few cobwebs are starting to appear around the place, but there is still nothing like else like it.
It is a site of extraordinary magnitude. Brent has our gratitude.
Unfortunately, Scott Jennings… who I am going to cast in the role of the villain here, because every story must have a villain, so if he show up and twirls his mustache be sure to hiss at him… looks to have been tinkering with his RSS feed. Once it delivered only posts from his very-quiet-of-late blog to the feed at VirginWorlds. In the last week, however, his feed began dumping updates from his forum… the Broken Forum… like so much toxic waste flooding the blog feed at VirginWorlds.
Okay, maybe “toxic waste” is a bit strong. But Scott Jennings does have an active forum… good on him… and every topic update appears to generate an entry in the RSS feed. The end result was that I found of the 15 entries from the VirginWorlds feed I had displayed in the side bar at any given time, 12-13 of them would be updates from the forum. Again, good for Scott and his active forum, but not exactly what I want in my side bar.
So after thinking about doing something about it for a couple of days… and ~20 seconds of actual Google work… I set about implementing something different.
The Google search returned a site called RSS Mix as the top unpaid result.
The site is simple. You paste in a list of RSS feeds. The site validates them, adds them to its database, and spits out a URL for a feed that combines them together. Easy times.
I then took this feed and put it in the side bar of the blog using WordPress.com’s rather limited RSS feed display widget. It works… it was what I was using for the VirginWorlds feed… but it doesn’t have a lot of options. (And, frankly, though I love this theme for some unfathomable reason, it does have pretty narrow side bars which do not help. My search for a viable replacement continues.)
I would, for example, like the blog name to appear with the entry. But all it will give me is author’s name and post date. I would also like it to display only one entry per sub-feed at a time, but then we’re getting into “what I really want is the Blogger blogroll widget” territory, and that just isn’t going to happen.
Anyway, most bloggers would have just made the change and moved on. But me, I have to tell stories. You might have noticed this. Plus, I do wonder if the half dozen of you who actually show up at the site regularly think of it.
I am also interested to see how well the aggregated feed from RSS Mix performs. It appears to do batch processing to get feed updates, and rightfully so. But that does mean that updates do not show up the moment right away. We shall see how long the lag is on that.
After I set that up, I did go back and look at the next few results returned by my Google search. They all seemed to be down or no longer in service, so I guess I didn’t have many choices. So here we are. (And I am sure, in my hurry, I missed some blogs that should be in the feed. I’ll make a 2.0 feed at some point.)
The Instance Group… Under the Sea December 4, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Cataclysm, Mounts, Vashj'ir
Under the sea,
Under the sea,
There’ll be no accusations,
Just friendly crustaceans,
Under the sea!
Homer Simpson, Homer Badman episode
Unless you go to Vashj’ir, in which case the crustaceans and often pretty hostile, along with the sharks and the sea goblins and the naga.
Did you know that the naga are, in fact, mutated highborn elves? True story.
Anyway, we were headed back to Vashj’ir, the zone under the sea.
We finished up Wrath of the Lich King last week and dipped our collective toes into Cataclysm. Our plan is to see some of the overland (or under water) content, find whatever dungeon there is along the way, and basically avoid using tools like Dungeon Finder to speed things along.
Not that the Dungeon Finder isn’t a fine thing. It removes almost all the pain of forming a PUG so you can get straight to hating the rest of your group in the shortest possible time. But for us, travel is part of the adventure.
And, for the second week running, all of us were together and online. The group was:
- Earlthecat – Level 81 Human Warrior Tank
- Skronk – Level 81 Dwarf Priest Healing
- Bungholio – Level 81 Gnome Warlock DPS
- Alioto – Level 81 Night Elf Druid DPS
- Ula – Level 82 Gnome Mage DPS
We got ourselves back into Vashj’ir. I took the bird to the island flight point and jumped in the water. Others found the portal in Stormwind and came via that route. Somehow we all managed to get in same general area, which sounds easy but which can be surprisingly difficult in an under water environment where everybody isn’t necessarily on the same horizontal plane. Up and down are a factor.
More after the cut because I run off at the keyboard as usual.