Three Science Fiction Series Starters

I do love me a good science fiction series… or even a not-so-good one as long as it knows how to keep my attentions… as I have written in the past.

I tend to try them out in audio book form as they are especially good for passing the time in the car during the commute to and from work.  Because of my ancient, grandfathered, pre-Amazon acquisition Audible.com subscription, I get two audiobook titles a month as part of a “use it or lose it” plan.  Sometimes I have my purchases planned out months in advance, sometimes I just grab something that looks shiny.

Over the summer I decided to try out a few new series from authors I did not know.  So I picked out the starter book from three different science fiction series that were available.

ThreeSciFiSeriesStartersThis is my report on what I found.

Steel World by B.V. Larson (2013)

Summary: Earth is small part of a giant galactic empire.  The empire expects planets to provide something and grants each one a franchise on what they do best, and woe be to those who don’t have something worthwhile or who impinge on the franchise of another planet.

Earth, being backward and savage, provides mercenaries for use in conflicts within the empire, which the empire allows because… I don’t know, maybe they think it keeps people busy.  These mercenaries, which are organized as Roman legions… because… Romans are cool I guess… make Earth a respectable part of the empire and earns Earth credits so they can buy fancy space technology.

One of the technologies Earth buys lets them backup and restore dead mercenaries, within certain parameters. (Very EVE Online)  You have to be confirmed dead before you are restored, which becomes a plot point the way transporter malfunctions do in Star Trek.

Anyway, this means that Earth’s legions have an practically endless supply of soldiers.  Meanwhile, Earth is overcrowded and if something bad happens and you lose your job, you are in bad shape.

Such is the case of James McGill, who due to family issues loses his ability to pay for college.  He was a huge gamer, so he sells his elaborate console and goes off to join one of Earth’s legions, something akin to somebody today selling their XBox One and running off to join the army because they were really good at Call of Duty.  Hilarity ensues.

Highs: The tech, the galactic situation, and the way the legions operate were enough to keep me engaged throughout the story.

Lows: Owes a lot to 50’s Heinlein, very “Johnnie Rico” at times.  Too cute by half McGill escapes from impossible situations.  Plot complications telegraphed well in advance.  Galactic situation, and the situation on Earth not very well fleshed out.  Only available on Kindle or through Audible.

Follow on Books: Dust World, Tech World.

Into the Black by Evan Currie (2012)

Summary: In the not-so-distant future, after a conflict that divided the world into two armed camps and pushed the US and Canada to form the North American Confederation, various technological breakthroughs have put mankind into space.  We follow Captain Eric Weston, former commander of the elite Archagels squadron and now captain of the newly launched NACS Odyssey as he takes Earth’s first faster than light capable ship on its shakedown cruise to likely nearby stars.

And, at their very first stop at another star, they detect tachyon emission that leads them to the site of a space battle where they rescue and alien from a life support pod.  From there, difficult questions ensue and the Odyssey ends up involved in the war, taking sides without really checking back to see if this is okay with Earth.

Highs: The tech is not the easy standards of the genre.  Book attempts to, if not fully explain, at least explain well the parameters of the tech.  That is some FTL drive!  Asymmetrical tech ideas work.

Lows: Owes a bit to David Webber.  Considering how much time is spent on how cool and elite the Archangels are, they really do not add that much to the whole story.  The early plot depends on a lot of really low probability events.  Would we just let our first FTL capable ship just go swanning about where the solar winds blow like this?  Boy, them friendly aliens sure put all their eggs in one basket.  Another “lost tribe” story.  Tachyon emissions.

Follow on Books:  The Heart of the Matter, Homeworld, Out of the Black

Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos (2014)

Summary: In the not-so-distant future the world is divided into two armed camps with the US and Canada forming the North American Commonwealth, and various technological breakthroughs have put mankind into space.  Hrmm… that sounds familiar.

Earth is a mess, over populated, with the greater underclass confined to crowded, walled off cities.  If you don’t have a job, or lose yours, well you are stuck subsisting off of government handouts in a dirty, crime plagued corner of what passes for life for most people.  This too, sounds familiar.

The only way out is to win a lottery to a life on a colony world or join the military.  The story’s protagonist, Andrew Grayson, opts for the latter.  Insert somewhat standard boot camp scenario.  He has dreams of getting into space, but when he makes it through training but ends up in the Territorial Army, whose job it is to keep the peace here on Earth rather than head to space or garrison colony worlds.  He ends up back in cities again, this time fighting the masses of which he was once a part.

Still, where there is a will, there is a way, and Andrew really wants to get into space.  Meanwhile, aliens are on the move.

Highs:  Well paced, author knows when to skip the story ahead without feeling like you’ve missed something.  Doesn’t dwell on the tech beyond what is necessary for the plot. Really alien aliens.

Lows: Owes something to Heinlein, Haldeman, Harrison, and probably John Ringo as well, and it is hard not to draw the comparisons as you read.  Why is our future always a dystopian, over crowded, welfare state?  Detroit cannot catch a break.

Follow on Books: Lines of Departure, Angles of Attack (Due April 21, 2015)

What to Pick?

None of these titles were bad. I listened to all three to the very end, even putting the headphones on at home to continue listening to the stories outside of commute time.  Mentioning that a given story owes something to a past author’s work means that the desire to compare the two became a distraction, but that may be just a product of my own mind and having read far too much science fiction over the years.  Do not read too much into that.

l listed the titles in the order in which I listened to them, so Terms of Enlistment gets a couple of unfair “sounds familiar” mentions in its summery because it was the third in the queue.

But when I got to the end of the three books, I immediately went back to Audible.com and but Lines of Departure on my list.  I’ve already finished that, too, and am now impatient for Angles of Attack.

That said, at least it gives me time to pick up The Heart of the Matter.  While Into the Black didn’t thrill me as much as Terms of Enlistment, it still sunk a hook in me and I want to find out what happens next.  Maybe the Archangels will live up to their hype.

Which leaves me with Steel World.  As I said, it wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t leave me looking for a sequel either.  On the other hand, if you look at B.V. Larson’s Wikipedia page (the only one of the three authors apparently notable enough to have one), he has a whole slew of other titles, so there are some avenues worth exploring.

Anybody else on board with these authors?

 

The Night the Lights Went Out in Norrath

A memory of the Great December Downtime in EverQuest II

It was just about ten years ago.

EverQuest II had be live for a little over a month.  There were troubles.  After having a couple weeks to itself in the market, World of Warcraft launched and the harsh comparisons began.  It wasn’t that EQII didn’t have some better features than WoW… for example, I have always felt that EQII’s version of in-game maps was superior… but in a market that, up until that moment, had been dominated by EverQuest, it was something of a fight to see which of the two would become EQ’s true successor.  After all, EQ was more than five years old at that point, and who plays a five year old game?  It was practically on death’s door, waiting to hand off to a new generation.

And in that fight, EverQuest II was not faring well.  Some people I knew who came from EverQuest had either gone back or moved on to WoW at that point.  EQII was down, but not out.  The game was still growing, this still being the age of the slow ramp rather than the sudden spike.

SOE was trying to fix things that were becoming a hindrance to players.  We were destined to get floating quest markers over NPCs and changes to the woefully inadequate quest log and the first of many revamps to the crafting system.  SOE knew they had to adapt.  They could see WoW.

In our guild, a mash-up of players from the EverQuest guild Knights of Force, the TorilMUD guild Shades of Twilight, and a few fellow travelers from the Old Gaming Veterans clan, things were holding on.  A few players had dropped out of the game, though they were mostly the non-MMO players from OGV who went back to playing Desert Combat.  But for the most part we were holding in there, grouping up to run through zones or crafting away.

On voice coms we mocked those who ran off to Blizzard’s cartoon MMO, though there was a feeling that maybe EQII wasn’t the true successor to EQ.  The early buzz around Brad McQuaid and Vanguard had started.  That was going to be the real deal.  But for now, EQII was the best we had, so we put up with locked encounters and experience debt and system requirements that burnt out more than a couple nVidia 6800 GT cards in our guild. (I was running with a 6600 GT card, which meant I had to keep the graphic settings modest, but I also didn’t need to replace the damn thing… or my power supply… over and over like some.  There is probably a post in “video cards I have run” some day.)

We were coming up to a good stretch of game play.  The holiday’s were coming.  Like many people in our guild, I had a stretch of time off and was looking forward to some good, solid chunks of game play time.

Then, as we were headed to that first weekend, SOE applied some updates and restarted the servers.

And they did not come back up.

Here is where the details get a bit vague.  I recall the game, or at least our server, being down pretty much Friday night through Sunday, a huge patch of premium gaming time washed away.

But concrete details are not easy to come by.

The SOE forum posts, all the status updates and such, have long since been washed away by changes to the forum software.  The conspiracy nut in me suspects that they change the forums every few years just to dump bad memories and excess baggage.

I mentioned that Massive Magazine did an article about the incident in their first issue.  That was just about two years after the event, when memories of the whole thing were sharper.  I think I still have a copy stuffed away in a box.  But we packed up and moved houses since then, so if it is in a box somewhere, it appears well hidden.

Digging around the web, I found some references to what happened.  Terra Nova mentions the event, but links the SOE forum thread, long since gone, and a site called MMORPGDOT, also a distant memory. (And looking at the internet archive only shows them making a very brief mention of the event.)

Likewise, there is a mention of the even happening at Slashdot, written by Michael Zenke, which links to a few sources, including the SOE forums, all of which are long gone save the Terra Nova post mentioned above.

Other news sites that cover MMO don’t go back that far (Massively) or went through changes or otherwise appear to have purged their archives beyond a certain point.

This is one of those points when I wish I had started blogging sooner.  Two years earlier and I would have written something about this, as I wrote about the great Sony hacking of 2011 which brought down both the PlayStation Network and SOE. (Not to be confused with the great Sony hacking of 2014.)

PSNDownSo I started nosing around at various blogs just to see what people were writing about when the downtime occurred.  A lot of the self-hosted blogs from that era have disappeared, or have had database problems, but a few still linger. (My Great Survey of Linking Blogs post helped out.  I will have to do another of those at some point.)

However, it did not seem to garner much attention.  The event coincided with Raph Koster’s book, A Theory of Fun, hitting the shelves.  There was a discussion of niche games in the MMO market, which still seems relevant today, and something about what WoW would mean to Dark Age of Camelot. (Or something of a contrary view.)

The only real mention I could find amongst the few blogs remaining from the time was by Tobold, for whom the server down time meant moving to WoW ahead of his initial plan. (Poking around also got me to this then-so-current WoW vs. EQ2 post at GameSpy.)

So here I sit, vague memories swirling, wondering how big of a deal the whole thing really was at the time.  Certainly evidence of the event has faded from the internet and worse things have happened.  Didn’t Arche Age just have a similar incident.

I think our own guild was emotionally entrenched in EQII at the time, so we just carried on once things were up again.

Do you remember the Great December Downtime of ten years ago?

Can you find anything else about it on the net?  If you find something I’ll add a link to the end of the post.

Suddenly I Had 280 AA Points

I knew that the patch was coming to EverQuest II yesterday, the patch that included the change to how Alternative Advancement points would be awarded.  I mentioned it in passing earlier in the week, how the game would now award some AA points with levels so as to make sure that by the time you hit level 90 you would have 280 points.  The whole thing was detailed over at EQ2 Wire.

What I did not expect, a few minutes after logging in… because it takes the system a while to catch up with you… was to get the achievement for having earned 280 AA points with Sigwerd, who was 27 levels shy of the guaranteed 280 points at level 90.

280AAAs I read the release notes, it seemed like the change would only boost you up to a minimum floor amount of AA points for your level, which according to the chart at EQ2 Wire should have put Sigwerd around 175 AA points, a boost of 65 over the amount he carried into the patch.

My immediate thought was that SOE had made a mistake and that they would be taking away these AA points if I didn’t spend them right away.  So I went and spent 170 AA points.

I like spending AA points on things that enhance skills I already have or that boost my character in specific ways.  I do not like spending AA points on things that add a new skill to my book.  I already run with three full bars of skills visible at all times and another two full up of things buffs and other rarely used items, and I will be damned if I can tell you what even a full bar of them specifically DO… aside from “some damage” or the like… so the idea of adding in more skills, which just get lost in my skill book, has little appeal.

As I was spending, I started to wonder if perhaps, yet again, SOE had taken my trade skill level into account.  SOE has often been rather indifferent to any distinction between trade and adventure level.  Back in the day, when you had to complete a special quest in order to get to Zek or the Enchanted Lands before level 30, I was able to wander in with my guild well before that because my trade skill level was past 30.  Sigwerd, thanks to doing the Frostfell crafting quest, had just become a level 88 armorer.

To test this, I logged in a few other characters who also had an imbalance in trade and adventure level.  However, nobody else hit 280, though one hit 200.  But he also had a lot of AA points already.

So my theory then became that, for this transition to the AA granting process, SOE was just going to give you the total number of AA points that was set as the floor for your given level, regardless of how many AA points you may have had already.  That theory was born out later when I actually looked up the release notes, which appear to say something that could be interpreted as thus.

So Sigwerd had 110 AA points and then had his the floor amount for his level, 170-180 I would guess, dumped on top of that, stopping at the grant cap of 280.  He will, thus, be granted no more AA points as he levels, having already hit 280, and it looks like he might have missed out on 5-10 free points in the bargain.

On the bright side, he has his 280 AA points NOW and can continue to earn AA points as he moves forward to 90.

And he is moving forward.

I decided to follow the advice of Gnomenecro in the comments and have been splitting my time between the Cloud Mount series of quests and some activities in Frostfell. (I had also forgotten how much better ZAM’s EQ2 site is compared to the official, SOE supported EQ2 section at Wikia.)

The Cloud Mount quests, done while ignoring other quests in the area, are something of a whirlwind tour of the Kingdom of Sky expansion that sends you almost every island exactly once.  So you get discover XP, you open up the map, and you get a bit of a feel for the place.  I have been doing a few of those quests every night, and am about a third of the way through it, well into the Barren Sky part of the quest line.

Islands of the not-so-Barren Sky

Islands of the not-so-Barren Sky

The run has given Sigwerd some decent equipment upgrades as well as some furniture for his home… he might need a bigger house at this rate.  And, of course, adventure experience.  Last night Sigwerd hit level 64, officially making him my highest level character… in adventure levels… in EverQuest II.

Hitting 64 in a narrow canyon

Hitting 64 in a narrow canyon

And, as mentioned, I have also been doing some of the Frostfell quests, which has been enhanced by SOE’s holiday double status special.  While somewhat vague about what gets doubled, as an All Access subscriber I appear to be getting double Frostfell E’ci tokens with each quest turn-in.  That, at least, has made the Frostfell Decoration Committee crafting quests, where you must craft 48 things in an instance without leaving or going to the bathroom or logging off, somewhat more worth it, as the turn-in grants 20 tokens.

That quest also grants a decent amount of crafting experience, boosting Sigwerd up to a level 88 armorer, which I think puts him in contention for my highest level crafting character.

So the return to Norrath nostalgia run seems to be off to a decent start.  Gaff even logged in to see what was going on, though he was struck by how dated the game felt.  And that is a hard part to argue with, especially since we have both been playing Warlords of Draenor content recently as well.  Despite years of updates, there is still very much a sense that this game was released before everybody felt they had to follow so many of the conventions cemented by WoW.

But, in its way, the dated feel of the game is part of its charm for me.  EverQuest II hasn’t always aged well.  Recently I felt especially odd heading back into the Echoes of Faydwer content, which when it was launced was an amazing revitalization of the game, but which now strikes me as an awkward and disorganized jumble.  Bits of it are still good.  I like the Butcherblock dock area and a lot of the dungeon content still feels fine.  My attempts to quest in Lesser Faydark and the Loping Planes were just frustrating.

But then I wander into some really old area, like sewers under Qeynos or the Isle of Zek or… and I am loathe to admit this because I did not like the expansion at the time… some parts of the Desert of Flames expansion and things still look as good as they did a decade back.

We’ll see how I feel when I get into the 2007 content with Rise of Kunark.

My MMO Outlook for 2015

Another of those regular end of the year posts where I either try to reflect on the past or peer into the future.

I don’t do this post every year, but once in a while I am driven to it for one reason or another.  Last year it was because I could come up with five good candidates for what new things I might be playing in 2014.

Granted, one of them was a new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, rather than a new game.  But at least I had four potential new games.

Okay, three potential new games, since I had EverQuest Next on the list, and that was beyond a long shot even a year ago.

Or maybe really two potential new games, since Landmark, still burdened with the EverQuest handle at that point, was also on the list.  Sure, it was available to the public, for a price.  And I even played with it a couple of times.  But it isn’t even feature complete yet, so SOE calling it beta is purely a political move.

And that will be... December?

And that will be… when?

There simply wasn’t enough “there” there to call it a game.

But there were two potentials, two new games coming in 2014 that raised enough interest in me that I could imagine myself perhaps playing them.  The were The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar.

And I did not play either of those.  I downloaded the beta for TESO, and while it felt like it had an Elder Scrolls vibe, an opinion based entirely on my few hours of playing Skyrim, which shouldn’t be viewed as being at all definitive, it did not really enchant me.  I was more interested in whether or not it and WildStar could pull off the monthly subscription model and last through to the end of the year without going F2P.  They made it, though things look grim for WildStar on that front.

So, in the end, I played one game on my list, which was just an expansion to a game I was already playing and which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.  I also played EVE Online, which passed the 11 year mark this year, and started in again on EverQuest II, another title in the double digit age range at this point.

I suppose I could throw War Thunder on the list, but that really isn’t an MMO in the sense I mean.  That, and World of Tanks are more lobby based battle match making games than persistent world.  I did take another shot at Star Wars: The Old Republic, but that passed quickly.  I’ve already spent more time in EverQuest II this week than I did in SWTOR all year.

So that was my year in MMOs  2014 was completely rooted in old standards.

And, as I sit here, it looks like that might be the way 2015 rolls, all old school.  Gaff, having patched up EQII and then balked at how dated it feels… and it does feel dated, though for me that is part of the charm… is talking a bit about Lord of the Rings Online.  But I don’t think LOTRO is going to win many points on the fresh-O-meter either.

I cannot, at this moment, bring to mind any new titles for 2015 that I might play.

Sure, I could go do a bit of research and come up with a few.  I know there has to be a few persistent, virtual world-like, MMORPGs slated for 2015, but I figure that if I do not know them without a Google search, then they are unlikely candidates at best.

Yes, I could put up a list like:

  • Landmark
  • EverQuest Next
  • Camelot Unchained
  • Shroud of the Avatar
  • Star Citizen

But I am not feeling it for Landmark really, and of the other four we might see something really playable (not just a badly branded open play test or bits and pieces) from Shroud of the Avatar or Camelot Unchained by next December, given the current state of progress.  Might as well just save those for the 2016 list.  I’m not really interested in doing beta any more.

So there it stands.  My likely slate of MMOs for 2015 appears to be:

  • World of Warcraft
  • EVE Online
  • EverQuest II

Not that such a list is bad.  As long as I am enjoying my time playing, it doesn’t matter if I am playing something new of something I started playing a decade back. And, at least in the case of EVE Online, it is an exciting time to be in the game as things are changing.  But after years of being able to name at least some new stuff coming in the next calendar year, it seems a bit odd to only be looking at the same things for 2015.

Of course, the golden age of the big MMO launch seems to have passed.  It has been a while since there was a list of strong candidates.  The market is too crowded, there are an almost unbelievable number of second or third tier titles, and going forward we seem to be entering the age of the niche title that focuses on a specific strength catering to a specific demographic.

Or so it seems.  I might have missed something.  Is there a new title coming in 2015 I ought to be excited about?  Is there one that you are excited about?

Addendum: And now that I have written this, Massively has a “what are you looking forward to in 2015” post with a list of titles… and most of the staff mention Landmark or EverQuest Next or both.  Their poll lumps the two together in a blatant display of SOE bias. (And the two titles together are still losing to Camelot Unchained, though Mark Jacobs is all over the comment thread, so he might have called out the cavalry.)

Back from Operations in Querious

Another deployment behind enemy lines has wrapped up.  This was our fourth deployment.  Previously we have been down in Insmother, Feythabolis, and Omist, the heartland of N3’s rental empire.  This time we moved to the southwest, to Querious.

Deployments so far

Deployments so far

(Somewhat out of date map from the usual source.)

This deployment was different from the last three.  While successful, those were really practice  runs to validate the doctrine and get used to living rough in the field behind enemy lines.  This time we had a serious operational objective, which was to force NCDot and friends to divert resources from its “invasion” of Fountain.

This was back when the CFC was in trouble, being besieged from Delve and Venal.  We were not going to be able to fight a two front war.

Only we did.  And we opened up a third front along the way, as the Reavers went out to shoot up unguarded infrastructure.

This deployment was also different in that we did not live rough, setting up a POS in the middle of hostile territory.  Because of the the way space is laid out in the southwest, we were able to get a room at the Royal Khanid Inn and Suites in a corner of Amarr high sec space to use as our staging base.

Royal Khanid offers HBO in every room

Royal Khanid offers HBO in all Captain’s Quarters

This gave us a few of advantages.  This gave us a safe haven to work from, like the Taliban in Pakistan.  It made resupply very easy as Amarr, the second biggest trade hub in New Eden, was fairly close and the Marmite Collective’s camp of Amarr was asleep at the switch, letting us wander in to buy things repeatedly.  Ships could be put up on contract to replace losses.  And death clones could be set to the station, thus removing the “I died and am now on the other side of the galaxy” problem with previous deployments.

It also meant that getting out there was easy for me.  My computer was down when we initially deployed, but I had a jump clone handy in Amarr, so was able scoot on down on my own without any drama and buy a ship from contract.

Finally, it also meant that we could jump clone back to other fronts if we wanted to.  I switched up and split my time between Reaver ops and flying on some operations in south Fountain, including the final push that removed NCDot’s foothold in the region.

NCDot was trying to deal with us in Querious with minimal forces for a while.  We would shoot up their SBUs, drop our own, and go away.  They would then return and shoot our SBUs and drop their own back.  A few times we got into later timers, shooting infrastructure hubs and even station services, but the idea wasn’t to take systems, it was to make them pay attention to us, something they really started to do after we killed four super carriers, which had been involved in the regular SBU shooting ping pong match, one night.

NCDot had given up on Fountain by that point, but after that they started showing up in force to oppose us.  They moved their super capital fleet back to F2OY-X and started forming Tengu fleets against us, obliterating us a couple of times. (ouch, 9 logi were not going to cut it) With that our ability to cause them pain with little effort ended, but it also meant our job was done.  The enemy had given up on their offensive as we reduced them to chasing our Ishtars around their own territory.

Shiny post-Rhea Ishtar

Shiny post-Rhea Ishtar

There were a couple of other attempts at operations.  Asher Elias handed out Crucifier frigates to all of us, with a plan for us to zip out to B-R5RB so we could be there when The Initiative took it back.  Site of the great titan battle back in January, it was taken back from NCDot this past weekend.  I still have a jump clone and the Dominix I flew during the fight holed up there, maybe I can get them out safely now… or at least put the Domi up for sale.

B-R5RB ownership swaps in 2014

B-R5RB ownership swaps in 2014

In one of those moments where you realize that the same names have been around for a while, further down the list it shows that The Initiative owned B-R5RB July 2009 until January 2011.

Unfortunately, as we were burning across space to get to B-R5RB, we hit an Against All Authorities gate camp in Catch that killed enough of us to break up the fun.  I was one of those who got blown up and podded.  But, having happened after the Rhea expansion dropped, the whole thing was an ISK-free adventure.  Asher gave me the ship and clone upgrades are a thing of the past.  I should go die more often in frigates.

We tried another Crucifier op later that evening, reshipping in Amarr again.  We were going to be one prong in a great DBRB trap, however the prey sensed something was wrong and fled, leaving us flying around low sec looking for something to do.

Crucifiers faffing about waiting for a target

Crucifiers faffing about waiting for a target

And that was about it for the deployment.  I flew my Crucifier straight back to Deklein from our last operation, where it will likely sit in a hangar with the rest of my “no longer or never were a fleet doctrine” ships.  So many Maelstroms, Megathrons, Apocalypses, and Drakes… oh the Drakes.  I’m going to start bringing Drakes on ops, I swear.

Now we are in something of a down period.  NCDot has other troubles so Fountain is off their agenda, Black Legion decided more fun was to be had teaming up with Brave Newbies to joust with Pandemic Legion in the south, Triumvirate, if I heard this right, apparently got dunked so hard that they issued a DCMA request to pull down a video of the fight (though, to be fair, I only know what I saw on Twitter and The Meta Show), leaving us with nobody except Mordu’s Angels as a regular foe in the north, and there is a CFC group camping them in 5ZXX-K, which is just a few jumps from our staging system.

Time to go out and earn some ISK.  Once a lot of people are on a holiday break, things are likely to heat up again.

How to Succeed in Norrath Without Really Trying

Be patient? Don’t you realize I’ve been working here… well, two whole hours now?

-J. Pierpont Finch

As I mentioned last week, the 10 year EverQuest II anniversary has stoked a bit of nostalgia for the old game in me.  It was one of my choices to install after the big drive disaster.

So there it is, installed.  It is also free to play, so I need not even get out my credit card in order to return to post-cataclysm Norrath.  I can jump right in.

And yet I am wary of an uninformed jump back into the game.  There is a history here.  I have a rather large slate of characters sitting in the 48-60 level range.  From launch through each return to the game, I have found myself stalled there.

At one point, of course, that range was, or was at least close to, the level cap.  But as the years have gone by and one expansion has lead to another, the cap has crept further and further away, sitting now at 100.

I have taken a number of runs at the game at various points in its history, and I always get bogged down in the same spot.  I am good through the classic content for the most part, which gets you to about level 50, I am okay with the content from the Desert of Flames, which will get you close to 60, but after that I just fall flat.

In the Pillars of Flame

In the Pillars of Flame

Kingdom of Sky content has never clicked with me, while Echoes of Faydwer, the expansion that revived the early game for many, just runs down at about the same point.  I get lost, the quests get scattered all over, and momentum dies.  There is also some content in The Fallen Dynasty area as well, but as with EoF, I always seem to end up at a dead end, lost and forgotten.

The map of place, most below my level now...

The map of place, most below my level now…

Basically, I am good with the 2004 content and the 2005 content, but once I get to 2006 content I fall of the horse and never get back on again.  And I would kind of like to see some more recent content in Norrath.

Yes, there is an easy out for that.  I could take up SOE’s offer and just boost a character straight to level 85.  I already used their freebie offer on a whim, but the cost is only 3,500 SC, and I have 10K sitting around… still.  I could boost one of my old favorites.  That would gear them up and push them right into content from 2010.  Sentinel’s Fate raised the cap to 90.

The problem is that while I want to get past the content that has stood as a barrier to me for so long, I am also interested in playing through the content just on the other side of the, the Rise of Kunark expansion.

I think that might be the last expansion I purchased for EQII.  I would like to play through it at level, which means playing to it.

So I need a plan.

I have a character picked out.  My berserker Sigwerd, on the Freeport server.

Sigwerd in New Halas

Sigwerd in New Halas

He is level 60 at the moment.  He is wearing the full set of cobalt armor that I made him back… when was that when we actually played this game last? 2011?  That will serve him for a couple more levels, but at 62 he will have to completely refit because… does gear in EQII completely lose value still when it is 10 levels down?  Anyway, I’ll need to find a pile of xenogite to make a new suit soon.  Berserkers are… or used to be… crazy good for beating on stuff.  He has a healing mercenary if he needs it.  I should be set, I just need to plot a course.

SOE is helping to narrow things down for me by removing experience from Dungeon Maker this week… today, actually… so that will no longer be an option.  Another system SOE invested in and then abandoned, or at least turned into something akin to second tier housing.

Surrounded in a farming dungeon

Surrounded in a farming dungeon

Though, honestly, if my only option was to do Dungeon Maker for 10 levels I would probably just quit right now, so that being removed isn’t going to change anything for me.

SOE is also helping me out by changing how Alternate Advancement points are earned.  Going forward you will be granted AA points as you level up, so I can leave the experience slider set to 100% for adventure and 0% for AA… if I subscribe.  Which I think I will, since that gives you a small experience boost and removes what Bhagpuss described as something of a tax on free players, with half your exp being siphoned off into an unnecessary pool.

So with that set, should I just try to plow through some combo of paths through Kingdom of Sky, the Loping Planes, and the Isle of Shin?  All of those have defeated me before.

Should I try to press into some of the open dungeon areas, like New Tunaria, with my healer in tow and make my way on heroic mobs?

New Tunarians were not happy to see me...

New Tunarians were not happy to see me…

Or is there another path through to 70?  I still have every single experience boost potion SOE ever granted me as a veteran reward.  I could use those to speed things up and ease the pain, though I hate to drink too many at what is now the mid-levels of the game, as I understand the experience curve spikes up sharply later on.

But then, my goal isn’t necessarily to get to 100 so much as it is to get into some of the newer content.

Where would you head in my place?

Reviewing my Predictions for 2014

Here we are, racing towards yet another new year.  We have gotten into the holidays, a mass of releases and updates have hit so far during November and December, and even another Steam Holiday sale has come and gone.  That was their Holiday sale, right?

It is about time to look back to January and a list of half-ass predictions, most of which I pulled out of… well… my ass.

DruidWoW2014_450pxYou can find the full predictions post here, along with reactions to what I predicted in the comments.  I am not going to quote all of it here, but I will try to get most of the relevant bits in.

I – Ship Dates

When I figured things might land.  10 points each with 2 points removed for each week I was off, plus 10 extra points if any of the names I came up with were used.  None were.

  • Hearthstone – April 1 –  Actual: April 16, 6 points
  • The Elder Scrolls Online – April 22 – Actual: April 4, 4 points
  • EVE Online 2014 expansions – (working names Excursions and Magellan) May 13 & November 18 – Actual: They changed their whole expansion method, and didn’t use my names, 0 points
  • WildStar – June 10 – Actual: June 3, 8 points
  • Warlords of Draenor – September 9 – Actual: November 14, 0 points… but I was a lot closer than most back in January!
  • EverQuest Landmark – October 15 – Actual: Despite being called beta, this is still pre-alpha development and nowhere near live, 0 points
  • StarCraft: Legacy of the Void – October 15 – Actual: Ha ha, is Blizzard ever going to ship this?  0 points
  • EverQuest II expansion #10 (working name Cheese of the Ratonga) – November 4 – Actual: November 25, 4 points
  • LEGO Minifigures Online – November 4 – Actual: October 1, 2 points
  • EverQuest expansion #21 (working name Return of Lady Vox) – November 25 – Actual: November 11, 6 points

Point total: 30 out of 100, no bonus points

II – Missed Dates

Project I said would not ship in 2014, and by ship I mean live, no “beta” tag, real and honest to goodness shipped.  10 points for each, pass/fail.

  • EverQuest Next
  • Heroes of the Storm
  • Line of Defense
  • Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtue
  • World of Warships

Not one went live.  Hell, EverQuest Next isn’t even a bare-bones pre-alpha yet.  I’ll be putting that one in the 2016 basket going forward.  The rest… it was not unreasonable to expect them  Shroud of the Avatar, as an example, listed October 2014 in its Kickstarter.

Point total: 50 out of 50

III – Changes, Offers, and Upsets

Predictions about things that would come to pass in 2014.  Each is worth 10 points, with partial credit for things that are close.

  • World of Warcraft will report a small boost in subscriptions for Q4 2013 based on BlizzCon and Warlords of Draenor.  Subs will then resume a slow down trend until the expansion ships.

Mostly right.  There was a surge at the end of the third quarter that seemed to buck that trend.  Three out of four quarters right though, 7 points.

  • Blizzard will announce that WoW subscribers will get special benefits in Hearthstone.

Well, we got a mount for playing.  I am giving myself half credit on that.  5 points.

  • Blizzard’s World of Warcraft 10 year anniversary gift will be a mount for those subscribers who log in during the right time frame.

No, it is only another pet.  The whole mount/chopper thing was another gig, and I am not all that happy on that front.  0 points.

  • Blizzard’s insta-90 option will be available as a service for $35 by December of 2014.

The service is available… remember, it wasn’t even a thing in January… but the price is $60.  5 points.

  • SOE’s naming decision with EverQuest Next and EverQuest Next Landmark will come back to haunt them with some headline grabbing rage as people outside of the hardcore fan circles download Landmark and discover that this was not the game they were expecting.  One (or both) of the products will end up with a new name.

Oh, hey, EverQuest Next Landmark is now just Landmark.  Not a completely new name, but enough for 3 points I think.

  • ArenaNet will slow down their continuous content update plan and announce they are working on an expansion for GuildWars 2.  Off the record, Anet will report that their master’s in Seoul demanded this.

It isn’t clear to me where this is headed.  There was a cut back on the living story for a bit, but now that is back.  On the other hand, there is also something more than a rumor about Anet working on an expansion for 2015.  0 points.

  • WildStar will be off to the races with a smooth launch and a huge initial spike, but it will fall into the dread “three monther” category as subscriptions will trail off dramatically.

This wasn’t really a stretch, but it feels like WildStar dumped hard on the subscriber front, with the usual NCsoft treatment; big layoffs.  How long until the second NCsoft shoe drops and it gets cancelled?  10 points.

  • The Elder Scrolls Online will have a rocky launch, starting with a delay for the PC side of the house.  But the game will manage to capture enough of the Elder Scrolls franchise to sustain the game, making it one of the rare recent MMORPGs, one that doesn’t peak in the first month and go downhill from there.

Yeah, shipped on time, things were a bit rocky, but subscribers seem to have faded as well.  0 points.

  • WildStar will announce plans to move to a free to play model before the end of the year.

Hasn’t happened… yet.  But clearly there is talk and rumor of problems and low subscription numbers.  The real question will probably end up being will NCsoft allow them to change business model… possibly good money after bad in the eyes of Seoul… pare them back to profitability, or just put a bullet in them in 2015?  0 points for me.

  • The Elder Scrolls Online will not budge on to the monthly subscription model in 2013.

Well, at least I won on that.  I suspect that no major change will come to their business model until the console versions ship… some day.  10 points.

  • Turbine will remove the 500 Turbine Points per month stipend from Lifetime subscriber accounts in Lord of the Rings Online.

They actually did not do this.  The future of the game is dim as Turbine tries to jump on yesterday’s bandwagon (MOBAs) looking for a cash cow, but they left us lifetime subscribers alone.  0 points.

  • Turbine’s Gift of the Valar insta-level option will be revised after the trial run.  The new version, with a new name, will boost players at least 10 additional levels and include all of the pre-Helm’s Deep expansions.

Nope.  Once Turbine comes up with a half-assed idea, they stick with it.  0 points.

  • With no support/budget for any raise in the level cap featuring fully voiced content, Star Wars: The Old Republic will follow on the Galactic Starfighter mini-game with more of the same.  First up will be Droid Battles.  Somewhat akin to Pokemon and WoW Pet Battles, to which it will be immediately compared, it will be far more focused on upgrading parts and abilities on a small set of droid models.  Cosmetic options for droids, as well as special models, will be the cash shop aspect of this feature.

Again, no biscuit.  SWTOR even got a level cap increase, which I guess means more fully voiced content.  I still think the Droid Battles is a great idea though.  0 points.

  • CCP will announce new areas of space to explore, as they have hinted at since Rubicon.  The new areas will be a cross between null sec and wormhole space.  Local chat will work like W-space and there won’t be any sovereignty.  You get to keep the space you can hold.  But there will be none of the mucking about with wormhole stability.  Jump gates will be the mode of travel.  And this new area of space will be just our of capital ship jump range.

You know, I was almost on to something with this, compared with what Rhea ended up giving us.  Maybe a little something for the effort?  2 points?

  • CCP will severely restrict drone assist in 2014.  However, it will be done in typical CCP fashion and will pretty much break drones for all purposes until they do a big drone revamp as part of the second 2014 expansion.

They nerfed drone assist, but they did it in the other typical CCP fashion and put a quick band-aid on it then walked away while various devs denied it was them who touched it last.  5 points.

  • Funcom will finally have an unequivocal success with the launch of LEGO Minifigures Online.

Erm… I couldn’t tell you really, which I guess means no.  Plus, the usual “failed to meet expectations” talk from them.  Couldn’t even win with LEGO.  0 points.

  • The inevitable rough ride for Chris Roberts will come when Star Citizen needs to start generating revenue beyond the donations of the faithful and features begin to get trimmed down to a more realistic target.  It doesn’t mean that the game(s) won’t be good, but they won’t be everything ever promised by Chris Roberts.  That will make a few big spenders rage.

Nope, Chris Roberts is still out there selling the full on dream that Star Citizen will be everything any fan boy has ever projected on the title, with the addition of space bonsai.  Granted, it helps that nothing substantial has shipped, just a couple of teaser modules.  0 points.

  • The Brad McQuaid “challenging epic planar high fantasy” Kickstarter won’t fund if he asks for more than $500,000.  I just don’t think he has the reputation/following of Mark Jacobs or Lord British.

Pretty much on the money.  If he had asked for $500K he would have made it.  10 points.

  • 2014 will be the year of the “insta-level” option for “levels” focused MMOs successful enough to ship an expansion that boosted the level cap… which, honestly, isn’t that many games when I think about it.  I will count this as fulfilled if I get EverQuest and Rift and one other game.

Fulfilled.  Even Funcom has something for Age of Conan running now. 10 points.

  • The near-ubiquity of free to play as an option for MMORPGs will start to take its toll on those games for which “it’s crap, but it’s free!” was the prime competitive advantage.  Expect to see more than half a dozen Asian imports fold up shop in North America in 2014.

First on the list appeared to be, Lunia, then Legends of Edda, then ArchLord, then Wizardry Online, then Rusty Hearts, and finally… crap, I couldn’t find a sixth.

I bet there is one out there.

I thought somebody said RF Online was going down, but the site is still up.  And I keep expecting Silk Road Online to falter and die.  I suspect it is sustained by the mistaken belief that you can buy drugs there.  Still, close enough for, say, 7 points.

74 out of 200 points.  The future is murky at best when you lack actual, first hand knowledge.

IV – Scoring

  • 30 out of 100 in the first section
  • 50 out of 50 points in the second
  • 74 out of 200 points round up the third

That gives me 154 points of out 350, which would be a failing grade in most classes I took in college.  That psych class with the hilariously altered curve might be the one exception.

On the other hand, getting as much right as I did… and I could have spun the news to make myself seem more on target than I was, but I chose to be conservative on that front… would clearly put me amongst the ranks of those such as Jeane Dixon.  I could re-brand as The MMO Psychic!

Now I have a couple of weeks to bend my mind once again towards the future for a January 1st post.

V – Predictions of Others

Of course, I wasn’t the only one to hang it out there and make some wild guesses about the future.  I counted the following blogs jumping on the futurist bandwagon in one form or another:

While it isn’t a competition, it is always interesting to see what comes to pass. (Their own prediction reviews linked as well, where available.)