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ArcheAge Went Live and Everybody Went Crazy or Something September 23, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Misc MMOs.
Tags: ,
7 comments

Normally I note when MMOs that are popular in our little corner of the web go live, if for no other reason than to track dates and such.  Somehow I missed my cue when ArcheAge went live… um… the other day?  Last week?  There was some sort of head start and such.  I sort of lost track.  But anyway, it went live and people went crazy.

ArcheAge_logo_450

Certainly, lots of people in the neighborhood seem to be playing it.  You can find all sorts of posts about it at:

As far as I can tell, Trion launched the game at exactly the right moment, in the lull where WildStar has begun to fade… erm… set out to create MegaServers(tm)… whatever… but Warlords of Draenor is still a couple months out.  And so ArcheAge became the oasis to which everybody flocked.

All servers queued, some with restrictions

All servers queued, some with restrictions

Being too successful is the best problem to have, but it is still a problem.  I even downloaded it over the weekend to take a peek.

I finally bit the bullet and let Trion install their Glyph gaming sales portal so I could log into Rift, and once I was there it was just a couple more clicks to have it install ArcheAge as well.

I was a little annoyed that they installed HackShield, an anti-hacking root toolkit, without bothering to warn me in large, flashing red letters, as I would have stopped the install right then and there.  I understand the need for such things, but I will avoid them if I can based on past experience with things like PunkBuster and such.  Basically, to play the game there is now another company in the mix, AhnLab, Inc., that can cause problems.  And there will be problems.  Some portion of legit users are always hit by these measures, so they basically send the message that it is okay to screw over a few of the innocent so long as we catch more hackers.  And then there is always the possibility of it being used as an attack vector.  Bleh.

And I wasn’t even going to have the potential to hack.  Being non-Patron scum, I was only able to check out the queues to get onto a server.  There was some variance, with the older servers being queued up past the 3K mark, and even had restrictions on what characters you could create.

More than an hour indeed...

More than an hour indeed…

More than an hour was a pretty light touch compared to reality.  While I am sure that patrons were being shown to the front of the queue that held me back, I let the whole thing sit there for a couple hours and it seemed that the queue moved me up about 700 places an hour.  The newer servers were at about half total queue it seemed.

Just 1,400 or so...

Just 1,500 or so…

The calculation eventually resolved to tell me my wait time would be about 20 minutes.  That was clearly optimistic in the extreme for prime time on Saturday afternoon.  Not that it mattered all that much to me.  I was just there to kick the tires.

But for others it has be a problem, and the whole queue situation has plenty of people talking about what ought to be done.  Hardcore Casual, Blessing of Kings, and Keen & Graev have all piped up on that front.

All of that has masked, to a certain extent, worries about the land rush in ArcheAge.  With housing being in the actual world rather than in some form of instance, the supply would seem to fall far short of the potential demand.  That has people worried and a whole side topic about illegal farms, which aren’t actually illegal has popped up.  However, stealing from them is illegal.  Go figure.

Anyway, it has all been an interesting read from the sidelines so far.  Trion is promising compensation for patrons over the whole queue thing and has worked to get more servers online.  But will this all end with them announcing the formation of MegaServers a few months down the line?  I suppose we shall see.

Defense Grid 2 Coming Online September 23, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
Tags: , , ,
19 comments

A little over two years back the team at Hidden Path Entertainment, the creators of Defense Grid: The Awakening, ran a Kickstarter campaign with a slate of goals.

The baseline goal was to raid $250K to create a new set of levels for Defense Grid: The Awakening.  Being one of my favorites in the tower defense genre, I was in just to get a few more levels of the game.

But Hidden Path Entertainment had a grander vision.  They had their eyes on Defense Grid 2, a sequel they hoped to fund through the Kickstarter.  For everything they wanted to do… new engine, multiplayer, level creator/editor, support across multiple platforms… the target was one million dollars.

DG2_Short

However, sometimes our reach exceeds our grasp.  In this case, 30 days of Kickstarting only came up with $271,727.  That was enough for the basic goal, more levels for Defense Grid: The Awakening, but nothing else on the list.  And they delivered on that… almost on time.  The promise was for December of 2012 and we got it in January of 2013.  Not much of a slip at all.

But Hidden Path also promised us Defense Grid 2.

You’ll Get DG2

We’re working to cross the minimum and fund Defense Grid: Containment.  But please also understand that by joining the team as a backer, you’ll also get a copy of DG2 when we release it.  We’ll need to do extra work on our end to earn or raise the remaining funds in order to complete DG2, but when we do, you’ll still be a part of the team.  Crossing $250,000 gets you DG:Containment this December, and DG2 when it is complete.

They were going to have to go find another way to fund it, but it was still part of the plan.

Time went by.  I played through all of the levels in the new expansion multiple times.  Hidden Path kept us up to date on funding, which they managed to secure through a couple of sources.  Kickstarter backers were allowed into the beta on Steam earlier this year.  And, today, Defense Grid 2 becomes available on Steam.

Defense Grid 2

Defense Grid 2

At least the Windows version is available today.  Mac and SteamOS versions are slated for mid-October.

Those of us who supported the Kickstarter got our keys this past weekend, so I have already spent some time with the game, and it is good.

The single player game is an expansion on the original Defense Grid: The Awakening, with story missions that carry on from there and all the variations on how to play through a given level you have been lead to expect.  There is still multiplayer co-op and the whole DG Architect, which allows players to create their own levels and share them through the Steam Workshop, still to discover.

Here are a few screen shots I have taken of the game.

The art style has changed, the turrets have all be redone, and the levels are part of a wider landscape now.  The aliens are a bit less interesting so far… though I haven’t made it that far into the game.  The turrets do seems to have more well defined roles now.  And, of course, there are a pile of achievements.  But for the most part it feels like a good, solid tower defense game.

As part of my Kickstarter pledge, I ended up with an extra key.  I am going to give it away to somebody who comments on this post.

All you have to do is leave a comment indicating that you would like the key and make sure that the email address you use when leaving the comment is valid (nobody by me can see it and that is where I am going to send it, so if it bounces you lose) within 24 hours of this post going live (by 15:00 UTC, 8am PDT, or 11am EDT September 24, 2014) and I will use some sort of random number generator to decide who gets it.

I can still do something like “/roll 1d100″ in WoW can’t I?

The winner will be notified by email and I will append the result to the post.

And if you don’t win, well, the game is only $25.  And if that is too steep, there is always the Steam Holiday Sale in December.

But so far I recommend the game if you liked the original or enjoy tower defense in general.

Addendum: Prize Roll straight from Ironforge in Azeroth.

PrizeRoll

The roll was 13, which I guess means spoutbec wins the Steam key.  We’ll see if his email address is legit shortly.

When Does an MMO Become a Foreign Country? September 22, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, World of Warcraft.
15 comments

One of the tenets of the MMORPG industry these days is that players will come and go.  After a certain point in the life cycle of an MMO the installed base, those who have played the game at one time but who are not currently playing, is the most fertile ground for marketing.  Somebody who has enjoyed your game once may come back to try it again.

And a lot of us do come and go from various MMOs.  There are many posts on this blog about my poking my nose back into this game or that for a summer vacation or autumnal nostalgia tour.

Unfortunately, this sort of revolving door view of MMOs does tend to be at odds with another constant of MMOs: Change.

Change, big and small, is part and parcel of the genre it seems.  Think of how many blog posts and comments have included something akin to, “I liked this game back when…”

Changes can be small, confined to a single class or a single ability, or huge, changing how every class works or even how we look as classes in a game.  Blizzard likes to revamp classes, stats, and combat with every expansion, something we can look forward to yet again with the 6.0 patch before Warlords of Draenor.  And Turbine did a giant turn on Lord of the Rings Online classes shortly after my last time playing the game, remaking classes in the image of the talent tree god.

specs and talents

specs and talents

Change is meant to be good.  These revamps are meant to improve the game, to make it more playable, to balance out the classes, and to make sure there isn’t just a single “I win” skill for a given class.

And if you are playing a game actively and such change occurs, you pick up and work your way through the change with everybody else.  There is a lot of sharing when it comes to adapting.

But if you were away when the change hit, if you were taking a break, on hiatus, or just getting the hell away from a game that was starting to feel more like work than fun for a bit, coming back can be a very different experience.

It can be like a foreign country.

Sure, things look about the same as home at first glance.  But as you look closer, differences start to become apparent.  They call french fries something else on the menu and when they serve them up they have a side of mayonnaise or are bathed in gravy.  The money is all different, so you can’t tell what is expensive and what is a bargain without a bit of math.  And the customs are all different, so people are rolling their eyes or giving you angry glances as you wander about trying to figure out what is going on.

Now, in a foreign country, you have to grow up there in order to really fit in.  MMOs are not so complex.  If you have friends or a regular guild or group, they can help you assimilate to the new state of affairs.  And, when all else fails, you can go back, roll up a new character and, in essence, “grow up” again in the game.

I have used the new character method quite a bit, especially with LOTRO, which seems to change quite a bit between my visits.  But even that has its flaws.  In LOTRO, for example, I have now played through the 1 to 40 content with so many characters that, even though I enjoy it, I do want to see something else.  And in EverQuest there is so much content and so much has changed over the years (and there are so many out of date guides and such on the web), that somewhere between the tutorial zone and some level… somewhere between 20 and 50… I inevitably fall off the rails.  I have not played the game seriously in so long that the game is almost completely foreign to me, to the point that even “growing up” through it again isn’t possible.

It seems like I have simply been away too long to ever really return to EverQuest.  It isn’t what it once was, I do not understand what it has become, and I have no base of friends or other support group to help out.  And I feel that way when I wander into EverQuest II these days as well.  The old guilds are all deserted and the skills on my hot bar are like a foreign language.

This is why the various insta-level schemes haven’t really thrilled me.  If I am lost where I left off in the midst of the game, boosting me further along, and thus removing even the bits of context I remember, isn’t going to help me much.

It all makes me wonder if there is a quantifiable gap in time after which returning to an MMO becomes difficult, a point after which the inevitable divergence between what you remember and the state of the game starts to turn the game into a foreign place.

Or maybe it is just me.  I swap classes in a game and it takes me a while to come up to speed.

EverQuest Lore in a Minute September 21, 2014

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

Because… EverQuest!

(Direct Link)

 

The Great Brewfest Kodo Arrives September 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
3 comments

Brewfest rolled around again in World of Warcraft, which generated a moment of excitement until I remembered that I had already done all the achievements and events in past years.

Getting wild at Brewfest

Oh, I did all the things…

I sagged a little at that.  As with last year, I felt my momentary enthusiasm gutted by the reality of nothing changing in the world.

But, wanting to do something in WoW, but still not quite ready to resume the Blade’s Edge Mountains, I figured I could queue up for Coren Direbrew.  He is quick and maybe he has some better drops this year.  Plus, I never got that Great Brewfest Kodo.

So I queued up, got into a group in about five minutes (or about one thirtieth of an Arche Age login queue) and wham, bam, he was down.

And what did he have for me?  A Great Brewfest Kodo!

BFKodoDrop

That drop, on the first run, rounded out my Brewfest mount collection, as I already had the Swift Brewfest Ram.

BFMounts

That was pretty exciting, considering how many runs we took at Coren Direbrew during past Brestfests.  I can now ride around Brewfest in style… when I am not flying.  I’ll probably have it out for Warlords of Draenor a lot.

Brewfest Kodo

Brewfest Kodo

Of course, now I have the one last thing I was missing from Brewfest, so I am back to where I started.  Such is life in the land of MMOs.

(On the flip side, that did get my mother and daughter to run Coren Direbrew as well in hopes of a mount drop.)

 

MMO Blogesphere Feed – Version 3 September 19, 2014

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

This was going to be something for the top section of the month in review, but it ended up being a bit longer than I would like, so I’ll just complain about WordPress.com or something on the 30th.

So over there in the side bar on the right hand side of the blog, there is my latest attempt to create a unified feed for a small corner of the MMO blogesphere.  This is, of course, driven entirely from jealousy at the wonderful blog roll widget that people using Google’s Blogger platform have access to.  WordPress.com will never give us anything like this because, as I have been told by a designated representative of the organization, blog rolls are a thing of the past.

Such is life.

Now, there are any number of ways with a sufficient application of effort, technology, and/or money, I could enable a comparable feature on my own side bar.

Hell, I could just move to the Blogger platform.  Simple and done.  I just happen to like just about everything else about WordPress.com better than Blogger, up to and including the whole not being an insignificant part of Google and thus always in danger of being discarded for some new vision of the future or if Sergey is having a bad day.  WordPress.com and I disagree on any number of things, but being a blogging platform is their thing.  Plus my blog is too big to export at this point, so I am stuck with them unless I want to start again fresh.

Anyway, while I could throw money and ~effort~ at the problem, I am both cheap and lazy.  So I have sought out solutions that were both low effort and low cost through various iterations of the project.  The story so far…

Version 0

My original plan was just to stick the VirginWorlds feed in the side bar.  That was a fine solution back in the day.  Viva Brent!

But since about 2009 or so, when Brent wandered off with other priorities in his life, it has been less and less of an ideal.  The site is still up and running, and its accompanying feed is still in my side bar.  However, the site no longer gets updated with new blogs any more, so the feed itself tends to be dominated by Massively.  Not that I dislike Massively in general, but I want to promote my fellow bloggers and not a commercial site.  So I started looking for a way to add a new, more blogger focused feed.

Version 1

Back before the advent of Google+, Google Reader was a wonderful thing.  It was fast and simple, tied in with your Google account, and generally the standard across the board for online RSS readers.  The only reason not to use it was fear of the monster Google might become.

And among its many features was the ability to flag items from your reading list to be posted to an RSS feed.  And so I used the WordPress RSS feed widget to put that feed in my side bar, flagging new stories for inclusion every day.  This was probably a bit more “hands on” than I wanted… somewhat akin to the early days of VirginWorlds, when each link on the site represented a manual submission… but it worked.

The came Google+.

google-plus-logo-640

Google proceeded to wreck Google Reader in both form and function in a transparent effort to get people to stop using it in favor of Google+.  Amongst the feature casualties was the RSS output.  So while Google was busy kicking me off of Google+ for using a pseudonym (then quietly asking me to return) and generally annoying people by forcing integration with other services (Remember when your YouTube account HAD to be linked to Google+ for about a week? People were pissed.) they managed to alienate just enough Google Reader users to be able to claim the service was in decline and to shut it down.

Google Reader had fallen so low that when they finally turned it off, the resulting diaspora of users literally swamped all of the competing services to the point of making them unusable due to excess load.  I had to swap to Feedly at a too late date when The Old Reader staff threw their hands in the air at the onslaught and walked away. (They later returned, realizing that they could, you know, make money at this, but I had already moved to Feedly.)

Which is to say, it was still pretty damn popular.  Just not popular enough.  That was also the fate of Google+ which, when it did not eclipse Facebook (and dear Lord, Facebook only looks good when compared to Google+, which is simply awful when it comes to usability) was “De-emphasized” in favor of other initiatives.  Like finally closing down Orkut and figuring out exactly where the line is between “evil” and “not evil.”

Version 2

So, even before the end of Google Reader I was out looking for an alternative.  I tinkered with a few things, including Yahoo Pipes.  Pipes actually looked promising, but I could never get it to create output that would work correctly with the WordPress RSS widget.

Eventually I found a site called RSS Mix.

They don't really have a logo...

They don’t really have a logo…

The service was free… so it met that requirement… and was relatively low maintenance.  Basically, you gave it a list of RSS feed URLs and it would mash all those together and give you an output URL for the combined RSS feed.  And it mostly worked.

It was a bit of a pain to maintain.  Every time I wanted to update the list of blog feeds to draw from I had to submit the whole list again for a new RSS feed, which meant keeping revisions on hand locally.

It also wasn’t terribly reliable.  About half the time I would hit the blog, the feed to fail to load.  That was irksome, but when it did load it did the job.  The service just wasn’t meant to be polled every time somebody showed up at the site, and the WordPress.com widget doesn’t keep a cached version or anything.  So a lot of the time people just saw this:

FeedDown

Then a few people began to note that something about the whole thing was causing ping-backs on Blogger based blogs, including one serious “stop doing that!” complaint, at which point I pulled the widget and started looking for a new solution.

Version 3

I played around with some different options.  Mail Chimp offers a free RSS consolidation feature.  However, it appears to be completely static.  It takes the URLs you hand it, makes a feed, and then never updates it.  Not terribly useful, but it was free so what do you expect.

Feedly sent out an update about a site called Zapier.  If you were a Feedly Pro subscribe, and I am, you could take advantage of the data integration tools that Zapier offered.  This included some RSS feed tools.  I got that to work, but to have more than a couple blogs in the feed I would have to subscribe to Zapier as well, which wanted monthly fee in the subscription MMO range.  That failed the cheapskate test.

Eventually I stumbled onto a site called IFTTT, which is short for “If This Then That.”  This was mentioned at one point as a service that could access Feedly Pro features.  It could take output from Feedly and turn it into something else, I just wasn’t sure what.

I signed up for an account, which was free and thus right in my price range, and started tinkering with it.  I couldn’t get it to output directly to anything in WordPress that seemed useful, at least not for a side bar widget, but I found that,  among the things it could output to, was a site called Pinboard.

Pinboard is described as a “social bookmarking” site, akin to what Delicious was at one time.  I had never used Delicious, but reading through the descriptions at Pinboard, it could take bookmark input and would turn it into an RSS feed output.  That sounded like the ticket.  However, in order to keep spam and such down, Pinboard charges an up front, one time fee to join the service.  It is based on how many people use the service already, basically you have to pay a penny for everybody who got there ahead of you.  My total to join was $10.46, which was well within the cheapskate budget if it worked out. (I suspect that they would change that pricing policy if a lot of people started showing up.  I think a $10 barrier to entry is fine, but if it had been $35 or $50, I might have walked on by.)

Between the three services, I was able to create a rule that takes updates from my MMO Blogs category in Feedly (making me glad I set up categories when I started using the service) and posts them to my Pinboard account.

FeedlyPinboard

And it basically worked.  Items showed up in Pinboard and they were tagged correctly so I could pull them from an RSS feed associated with that tag.  All I had to do was get the data being passed to work with the WordPress RSS widget.  That turned out to be the tricky bit.  It took a bit of trial and error to see what worked and what did not, something that went a bit slowly because I had to wait until somebody posted something new before the feed would update and pass along my changes.  Ideally I wanted something similar to what the Blogger side bar widget offered, with Blog Name, Post Name, and how long ago it was published.  Eventually, paring down the data being passed to the bare minimum, I got the WordPress widget to display what I wanted.

The IFTTT Recipe

The IFTTT Recipe

And I ended up with something that is mostly what I want.

It doesn’t put a nice little icon next to each blog title, the format or title and blog name differs depending on which service is being used, and the the published time is displayed as an absolute in Pacific Time rather than a friendly “2 hours ago” sort of way.  But it mostly works and, now that the one time expense is out of the way, it is both cheap and easy to maintain.

Furthermore, it is flexible.  I can sort our who goes into the feed easily, by just moving things around in Feedly categories.  I moved some of the blogs that are in the VirginWorlds feed to a special “no feed” category, since I still have that feed in my side bar as well.  Trying to limit double exposure there, which mostly affects Syp and Tobold at this point.  I can create additional RSS feeds from my Feedly account.  I am looking into making one for EVE Online blogs for my other site and another for official game company feeds to put somewhere on the sidebar here. (There is currently an experimental version down at the very bottom of the side bar, if you scroll way down.)

So, mission accomplished!

Yeah, But Why Bother?

So all of that work… and all of those words… later, you might well ask why I deemed this important enough to pursue at all.

Yes, there was a certain amount of envy that Blogger based blogs had a feature that WordPress.com hosted bloggers lacked.  But that envy was based on the empirical observations that such a dynamic side bar widget actually attracts clicks.  Both the stats related to who sends traffic here and where people here click out to, a dynamic side bar widget attracts attention.  People will click on something that is both identified and visibly new or updated.

I can see from my own outbound traffic that almost nobody clicks on the static blogroll on a daily basis.  But with the new feed up in the side bar, I can see multiple clicks going to specific posts that have popped up and been displayed.

I did it because it is an effective way to send people to other blogs in our little community.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom September 18, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, PlayStation 3.
Tags: , ,
11 comments

All men dream: but not equally.  Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.

-T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

I actually have a copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom on my bookshelf, a 1938 US post-death edition of the 1926 version of the book.  It came from my grandfather, who picked it up somewhere along the way.  I took a couple shots at reading it when I was much younger, and now I am hesitant to even pick it up due to its age.

All of which is really an aside to explain the reference in the title, but which will make a bit more sense shortly.  Maybe.

Destiny launched last week.

Destiny_450

And while I wasn’t caught off guard like some, I would have to say that its impact on me has been minor.

I have fond memories of some past Bungie games.  Pathways into Darkness was good and many hours were spent playing Marathon and then Myth at the office.  But once Bungie got bought up by Microsoft and became just the Halo studio of the XBox division at the company, they faded from my consciousness.  It was to the point that when somebody would actually connect Bungie and Halo for me, I would get that squint on my face and say something like, “The same Bungie that made Marathon? They are still a thing?”

Anyway, through some machinations Bungie is still a thing and is free of Microsoft and the need to do things exclusively for the XBox.  That they managed to do this… though Microsoft got custody of Halo in the divorce… only to jump into bed with Activision might make your head hurt.   But, let’s face it, Bungie is a AAA developer so they need to go out and get screwed by hook up with a publisher that has the ability to move AAA titles.

So Destiny came to be.  It is a shooter of some sort… which given Bungie’s history is no big surprise… with MMORPG elements to it.  And while it is available on a platform I actually own… I still have a PlayStation 3… I doubt I will end up playing it.  Due to a variety of factors, our PS3 is used primarily for video streaming, to the point that I cannot remember when we last played a game on it.

Let’s see, so far I have a T. E. Lawrence quote and some chatter about a game company that used to be important to me but whose games I haven’t played this century, a trend that looks to continue into the foreseeable future.

Such deep insight.  Are you still awake?

Okay, time to wrap this up by reaching for the bit I could have probably pasted in at the top and let sit on its own.

As part of reading about Destiny, I came across a couple of references to Bungie’s “Seven Pillars of Design” and how the company uses this as the foundation for creating its games.  Naturally, I had to go look up those pillars, which were enumerated as such:

  1. A World Players Want to Be In
  2. A Bunch of Fun Things to Do
  3. Rewards Players Care About
  4. A New Experience Every Night
  5. Shared With Other People
  6. Enjoyable By All Skill Levels
  7. Enjoyable by the Impatient and Distracted

Not a bad list, the distillation of their own gaming wisdom, garnered through more than twenty years in the industry.  I especially like that last entry, though I might have tacked on something like, “but not in a way that annoys the rest of the audience.”  Or am I the only one who has been in a Dungeon Finder group with “that guy” whose sole phrase during the whole run was, “Go go go go go?”

It sure beats that fourth pillar hype, the most interesting aspect of which, more than four years down the road was it being plagiarized by another game.

It almost makes me want to play it at some point, just to see how they did on the list… though that gets us back to the list of reasons why we don’t actually play games on the PS3 at our house again.

The game itself seems to be doing well, with sell through for the first week reported by Activision at some insane number… $325 million in five days?  That is… well… insane.  They certainly won’t be in a hurry to port to the PC.

With that number, I guess we can say that Activision did their job for Bungie.  Pity about the bonuses after all that green was raked in.  Metacritic puts the game in what we might call the “mediocre” range of the review spectrum.  A lot of the reviews are heavy on complaints.  My current favorite piece on the game is over at Forbes with the title “Destiny Is A Bad Game, But I Can’t Stop Playing It.”  Meanwhile VG24/7 has attempted to compile every complaint about the game and call it a review.  (You have to have your satire sensors engaged though.)

And so it goes.  I guess the real test will be if people are still talking/complaining about Destiny six months or a year down the road.  Bungie has created a sizable installed base on little more than its reputation, now to see if they can do something with it.  Did they meet their design goals?  Is this the dawn of another Halo-like epic franchise?  Is the team at Bungie made up of dreamers of the day?

And Sometimes We are the Ones Outnumbered… September 17, 2014

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

GUARENTEED FIGHT IN FOUNTAIN TONIGHT

-Blawrf McTaggart, the broadcast some claim jinxed the whole thing

Black Legion still has a tower set up in Fountain.  We had put it into reinforce and the timer was set to come up last night.  We were going to go and try to finish it off.

Reagalan put up a broadcast about fifteen minutes in advance of the form up time for the fleet, but otherwise it wasn’t really on the calendar or anything, so when Blawrf finally sounded the horn there were already about 40 of us in the YA0-XJ station and in the fleet.  The follow up got another 50 or so people, putting us at 93 total.

Not bad for a week night without much in the way of advance warning.  Enough to cause trouble most days of the week.

The fleet composition had yet to be announced.  Reagalan wanted to take a Hawk fleet out, an experimental doctrine, but was overruled.  Neither were we destined to run out to Fountain in Tengus, which was probably a good thing as my Tengu is still down in F2OY-X.  The call from command said we were to go out as a Baltec fleet because this was serious business, a strat op, and not just some roam.

So we got out our Baltec ships.  I got into my Apocalypse, which had made it back from Delve, and joined everybody out at the staging POS so we could begin the part of every fleet op where we discover we do not have enough boosters or logistics.  I am still ages away from being able to fly a boosting ship and I wanted to get on a kill mail, it has been a slow month so far, so I was reluctant to give that up for logistics.

As it was, we had to escort somebody a couple of jumps to pick up a boosting ship in order to cover him from a hostile gang roaming the area.  We managed to land on them at one point and I was able to lock up and get on a kill mail, helping blot out a tackled interceptor.  I even got top damage.

My need for a kill mail satisfied, I volunteered to swap out for an Oneiros logistics ship.

Oneiros at a Cloud Ring POS

Oneiros at a Cloud Ring POS

Some other people swapped for logi and we ended up with a fleet composition worth taking out at last.  Then it was a quick warp to a titan to bridge us a little ways along before we picked up the well worn trail to Fountain.  The route was posted in fleet for us to free burn to B-DBYQ, the gateway system to Fountain from the north, where we spent so much time last year.  I barely needed to look at the route, as I can fly it by rote at this point.

We burned out way, spreading out along the route, light ships landing at the destination as the battleships slowly followed a few systems back.  Reagalan was trying to get the battleship pilots to hurry up by having them cycle their MWD modules before starting the process to warp to the next point in space.  This is supposed to speed up the transition to warp by bringing the ship up to the 75% of top speed threshold needed to engage.  Wags on coms were pointing out that this was shaving off about a second from the align and warp time, but that the extra second was pretty much being eaten up by the actually having to cycle the MWD.

As we arrived in B-DBYQ over time, Reagalan had us hole up at the POS where the jump bridge was located.  The battleships finally caught up and joined us within the protective shield.

Apocs burning for the POS

Apocs burning for the POS

There we sat for a bit, the force now consolidated again, when Reagalan, without preamble, warped us to the local customs office.  This was unusual as part of the doctrine is to keep everybody aligned so that we will all warp and land together.  As we were all spread out in the POS and facing this way or that, this lead to a long, ragged fleet warp.  I happened to be facing almost exactly 180 degrees from the destination, which meant I was one of the last to warp off, but which also meant I got a pretty good view of the new warp termination effect as the rest of the fleet landed in front of me.  A pity it is so faint and transitory that it is tough to capture effectively in a screen shot.  It looks very nice when you see it happen, but a single frame can’t seem to capture its essence.

Reagalan then had us align back in the direction from which we had just warped.  A we landed back at the jump bridge he told us to take it, which got a collective moan out of the fleet on coms.  Taking the jump bridge would send us in the wrong direction.  That was the way home.  That meant no fight for us.

Reagalan confirmed this.  While we managed to get a fleet of nearly one hundred together, Black Legion had a Tengu fleet up with a reported 150 members in fleet, roughly one third of them logistics.   That last bit is a key factor.

Logistics for sub caps is the new trend (well, new-ish at this point) in why null sec is broken.  Back in the old days, long before my time in null, apparently fights were often blood baths where winner and loser could wander off almost equally mauled.  Everybody got kill mails though, so even the losers in a fight where they were burned down to the last ship would feel that at least they had inflicted some losses on their foes.  They had some tangible effect and the fight was not in vain.  Some of the bad guys… and your foes are always bad guys… had to walk home too.

Now, however, if two fleets of roughly equal size square off, if one has better logistics support not only is it likely to win the engagement, it is likely to do so with minimal losses.  So, in the absence of other ways to win a fight, piling on logistics support has become a thing.  We no longer fly strat ops with just a couple logi ships.  Instead the FC has to chide people into support ships under the threat of standing down if we do not get sufficient numbers in the space priest column.  The same go for boosting ships, though calls for nerfing boosters has been going on for a while now, at least for off-grid boosting.

Anyway, so you can add “nerf logistics” to the “fixing null” sec bingo card along with “nerf jump bridges,” “nerf jump drives,” “nerf supers,” and “fix sovereignty.”  (“Grr Goons” is the center spot and everybody gets that as a freebie.)

The upshot of this was that we faced a formidable foe by the reports that were shared with us.  Spies on both sides mean that we all generally know what we are facing for this sort of timer fight unless somebody is very, very clever.  The Tengu fleet alone seemed very likely to chew us up unless handled badly.  Add in the fact that Black Legion’s allies had assembled an additional fleet of 100+ ships for the fight, and the decision was made not to give the enemy an easy victory by fighting them with the odds in their favor.  We headed back to the staging station in YA0-XJ to stand down.

We got our participation link for showing up.  While Dabigredboat took a bomber fleet down to harass the hostiles at about the same time we headed out, I am sure Black Legion saved their tower.  I am also equally sure that we will soon be headed down to reinforce it yet again, so there will be more timers and more possible fights.

Addendum: And there was a fight there again already.  Oops, sorry about that LAWN.

Addendum2: Or maybe that wasn’t the same tower.  Still, bloodbath in Fountain.

Nostalgia, Name Wipes, and the Next Expansion in Azeroth September 16, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
11 comments

Various World of Warcraft topics combined into a single post.

Timeline to Draenor

We are getting there.  There is now less than two months to go until until November 13, when Warlords of Draenor launches. (I’m still wondering if this was all foretold in the hint we got back in January)  And the reality of the situation means that some things have to start happening much sooner.

Well, at least one thing has to happen.

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Coming Soon

At some point Blizzard is going to have to drop the 6.0 patch on the game, which will roll up all the Warlords of Draenor changes as they apply to the rest of the world.  The expansion is going to affect you even if you don’t but the expansion right away.  There will be lots of changes.  Some will happy or handy.  I am for anything that gets a few more things out of my bag, so the Toy Box will be welcome.

I am still a bit worried about the stat squish however, mostly because people have been in beta and 6.0.x is up on the public text realm and yet I haven’t seen a story out of WoW Insider with something like one of the following headlines:

  • Stat Squish Apocalypse – No More Solo Raids for You!
  • Stat Squish – Everything is Wonderful!

And I realize that people in the beta are interested in the new content, as opposed to checking to see if their level 90 can still solo Onyxia, but I would be interested to know if it worked out as Blizzard promised before the 6.0 patch drops.

Anyway, given how things have gone in the past, I would expect the 6.0 patch to drop 4-6 weeks before the expansion, so we are probably a month or less away from seeing what 6.0 really brings to the live realms.

Are They Serious About Nostalgia?

One of the big things coming up this November… in addition to the WoD launch and BlizzCon… is the World of Warcraft 10 year anniversary.  That is a pretty big deal, and it seems like Blizzard, after dropping more subscriptions (~5.2 million) than probably the next couple subscription games on the list ever had at their combined peaks, has decided to play the nostalgia card.

That can be a powerful play.  SOE has shown that even half-hearted, doomed to neglect nostalgia plans like their progression servers can get a couple servers worth of players back and paying for the game.  And even if nostalgia wears thin more quickly than you might imagine, because the reality of going back is almost always just a shadow of the past, as neither we nor the game are the same (that whole “everything flows” thing), such events do get people interested in your game.  Handled correctly, the nostalgia card can get some old players back into the game.

I’m just a little nonplussed about what Blizzard has chosen to emphasize.

There is the Molten Core raid.  This is a re-work of the original that you and 39 of your closest level 100 friends can take on for a limited time.  It goes away with the new year.  This one doesn’t grab me for obvious reasons.  I never raided.  I only once peeked into Molten Core.  And, to be honest, I am not sure I can commit to being level 100 by January 6th.

But I have no doubt that this will be a draw for some, at least until the reality… or the deadline… sets in.  Or until the special prizes are secured.

And then there is the Tarren Mill vs. Southshore battleground.  I suppose another battleground isn’t a bad thing.  And at least it will be available for levels 90 and up.  But as for re-creating the chaotic and often lopsided open world battles of the old days, I am not so sure.  Once you level constrain, set up equal teams, and put down clear victory conditions, the spontaneity of the original conflicts kind of melts away.  But I am sure there will be a set of special achievements for the whole thing, which will go away with the turn of the year, so it will no doubt be popular.  But is it nostalgia?

I suppose you could argue that the expansion itself, in returning to Outland and the Iron Horde and the various Orc war chiefs is a nostalgia move in and of itself.  It certainly does get straight back to the heart of the Warcraft franchise.  But the other bits… not sure they are grabbing me.

Of course, I am open to criticism on my WoW nostalgia credentials, as going through the oldest content in the game.. Outland… has driven me to play a lot more Pokemon.

Name Wipes

Yesterday Blizzard announced that they were doing a wipe to free up the pool of available names, and they took an interesting approach to this.

Over the years various publishers have hinted or even said straight up that if you unsubscribe your characters might get deleted.  That turned out to be a bluff in the long term, as those same developers eventually realized that players in a subscription MMO will come and go.  It turns out a decent number of people are like me and don’t like to pay when they are not playing.  $15 a month in isolation is cheap.  $15 a month when you might be interested in half a dozen games or have multiple accounts or have family members playing adds up to real money fast.

And so companies have attempted to tread softly on the whole character deletion thing.

Once in a while somebody will go purge characters that are under a certain level and beyond a certain age.  But for the most part, MMO companies live in hope of our return.

Blizzard won’t be deleting characters.  They want us all to come home to Azeroth at some point and are not too worried about the size of their database.

But they do appear worried about new players being able to pick a name.  Problems in that regard have become a punchline to some jokes.  So they are doing a name purge.

If you have not logged a character in since November 13, 2008, it will have its name wiped when the pending 6.0 patch goes live.  Whenever that is.  But it will be reasonably soon.

I probably have characters on some server somewhere that meet that criteria.  I don’t know how to check, but I suppose I should just log them all on.  Or maybe I won’t, just to see what happens.  I suspect that, should your name get wiped, you’ll just have to pick a new one when logging that character in again.

But I was curious about the date they chose.  Okay, November of 2008 was… the Wrath of the Lich King launch.  But it also happened to be the peak subscription point for non-China WoW players.

MMOG Charts 1 million Subs and above

MMOG Charts 1 million Subs and above

The total WoW subs went on to peak right after Cataclysm, but November 2008 looks like the last big spike in the west, though we lack the data to pin that down.  The fact that Blizzard chose that as the cut off though seems to be a hint that November 2008 is some sort of tipping date, at which point characters no longer being logged in started to add up to significant numbers.

Or maybe somebody in the office said, “If they haven’t logged in for six years, screw ‘em!  Take their name away!”

Why Should I  Watch BlizzCon?

Finally, BlizzCon is coming up (November 7-8), awkwardly shoved in between the 6.0 update and the Warlords of Draenor launch, a position that makes you wonder what they are going to talk about when it comes to Azeroth.

I am not one to say Blizzard shouldn’t have BlizzCon unless they have a big announcement.  I am sure that everybody who goes has a great time.  It is a fan event and that can be enough.

But if Blizzard wants me to spend $40 for the Virtual Ticket so I can watch along from home, I need a bit more enticement than an in-game pet and another StarCraft II forum avatar.

Available Now!

But why?

Last year was totally worth it, as the big Warlords of Draenor announcement was a highlight along with a bunch of good panels going into the gory details.  But now, a year later, with the Warlords of Draenor expansion showing up literally a week after BlizzCon, anything they have to say about that lands between “I’ll see it soon enough” and spoilers.  I’ve already bought the expansion, I’m a sure thing.

So what is in it for me?  Why should I want to watch BlizzCon?  What would tempt me?

I am not big on StarCraft II, their MOBA… well… I cannot even remember what it is called so that should tell you something,… isn’t a draw, and while I would be mildly interested in some Diablo III news, it isn’t that big of a deal.  I could wait for the day after press for any of that.

But there has been a bit of background noise about Blizzard getting itself in gear and not letting the game sit for more than a year without any sort of content again.  It has been a long, hot summer for Blizzard, and they have had to pull out some tricks to support subscription numbers, like insta-90s with pre-orders and “log in soon to get a corgi later” calls.  I am sure they would like to avoid that again and keep us all subscribed for longer stretches going forward.  So I am going to guess that we will hear about one of two things at BlizzCon.

The first option would be an updated and more aggressive post-expansion content schedule.  Basically, with their Mists of Panderia experience behind them, they should have better refined what works and what does not.  Arguing against that is the current state of affairs where it doesn’t sound like there will be a lot of post-expansion raids and such being added.  But that could change.  Maybe they are holding back just to have something to announce.

The second option would be Blizzard totally breaks with tradition and announces the next WoW expansion along with plans to get it out the door in something less than two years this time.  This would be a big win in the whole “sell more boxes and keep people subscribed” column.

Of course, Tom Chilton, who was hinting about content getting out faster, is also on record saying:

By building expansions, you are effectively building up barriers to people coming back.

WoW isn’t in the horror show of ~2005 EverQuest and the confusion of too may expansions to keep track of, but pumping out more expansions isn’t going to reduce that barrier or solve the “I haven’t played since Burning Crusade, what do I need to play now?” questions.  Yeah, I know the answer to that one, and you probably do to, but it likely isn’t obvious to somebody returning cold.

Of course, in that same article he also says that the insta-90 thing solves the barrier problem.  So does that mean we’re going to get a new flavor of insta-levels with each expansion?  Because I am not sure Blizzard is ready to do a WoW expansion with no increase in the level cap yet.

And there is a third option for BlizzCon, which is just the status quo.  We’ll get a few hints but there will be no WoW news for another year, until another BlizzCon rolls around, while Blizzard plays on our hopes of something new to get us to grab the Virtual Ticket this year.

So, aside from an all new property, what would make watching BlizzCon worthwhile?

 

Wrapping Up and Summing Up Pokemon White Version 2 September 15, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Nintendo, Pokemon.
Tags: ,
3 comments

I made it to through the final four and defeated Iris, the Unova champion, the evening after my last Pokemon post.

Iris awaits

Chamber of the final battle

It was pretty much inevitable that I would win sooner rather than.  I had already made it through the final four to Iris on my second attempt.  It was just a matter of tuning up my team a bit.

I used some of the stat increasing items I picked up along the way on my team, and bought a few more at the department store on Route 9.  I trained LazTel my Azurmarill the Ice Beam move, which was a key weakness in Iris’ lineup.  I used a few PP Ups to increase the number of times I could use key moves.  As an example my only grass attack, Giga Drain on Wibla my Verizion, only had five uses, which was not enough.  And I tossed out a couple Rare Candy level ups and made sure everybody was holding an item that would boost key aspects of their abilities.

All that, plus knowing now which abilities to use against which opponents meant that the run was pretty smooth.  My victory was not in doubt.

My winning team

My winning team

I still need to work out the best way to take pictures, but I think I am getting a little bit better.  There, from the 6 o’clock position, moving clockwise, are:

And there we are.  The last great battle, the main story arc is over, and roll the credits.

That last item is literal, when you finally defeat the regional champion, the game saves and then shows you the credits.  It is one of the conventions of the series.

Of course, the game is not done yet.  Not by a long shot.  Technically, you are not even done with the story yet.  There are still remnants of Team Plasma to encounter, some more key battles to fight, half a dozen key locations to visit, and legendary Pokemon to catch.  In regards to that last, Pokemon White Version 2 was a bit stingy compared to its immediate predecessor, which let you catch one of the legendary Pokemon before the championship battle.

This is generally where the official guide book for a given Pokemon game tends to become very useful to me, as a lot of the end game stuff can be… obscure, for lack of a better word.

I know with enough patience I could figure a lot of it out.  12 year old me would have had no problem, current me is no longer motivated enough for that sort of thing.  For example, in Pokemon X & Y, one of the legendary Pokemon you can catch post-story is Moltres, who has been around since the original games.  You run into him pretty readily if you are stomping around in the tall grass where Pokemon show up.  However, he flees immediately upon entering battle, so you cannot catch him.  The “figuring it out” bit is that you have to encounter and lose him eleven times… and you can only find him once per day… before you can go to a specific spot for a chance to catch him. (And I only get Moltres because I chose Froakie as my starter Pokemon.  It is convoluted, but that is part of the appeal of the series.)

I did not buy the official guide this time around, but the internet knows all.  You can find guides in plain text, HTML, pictures, and even in video format.  I just can’t sit over on the couch or in bed, away from my computer with the game in my hand and the book at my side, which is one of the aspects of the handheld console gaming I enjoy.  Well, I can with the iPad in tow I guess, but I find web navigation much more efficient with a keyboard and mouse.

The upshot of this is that there is still a pile of Pokemon in the game to be caught.

And then there is the moving of Pokemon from the older DS generation games into Pokemon White Version 2 so I can use the Poke Transporter to send various Pokemon on a one-way trip to Pokemon Bank, where the 3DS generation Pokemon games will be able to access them.

Pokemon Bank - $5.00 a year

Pokemon Bank – a deal at $5.00 a year

Getting the Pokemon out of Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold, or SoulSilver is a process that requires two Nintendo DS consoles. (Not a problem in our house, where we have five)  You download a special game from the DS running one of the Pokemon Black and White series, pick six Pokemon you want to move over (usual restrictions apply, no Pokemon with hidden moves… never train hidden moves on your legendary Pokemon…), and then play a little game where you have to catch your chosen Pokemon before they will be moved over… because nothing is ever easy.

Aim and catch

Aim and catch

This involves shooting Pokeballs at the Pokemon who are hopping around the screen or hiding behind bushes.  There is a timer, and anything you don’t catch goes back, though you can load them up and try again.  It seemed like it might be a chore at first, especially since the more rare Pokemon seem to move a lot faster.  However, since I have never failed to catch all six in half the time allocated, it is probably okay.  And you can do it as many times a day as you like, unlike the .  Now I just have to figure out which Pokemon I really want to move over and where they are.

So Pokemon still to catch and Pokemon to move.

Along the way I think I also figured out why the DS generation Pokemon games are in short supply, with unopened copies selling for a premium most places.  One of the things that Nintendo did as part of the changing of hardware generations was turn off all of the back end services for those games back in May.  There is no Global Trade Station or other online content available for them any more.  If you try to access anything like that… and by the time they got to Pokemon Black & White Version 2 there were quite a few features that required back end support… you just get an error indicating that the service is no longer available.

Unfortunately for Nintendo, all of those online features are heavily advertised on the various retail boxes and the sites dedicated to the various titles.  So I suspect Nintendo decided to cut whatever liability it feels it might have in no longer supporting those online features by no longer shipping any of those titles.  That Amazon is blowing out their back stock of Pokemon White Version 2 hints, at least to me, that Nintendo might have future plans for those titles.  We shall see I suppose.  But if you want a new, in box copy of one of the other DS generation Pokemon games, be prepared to pay a premium.

Finally, I returned to Pokemon Y to pull some Pokemon over from the Poke Transporter app, which led to some odd moments.

I said a while back that the new rendered graphics style of Pokemon X & Y felt pretty natural when I picked up the game.  Then I went back to finish up Pokemon White and then Pokemon White Version 2, which involved a few weeks of binge playing.  That transition wasn’t too bad either.  I quickly got used to the sprite based graphics again.  Visual closure is a wonderful thing and their overly blocky look on the bigger XL screen soon seemed quite natural.

Then, after all of that, I went back to Pokemon Y and it really felt strange.  I think the most noticeable difference is that it just doesn’t feel like you see as much of the world around you as you do in the earlier games.  That and your character and everything else is so much bigger on screen.  It was a little disorienting upon my return.

However, after about 20 minutes my brain settled down and accepted the game as it was and I got back into that groove.

Now it is just the clean up and catching and breeding and such prep work while we wait around for Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire to come out this November.  My daughter and I have already turned in our coin jar for an Amazon gift card and pre-ordered the titles.  We’ll just need to find time to play them.  November is going to be a busy month for releases.