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May in Review May 31, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in blog thing, Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, Month in Review, Rift, World of Warcraft.
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15 comments

The Site

What Alexa says about my readership. (Emphasis is theirs.)

Based on internet averages, tagn.wordpress.com is visited more frequently by males who are in the age range 18-24, have no children, have no college education and browse this site from home.

At least they didn’t specifically mention your mother’s basement.  Still, I cannot say that is a winning endorsement.  I am just glad there isn’t a feature that attempts to describe the owner of the site based on readership!

I suppose I should be happy that Alexa has anything to say about my site.  It has nothing to say about my other blog.

In general, Alexa says the following about the site:

tagn.wordpress.com is ranked #1,087,910 in the world according to the three-month Alexa traffic rankings. Approximately 68% of visits to the site consist of only one pageview (i.e., are bounces). We estimate that 21% of visitors to the site come from the US, where it has attained a traffic rank of 541,171. Visitors to it spend roughly 78 seconds on each pageview and a total of two minutes on the site during each visit. The fraction of visits to Tagn.wordpress.com referred by search engines is about 14%.

Wasn’t that interesting?  68% of you arrive here and immediately leave, having discovered your mistake.  About par for the course I imagine.  I am surprised that it only pegs the number of US visitors as 21% of the total traffic, as the flag counter on the side bar puts the number just over 50%.

Flag Counter Tally as of May 2012

And when two such sources disagree, how do we decide who is right?  Probably neither, but somebody is probably closer.

And that is our site discussion of the month.

One Year Ago

May 2011 was the time of the great Sony outage, with the Playstation Network down for 24 days and Sony Online Entertainment down for 13 days.  It was a communication fiasco from start to finish, with bad updates almost daily.  About all they could do was promise us all goodies for when they finally came back up.

CCP was starting the build up to the Incarna fiasco with the introduction of Aurum.

On the Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server, there was agitation to vote NO on unlocking the Kunark expansion.  Such agitation shows up with each unlock vote.  But no vote failed until Gates of Discord came along.

The instance group was in EverQuest II… when it was up… and trying to get the hell out of the starter area.  We managed it, but it took a lot more time than I would have thought.  We started in on some dungeons and got ourselves a guild hall.

World of Warcraft subscriptions started to decline, while Trion started offering free server transfers in Rift.

And finally, as hot as things seemed to be around here, there was no rapture.  You just couldn’t buy a break that month.

Five Years Ago

The usual discussions were going around, what made WoW so successful and what games might contend with WoW?  Some of the so called “contenders” were pretty silly picks.

The instance group was focused on LOTRO for the first time.  I had things to complain about, especially the state of the economy.  And, only a month in we spotted a level 50 player.  That must have been some hard work, as the game sort of petered out at about level 35 back then.  Still, Middle-earth was a pretty place.  It even had rainbows.

Vanguard was heavily in the news.  Sigil fell and SOE stepped in to pick up the pieces, though I wondered how long before the many problems with the game became attached to SOE.  I was also wondering about the impact of the game’s system requirements.

I was wondering how many more expansions EverQuest would have, while pointing out that you could get the game and all the expansions for only $15.

The owners of Allakhazam, long a staple of EQ knowledge, sold off their gold selling RMT wing, thus removing that taint and a host of gold selling ads from the site.

SOE officially announced the Rise of Kunark expansion for EverQuest II, keeping the game firmly on the nostalgia train.  Meanwhile, I had a suggestion for the new Arasai race.

Finally, there were some podcasts I thought people should listen to again.  I am not sure you can get most of them any more.

New Linking Blogs

After having to dip into the recycle pile to reuse some past linking sites last month, this month there are three new sites to mention!

Please take a moment to visit them.

Most Viewed Posts in May

  1. Diablo III vs. Torchlight II – A Matter of Details
  2. And Then I Missed Out on the Error 37 Party
  3. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  4. Impressions of Diablo in the Age of World of Warcraft
  5. Clearly Diablo III is not Out of the Woods Yet…
  6. Claiming Victory in Jita!
  7. Hulkageddon V – Reaping the Whirlwind
  8. How to Catch Zorua and Zoroark
  9. Diablo III – Installer Trouble Already
  10. Hulkageddon, Technetium, and the Circle of Life
  11. CCP Clearly Victorious in “Burn Jita” Event
  12. Destroying the CSAA at YVSL-2

Search Terms of the Month

error 37
[Brought more traffic here during May than all other search terms combined]

p-51 bomb-aiming stripes sight lines for dive bombing
[A few of these... this has to be a World of Warplanes related search]

fiesta outspark atlas sword
[There is an Ayn Rand reference in there somewhere]

Diablo III

As expected, Diablo III was the focus of about half of the month.  I have had a good time with it, having gotten through normal mode with my barbarian.  I am currently in Act II with him in nightmare mode.  This second run through is going slower both because it is actually harder… they throw a lot more blue elite monsters at you… and because it is the same thing I just did, so the drive to advance the story is gone.  I know how the story goes, where the surprise twist is, and so on.  And the randomization is pretty minimal, killing another aspect of change between plays, as the anchor points of the story pretty much force things into place.  So while I am still playing, I am concentrating more on playing with friends.

EVE Online

Things in New Eden were a bit quiet mid-month.  I did managed to get out on one strategic operation, so I am at least on the kill boards for May.  Who I might be flying with in these ops is interesting.  And, of course, there is skill training, always skill training.  I should be able to fly a heavy interdictor in about a week with all skills at IV or V.  Now will I actually buy one and fly one?  That is another story.

Portal

I Finished Portal.  I got half the achievements.  It was fun, though pretty short.  I am glad I got it for free.  It was probably $10 worth of cool… and met that $2/hour threshold for games… but I probably wouldn’t have bought it.  Portal 2 is on my Steam wish list now, waiting for a sale.

Rift

After the instance group finished up King’s Breach, we haven’t really been back to Telara.  As a group we have to get a couple of levels before we can hit the next dungeon, and we can get about a level a week if we focus as a group.  Instead of focusing we’ve been on vacation or playing Diablo III.  I am not sure if this means any change to our future plans or not at this time.

World of Warcraft

Since I paid for Diablo III by signing up for a years worth of WoW, I have felt compelled to at least log on once in a while.  I have one character at 85 and have settled into a pattern of logging on for Darkmoon Faire every month, specifically for the tradeskill related quests, since they boost your skill by 5 each time.  This is part of my plan to have at least one character max’d out on all skills when PandaVille arrives.  And then I log in to do whatever event happens to be going on, but only if I still have some achievements left to get.  So I was on for Children’s Week.  That got me the last of the companion pets and two achievements, though I still do not have the meta achievement.  I am just not going to do those battleground achievements.

Coming Up

Summer, and the expectation of warm weather.  It has been unseasonably chilly out here for much of the month.

And gaming… hrmm… I am out of immediate goals after Diablo III.

Something will turn up, I am sure of it.  It always does.

What is Richard Garriott de Cayeux up to these days?

NBI – All The Pretty Blogs… With Some Contradictory Advice Thrown In May 31, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in blog thing, entertainment.
Tags: , , ,
7 comments

All good things must come to an end.  This holds for mediocre and bad things as well.  You can pick which you felt the New Blogger Initiative was.  Syp certainly seems happy about things.

As one of the so-called sponsors, I committed to putting up an announcement about the event, writing a bit of advice (I even did some advice embedded in a live post), and then posting a summing up of all the new blogs and advice shared.  And so here we are at that final step, the summing up.

Hrmm.

I really have nothing else to add, so I will let you sum it up.

(NBI advice: polls are a great way to avoid committing to an opinion!  And, as a bonus, you can always wring another post out of evaluating the results!)

That said, onto the long lists of blogs and articles, which are after the cut.

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NBI – Spurious Blogging Tips and Lies My Parents Told Me May 30, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in blog thing, entertainment.
Tags: , , , ,
8 comments

The New Blogger Initiate appears to be over already.  I thought the last post was supposed to be on the end of the month.  And yet I still have bad advice to spread about.  Enough procrastination.

I generally have one good suggestion for bloggers, after which my advice tends to fall into two categories.

The first is advice that is so specific to my own situation that it probably won’t be all that helpful, while the rest is so general that it will likewise not be all that helpful.

So, first, my one good piece of advice… and even that is just my opinion.

Be The Blog You Want to Read

Even that seems to be sort of a “duh” statement.

But seriously, I presume that you have decided to jump into MMO blogging after having read some other MMO blogs.  And those blogs have probably made an impression on you.  And I bet some of those sites had aspects you did not like.  Don’t do those things.  Your blog should be the example you want others to follow.

Other than that, I have a few items which work for me.

Organize

You want to know Tobold’s biggest blogging crime is in my opinion?  You cannot find shit on his blog once it falls off the front page.

Effective use of tags, categories, and timelines can make it much easier to find your past efforts on a given subject.  Unless, of course, you don’t want people to find what you have said in the past.

For the most part people won’t go looking for things.  Most people will rarely look at anything except your last couple of posts.  But if you are like me, YOU will probably want to find things you have posted in the past, and organization helps.

Have a Philosophy

I feel that failing on this front is what leads most bloggers to give up after a short time.

If the answer to the question, “Why do you have a blog?” is “Because I want a blog!” then you might not be ready to begin.  I know I wasn’t.  I started off with wanting to write a blog about online gaming and was all over the map for a while.

Then I settled down a bit when I finally realized what I wanted the blog to be.  My blogging philosophy is to weave together my own gaming experiences… tales of the weekly instance group, exploits in EVE Online, and so forth… with a timeline of major events in the industry like MMO launches, closings, expansions, and that sort of headline and press release sort of thing.  I also add in a bit about the actual act of blogging and that is the general mix that makes up TAGN.

And yet I do not feel bound by my philosophy.  I set aside the weekend for the occasional post on other topics.

Add Value

This is tough, because value can be very subjective.  For example, I do not post press releases without comment.  But my comments are rarely very insightful.  They tend to sum up the impact on me.  That is value to me, but it may not be so for you.  And if you have decided to create a MMO press release blog, you can make the argument that a single source of such press releases, especially if well organized, adds value by its existence.  But you ought to feel that there is some value to your posts.  That may help sustain you when the initial warm glow of a new blog starts to fade.

Give Yourself Some Structure

I have one regular weekly post about the instance group’s activities over the past weekend, which runs on Thursday for reasons of laziness.  And then I post a once a month summary for reasons I can no longer recall, other than it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Those two recurring posts are the structure of the blog, and everything else is extra.

Link Like You are Getting Paid to Link

When in doubt, link to something.  Link to source material.  Link to press releases.  Link to other blog posts on the subject.  Link to your past posts on the subject.  Link to definitions of big words.  This is the internet, and the biggest advantage it gives you is the ability to quickly and easily connect to other material on the same subject.  While I link out a lot, I still feel I could be doing more.  Plus, you know, link whoring.

Do Not Depend Too Much on Links

The flip side of the above is link rot.  While it is a great thing to be able to link to all sorts of supporting material, do not depend on it to carry the weight of your post.  I groan when I see a post that contains a “go read this” link and then offers an opinion that depends on the context of off-site material to carry the post.  Because that link is going to go dead some day, and then that post will make no sense.  I try to keep quotes and context on my own site and link back to their source… like I was writing a real paper or something.  Sometimes I get lazy and don’t, and then a link goes dead and I kick myself for it.

Do Not Take Things Too Seriously

Yourself included, unless you plan to make this your profession.  It is only a blog.  Blogs are a dime a dozen, and for each one that is against some aspect of online games, you can find another that is completely in favor of it.   So if you reach a point where you find yourself taking game companies to task because they do not listen to your advice… and you are not actually in the industry but just some person on the internet… you’ve probably gone too far.

Headlines Can Be a Lot of Fun

Even now, somebody is probably trying to figure out what lies my parents told me.  Other than the usual ones… Santa, the Easter Bunny, the impact of swallowing watermelon seeds, and the existence of El Segundo…  I cannot recall any huge, earth shattering lies.  But they might still be holding out on me.

Hulkageddon V – Destruction Comes to an End… Mostly… May 30, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
Tags: ,
4 comments

Hulkageddon V is now over.  The last API verified kill has been counted.  The event, having run from April 29th through May 29th, is now over.

(That is EVE Online game time, which runs on UTC.)

Hulkageddon V – The oft used picture

It was both the longest and most destructive iteration of the event, running for a full month and leaving almost 7,600 wrecked mining vessels in its wake worth a (low) estimated 1.47 trillion ISK.  That is the API verified number from the leaderboard.

 

Champion kills are exhumers and Orcas, while Junior kills are tier 1 mining barges.

EVE-Kill.net shows more than 8,600 kills.

But that includes manually entered kills, and with Goonswarm offering a bounty of 100 million ISK for every 10 exhumer kills, you have to figure some of that is bogus.  Who could resist trying to scam the Goons after all.

I will stick with the lower number for the purpose of comparing past events.

And here is the comparison.  This is how past events have totaled up.

  • Hulkageddon IV ran for just 9 days and say a little over 1,400 mining ships destroyed, putting the rate of destruction at about 155 a day.
  • Hulkageddon III posted over 2,400 mining ship kills over its 9 day run, putting the kill rate at about 267 vessels a day.
  • Hulkageddon II ran for just 7 days, but saw a kill rate of 214 per day, with over 1,500 mining ships destroyed during its run.
  • And the first Hulkageddon was a very modest, 2 day affair, with just 88 exhumers and mining barges meeting their end.

So Hulkageddon V lead to the destruction of more mining ships than all past iterations of the even combined.  Of course, it also ran more than three times as long as past events; more days means more kills.  So when averaged out, Hulkageddon V appears to be shy of the rate of kills set by Hulkageddon III, with a rate of about 244 kills per day. (Or 278 kills per day if you take the eve-kill.net number for true.)

I suspect that the rate of kills per day would have been higher had the event been shorter.  Things got off to a very fast start and was close to the 4,000 kill mark only 11 days into the event.  If it had kept up that pace we would be talking bigger numbers.

Of course, even after the event is over, the anger from some rages on. (hat tip to Jester on that one)

And, to a certain extent, the event itself continues to rage on with an announcement from The Mittani that Goonswarm payouts for exhumer kills will continue until further notice.  This announcement even has its own official thread in the EVE forums now.

Another fine OTEC moment.  Every Hulk destroyed is more technetium sold for its replacement.  We shall see if this keeps high sec mining suppressed.

Echoes of a Crashing MUD May 29, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment, EverQuest, MMO Design, MUDs, TorilMUD.
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5 comments

Last week’s crash bug fixing bonanza has resulted in a near-record uptime of 150 hours and still going.

-TorilMUD New Post

They have been working hard on crash related bugs at TorilMUD.

TorilMUD has been around, in one form or another, for nearly 20 years now.  Next year I will get to write my “20 years of TorilMUD” post, a follow up to my 15 year post, as I will have played it off and on for that long.

In all that time, running without a crash for less than seven days is a record.

I guess there is a reason that uptime was displayed only as hours, minutes, and seconds.  There was no need for days to be displayed.

So this is a big success, this huge increase in reliability, right?

If you had asked me that when I was playing the game actively, back when there were 50-100 people on all the time, I would have told you that seven days of uptime was a disaster!

The thing is, crashes were points of opportunity to be valued, not disasters to be avoided.

Yes, sure, if you were doing a zone and had finally gotten through to a big fight and the game crashed, that was bad.  And you didn’t want to the game going down every ten minutes… unless you wanted to farm Bandor’s flagon or some other easily obtained item.  But no crashes for days could mean no loot for days in a very loot oriented game.

The thing is, most monsters in the game that carried anything worth having only carried that item at boot.  Once you slew the monster and took its item, it would respawn, but would come back empty handed.  You might get some coins from it and some experience, but the special item was only there once per boot.

In addition, there were a lot of rare mobs that had a chance to spawn at reboot, often mobs related to key quests in the game.

So a crash and a reboot was a time of renewal in the game.  You would spam your way out to pick off an easy item or two, help friends scour known locations for special spawns, and then start forming groups to tackle the zone content, which was the MUD equivalent of raiding.

We all loved a well timed crash, and there were few things as depressing as logging in at prime time on a weekend and seeing the uptime sitting at 18 hours.  All the easy drops would be gone by then, all the good zones done, and the world mobs likely spotted already.

Players would begin whining about the uptime and how all the good stuff have been done.  And often an administrator would take pity on us… they were all long time players and knew the importance of a timely reboot… and announce a reboot.

So key aspects of the game… loot and raiding… were predicated on the system crashing at fairly regular intervals.  How crazy was that?

And this, of course, had influence that was felt long after so many of us moved to 3D graphical MMORPGs.

TorilMUD was the Diku template on which EverQuest was based.  Brad McQuaid, Aradune, and other EQ devs were long time players of TorilMUD, and if you played them both you could see the many things that were influenced by… or copied wholesale from… TorilMUD.  Races, classes, equipment stats, racial home towns, the layout of Freeport, and much more came from EQ’s text-based predecessor.

But not everything could be copied directly.  What works in text does not always translate well to a 3D virtual world.  You never dropped your weapon in Norrath for example, which was something of a relief.  They actually turned off the fumble mechanism in TorilMUD in the last couple of years, so you need not worry about losing your weapon forever in a shallow stream or a duck pond.

And the concept of aggro management started to take shape, as there was no such thing in TorilMUD.  Monsters switched to attack casters all the time and the tanks job was to use the “rescue” command, which would switch the monster back to focus on the tank.

And one of the things that the EQ team no doubt felt they could not depend on was the crash/reboot mechanism to repopulate drops and spawn rare mobs.  Depending on crashes is fine in a free game, but can you imagine a commercial MMO where a crash or a reboot a couple of times a day would be seen as a good thing?

So they had to come up with another solution to meter out rare mobs to simulate the whole crash/reboot cycle.  The decision was to put such mobs on extremely long respawn timers.

And thus the insane camp was born.

I suspect, though have no confirmation, that the EQ devs never expected players to actually sit on a rare mob spawn point for extremely long stretches of time waiting for it to appear.  I have to imagine that they thought that players would treat that sort of thing the way we did in TorilMUD, which was to run by and check the spot at intervals.  In the TorilMUD, that interval was at every reboot.  But with no such similar timer in EQ, people just sat down in a group and waited.

And waited, and waited, some times for days at a stretch, for a specific mob to appear.

Eventually, other mechanisms were created to replace the long spawn, though not all were necessarily more successful.  How many hours have I spent killing the placeholder mob over and over again in hopes of spawning that one special mob I needed?

In the end, certainly with the advent of WoW, I think most such mobs were stuck in instanced environments and metered based on difficulty rather than the amount of time you and your group could sit in one place and wait.  The age of the long camp was over, though I am sure somebody will tell you they miss it.

But for a while at least, our behavior in MMOs was influenced by the fact that they simply could not be allowed to crash a couple of times a day.

Destroying the CSAA at YVSL-2 May 26, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
Tags: , , ,
5 comments

We were looking to blow up one of these.

A CSAA in its natural habitat

That is a capital ship assembly array, sitting happily inside a station’s protective bubble.  That is where supercapital ships are built.

This one was slated to die.

More after the cut.

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At Last, I Can Read the Diablo III Patch Notes! May 25, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo III, entertainment.
5 comments

Normal mode complete

Because, of course, the damn patch notes contain spoilers.  So I have held off until I got through the game at least once.

Spoiler Warning: If you have not yet completed Diablo III on Normal, some hotfixes described in this list may include spoilers.

Such is life.  But I have run through the game once, with a barbarian, in normal mode.

Work sent us home early today due to the three day weekend, so I got home and started in on Act VI which, once I reconfigured my barb from an AOE focus to single target damage, went by pretty quickly and there I was facing the big guy.

Ah Diablo, we meet again!

Another thing that Diablo III has in common with Diablo II; the last act seems much shorter than the three before it.

I probably enjoyed Act III the most.  The start on the ramparts of the fortress was amazing.

Anyway, now I have Nightmare mode to look forward to.

Or maybe I could play an MMO.  I haven’t really done much of that since May 15th.

 

38 Studios – The Legend, The Myth, The End May 25, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Gaming Industry Trends, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Vanguard SOH.
Tags: , , ,
11 comments

Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse

John Derek in Knock on Any Door (1949)

Well, I cannot speak to whether or not 38 Studios lived fast, and six years can be a long time in technology, so you can argue that the company did not die young.

But they left a good looking, if sparse, corpse in the form of a three pictures and a less than two minute fly through video of their planned virtual world.

Somewhere in Copernicus

Legends have been created out of less.

And now nobody will ever say that Copernicus, their as yet unnamed flagship game, to which the main effort of the company had been devoted for almost six year, sucks.

Nobody will complain about unbalanced classes or broken game mechanics or servers being down or sever queues being too long or any of the thousand other things that we find to pick on when it comes to MMOs.

Copernicus is pristine, a blurry mirage doomed to ever been in the distance, on which some will overlay their hopes and dreams for the future of MMO gaming.  I’ve seen it already, with some bloggers mourning not just the fact that we will now never see this game come into full bloom, but that it somehow represented our last, best hope to return greatness to the genre.  Some future games will find themselves compared to Copernicus that might have been.  It was to be the holy grail game that brought joy back to fantasy MMOs.

Which is a tune I have heard before.

It was the sort of thing some of our guild members were saying about Vanguard in 2005 when we were playing EverQuest II and it had fully sunk in that the game really wasn’t a sequel to the EverQuest experience.  And so Vanguard became the dream, the game destined to be the true successor to EverQuest.

And, well… we know how that turned out.  Sigil Games, facing their own financial woes, opted to go to market early with a game clearly not ready for prime time.

In one of those twists of timing, it was just five years ago this month that Sigil folded up shop with the now infamous parking lot layoff, sans Brad McQuaid.  But we got the word from Smed that SOE was swooping in to save the day.  SOE was a hero for the moment, but I wondered how long they would remain a hero.  Not very long, it seemed, as soon all the problems with Vanguard became SOE’s problems, and SOE’s fault for not fixing them fast enough.

It makes me wonder what image Vanguard would have ended up with had Brad opted to run out of money before launching the game.

And, alas, there will be no SOE white knight to rescue Copernicus.  Those days are clearly done.  Back when SOE was under Sony Pictures, which I am convinced really didn’t know, and didn’t care, what was going on in San Diego so long as the money was coming in, was able to collect orphaned MMOs like Vanguard and The Matrix Online.  Now though, under the PlayStation people, who clearly want to hear about things that sell PlayStation hardware when they aren’t being evil, things have been trimmed back substantially.

There was an estimate that the assets of 38 Studios might be worth up to $20 million, though that sort of talk denies the reality of software development.  If you buy a software company with no people, you have pretty much bought nothing.  The people who write the software, they are the assets.  Without them you have some source code, which can be interesting, but is tough to make your own.  You can bring in your own people to try.  I’ve been down that path.  If you just want to be able to build the software and maybe make some small fixes, it can even be viable.  But if you want to own the software and be able to use it to its full, you have to know it well, which is hard work.  And the first thing that will happen is the devs will start saying that it is easier to rewrite some section of code from scratch than figure out what is really going on, and that way lies madness and repetition of the same mistakes to gain the same knowledge as the original authors of the code.

And then there is the outside influence of Star Wars: The Old Republic which, according to analyst Michael Pachter, has killed off interest in investing in MMO projects.  To quote the money line:

Nobody is buying MMOs after Star Wars fizzled

So yeah, we can blame SWTOR!  Because if EA can’t get MMOs right, then it is clearly some sort of once-in-a-lifetime black art not worth exploring.

Life in the big money lane.

I feel a bit sorry for Curt Schilling for not getting to live out his dream of creating a great MMO.  But only a bit.  I mean the guy had fame, fortune, and three world series wins coming into this deal, all while deliberately and maliciously being younger than me.  He can go back to that.  Maybe he can be a champion for small studios that reflect some of the things he was trying to bring to MMOs.

But I identify more with the team at 38 Studios, the worker bees who have to scramble to find another gig to pay the mortgage.  I’ve been down that path a few times.  The joy of Silicon Valley start ups, here today, gone tomorrow.  I worked for eight different companies in the 90s, and only one still exists.   I was there twice for the “everybody go home” company meeting.  It doesn’t get easier with repetition.

I do want to throw out a minor “screw you” to 38 Studios for buying and shutting down the Azeroth Advisor.  Grudge holding… we have that here at TAGN.

But other than that, I am sorry to see things turn out as they did.  We won’t ever see Copernicus now, and so I will be denied the privilege of playing it while complaining about insignificant details that annoy me.

Addendum: And then there is the industry insider view of this debacle from the newly returned to blogging Lum and how it is killing the very concept of massively multiplayer online gaming.

Further Addendum: And there are always methods to make a bad situation worse.

R. A. Salvatore says Copernicus was awesome, but can’t actually back that up.  He was right on one thing in that comment, he shouldn’t be commenting.  More for the myth and legend department.

Steve Danuser puts the blame on the governor of Rhode Island.

It looks like 38 Studios may have screwed some employees worse than others.  Was that the governor of Rhode Island’s fault as well?

Everybody wants to know where the money went.

Of course, there is Curt.

And then Derek Smart chimes in with a dump truck load of reality.  Refreshing to see him poking at a subject that needs it.

On Talent Trees and Skill Points May 24, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, MMO Design, polls, Rift, World of Warcraft.
Tags: , ,
48 comments

When I was writing yesterday’s post comparing aspects of Diablo III and Torchlight II, I was somewhat dreading the possible comments, and all the more so when Massively linked to the post. (Thanks, by the way.)

My fear was that there would be a parade of Hulk-like “Me smash always online DRM single player game!” comments.  That seemed to be the primary focus of Diablo III hate at launch, at least when the servers were down.

But I actually did not get any of that.  The joys of a small readership.  Or maybe I successfully deflected them all to Straw Fellow.  Evil plan achieved.

I was, however, a bit surprised to find, both here and over at Massively, that the presence of talent trees and skill points was being pushed as a big pro-Torchlight II differentiating factor.  It was sometimes hidden under “character customization,” but it was there and oft mentioned.

And I found this a bit odd because I do not like talent trees.  I see them as having proven their flawed nature over the last 15 years to such an extent that I wonder how anybody can promote them as a positive feature with a straight face.

We have talent trees, and we are sure we have succeeded where literally everybody else has failed in the past!

In theory, talent trees are great and represent a way to create a unique and special snowflake of a character.  I get that.  Lots of things seem great in theory.

In practice, there is usually one “right” build for whatever role you are seeking to fill and every other alternative is sub-optimal.

So talent trees become less about character customization and more about finding the “correct” answer.  In the end, I think that most of want our characters to be good at their chosen roles, right?  I know there will always be somebody who will view playing with a sub-optimal spec as a challenge, but I have to believe that is the exception and not the rule.

And because the talent tree allows us to make bad choices, the band-aid of the talent respec came into being.  At first it was grudging… Diablo II got patched to give you ONE respec… or expensive… recall the mounting respec bills in WoW way back when.  But eventually the devs threw their hands in the air in more recent games and gave us respecs that were cheap and plentiful while they went off to try and find that elusive “many good choices” talent tree formula.

Even EVE Online gives you a stat respec up front for free, and another one yearly.  And that is for five stats that really only impact the rate at which your character can learn skills.

But respecs are, in my view, an admission of failure.  They seem to be saying that the devs have copped to the fact that they cannot create a talent tree system with many good choices, so when you realize you have made a mistake, here is your out.

And even cheap and easy respecs were not enough in some cases.  Rift, whose big feature was the soul system, which could be viewed either as the best character customization ever or the talent tree from hell depending on your point of view, caved in and as much as admitted that the whole thing was too vast for the average player and gave us some templates to help curb the rash of bad builds.

Just show me the right answer so I can go play!

This is, of course, my view of the world.  It is based on history, but also on the fact that I don’t really want to play the talent point game.  And that is clearly an opinion.  Even as I was preparing to publish this, I saw that Syp over a Bio Break has a post up asking why we don’t have MORE talents and stats and such to tinker with in games.  To me it is like asking that we ignore the last 15 years or so of MMO development.  But we all play these games for different reasons.

Anyway, from my point of view, the choice made by Blizzard in Diablo III seems like a clear win, and improvement over the past.

Instead of constraining character development by making me spent points in a tree system… and running to a vendor to get a respec when I make the inevitable errors… Diablo III just opens up new skills as you level up and constrains your character development by making you choose which of those skills you want to use.  With elective mode [boobies] in the options, you can build up a set of six abilities from your choices as you see fit and never have to spend a talent point or get a respec.

Of course, the system is not perfect.  As Keen points out, some of the Diablo III skills are sub-optimal.  Hey, you can still make bad choices.  But it still seems like a step forward to me.

As I said, the idea that this is a step forward is clearly not held by some.  So today I will let you validate your opinion with a poll.  Numbers always add value to opinions!

And, of course, you can post your anti/pro talent tree manifesto in the comments.

Diablo III vs. Torchlight II – A Matter of Details May 23, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, Torchlight II.
Tags: , ,
38 comments

[Note to Massively readers: The "no-holds-barred Thunderdome deathmatch" was cancelled, the honeybadger called in sick.  We're having a tea party instead.  If you are looking for a post complaining about Diablo III requiring you to be online to play, go read this.]

Runic Games had a Torchlight II beta event this past weekend.  A beta event during the first weekend after Diablo III launched.  Crazy, right?

Maybe, and maybe not.

Certainly there is a lot of anti-Blizzard ire in the air after the rocky launch day made error 37 the banner around which those angry about the always “connected nature” of Diablo III could rally.  Torchlight II, as detailed in this comparo chart, offers up online, LAN, and offline modes of play.  The latter seemed pretty attractive last week.

While I had seen updates from Runic about the beta, I was not planning to join in on it.  You know… first weekend of Diablo III and all that.  But they sent me a key for the event, and the download was pretty painless at 750 MB… versus 7GB for Diablo III… which is a little over an hour of file transfer with my internet connection.

The download went while we ate dinner, and when the time finally came, I was able to sit down and launch into Torchlight II.

I logged in (the beta is online mode only, so just like D3), made a character (berserker, the melee class), picked my pet (wolf), got into the game, and spent about 10 minutes running around.

At that point I was a bit dismayed with the graphical style so logged off and went off and played Diablo III for the next three hours.  And D3 was glorious.  I got through most of Act II, played with another friend for a while, and had a great time.

In the light of the next morning though, I felt that I had, perhaps, given Torchlight short shrift.  So I went back and played it for a couple of hours, just to be sure I got it.  And it was a good thing I did, as Torchlight II really has much to recommend it.

The key difference between the two games is what each team decided was important to continue the legacy of Diablo II.

After the break, a long discussion of how they differ, which I attempted to organize.  I did not do a very good job.

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