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Not Quite Calculating Gaming Return on Investment July 30, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pokemon.
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There is a site and a chart going around that shows some games quantified in terms of return on investment.  The original source is the Video Game ROI site, hosted by Ebay of all things.

Of course, this is a list, and we love lists!  So I went to see the top ten value rated games, which are:

The Top Ten

The Top Ten

To me that was an interesting list, if a bit odd.  How did they come up with this?

Well, they are pretty up front with how they did.  How they calculated the value rating is there on the front page.

ROICalculation

Not bad so far.  Hours per dollars spent multiplied by the rating percentage.

So the original Animal Crossing currently costs $6… this is Ebay, I guess they know the used price, so we’ll give them that… and the hours to beat is rated at 69.5 hours, while the average rating for the game is 88%.

So 69.5 divided by $6 gives us 11.58, which multiplied by .88 ends up with a rating of 10.19, which is the best rating of the lot.

Now, you might ask if a game from 2001 qualitatively delivers an experience you would want to spend nearly 70 hours on here in 2014.  Fair point, and something not addressed as far as I can tell.  And the cost of the game certainly seems to favor used games, but this is Ebay and they want to sell you some used games, so go figure.

I was a little more interested in how they came up with the hours to beat a game.

As it turns out, there is a site called How Long To Beat that is just brimming with this sort of data.  I was curious as to how accurate it might be, but didn’t know how I could assess that.  I would have to actually beat a game to get that number, right?

Oh, wait, I did just beat a game!  I finished Pokemon Y, and all I really did was the main storyline as noted in my post.  So I went and looked that up on the site and, naturally, found Pokemon X and Y listed with lots of data.  But the essential bit, hours to beat for the main story was there.

 

PokemonXH2B

So they peg the main story at 33 hours of play time.  And I finished the main story in…

Pokemon Y Hall of Fame

Pokemon Y finish time

… 31.5 hours.  Pretty close.   Close enough that I am probably willing to accept the H2B numbers.  Meanwhile, the average rating is as close at MetaCritic, so I am good with that.

So it seems like we have some pretty solid numbers, even if they seem very biased towards older games, which are less expensive.  There is Civilization in second place, from 1991.  I am not sure that, even if you could buy a copy for the $1 they show that it would run on a modern operating system.

Of course, I am interested in MMOs, so I went digging to see what they had listed on that front.  Way down at 109th place I found World of Warcraft.  Current price, $20, hours to beat, 11.2, and overall review rating of 93%, giving it a value rating of 0.52.

WoWROI

Now, I expected the value rating to be low because I figured that they would account for the subscription model in some way.  But no, they figure you’ll be done with that free 30 days yet, since it only takes 11.2 hours to beat.

That seems sort of fast, 11.2 hours.  I mean, I am running through the 1-60 on the whole Loremaster achievement thing, so it seems like that number should be higher for somebody new who doesn’t have heirloom gear or what not.

So I started going further down the list and ran into Minecraft at 127th place.  The cost is $27 and the rating is 89%, but the hours to beat was 11.2, the same as World of Warcraft.

MinecraftROI

Now, if 11.2 hours seems very low for WoW, which sort of has a 1 to 60 main game, for Minecraft it seems very much off.

Reading through the site more carefully, I found that if a game is open ended or doesn’t have a well defined main game… which is to say the How Long To Beat site doesn’t show one… they went with the number 11.2 because that was the average of all the games measured.

Color me unimpressed.

Still, I suppose it is an interesting data point for discussing older games.  And, of course, it markets older games for Ebay.  But you’re not going to convince me that Pokemon Red and Blue, which ran on the GameBoy in 1996, provides a better return on investment than Pokemon X and Y for any qualitative measures.

 

Civilization – From the Halls of Montezuma July 29, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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You don’t look like you’re having fun.

-My wife, watching me play Civilization V

As I said in a previous post, this is no longer about fun.  This is a grudge match now to prove that we can stick it out and finish our epic game of Civilization V in spite of some poor choices made early on.  Can we see this through until one of us achieves one of the possible victory conditions?

After nearly a month’s hiatus that had us on a variety of real world activities that kept even two of us, the minimum needed to advance this multiplayer match, from meeting up on a Friday night, it was time for a game.  We were back at last.

Or at least three of us were.  Myself, Potshot, and Mattman were able to get on last Friday to continue the struggle.  Loghound was otherwise occupied, so the AI took over for him as the leader of the Celts again.  However, this time around the AI seemed to keep to his past agenda of sticking it to the Russians.

R2Wk10CeltsCarryOn

So there was that going on.

Meanwhile, the rest of us spent quite a bit of the first couple of turns trying to remember what was going on nearly a month back.

Mattman was still trying to make his populace unhappy so that he could change ideologies.  Still smarting from rashly declaring war on Loghound early on in the game, the scientific victory seemed like his best bet.

And Potshot and I were assessing our foothold on the Aztec lands.

Springboard to Victory!

Springboard to Victory!

We got that in our smash and grab campaign last time, after which we got Montezuma to accept a peace proposal.  But it was a bloody fight and we both needed some time to build up forces for our next strike.

More after the cut

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Fight at the POS in A-ELE2 July 29, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
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The battle had been raging for a while when I sat down at my computer and saw a list of pings from Blawrf McTaggart, CFC Skymarshall.  Most of them were old enough to discard, fleets long since off to the races, and trying to catch up by yourself is a mugs game.  But the last one was only six minutes old, a call to get into a reinforcement fleet and get on a titan for a bridge into the current fight.

Multiple doctrines were being called up; Harpies, Celestis, and Apocalypses were in demand.  I was in my high sec implant clone, still working away at my leadership training plan, but my timer had run down and I was clear to clone jump immediately.  So it was back to my clone in F2OY-X where I jumped into my Apoc, primarily because I had the power grid implant needed to fly the doctrine fit already installed in the clone, and if I was going to lose it I figured I might as well lose it in the ship I need it for.

I was on the bounce right away, into the fleet with the titan to get a bridge, undock, enter the POS password, warp to the titan at 10km so as not to bump it, into the bubble, and then a quick burst of speed with the microwarp drive to get in range because the bridge was already up and I didn’t want to have to wait around for the next group to form up and get bridged.

Passing into the POS

Passing into the POS

We landed in A-ELE2 and things slowed way, way down.  There were about 1,100 people in the system and TiDi had everything running at 10% of normal speed.

A-ELE2 is not that far away from our staging system in F2OY-X, but it is in the hot zone corner of Delve, the NPC null sec, where our foes are staged and where there are often camps and where a lot of the action happens.

Where things happen in Delve

Where things happen in Delve

I dropped the reinforcement fleet and changed com channels to find out what the Baltec fleet was doing.  Reagalan’s was the FC and he was calling targets already.  It was time to get out there, but servers were balking at doing anything.  It took half a dozen tries to get into fleet even though there was space available and then it was time for the long, slow warp to join the battle.

Landing on grid was agonizing.  My ship seemed to spend an eternity stopped at the battle but still in warp.  I could see the targets being broadcast, they were in my overview, but I could not lock them up because I was still flagged as being in warp.  Finally, the server relented and I was back in normal space and able to engage targets.  Despite TiDi, the enemy, a host of Black Legion Augoror Navy Issues were in a bubble and going down fast.  Locking a target took ages, and when you finally got somebody locked they would appear to be only lightly damaged before suddenly blinking out in the familiar destroyed sequence.  They cycle time of my lasers was the gating factor for kills.  I launched some drones and got those into action to give myself an additional way to deal damage… and to whore on kill mails.

Reagalan had the fleet orbiting the POS tower, which is at the very center of the defensive bubble/shield, at just enough range to be outside of the bubble and able to fire, but also able to duck back in and become immune should they get targeted.  After the action, Reagalan asked how many pilots managed to pull off this maneuver, and there was quite a show of hands.  That, and reports shared with us about Black Legion complaining about us constantly blowing up their anchor or target caller because we had a spy in their midst, seemed to be tiling things our way.

And then, as often is the case, Black Legion got free of the bubbles and warped off, leaving us alone in space orbiting the POS with no targets.  TiDi dropped from the heart crushing 10% to a bearable range as the server was no longer having to keep track of hundreds of ships moving and locking and firing and taking damage.

We sat there for a bit.  There was a report of a fight at the 1DH gate, but Reagalan warned us not to just jump in willy nilly thinking we would get a few more kills.  So we stayed in orbit of the POS for a bit until the time was ripe, then he warped us all off to the gate together where the Brave Newbies Moa fleet had been bubbled.  Then it was a race to lock up targets again before the exploded.  Reagalan was broadcasting targets, but they were popping so quickly I just took to sorting by range and locking up everything possible in hopes of getting in a shot or two.  That did not last long, the Moas melting like snow under a hot sun.

Then it was back to the POS and into orbit.  There was actually a very nice starburst pattern of ships as we landed in a ball on the tower and then turned on MWDs to get out of the shields and into orbit.  We waited there for a while to watch the POS for any further hostiles and cover the carriers that had been sitting in a happy, self-repping ball all this time.  My corp CEO was in the carrier ball, in one of two Chimeras in a sea of Archons.  He wanted me to get a good shot of him, which I figured I had better do because I haven’t done much with the corp in ages.  I go on strat ops and click on participation links.  I don’t play with our towers, mine, do planetary interaction, or even rat much these days.

After the carriers pulled out, we headed to the 1DH gate where there was a scramble to get through as the ISboxer bombers were out and about and waiting for us to land on the gate.  All those people piling on the gate caused a bunch of people to drop, so there was a long wait until people got back online, through the gate, and back with the fleet.  Then it was another gate back to F2OY-X and then to the station and done.

I never did get the story as to how this fight started, except that it was over the POS where the brawl took place.

According to the battle report, there were more than 1,200 players involved with over 1,500 ships on the field over the course of the fight, with losses of nearly 48 billion ISK for both sides combined.  The split in forces was 686 CFC to 528 hostiles on grid, so not excessively unbalanced.  Black Legion and their allies ended up with more kills, destroying 435 ships to the 251 we blew up.  On the ISK war, things tilted our way, with the hostiles losing some expensive ships.

CFC is Blue

CFC is Blue

That comes out to about 21 billion in losses for the CFC and a little over 26 billion for the hostiles.  And we ended up with the POS still intact.  So I guess we won.

One bit of intel that got passed along was about TEST, who apparently had 60+ Ishtars formed up at one point, but then did not join the battle.  That force might have changed the ISK war if not the overall result of the battle.

After a quiet week or so, where I mostly collected participation links for sitting on titans by never bridging into combat, or chasing around reluctant foes when we did, it was nice to get into a stand up fight that did not involve us getting blow up in Ruptures. (Rupture doctrine is now dead.)  It managed to push me over the 1,000 kill mail mark, though EVE Kill and Zkillboard cannot agree on exactly how many kill mails I have been on over the years. (And Battle Clinic says I have less than 700. No idea what the right number actually is.)

And, as usual, screen shots from the fight after the cut.

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Pokemon Y and the Nintendo 3DS XL July 28, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Nintendo, Nintendo DS Hardware, Pokemon.
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Back in April I mentioned that I had picked up a Nintendo 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon Y with some Amazon gift cards and credits I had.

I haven’t really said much about it for a few reasons.  Mostly it my feeling that single player games don’t quite have the same “shared experience” potential as MMOs… and me being lazy.  But, this blog being something of a gaming diary… as much as it is anything… I setup a placeholder post to write about Pokemon Y once I was done.

And I am done!

Pokemon Y Hall of Fame

Pokemon Y Hall of Fame

You can see the laziness factor, in that I finished up  back at the start of the month.  And, of course, “done” in a Pokemon game is open to interpretation.  I completed the main story line, thwarted Team Flare, collected all of the gym badges by defeating each gym leader, and then went on the beat the elite four and Diantha, the regional champion.

PokemonXYlogo

That is, by about any measure, the minimum you need to do to say you “beat” or “completed” the game.  I spent about 32 hours just doing that without getting into trying to complete the National Pokedex, explore every nook and cranny (there is always a lot of stuff hidden in the game), run through the battle mansion/tower/subway, pick up the Lumiose City side quests, get involved in battling against other players, or probably half a dozen other things I am forgetting.

Pokemon games are deep and getting deeper with every turn of the franchise.

If Nintendo did not see its mission in life as selling hardware, putting Pokemon on Windows as is… not even talking about making it an MMO… would kill.  And the fact that Pokemon X and Y are 3D modeled, rather than being sprites as they have been in past generations, means that they could probably pull this off and end up with a game that looked pretty good on a big monitor.

But Nintendo sells hardware, something that is embedded in the culture of the company, and even disappointing Wii U sales won’t convince them to move off of the platforms they control ala Sega.  Besides which, Pokemon is on the GameBoy side of the business, and the Nintendo 3DS hardware is selling well.

Anyway, that aside, I finished up the game, as defined above, and naturally have some comments to make.

Let me start with the good.

The Good

First, of course, is that it is a Pokemon game and delivers all you would expect from the series.

It also looks great.  The update bringing Pokemon to a 3D rendering technology was a big move, but it paid off.  It was completely natural, not a shocking change, because they got the “feel” of the graphics just right in my opinion.  I had to go back and look at an older version of Pokemon to remind myself of the difference. (Comparisons with older version in a previous post.)

It let the game camera move, so that not every moment of game play was a top down view.

Pokemon X & Y

Not the top of my head!

And, since the it rendered rather than being sprites, it scales up to the bigger screen on the 3DS XL hardware.  This is a big deal for me.  I am now at the age where I need reading glasses to decipher any small text, such as that on the screen of my faithful old DS Lite.  But moving to the DSi XL meant I got bigger text, but the graphics just got blocky.  But with Pokemon X and Y and the 3DS XL hardware, it scales up nicely and looks good.

I will say that the 3DS XL is a very nice piece of hardware and, in my opinion, well worth the price over the standard size 3DS.  You get a bigger better screen and much better battery life, since they were able to fit a bigger battery in the unit.

But back to the game.

Connectivity to the internet seems to have been solved.  Back with Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, it was something of a chore to get yourself hooked into the Nintendo WiFi network.  That got better with Pokemon Black and White, but was still more complicated that it ought to have been.  Now, with the 3DS hardware and Nintendo’s latest revision of its online presence, it is much easier to get online.

Being online is also a bigger part of the game.  The 3DS hardware looks for other units in its area so you can see if somebody has their wifi on and is playing Pokemon in the vicinity. (I used this to catch my daughter playing Pokemon under the covers after lights out a few times!)  One of the new features I like is the “Wonder Trade” option in which you just pick a Pokemon from your collection and offer it up for a random trade with somebody else in the world.  I have gotten a few neat Pokemon that way and try to choose interesting ones to send out.  This feature is on top of the global trade center, which is the Pokemon trading auction house serving the world.

The story is good.  Team Flare and their leader are involved in a Bond villain conspiracy to protect the beauty of the world by destroying most of mankind.

The world looks great.  The new region, Kalos, is based on France and includes a few cultural stereotypes.  A new Pokemon that looks very much like a French poodle is conspicuous in the game, as is a high speed train that looks like the TGV and Lumiose City which is modeled on Paris.

The Kalos Region

The Kalos Region

The coveted experience share item, which was used to pass half of the experience gained by one Pokemon to another in your party, so you could boost up lower level Pokemon without having to go back to low level areas, now shares experience with your whole party.  My daughter, rather than ending up with one high level Pokemon doing all the work and five more way below level Pokemon hoping that the big one would not faint and expose the rest of them to almost sure defeat, actually ended up with a pretty well balanced party.  I know that it saved me from having to do a bunch of passing the item around to first level up one Pokemon and then another.  In fact, I did very little grinding experience just for levels.

And then there is your avatar which you can now customize.  There are clothes shops and items to pick up all over the game.  When I look at the avatars in the Wonder Trade, they all look very different, not just a few variations on the same theme.  It is actually quite impressive.

Finally, the game saves very quickly.  Past versions of the game took a long time to save.  But Pokemon X and Y save so quickly you might not notice it saved at all if you blink.

The Less Than Good

I don’t have anything hugely negative to say about the game, so don’t take these the wrong way.  But they are part of the whole package.

The camera gets out of control at times.  The thing with the 3D rendering and the camera being able to move can become a problem.  There were a couple of times in Lumiose City, where I was trying to get to a specific location and the camera would just not point in the direction of the building I needed to see.  To quote Yahtzee Croshaw, “The camera is like the working class: if you can’t control it, it will plot to destroy you.”  I ended up having to go away and come back again at a different angle to see the right doorway.  This feels like a rookie mistake, Pokemon never having been 3D before.  I suspect it will be better in the next game.

I am still disappointed I cannot take screen shots whenever I darn well please in the game.  Since the 3DS XL unit uses an SD card for memory, it seems like the hardware maker’s paranoia about memory usage ought to have dissipated.  I can just get a bigger card… and the approved method for upgrading cards is literally “copy the files to your PC, then copy them to the bigger card”… if I run out of room.  But having worked with the hardware team at various companies, I understand how deep seated that need to keep things in the smallest footprint possible is.  But I was hopeful in that the game allowed you to take pictures at certain photo spots and save them off.  Screen shots of a sort.  And then I copied some of those photos off of the system and… they are tiny.

I expected a little more.  And to take the pictures there is a whole convoluted camera interface where you have to focus and hold the 3DS just right and set the depth of field… all for a tiny screen shot.  It isn’t like they couldn’t render the pictures bigger, they just didn’t want to.  So 400×240 is all you get.  Such is life.  Better than nothing I suppose, but not close enough to my dreams.

Then there are 719 Pokemon.  At some point more just is not better.  But I do like the new ones with Pokemon X and Y better than some of the ones that game with Black and White.  And if you play the “Name the Pokemon” category on QuizUp, you’ll find that the names mostly reflect what they look like.  A friend who had never played Pokemon did surprisingly well just guessing.

The 3D effects work everywhere in the game, but you have to hold the 3DS unit just right for them to look good.  I turned the 3D slider to “off” unless there was something I really wanted to see mostly because I got tired of holding the 3DS XL in exactly the right position.  But the same goes for every other thing I have tried on the 3DS XL.  Everything is good enough in 2D, except Netflix, which looks like hell on the small screen with lots of pixelation and artifacts.  But that isn’t a 3D problem, that happens no matter where I have the slider. The hardware just isn’t up to decoding video.

But the biggest thing I can say against the game… which some will take as no insult at all… is that it is very much a Pokemon game and follows the set formula of all the games that went before it.  Each game has some new bits and pieces… Pokemon X & Y have aerial battles and Pokemon you use as vehicles in a few special sections of the game… but the core structure remains the same.  You are a young person in a land where everybody is obsessed about Pokemon.  Your mother is surprisingly accepting of you traveling around the region at the behest of some professor of Pokemon studies in order to capture Pokemon, battle strangers, defeat the various gym leaders, and take down some criminal syndicate by defeating them in Pokemon battles.  You then go on the challenge the elite four and the regional champion and enter into the hall of fame.  There are caves, both rocky and made of ice, puzzles to solve, a bicycle to ride, a power outage to fix, random strangers to battle, and a legendary Pokemon to catch.  Same as it ever was.

But that is not a necessarily a bad thing.  A Pokemon game will never feel as fresh as after your first pass through, but the conventions are comforting in their way.  You know, in a way, exactly what you are getting.

All in all, Pokemon X and Y reaffirmed my devotion to the series.  I am looking forward to Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire coming out this fall.  That will be just in time for my daughter and I to binge on over the break at Thanksgiving.  I actually like the remakes quite a bit.  Color me conservative.  At least the remakes do not feel the need to include another 150 Pokemon.

Landmark and the Price of a Badly Defined Beta July 28, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next.
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There has been an argument over what “beta” means when it comes to software for as long as I have been part of the industry, which is pushing on 25 years now.

The baseline definition for me has always been that your software is feature complete and you feel it is ready to ship, but now you are going to take some time to get people outside the development group to look at things.  This can be surprisingly important and an eye opening experience, as when you have worked with a piece of software for months at a stretch, your brain becomes adjusted to the way it works.  You stop seeing the flaws and you become invested in the project vision.

And then you hand it to some fresh eyes who will, often almost immediately, tell if what you have been slaving over makes a lick of sense.  It can be a sobering moment when somebody, after five minutes with your product, makes a suggestion for a fundamental change that, upon reflection, seems obvious.  Plus they tend to catch all those quirks that the team has simply learned to work around to the point of developing a blind spot, those bugs that “everybody” knows about yet somehow never quite made it to the bug tracking database.

That is the idea in my book.  I have fought for that ideal now and then.  But I have been through the wringer enough times to know that fight can be futile.  So I have been through internal betas (where we learn how little the rest of the company cares) schedule betas (the schedule says we’re beta as of today so we are) political betas (we’re going beta today because if we don’t, somebody in senior management will look bad) survival betas (we’re going beta because if we don’t they’ll cancel the project and lay us all off) and the occasional investor beta (I gave your company money so install your product on my son’s laptop… and put more RAM in there as well… I don’t care, strip your lab machines if you have to).

But in all of that there is still a certain level feature availability before we hand the software over to fresh eyes, if for no other reason that a fresh perspective is a perishable commodity and you don’t want to waste it on things you should have caught yourself.  Once people have been in your beta a bit they will become fixated on things that are important to them and tend to not notice anything else.  Long betas introduce beta fatigue, as I am going to guess SOE is finding out with Landmark.

Landmark was in alpha for a stretch and then went into “closed beta” a few months back, which meant “paid beta” so far as I could tell.  I was invited in for a couple of seven day runs at the product and, as the joke goes, there wasn’t much “there” there.  I suspect that SOE is feeling interest wain as the software goes on and on with small but important changes but no real end in sight.  So while they fleeced convinced some people to pay money to get into the software early, I am going to guess that even the most hard core fan has some limit and really need more people online and active to test.

Which is why I suspect we got this sale today over at Steam.

LandmarkSteamSale

Yes, Landmark has been marked down to Steam Summer Sale levels of discount.  That is the basic Settler Pack, but the other tiers are available too, including upgrades if you are already invested.

All packages marked down

All packages marked down

I was a tad miffed that people were getting Planetary Annihilation for three bucks less than my Kickstarter pledge back during the Steam Summer Sale.  How would I feel if I was in for a hundred for the top tier Trailblazer Pack and then, still during closed beta, they offered up the same deal for $33.99?  I wonder if any of those early adopters will pipe up?

And given the caveats, I am not sure that $33.99 is a good deal from where I sit.  The warning on Steam as part of their Early Access disclaimer:

ATTENTION: Landmark is in Closed Beta. That means we are still adding core feature sets and that updates are happening weekly. Everything in the game is currently subject to change, which includes the possibility of wipes.

Please make sure to read the Landmark Blueprint, which provides a list of planned feature updates and timing estimates.

We are using an Open Development process to create this game, which means that you are encouraged to interact directly with the development team via the Steam Community, Twitter, Reddit, Twitch and our Forums. If you are interested in helping to create a game from the ground up, Landmark offers that opportunity.

For more information on the Landmark development process, click here.

The Landmark blueprint forum thread shows a list of features and says that they will be unveiling some new things at SOE Live in a couple of weeks.  But there is a long list of features, including almost everything that might turn Landmark into a game as opposed to a wanna-be Minecraft prototype, waiting to be implemented. (But they got the Station Cash store running muy pronto!)  There is certainly no obvious “okay, it is worth my time” point on their blueprint as yet.

While I am sure that for the devs actually working on the project, these changes are coming as fast as they can manage them, from the outside the pace can feel very different.  If you’ve been playing around with Landmark for six months or more at this point there is probably a good chance that your interest has faded somewhat, or that your focus has narrowed to a few things.  There certainly haven’t been a lot of blog posts about Landmark lately, and bloggers as a group tend to be more enthusiastic about their games than the average play.  SOE has gotten a mention here and there due to handing out seven day passes, but people who were on fire early on have been pretty quiet these days.

So, while I am not ready to claim that Landmark is DOA, it could be easily inferred that SOE needs some more people actually coming in to play, to start from scratch, to get involved, and to be enthusiastic about the game.  And for just under seven bucks I am slightly tempted.  But there still doesn’t seem to be enough there yet, and the game is going to be free to play eventually anyway.  So I will probably pass.

SOE has a chance to revive interest at SOE Live, though that can be a double edged sword as well.  They got a lot of people interested in EverQuest Next at the last SOE Live but haven’t said much about it since, and SOE has something of a history of sporadically building up enthusiasm with their customer base only to go silent for long stretches.

Quote of the Day – In Space it is Still Location, Location, Location July 25, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
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To put it bluntly, if you want to catch instawarping interceptors, the most important part is living in London.

-Namamai, Understanding the EVE Online Server Tick

There is an interesting/informative article up over at TMC about how the processing loop of EVE Online dictates if you’ll be able to lock up and point that decloaking interceptor on a gate.

I actually had some experience with a similar scenario just recently.  In our expedition to Brave Newbies’ space our fleet, made up primarily of Harpies and interceptors and other small stuff, engaged quite a few bombers and destroyers and other easily destroyed ships.

Hanging on the station in V-3YG7

Hanging on the station in V-3YG7

It doesn’t take a ton of shots to kill a bomber, the glass cannon of New Eden, and destroyers are fragile compared to tech II frigates.  So when targets presented themselves it was a race to lock things up and get a shot off before they exploded.  Any number of times I would get something locked and have the guns going in the first firing cycle only to be informed that the target had already exploded.

I was not alone in experiencing this.  People were starting to get angry on coms at one point, raging against the interceptors in the fleet… because interceptors…  and wondering who amongst them were running extra sensor boosters to hog all the kills.

Of course, interceptor pilots were quick to point out that they too were getting aced out of kills in exactly the same way.  Somebody on coms started in trying to explain the whole tick thing, but it was neither the time nor the place for such a lesson.  We had a fleet op to fly and a jump bridge on which to get pipe bombed still.

So it was nice to have the article linked at the top show up to get back to the explanation of ticks and why you might be able to target someone and activate your guns and still get shut out of the kill mail.  As I said, interesting stuff, but the informative bit was the punchline, the fact that you can be the fastest guy in the fleet to hit the right button, but if your packets don’t arrive in London, where the main server cluster is housed, in time to be part of the current cycle, you’re not getting on that kill mail.

Latency is still a thing.

The Cape of Stranglethorn July 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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9 comments

Once there was a zone called Stranglethorn Vale.  It was a place of jungle and raptors and trolls and missing pages from books and that bastard Hemet Nesingwary who would continue to haunt our existence through every expansion with his wildlife slaughtering requests.

It was a large and somewhat controversial zone… though some appreciated the quest design… that would try your patience for endless running (you didn’t have a mount when you got there back in the day) and managing your bag space.

It was where the Horde and Alliance really started to merge.  Before Stranglethorn Vale, each side had most zones to themselves.  Afterwards, everybody ran down the same list of zones.

And it was placed right in the middle of the leveling curve, in that danger zone when the fun of the first twenty or so levels had receded from your rear view mirror, but the level cap of 60 (way back when) was still somewhere over the horizon.

At one point I had five or six characters stuck somewhere in their mid-30s, bags full of pages from The Green Hills of Stranglethorn and logs full of quests with horrible drop rates, congested “kill a single named mob” choke points, or more variations on slaughter for hire, unable to progress due to a desire never to see that jungle again.

Stranglethorn Vale that was...

Stranglethorn Vale that was…

From the rebel camp to Booty Bay, from the Vile Reef to the Venture Company sites, from Kurzen’s Camp to the Nesingwary Expedition, from the Gubashi Arena to the pirates off the the southeast coast, Stranglethorn Vale has a lot going on.  And while you can blue sky daydream about the good old days in the Vale, you have to remember that Blizzard felt it had to boost the questing experience in Dustwallow Marsh, adding in Mudsproket and a whole range of additional quests around Theramore and Brackenwall.  At the time this was pretty much a mea culpa from Blizzard that old STV might be a bit more of a pain than the expected.

And then came the Cataclysm.  The zone was split into two, with the top half becoming Northern Stranglethorn Vale and the bottom becoming the Cape of Stranglethorn, which strikes me a bit like having North Carolina and the Carolina Strand as states… you tend to call out “north” only if there is a “south” right… but then the whole continent is called The Eastern Kingdoms, which is a vague, hand waving description more than a name in my opinion, so my problems with the geographic naming conventions of Azeroth are long standing.

I had already wrapped up the Northern Stranglethorn achievement with my warrior, Makarov, way back in March of last year when I was back in the game on a seven day pass and still not over my post-Cataclysm malaise.

Northern Stranglethorn Vale

Northern Stranglethorn Vale

But for whatever reason, Makarov moved on to the Plaguelands (of which there is an East and a West, so there), leaving the Cape of Stranglethorn untouched.  And so it remained, until I decided to go for the Loremaster achievement this summer.

More after the cut.

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PLEX and its new Daughter, GRACE July 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest II, WildStar.
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5 comments

I do not pay much attention to Anarchy Online.  Well, I don’t pay it any mind at all, really aside from the occasional industry lore aspects around things like rocky starts (“nearly unplayable” -GameSpy) and longevity. (It turned 13 just about a month back.)

AnarchyOnlineLogo

But some people do still pay attention to it.  There was a post up over at Massively announcing that the game had announced a new aspect to their subscription plan.

Called GRACE, for Grid Access Credit Extension, it is an in-game item that can be traded or sold between players that, once redeemed, turns into 30 days of game subscription time.  There is a FAQ.

Basically, this the AO version of EVE Online PLEX.

This is PLEX

No longer this cheap in Jita

PLEX itself has been live in EVE Online for just about five years at this point, where it has been a success thanks in large part to the in-game economy which is all pervasive in New Eden.  There are a lot of aspects of the game you can avoid, but if you want to play you are going to be part of the economy.

The economy is such a big deal in EVE that I was curious if MMOs with much more optional or fragmented economies could really make something like PLEX work.  World of Warcraft, with its large player base and need for gold sinks, seemed like it might be able to, even with the economy sliced up into three markets on hundreds of different servers.  And Blizzard dipped their toe in the water… sort of… with the kitten economy idea.  But they haven’t done much since.

It was left to Sony Online Entertainment to give the PLEX idea a try in the fantasy realm, introducing Krono to EverQuest II about two years back and then expanding it to their other games.

All About Krono

All About Krono

I really have no idea how Krono has worked out.  They still have Krono as an option, even after the big consolidation of game subscriptions into the new All Access plan back in April, but I have never seen more than a couple on the market when I have bothered to check, and the prices seemed wildly different on different servers, so I cannot tell if they just don’t get used or if they are so popular that they sell out quickly to the platinum barons of Norrath.  And the fact that the game is free to play complicates things.

Moving on, earlier this year we had two new MMOs announcing that they were all-in on monthly subscriptions.  First, The Elder Scrolls Online made its position clear, and then WildStar joined the subscription only parade as well.  But their business model also included something called CREDD, which is how they spell PLEX on Nexus I gather.  Because it was that PLEX model again, an in-game item worth game time, which Carbine seemed to be using as a loophole to claim some sort of free to play status since, technically, after you bought the game, you could find a way to play for free if you earned enough in-game money to buy CREDD.

In Carbine’s world, you can play for free so long as they get paid.  But to their credit, I don’t think they have overplayed their definition of free to play… yet.

My first thought when they announced their business model, including the CREDD bit, was whether or not it had worked for SOE by that point.  That seemed like a reasonable question.  Yes, a shiny new game sporting a subscription-only model with a brand new, out of the box in-game economy might not be the best parallel, what else was I going to compare it too?

The question is still unanswered at this point as far as I am concerned.  The idea works in EVE, but I couldn’t tell you if it was worthwhile elsewhere.

And now Funcom is throwing its hat in the ring with Anarchy Online, which doesn’t help my understanding at all, because I am not even sure what their business model is.  I think it is mostly subscriptions, but they have had this short-term “Free Play” option that shows you ads in game since… what… 2004?  So does that make it free to play?  And how many people even play?  The late Game Data site tracked them as peaking at 60K subscriptions just after launch, dropping down to 10K by 2006, but nothing after that.

So who is out there playing Anarchy Online?  What do you think GRACE going to do for the game, if anything?

Or, for that matter, how about CREDD in WildStar or Krono in SOE games?

You Get to Decorate the House You Have, Not the House You Might Want July 23, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Runes of Magic, World of Warcraft.
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22 comments

Housing is one of the great line-item features that a lot of people think every MMO should have.  There is a strong desire to have a place to call your own in what tends to be an unchanging and unalterable virtual world.  There is some need within us to leave our mark somewhere in the game.  I get that.

And companies have responded to that over the years, offering up various forms of housing.  Housing was a big part of Ultima Online back in the day.  Housing was part of the attraction of WildStar, which just launched a few weeks back.  And over the years I have explored various implementations.  If I play a game long enough, and it has housing, I am usually there to give it a try.

But how well it sticks for me… well, that is another story.

Rift offered up housing with the Storm Legion expansion, but it was so free form that I barely did anything with it.

Dimension by the Sea

Unfurnished Dimension by the Sea

People have done amazing things with dimensions in Rift… they were even doing so back during the Storm Legion beta… but, like most of Storm Legion, it just didn’t hook me.

Lord of the Rings Online, by comparison, offered some very pretty housing that was, in fact, a house.  A house on a lot even.

A house in Bree

A house in Bree

But the options for it were so limited that I ended up letting it lapse.  There wasn’t much advantage to having the house and the customizations were limited to just a few locations within the house.  You could hang up things from the world… taxidermied monsters or fishing trophies… but it still felt very generic.

And then clipping issues...

And then clipping issues…

And while I liked the idea of there being a yard, the instanced neighborhoods were somewhat awkward.

Elves and their damn monuments

Elves and their damn monuments

And it was tough to find a neighborhood where all of us could find a house we could afford.  In the end, the minor storage benefit of my house in LOTRO meant I let the lease lapse.

EverQuest actually threw down and added housing with the House of Thule expansion.  It borrowed a lot from its younger brother, EverQuest II, while using the instanced neighborhood model similar to LOTRO.  And I was reasonably impressed with SOE’s ability to overlay yet another complex interface onto the aging EverQuest client.  Plus the houses looked good.

A more complete development

A Norrathian housing development

The problem there was that I was pretty much done with EverQuest as a main game by that point.  I like to visit old Norrath, so I had to go try it out, but I had nothing really to put in the house and the upkeep, which was aimed at those who had kept up with inflation, was well beyond my means.

And there have been others.  Runes of Magic offered housing that gave you some form of storage, along with a woman in a skimpy French maid outfit.

Go Google the outfit

Go Google the outfit

Landmark seems to be all housing.  It is about as free form as you can get. no game at this point.

Behold Zuul's Sky Altar

Behold Zuul’s Sky Altar

The pity is that there is no actual game around it yet.

Meanwhile, in EVE Online, the Captain’s quarters… the start (and probably the end) of housing in New Eden… allowed you to see your full body at last, and then park that body on a couch to watch something boring on a screen.

What is on Space TV today?

What is on Space TV today?

That might be too meta for me.

And since I am on about different flavors of housing, I will mention Star Wars Galaxies before some fan comes in to remind us all that this was the greatest housing ever.  We will have to agree to disagree on that point.  Yes, it gave you your own little spot in the real world where you could open a store or whatever.  But it was a visual blight on the game,  with huge clumps of houses strewn across the open landscape, encroaching right up to the edge of any in-game landmark.  It made the game look like a Tatooine trailer park.

Looks like a Star Wars trailer park

Literally a Tatooine trailer park

But after having gone through so much in-game housing over the years, I have to say that there has only been one housing model that has really suited me.  And that is the EverQuest II model.

Yes, you do not get your own house in the midst of the world.  At best you share a door to a stately home or guild hall with everybody else who has rented the same facility, so you all live there in parallel in your own instances.  I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing.  It keeps away the blight problem, and while there is the problem of finding somebody’s house from a listing at a door, one of the bragging points I have heard about the SWG model was that finding people was difficult so that knowing where a given person lived and set up a store gave you power.  I’ll take the less blight version.

But the key for me was that EQII housing gave me exactly what I wanted, which was a simple house where I could hang trophies and other rewards from my travels.  I had the option to decorate, and at times Gaff, who had a carpenter, would send me some neat furniture to spiff up my home, but mostly I just decorated with things picked up as I played.  And the important part was that somebody at SOE foresaw that need and provided me with plenty of items to stick in my home.  In fact, whoever came up with the reward of a weapon you could mount on your wall for the Lore & Legend quests was a genius, followed by the person who decided to make heritage quest rewards displayable in your home.  I went through and looked at every character I had played past level 20 the other night, and every single one of them has a house and has at least some Lore & Legend quest rewards hung on the wall.

Weapons on the wall

Weapons on the wall

There are other aspects about it that make EQII housing good.  The interface is simple.  The house models themselves come in a variety of designs, from simple box flats to a whole island if you want a big guild hall.  And the base models are cheap.  You can have a house in any city for five silver a week, which was inexpensive back at launch when SOE was working very hard to keep a lid on inflation and no mob in the game dropped actual coin.

EverQuest II housing is really ideal for my desires. It is just a pity that it is in EQII.

It is a pity because I do not play EQII.  I don’t play it because, for all the little things it does right, I don’t enjoy the main game.  I don’t enjoy the main game, the character progression and zones and levels and what not for various reasons.  Some of the reasons are pretty concrete, such as the fact that none of my close friends play the game anymore.  It is on the official “never again” list for the instance group.  Some of the reasons are very subjective.  I really don’t like the 50-70 zones all that much.  Everything after Desert of Flames makes me yawn, and even that expansion still strikes me as “the new stuff.”

After all of the above, I am finally getting to my point.

Despite the fact that EverQuest II has pretty much the ideal housing setup for me, I do not play EverQuest II.  I don’t play EverQuest II because I don’t play MMOs for the side features, I play them because I enjoy the overall game.

So I love housing in EverQuest II and the music system in Lord of the Rings Online and the old world of EverQuest and the OCD inducing find all the points of interest apects of GuildWars 2 and… hrmm… I am sure sure there is something I could inject here about Rift if I thought about it… but I don’t play those game because the main game just doesn’t click with me.

I play World of Warcraft and EVE Online which, respectively, ten years in has no housing at all and possibly the most useless housing in the genre.  I play them because I enjoy the main game, or the part of the main game in which I indulge.

So if you are out there trolling for page views by raging about garrisons in one breath because they didn’t meet your unrealistic and unsubstantiated expectations, after making it clear you never cared about housing being brought to WoW in the previous breath, in an environment where housing was probably a slip of the tongue to describe the feature, because Blizzard has been pretty clear in the past about their views on housing in WoW… well… I guess I got the punch line at the start of this sentence, didn’t I?  Those who get paid by the page view…

Would I like garrisons to be EQII housing brought to Azeroth?  You bet!  That would be a dream come true.

But unless you have a compelling argument that garrisons are so bad that they are going to ruin the main game, there isn’t much drama to be had in my opinion.  We can talk about how better the developers might have spent their time I suppose.  But this is a pet battles sort of feature.

In the end, I am buying Warlords of Draenor for ten more levels of World of Warcraft and all the zones and stories and pop culture references and silly shenanigans that goes with it.  And I suspect that will be the story for most people.

If garrisons have any merit, people will play with them and maybe even stay subscribed a bit longer.  Or if they have any achievements… and of course they will have achievements… people will play with them for that.  And if garrisons are truly the waste of time and effort as described, then people will use them to the extent that they need to in order to get to level cap and grab the achievements, at which point they will be forgotten like many a feature in the past.

Is somebody going to try to convince me that this was a make or break feature for Warlords of Draenor?

Or, if you want, just tell me about your favorite MMO housing.  Somebody will anyway, so I might as well invite it!

The tl;dr version: If housing really is a must-have important feature for you, you probably aren’t playing WoW now and you probably won’t be playing it in the future.

Anyway, back to happy pictures.  I put a gallery of my housing collections in EQII, plus a bit of the Revelry & Honor guild hall (which is huge), after the cut, because it really is my ideal housing plan.

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Shoes for Industry – Crius Deployed to New Eden July 22, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
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1 comment so far

The first of CCP’s smaller, more frequent expansions went live today in EVE Online.  They call it Crius, which I keep wanting to type as Cirrus.

EVE Online - Crius

EVE Online – Crius

The Kronos expansion went live back at the beginning of June, the last of the expansions with a six month run-up to launch.  It was big and had bits and pieces for just about everybody.

With Crius, the age of the more focused expansion begins.  What does it mean?

That is a question with answers on several levels.

Crius itself is focused on industry in New Eden.  You can read the release notes for all the gory details, or the page devoted to the expansion, which at least has some pictures related to the changes for the more visually oriented.  Or there is the video.  There is always a video.   And music.  There is a Crius theme up on SoundCloud, where CCP posts all the EVE Online music.

Anyway, there are some general bug fixes and some small changes in other areas, but most everything is about industry.

Which isn’t very exciting to some.

Not that industry isn’t of absolute, vital importance to the game.  Without the great industrial concerns of New Eden we might very well be flying about in rookie ships with civilian modules, terrorized by that guy who just finished the tutorial and was flying a Bantam or a Kestral.  Every other ship in EVE Online has to be built by somebody.  Some player in the game buys the blueprint, collects the materials, runs the assembly job, and lists the result on the market for just about every ship hull you want to buy.  I am not sure I have played any MMO that depended so much upon player crafting.

So industry deserves attention.  I am just not sure that it grabs much attention.

I went through an industrial phase myself, and my eyes still start to glaze over looking at those patch notes.  I like that you now only need 100 of any ore to refine it.  I have several stacks of 487 units of some ore that used to require 500 to refine.  And it is a good thing that was mentioned at the top of the list, because it kept me from speed scrolling to the bottom of the notes for probably a good five seconds as I looked for something else that made sense to me.  I think it is easier to plant a POS in high sec now.  Maybe.

I’d better stick to the page with the pictures.  Go Teams!  They are a some kind of thing now.

Necessary stuff, but not exactly exciting.  No marketing team’s dream here.  The ingredients required for things to go boom, without any of the actually boom.

And it brings change to what is a fairly conservative group in New Eden.

The core of these changes were supposed to go into the Kronos expansion, but there was such a hue and cry over them and how they might change the dynamics of industry and rob this group or that of their livelihood that it got pushed off to Crius.  Industry is such a basic necessity to the game that even CCP, who have been known succumb to their rash viking heritage from time to time, felt they had better back off and think about this.  But eventually they came up with something that did not start a revolution amongst industrialists against the company, and that is going live today.

Which brings me to the big question, what do these changes mean to the game itself?

Damned if I know.

I am so long out of the industrial side of things that I can’t gauge what will be a popular win and what will be a milestone around the neck of this expansion.  But there are plenty of smart people in EVE Online who can explain things.  You can try these:

I am sure there will be many more posts on the topic.  The general sense seems to be that things will be a bit more expensive.  We shall see.

Meanwhile, the next focused expansion on the list, Hyperion, should be well under way.  We should start seeing dev blogs about that soon.

The CCP Train Schedule

The CCP Train Schedule

While the dates have already changed, we should still see Hyperion about eight weeks down the line if CCP can hold to its planned pace.