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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.

(more…)

Progression, Nostalgia, and Special Servers July 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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5 comments

One of the questions that comes up all the time in the EverQuest forums is when will SOE launch the next progression server?  It may be the most popular question on the Progression Server sub-forum.

Second place goes to people asking for a Classic server, though those questions are somewhat undermined by both the fact that they are off-topic in that sub-forum and that there is nothing like an agreed upon definition of what a Classic server would actually include.  It ranges from just launch content out to the Planes of Power expansion, though there are a couple of voices that would stretch thing to just shy of Gates of Discord.

So the two most popular topics seem to be about getting a new special EverQuest server from SOE.

And why not?  SOE has something of a history with special servers for EverQuest, going all the way back to the initial PvP server to the first progression servers, The Combine and The Sleeper, which rolled out in June of 2006, to the Mayong 51/50 server back in 2009, to the current Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr servers, with their time locked rule sets, which went live in February 2011.

Foggy, foggy Fippy

Foggy, foggy Fippy

So the assumption is that of course SOE is going to roll another one, it is just a question of when.  When will SOE roll out the next progression server?

My gut response to that is “never.”

There are lots of arguments for such a server.  It brings people back to the game.  It rewards long term fans.  It is popular, illustrated by the fact that both times they have done a progression server they have had to roll a second server to accommodate demand.  And in a time when the game is free to play, a luxury item like a special nostalgia server seems like a reasonable way to boost revenue.

On the flip side of all of that there is the problem with nostalgia.  That driving sense of nostalgia often doesn’t last long beyond the point when you return to the time/place/song you were nostalgic for.  I have read a couple of articles about how the internet is going to kill nostalgia as a sensation before too long.  When you have access to what amounts to a historically unprecedented amount of information in the comfort of your own home, the moment you feel nostalgic for something, you can track it down on the internet and watch/listen/read all there is available about, to the point that the sensation is sated.  Having access to the thing for which you are nostalgic replaces nostalgia with reality.  And, often times, the reality includes the downside, the reason the world moved on or the series got cancelled or that you never bought that band’s second or third album.

After "Vacation" there wasn't much point...

After “Vacation” there wasn’t much point…

So while the progression servers… or any special servers… tend to start off strong.  Things taper off over time.  Fippy Darkpaw was packed when it opened and remained popular for the first few expansions.

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

After a while though, the feeling begins fade.  Potshot and I joined in on the fun and were quite invested for a while, visiting many old locations in the game.  And while the great PSN/SOE hacking episode of April 2011 knocked us off the path, that episode might have done us a favor.  We ran around a little bit more after that, but for me at least, content after Kunark is still flagged as “that new stuff” in my brain, so our progress was arrested before we made ourselves sick on nostalgia.

But nostalgia does wear off.  And so it is that the question “When will Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr be merged?” might be the third most common question on the progression server sub-forum.  In hindsight, SOE probably should have just bit the bullet and stuck with a single server, especially based on the history they had with The Combine and The Sleeper, which had to be merged less than a year into their lives, because now things are very quiet on both servers.

Unless you are in one of the raiding guilds.  They still play, racing to unlock each expansion and then hanging around, farming gear, until the next expansion.  But they are playing their own game and the rest of the server could be empty and it would not bother them.

So nostalgia wears out or the server advances to the point where the current expansion is no longer nostalgia and you end up with something more akin to a special raiding preserve as opposed to a home for old school players.

Thus I think that, given the cost of maintaining such a server and the limited pool of personnel that SOE has to devote to such tasks (as opposed to working on EverQuest Next) I think we may have seen the last special EverQuest server out of SOE.  Smed isn’t going to overtly point you to Project 1999, but SOE hasn’t shown much interest in stamping out such private servers of late either.

And what other game would be prime for such a nostalgia server?  EverQuest is somewhat unique in that not only were there a lot of expansions, but that expansions tended to leave old zones alone.  Blackburrow today looks pretty much like it did back in 1999.

Certainly World of Warcraft would spring to mind for many, but Blizzard effectively shut down that idea when Cataclysm reworked the original game.  There are parts of the old world that were no doubt better for the change, but you cannot go home again.  There is nostalgia for original vanilla WoW in part because you can’t go there any more, and Blizzard isn’t going to support two clients just so you can go back in time.

And what other games would be prime for nostalgia.  RuneScape has an old school server up now, and Dark Age of Camelot did one in the past.  But most other MMOs are too young or have changed so much that the work to create anything like a nostalgia server would make the whole thing a non-starter.  Lord of the Rings Online still delivers about the same experience for the first 40 levels, so who needs a different sort of server.  A few people pine for the early days of EverQuest II, but how would you even roll back to that?

Then there are games like EVE Online, where there is only the one server.

I asked in a post just about two years back if SOE was going to be the sole vendor of a nostalgic MMO experience.  Now I wonder if even they will keep that up.

But then there will be nostalgia.

Maybe, at some point, way down the road, nostalgia will become a viable business decision for some MMOs.

What sort of special server would you want to see?  What game should have a nostalgia server some day?

Fippy Darkpaw – Underfoot Unlock Vote Fails July 16, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest.
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6 comments

Another update in my sporadic attempts to cover and track the Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server timeline while neither playing on the server nor actually paying all that much attention to EverQuest in general.

The rumor which I mentioned yesterday appeared to be true.  Last night my computer was finally able to find its way to the EverQuest forums… I wasn’t really interested in doing any work at my end to compensate for SOE’s blunder… and found the following from Roshen of the community service team:

The players on Fippy Darkpaw have voted not to unlock Underfoot at this time. This vote will remain available and players will still be able to vote to unlock Underfoot. The server will check every other Monday for the outcome of each voting period.

So for the first time in over two years, since the last of the three Gates of Discord down votes, it appears that an expansion unlock vote has failed on the Fippy Darkpaw server.

Dwarves feature...

Maybe they don’t like dwarves?

I do not really know why it failed.  At this point the raiding guilds appear to be the largest segment of the population on the server, and they have generally been very much in favor of advancing to the next expansion.  There was, as I noted, a rumor in the forums that members of one of the raiding guilds wanted more time to farm the Seeds of Destruction content for gear before advancing, but it doesn’t seem like one guild could swing the vote that way.  Then again, there were the usual complaints about the voting system not working for some people, so maybe they could.

Otherwise, I am not sure what it could be.  I haven’t heard that the Underfoot expansion itself, which went live back in December 2009, was particularly objectionable.  Yes, it had the “jump on the bandwagon” addition of achievements, which managed to capture a lot of the bad aspects about them without much of the shiny happy goodness, but otherwise nothing really noxious came with the expansion that I know of.  Maybe it is a meta game thing between the guilds.

No matter what though, it will have to wait until the next vote.

Meanwhile, there was a sad trombone moment for the accompanying Vulak’Aerr progression server, which also got a chance to vote on the Underfoot expansion, which turned out to be in error.

The vote for Vulak’Aerr to unlock the Underfoot expansion should not have happened on that server. The team plans on reverting this server back to Seeds of Destruction. Players on Vulak’Aerr will need to defeat the content from Seeds of Destruction before they can vote to unlock Underfoot.

Get back to work Vulak guilds!

So the Seeds of Destruction expansion remains live on both of the time locked progression servers at this point.

Seeds of Destruction cover

Seeds of Destruction cover

And on the game goes.

The timeline of the server, as I have been able to chart it over the years.  As always, if you have any dates I can add to this, leave me a comment.

  • Fippy Darkpaw server goes live with classic EQ content, February 15, 2011
  • Classic EverQuest competed, February 24, 2011
  • Ruins of Kunark unlocked, June 6, 2011
  • Ruins of Kunark completed, June 19, 2011
  • Scars of Velious unlocked, August 29, 2011
  • Scars of Velious completed, September 14, 2011
  • Shadows of Luclin unlocked, November 21, 2011
  • Shadows of Luclin completed, December 4, 2011
  • Planes of Power unlocked, February 13, 2012
  • Lost Dungeons of Norrath unlocked, March 12, 2012
  • Legacy of Ykesah unlocked, March 12, 2012
  • Gates of Discord unlock vote fails, May 7, 2012
  • Gates of Discord unlock vote fails, May 21, 2012
  • Gates of Discord unlock vote fails, June 4, 2012
  • Gates of Discord unlocked at last, June 18, 2012
  • Omens of War unlocked, September 10, 2012
  • Omens of War complete, September 12, 2012
  • Dragons of Norrath unlocked without a vote, November 13, 2012
  • Prophecy of Ro completed, April 26, 2013
  • The Serpent’s Spine unlocked, July 16, 2013
  • The Serpent’s Spine complete, July 19, 2013
  • The Buried Sea unlock vote goes up, September 23, 2013
  • The Buried Sea unlocked, October 7, 2013
  • The Buried Sea complete, October 9, 2013
  • Echoes of Faydwer complete, ~end of January 2014
  • Seeds of Destruction unlocked, May 1, 2014
  • Seeds of Destruction complete, May 12, 2014
  • Underfoot unlock vote fails, July 14, 2014

If It Can Go Wrong, It Will Go Wrong… At SOE July 15, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Sony Online Entertainment.
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8 comments

I was actually trying to get to the EverQuest forums this morning.  There was a rumor going around about the Fippy Darkpaw Progression Server.  It was possible that one of the raiding guilds was going to down-vote the unlock of the next expansion, Underfoot, because they wanted a couple more weeks to farm gear from the current expansion live on the server, Seeds of Destruction.  There hasn’t been a down vote since the Gates of Discord fiasco back in mid-2012, when that expansion was voted down three times running before finally going live in June.

Pure rumor, with likely nothing behind it, but it is so rare to hear anything about the server that I thought I would follow it up and see it anybody mentioned on the results on forums.  Only I couldn’t get to the forums.

Sony Online Entertainment appeared to be down.

more titles in the past than in the future

A quick run through the usual sources turned up a post by the ever vigilant Feldon at EQ2 Wire, who noted that SOE had somehow forgotten to renew one of its underlying domains, sonyonline.net, and that, after a considerable grace period, fell off the internet.  Since SOE uses that domain for its own name resolution for its sites and games, that pretty much kicked the company offline.

It is Tuesday, we were expecting downtime in any case, right?

Word is that SOE has reclaimed the domain and that it should be propagating across the net even as we speak.  If you are in a hurry to get to an SOE site, Feldon has some tips over at EQ2 Wire on how to speed things up.

The question remains though, how did this happen?  The rumor is that the email address receiving such notices from Network Solutions had gone unattended.  That is speculation, of course, but I have enough experience to know that if  you lay enough people off, something important like that will get missed.  And, hey presto, your domain resolves to a site offering EverQuest and WoW gold!

What I saw on my iPad this morning

What I saw on my iPad this morning

Interesting that EverQuest gold (which should be platinum) is still a thing.  I thought inflation, F2P, and general old age issues had killed the currency market for EQ.

Anyway, not exactly in the same league as the 12+ days of downtime SOE experienced back in 2011, but it is still an SOE thing.

Addendum: Smed speaks

I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but who gave Network Solutions the “wrong email?”

Better.

Addendum: TechDirt sums it all up.

Fippy Darkpaw – Seeds of Destruction Complete May 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

A quick return to my somewhat irregular coverage of the EverQuest Fippy Darkpaw Time Locked Progression server timeline.  An actual timeline is available at the bottom of this post.

When last I saw news of the server, back in October of 2013, The The Buried Sea expansion had been completed and things were set for the Secrets of Faydwer expansion to unlock at some point in late December.

Today a note went up over at the unofficial Fippy Darkpaw forums indicating that the Seeds of Destruction expansion had been unlocked and completed.

Congrats to Citizen on defeating Seeds of Destruction and unlocking Underfoot. A clean sweep on Fippy since OOW. Congrats to EoE on a close 2nd. It looked like you guys had the momentum there for a couple weeks.

So things are still moving along on Fippy Darkpaw.

Seeds of Destruction cover

Seeds of Destruction cover

The Seeds of Destruction expansion looks to have gone live on Fippy Darkpaw on the first of this month.  The expansion, which was originally added to the game back in October of 2008, bumped the level cap up to 85, added more zones and the usual additions such as AA points, spells, abilities, and gear sets.

With the completion of Seeds of Destruction, the 3 month timer starts for the 16th expansion on the EverQuest list, Underfoot.

Dwarves feature...

Dwarves feature…

Who ever heard of an EverQuest expansion with a one word title?  All of the good ones have three words, or four if you include the definite article “the” in the name.  Anyway, that is slated for August.  Then the EverQuest achievement system will be part of the Progression Servers.

Meanwhile, the Time Locked Progression Servers were mentioned in the patch notes late last month, with two fixes going in:

- Corrected a problem that was preventing some Progression event triggers from being recorded.
- Auto-Granted AA are now available on Time-Locked Progression Servers. These AA will be granted similarly to regular servers with one exception. The following expansions will not count towards the “4 expansions previous” requirement, and will not unlock any new AA as they did not have any new AA released with them:
- – Legacy of Ykesha
- – Lost Dungeons of Norrath
- – Dragons of Norrath
- – Prophecy of Ro
- – The Buried Sea

The auto-granted AAs should be a boon to anybody joining the server at this late date.

In other notes, SOE finally opted to remove their Progression Server Timeline widget from the EverQuest web site.

Luclin Bosses Down

The information we used to get

The widget has only been broken since EverQuest went free to play about two year back, but was still hanging around as a useless adjunct to the EverQuest page as late as last October.  About par for the course for the SOE web team, which I assume operates under some larger, Sony-wide policies about web site updates as opposed to being actually run and influenced directly by the EverQuest team.   I’ve lived that scenario before.  It is frustrating for all involved.

I do wonder if the expansions originally listed on the widget back in February 2011 still indicate the final destination for the Time Locked Progression Servers.

EverQuest Fippy Darkpaw

Expansion List

That list ends at House of Thule, the 17th expansion, and the one that was current back when Fippy Darkpaw launched.  Will the server stop there or continue on to Call of the Forsaken, or whatever expansion is current when Fippy Darkpaw finally catches up to the regular EverQuest Live servers?  I suppose we shall see.

The timeline of the server, as I have been able to chart it over the years.  As always, if you have any dates I can add to this, leave me a comment.

  • Fippy Darkpaw server goes live with classic EQ content, February 15, 2011
  • Classic EverQuest competed, February 24, 2011
  • Ruins of Kunark unlocked, June 6, 2011
  • Ruins of Kunark completed, June 19, 2011
  • Scars of Velious unlocked, August 29, 2011
  • Scars of Velious completed, September 14, 2011
  • Shadows of Luclin unlocked, November 21, 2011
  • Shadows of Luclin completed, December 4, 2011
  • Planes of Power unlocked, February 13, 2012
  • Lost Dungeons of Norrath unlocked, March 12, 2012
  • Legacy of Ykesah unlocked, March 12, 2012
  • Gates of Discord unlock vote fails, May 7, 2012
  • Gates of Discord unlock vote fails, May 21, 2012
  • Gates of Discord unlock vote fails, June 4, 2012
  • Gates of Discord unlocked at last, June 18, 2012
  • Omens of War unlocked, September 10, 2012
  • Omens of War complete, September 12, 2012
  • Dragons of Norrath unlocked without a vote, November 13, 2012
  • Prophecy of Ro completed, April 26, 2013
  • The Serpent’s Spine unlocked, July 16, 2013
  • The Serpent’s Spine complete, July 19, 2013
  • The Buried Sea unlock vote goes up, September 23, 2013
  • The Buried Sea unlocked, October 7, 2013
  • The Buried Sea complete, October 9, 2013
  • Echoes of Faydwer complete, ~end of January 2014
  • Seeds of Destruction unlocked, May 1, 2014
  • Seeds of Destruction complete, May 12, 2014

 

Quote of the Day – MMO Content Delivery Pacing May 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, Guild Wars 2, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
12 comments

Every patch has tons of content for nearly every aspect of the game. It’s exciting — there’s almost too much to do. When a new patch releases, we’re in WoW heaven.

Then months go by and that content grows stale. Blizzard doesn’t give us new content at that point, but peeks at future content. We’re starving for a delicious content meal, but we can only look at pictures of the food.

-Scott Andrew, article Blizzard should rethink their content release model

I know that being in WoW right now, this is something that a lot of people are probably mulling over.  The Siege of Orgrimmar update came out way back in September and players are not set to get anything new until the patch that will precede the Warlords of Draenor expansion sometime this fall.

See you guys in the fall?

Lazy Warlords!

Blizzard gets its share of flak for its long expansion cycle.  Ironing things out to smooth averages, we’ll see the 5th WoW expansion around the 10th anniversary of the game, so we get one about every other year.  This is actually kind of amazing when you consider how much Blizzard studied EverQuest during WoW’s development, because SOE appeared to be convinced that they needed to ship two expansions a year to keep subscribers happy and paying the bills.

Even after watching WoW in return for a few years, SOE felt that they could only relax their pace to an expansion a year.  So we are at 20 EverQuest expansions in just over 15 years, but I may not live long enough to see 20 WoW expansions at their current pace.

The flip side of this has been GuildWars 2, which went through a long stretch of dropping new content every two weeks.  I have no first hand experience as to how that felt as a player, but a number of bloggers writing about it managed to transmit a sense of frenzied exhaustion that I am not sure that ANet’s solution was the best of all possible worlds.  If fans seemed a bit frazzled, I can only imagine how the devs felt working at that pace.  And, in the end, a select group of players experienced a lot of one-time content that is likely never to be seen again.

They could run something like Super Adventure Box again I suppose, but storyline stuff that comes to a resolution would be jarring under all but the most specific circumstances, so becomes throw away content.  And you won’t find many devs who like to write throw away code, so I am going to guess the attitude about throw away content would run about as strong amongst game designers.

And then there is what is going on with EVE Online and expansions.

With all the talk about players being content, you might not think that expansions are all that important.  But, if you go look at the population graphs, subscriptions always surge after an expansion.  It turns out we like new stuff and the promise of such will get us to spend money.

CCP is going from their “every six month” content vehicles to what I have always called the “train” method.  Basically, you lay out a series of delivery vehicles… trains if you will… and as teams finish up features, they just assign them to whatever train is leaving the station next.

The CCP Train Schedule

The CCP Train Schedule

I have work with this system before.  We failed badly at it, but that was primarily because the product group that was told they needed to adopt this method was responsible for software that was wholly unsuited to it.  Enterprise software costing hundreds of thousands of dollars does not need six distinct releases a year.  No IT department I have ever encountered wants to roll an update to anything more than once a year.

Were that not enough, we also managed to shoot ourselves in the foot repeatedly.  We would have a big feature that would span many departing trains in progress, and some small features going out, but the big feature would depend on aspects of the product that the smaller features would end up changing every freaking time, thus making it nearly impossible to ship a feature that couldn’t be done in under six weeks.  You need strong leadership, discipline, and good communication for that. (As opposed to my project, which was an acquisition into our group and then had most of the team laid off. We were a mess.)

And then there is still the content question.  The train schedule sounds great in theory, but what happens if you end up with a delivery vehicle where no features are ready?  I am going to predict that there are going to be some uneven releases here, with some seeming amazing and some having us asking why they bothered to have a release at all.  As any child who has gotten a filler gift like pencils for one of the days of Hanukkah can tell you, sometimes it seems like a good idea to save everything up for one big surprise.

Add in how CCP generally handles content releases… which from the outside looks like three months of development followed by three months of fixing what they just shipped… and it will be interesting to see how their new plan plays out.

In the end, I am not sure which one of these methods is the “best,” or even if any of them are optimum in any way for the company using them.  All I can guarantee is that we’ll complain about them all no matter what.

Back to looking at pictures of food.

SOE’s New All Access Plan Up and Running April 29, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment.
2 comments

After a couple of false starts this month, Sony Online Entertainment has finally launched their new SOE All Access plan, which was announced back in late January as part of some big changes to their game lineup.

For what was once the price of a single Gold subscription you can now have premium access to a range of SOE games.

The new SOE All Access pricing

The new SOE All Access pricing

There was a time when this would have been an “OMFG must have this” deal.  Despite closures, both recent and pending, SOE still has a few games in its stable and more on the way, each of which delivers its own set of benefits should you go with the SOE All Access plan.

Not coming soon: EverQuest Next

Not coming soon: EverQuest Next

The problem, for me at least, is that my complex relationship with SOE and its games is at a point where I now get my limited fill via free.  EverQuest II is a strange place for me now, EverQuest is best left as a happy memory (at least until they launch a new progression server… maybe some day), while neither PlanetSide 2 nor DC Universe Online ever really lit a spark.  I have some mild interest in where Landmark might end up, but that is out in the future.  And H1Z1 is… I don’t know… somebody is going to have to sell me on that.

So while I applaud SOE continuing to be a leader in this area, there isn’t really any call for me to subscribe to their brand new plan at this time.

Maybe when EverQuest Next makes the “coming soon” list.

Quote of the Day – Never Shutting Down EverQuest April 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
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EverQuest and EverQuest II? We hope they never die. We have no intention of ever shutting those games down.

-David Georgeson, interview at IGN

I was just picking on Georgeson this week because of a quote from a year back about the idea that MMOs should never die.  Of course, this week we saw SOE shut down two of them, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures and Free Realms.

CWA is understandable.  That was a tie-in with a TV show and clearly had an expiration date.  But Free Realms, that was all SOE’s to do with as they pleased.  Ah well.

Still, I am more likely to take him at face value when it comes to talking about the EverQuest franchise, the bedrock on which SOE rests.  SOE without Free Realms is still SOE.  SOE without EverQuest though?  I am not sure that is an actual thing that can survive in our universe.  We’re fifteen years in and the game is still playable and getting new content.

Valmont Mounted

My new char, 15 years into the game

So EverQuest forever and all that.  At least I expect to see EverQuest hit 20.

But I still wonder how things will play out once we have EverQuest Next in the house… probably about when EverQuest hits 20 if we keep getting updates about it at the current rate.

Two EverQuests on the scene I can fathom, but three?

I suppose it depends on what the plan is.  I am pretty sure SOE figured people would move from EverQuest to EverQuest II and they would shut that down in a couple of years.  Instead, people either stayed with EverQuest because they were invested or, as like as not, ended up in WoW.

Is EverQuest Next expected to coexist with its two direct predecessors?  Given recent history, how long can that last?  And who goes into the night first?

Maybe they can recreate EverQuest on the EverQuest Next platform.  You can say that it won’t be the same, but when has EverQuest ever stayed the same for long in the last 15 years?

Picking My 15 Most Influential Games March 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, entertainment, EverQuest, Pokemon, TorilMUD.
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28 comments

Jackie at Kitty Kitty Boom Boom, prompted by lvling life, put up a list of her top 15 video games.

There was a methodology by which you were supposed to generate that list.  It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  You were not supposed to spend a lot of time with it.  And, of course, I tossed that aside.  Rather than a quick list of 15 special games, I ended up with my list of the 15 most influential video games in my gaming career so far.

And what do I mean by “influential?”

I mean that they opened up new idea, new genres, or new points of view for me when it came to video games.

Influential does not mean that they were my favorites, the games I played the most in a given genre, or even all that good in a few cases.  So, for example, I have played a LOT more World of Warcraft than EverQuest at this point in my life, and I am not really all that keen to go back to EverQuest.  But EverQuest is the more influential of the two.  Without it, there would be no WoW, and without me playing it in 1999, I might not have made it to WoW.

Anyway, on to the list.

1. Star Trek (1971) – many platforms

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

I have covered this as the first computer video game I ever played.  While incredibly simple, this game showed me the way, let me know that computers were going to be an entertainment device

2. Tank (1974) – Arcade

Tank!

Tank! In Black and white!

This was the game AFTER Pong.  Not that Pong was bad.  Pong was new and fresh when it came out, but I must admit that it did become a little dull after the first pass or two.  And then Tank showed us that man need not entertain himself with virtual paddles alone.  I wouldn’t touch Pong after a while, but Tank was always good.  You just needed somebody to play with.

3. Adventure (1979)  – Atari 2600

This Castle is Timeless!

This Castle is Timeless!

Yes, I got that Atari 2600 for Christmas way back when, but then there was a matter of what to play.  It came with the Combat cartridge, which included Tank.  And I also had Air-Sea Battle and a few others. But the problem was that these games were all unfulfilling unless played with two people.  And then came Adventure.  Not only wasn’t it the usual 27 minor variations on three two-player themes, it was specifically, unashamedly single player only.  Here, loner, good luck storming the castle!  And it had odd behaviors and minor flaws.  I tried putting that magic bridge everywhere and ended up in some strange places.  It also had a random mode, that might just set you up with an unwinnable scenario.  And there was an Easter egg in it.

It was both different and a harbinger of things to come.

4. Castle Wolfenstein (1981) – Apple II

Graphics - 1981

Graphics – 1981

This was the first game that I saw that indicated that I really, really needed to get a computer.  An Apple II specifically, because that was what Gary had.  And he also had Castle Wolfenstein.

It was not an easy game.  You lost.  A lot.  The control system left something to be desired.  You really needed a joystick to play.  And there were so many quirks and strange behaviors that somebody created a utility program a couple years after it came out that basically “fixed” a lot of the worst annoyances.  I bought it gladly.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

But this game was the prototype for many that followed.  You’re in a cell and you need to escape.  You need make your way through the castle, picking up guns, keys, ammunition, German uniforms, and grenades.   Oh, grenades were so much fun.  There were other, later games I considered for this list, but when I broke them down, I often found that Castle Wolfenstein had done it already, in its own primitive way.

5. Wizardry (1981) – Apple II

Apple ][+ The Upgrades Begin

Apple ][+ and Wizardry

Basically, the party based dungeon crawl in computer form.  Monsters, mazes, traps, treasure, combat, and death.  Oh, so much death.  NetHack was a potential for this list, but I realized that randomness and ASCII graphics aside, Wizardry had pretty much everything it did.

And I spent hours playing.  I mapped out the whole game on graph paper, including that one level with all the squares that would turn you around.  The one with the pits of insta-death.  It also taught me the word “apostate.”

6. Stellar Emperor (1985) – Apple II

The GEnie version of MegaWars III at its inception, it was my first foray into multiplayer online games.  I have written about the game, even about winning.

Emperor of the Galaxy

Emperor of the Galaxy

But it was the online, playing with other people, usually the same people, making friends and enemies and having ongoing relationships that sold the game.  Again, it was primitive, even in its day, with ASCII based terminal graphics.  But there was magic in the mixture.

7. Civilization (1991) – Mac/Windows

The flat world of original Civ

The flat world of original Civ

Sid Meier was already something of a star by the time Civilization came out, but this cemented things as far as I was concerned.  I was considering putting Civilization II on the list rather than this.  Once I got Civ II, I never went back and played the original.

But that wasn’t because the original was crap.  That was because the sequel built on what was great in the original.  It was purely an evolutionary move.  But it was the original that hooked me, so that has to get the nod for influential.

8. Marathon (1994) – Mac

Spooky

Spooky

For me, this was the defining first person shooter.  There was a single player campaign.  There was a multiplayer deathmatch mode.  There were a variety of weapons.  There was a map editor and some mods and an online community that built up around it.  Everything after Marathon was just an incremental improvement for me.

Marathon on my iPad

Marathon on my iPad

There have been better graphics, better rendering engines, different weapons, plenty of variety on arena options, all sorts of updates on match making and connectivity, but in the end those are just updates to what Marathon already did.  To this day, I still sometimes say “I’ll gather” when creating a game or match for other people to join.  That was the terminology from 1994.  I wonder what Bungie has done since this?

9. TacOps  (1994) – Mac/Windows

Before video games I played a lot of Avalon Hill war games.  Those sorts of games made the natural transition to the computer, which was ideal for handling much of the housekeeping chores.  However, in the transition, some old conventions got dragged along as well, like hexes.  And I hate hexes.  Yes, on a board game you need to use that hexgrid for movement.  I could accept that for Tobruk set up on the kitchen table.  But a computer was fully capable of handling movement without such an arbitrary overlay.  A couple of games tried it, but they tended to fall into the more arcade-ish vein, which wasn’t what I wanted.

And then I picked up a copy of TacOps.

Giving orders on an open map

Giving orders on an open map

I bought it on a complete whim, picking up the very rare initial boxed version off the shelf at ComputerWare before it went completely to online sales.  And it was a revelation.  Hey, terrain governs movement.  And cover.  And visibility.  That plus simultaneous movement phases rather than turn based combat meant wonderful chaos on the field.  The game was good enough that the military of several countries contracted for special versions of the game to use as a training tool.

I originally had Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin on my list.  That is where Battlefront.com really came into their own with the Combat Mission series.  But aside from 3D graphics, TacOps had done it all already.

10. TorilMUD (1993) – various platforms

Have I not written enough about the last 20 years of TorilMUDPrecursor to the MMORPG genre for me.  Without it I might not have understood that camping mobs for hours at a stretch was “fun.”

11. Diablo (1996) – Windows

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

I have written quite a bit about my fondness for Diablo II, while I haven’t gone back to play the original Diablo since the sequel came out.  But I wouldn’t be still talking about Diablo II or comparing the merits of Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile had the original not been something very, very special.

12. Total Annihilation (1997) – Windows

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation was not the first RTS game I played.  I am pretty sure I played Dune II and Warcraft before it.  It is not the RTS game I have played the most.  I am sure I have more hours in both StarCraft and Age of Kings.  But it was the first RTS game that showed me that the genre could be about something more than a very specific winning build order.  All the units, on ground, in the air, on the water, were amazing.  The player maps were amazing, and player created AIs were even better.  The 3D terrain and line of sight and all that was wonderful.  And new units kept getting released.  And you could nuke things.  I still find the game amazing.

13. EverQuest (1999) – Windows

Fifteen years later and nothing has made my mouth hang open like it did on the first day I logged into Norrath.  I can grouse about SOE and the decisions they have made and the state of the genre, but that day back in 1999 sunk the hook into me good and hard and it hasn’t worked itself loose since.  Pretty much what this whole blog is about.

Froon!

Froon!

14. Pokemon Diamond (2006) – Nintendo DS

Before we got my daughter a DS lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon was pretty much just a cartoon on TV and a card game somebody’s kid at work played.  Sure, I knew who Pikachu was, but I had no real clue about the video game.

And then in watching my daughter play, I had to have my own DS and copy of the game.  Make no mistake, despite its reputation as a kids game, Pokemon can be deep and satisfying.  It tickles any number of gamer needs.  My peak was in HeartGold/SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.

Back when 493 was all

Back when 493 was all

While I have stopped playing, that doesn’t mean I don’t think about buying a 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon X or Y and diving back into the game.  It is that good.

15. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006) – many platforms

Filling this last slot… tough to do.  There are lots of potential games out there.  For example, I like tower defense games, but which one sold me on the idea?  But for a game that launched me into a lot of play time over a series of titles, I have to go with LEGO Star Wars II.

LEGO Star Wars II

LEGO Star Wars II

That is where Travelers Tales really hit their stride.  The original LEGO Star Wars tried to hard to be a serious and difficult game.  With this second entry, they realized the power of simply being fun and irreverent.  That was the magic.

And I only have to look at the shelf of console games we have to see that LEGO games dominate as a result of this one title. They have evolved, and in some ways I think they have lost a bit of their charm by trying to do too much.  We got the LEGO Movie Game for the PS3 and it didn’t have the joy of LEGO Star Wars II.  Still, 8 years down the road, the influence of LEGO Star Wars II got us to try it.

Fools Errand?

Of course, putting limits like an arbitrary number on a list like this means it must ring false in some way.  And what does influential really mean?  I know what I said, but I can look back at that list and nitpick that, say, Castle Wolfenstein might not belong.  And what about genres I missed, like tower defense?  I could make the case that Defense Grid: The Awakening belongs on the list.  What about games like EVE Online?  Actually, I explained that one away to myself, seeing EVE as sort of the bastard child of Stellar Emperor and EverQuest or some such.  And while TorilMUD is so powerful in my consciousness, would I have played it had it not been for Gemstone? Where does NBA Jams fit?  And what other Apple II games did I miss?  Should Ultima III be on there?  Lode Runner Karateka?

And somehow this all ties into my post about platforms and connectivity options I have had over the years.

Anyway, there is my list, and I stand firm behind it today.  Tomorrow I might change my mind.  You are welcome to consider this a meme and take up the challenge of figuring out your 15 most influential games.

Others who have attempted to pick their 15, each with their own history:

Level 85 in EverQuest… Now What? March 17, 2014

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

these new boost 90s are ruining the game

-Search term of the day

Last week we got insta-level boosts in both EverQuest and World of Warcraft.

In WoW they are a $60 option, though you get one “free” with the purchase or pre-order of the Warlords of Draenor expansion.

In EQ they are a $35 option… or maybe less, depending on how you acquired your 3,500 Station Cash… and you can get one that is actually free for a limited time.  The offer for that ends on March 26.

So I had to go try these out.

I went for the WoW option, boosting up a Death Knight, which I covered in another post.  There were quirks.  Some of them have been addressed.  You no longer get dumped at Timeless Isle when starting out, which is probably good.  But there are still points where you wonder how a new player is going to handle an insta-90.

I had to go look up how to play my Death Knight now that he had all of his skills and access to all of his talents and would be expected to have glyphs in group content.  I went to Icy Veins this time around, which has a nice set of class guides.  A new player might do that as well.

However, I did have a serious advantage over a new player in that I knew what I wanted this character to do at level 90.  He is already out and exalted with the Tillers so I have another farm for trillium when I need it.  I have him on a couple of other faction hunts and running through some content that benefits me overall.  I never hit the “so what do I do now?” question.   Of course, he got through some of the things I wanted so fast that I’ve gone back to another low level alt that I am leveling up.  But that is more a matter of being boosted to level cap where there is only end But he is also my third 90, so things like LFR are no longer fresh and new.)

I did wonder how it would feel if I didn’t really have a goal, what the game would be like if I got that insta-level character and was facing a world in which I had no real plan.  I couldn’t do that in WoW.

But EverQuest looked like it might be a different story.  While I have played plenty of EQ over the years, I have never had a character past level 60, so most of the last decade of new content is completely unknown to me.  So I was curious to see how the EQ insta-level plan, which gives you a fully equipped level 85 character, would guide me.  Time to take advantage of that free boost.

Heroic for Free

Heroic for Free

More after the cut because verbosity.

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