Rhea Ushers in a New Era of Clones, Wormholes, and Graphics to EVE Online

CCP is launching Rhea today, the next expansion on the EVE Online hit parade, and for the first time ever, nobody had to remind players to start training a long skill just in case there were issues with the update.  That is because, after Phoebe, everybody should have a long training queue at all times.  Why wouldn’t you?

My own queue stands at 320 days going into the expansion.  That should be plenty of buffer.

But back to Rhea.

I have to admit that I was skeptical that CCP could deliver exciting, game changing, quality of life improving content on a regular basis with their “every six weeks”  expansion plan.   After all, there were expansions during the “twice a year” era that barely spark a memory for me.  I would say that the Quantum Rise expansion springs to mind, only it doesn’t  I had to go look at a list of expansions, and I couldn’t recall a single feature from that release.

But since the summer started, almost every one of these small expansions has had something meaningful to me in it.  With each one the features seem to be getting bigger and better, and Rhea seems to be continuing this trend.

The Rhea expansion page is bursting with new and updated items.

There is new space, in the form of Thera and the shattered wormholes (Also the name of a Jon Hallur tribute band), adding up to 101 new star systems, with new and interesting characteristics.  This is the first time CCP has expanded the number of systems in New Eden in quite a while, and it will be a race to see who reaches Thera, the new mega wormhole system.

There are two new ships.  There is the Amarr Confessor, the first of the tech 3 destroyers.

Still looks like a Cayman to me...

Still looks more like a Cayman to me…

And then there is the Bowhead freighter, which is meant to transport assembled ships.

Bowhead... how soon until the first gank?

Bowhead… how soon until the first gank?

Probably the biggest change for me will be the update to clones.  CCP is removing the whole clone upgrade and skill point loss aspect of clones.  No longer will I face a 30 million ISK toll for being podded and Dabigredboat should now be safe from losing Fleet Command V going forward.  No more of this. (From this thread celebrating what might be the last skill loss pod death in the game.)

I realize that this has caused some moaning amongst those hardest of the hard core, this softening of the death penalty in EVE, but the skill loss thing has always seemed like a “Gotcha! Didn’t say ‘Simon Says!'” sort of deal.  And you are already losing your ship and dropping back in a medical clone that could many jumps from where you want to be at the moment.  Basically, how much death penalty is enough?

Then there are graphical updates to, some ships, and the introduction of Physically Based Rendering that will change the look of all the models to some degree.

Can I bring my PBR Drake?

Can I bring my PBR Drake? (New vs. Old)

There is also whole new version of  the star map in progress, which you will be able to opt-in to try with Rhea.  I have said in the past that the star map in EVE Online is one of the most impressive yet least useful features in the game.  CCP is aiming to make the map even more impressive while trying to make it useful as well.

Also, there will be manual controls.  You will be able to steer your ship about using keyboard controls as opposed to the current “click in space” or “align to a thing” methods currently available.  I am actually looking forward to this, being one of those people who occasionally just likes to undock in a fast ship and fly around the station just for the sheer hell of it.

Rhea also includes Sleeper cache sites and polarized weapons, Sleeper drones in known space, pirate faction jackets and dreadnought skins in the store, a bunch of smaller items, and a new song for the expansion. along with a video.

The release notes for Rhea are dense with changes.

All in all, a lot of stuff for what will be the final titan themed release.  The word has come down that the 2015 expansions will have a different naming theme, though that has yet to be announced.

There are a lot of things in this release I am really looking forward to seeing or trying out.  And, of course, with various updated models, skins, and the PBR graphics update, there will be a lot of new screen shots to be taken for my other blog.

Five More Small Fixes for WoW

Whenever I am playing a game for an sort of extended period, especially when it is my main focus, I start mentally building up a list of gripes, the little things that, while not game breakers in any way, start to annoy me or get on my nerves.

And when I get five that stick in my brain at the same time… which can be the main challenge, as my short-term memory like a sieve… I write a blog post.  So here we are, five small… and probably non-controversial… changes I would like to see in WoW.

Free the First Bag!

There was a time when that first bag, with its 16 slots, was the anchor of all of our bag space needs.  There was no worry about having to replace it because 16 slot bags were rare and expensive.  I remember feeling great joy at having one of those old school, 16 slot, travelers backpacks drop way back when.  That was huge.

That was also at least seven years ago.

Since then we have gotten netherweave bags (16 slots), and frostweave bags (20 slots), and embersilk bags (22 slots), and probably something in Pandaria, plus quest reward bags and boss drops bags, which has pushed the 16 slot bag from a object of intense desire to a default, baseline item.

We haven’t hit the bag slot nirvana of EverQuest II and 90 slot bags, but 16 slot bags are pretty ho-hum these days.  They are the stuff of uncared for alts.  On my regularly played characters, that 16 slot first bag is the smallest bag they are carrying and, in the case of Vikund, my main of mains, the smallest bag he owns.

So I would like to be able to replace it.  Or upgrade it.  Or, Blizzard, if you just want to spread the love universally, make it a 20 or 24 slot bag.

Larger Quest Log

I know, I know, we got an quest log upgrade from 20 to 25 quests back with the 2.0 patch for The Burning Crusade.  I am sure that seems like just yesterday for some. But I also know people who have forgotten that the cap used to be 20 quests.

And I’ve gotten by pretty well with the 25 quest cap, especially since Blizzard started doling out quests in smaller batches at each quest hub.  25 was barely enough in Outland, where you could vacuum up a dozen quests at a time.  But Blizzard has balanced that out some since then.

At least until now.  Juggling garrison quests, zone quests, holiday quests, and whatever else shows up, I have managed to bump into the “quest log full” error a couple of times in Warlords of Draenor.  It hasn’t come up often, a couple of times at most, but I am generally brutal about deleting or not picking up quests before I need to.  It is unusual for me to hit the quest cap.

So I am wondering if it might be time to bump the limit up to 30?  I mean, we got five more quests the last time we came to Draenor.  It seems appropriate to get five more now.

That Ramp in Thunder Bluff

I have been admiring my daughter’s Horde garrison, which she describes as ‘put spikes on all the things!”  So I started looking at my own Horde characters to see who I might be able to level up eventually.  The closest to Draenor is a Tauren druid in his mid-60s.

I went to log him in, just to see where he stood.  I could actually send him a bit of heirloom gear and probably level him up quickly enough, once I get around to it.

He was in Thunder Bluff, where I tend to hang out as Horde when possible, but I wanted to fly him over to Orgrimmar.  So I mounted him up on his Horde chopper and headed towards the flight point at the top of the central spiral, only to be dismounted on the way up.

Had to hoof it up here!

Had to hoof it up here!

I had forgotten about that, and how annoying it can be.  There used to be a similar scenario in Stormwind, which Blizzard fixed about four years ago.  So I was wondering if we could get that same fix for my Tauren brothers and sisters.

Dismount Me

Another of those “fixed years ago” things was having to dismount to do any number of things.  Blizzard changed things so that we wouldn’t get that “You are mounted” error when we tried to take a flight or use a vehicle for a quest and so on.  And, for the most part that fix seems to have been good.  It probably fixed 95% of the occurrences of this issue.

But there is still that five percent.  And it isn’t just in the new content.  I got an error about being mounted while trying to accept a special ride in my garrison.  While this is the weakest of my five gripes, I still wonder if somebody at Blizz couldn’t go look into this, or at least make sure devs are following whatever best practices are required to make sure that old, old fix for this applies.

Stop Making Me Delete Things

This is actually one that has bugged me for quite a while, but was brought home to me again with the 10 year anniversary gift.   We got the Molten Corgi pet, which was one per account.  However, Blizzard gleefully mails it to every character on your account the moment you log them in.  So after the first time you redeem it, the rest of your characters get a useless bit of bag filler.

FRMoltenCorgiYou cannot do anything with it, save delete it… or stow it away just in case something changes.  And, of course, deleting the item is accompanied by the ominous “Are you sure? Please type out ‘DELETE’ to do so” dialog.

This has always struck me as wrong, handing me something where the only option is to waste bag space or delete it.  And this goes for gear and toys and whatever else, and has led me to hang on to items “just in case” Blizzard changes their mind on this.  So, in my bank I found I still had this.

FROnyxiaWhelpThe Onyxian Whelpling, that was the five year anniversary gift.  He pre-dates shared pets, but wasn’t destroyed on use so you could pass it to alts as they came along.  I also saw Mr. Chilly sitting in my bank as well.

I am not sure what the best answer is here.  For some of the gear items, just let me vendor them.  But would that work out for things like the Molten Corgi?  All I know for sure is deleting them is counter to my instincts.

 

Nagrand – The Moment

There I was last night, turning in a quest when it happened, I made it to level 100 with my first character in Draenor.

Level 100

Level 100

Certainly not the fastest run to 100, but it still seems like it went by pretty quickly, given I how much I dawdled and played other games, plus spending a few days reviving my computer.

One benefit of moving a bit more slowly than some is that I had more time to accumulate garrison resources, so I was able to jump right in and upgrade my Town Hall to level 3.

Garrison Resources and Gold

Garrison Resources and Gold

Now I have a whole bunch of things to unlock and upgrade there.  I have to work on some pets to take on the three battle pets in the garrison, a requirement to unlock the menagerie.  I have a few level 25 pets, but as with Pokemon, you can wander through the world and succeed with any number of combinations, but once you get to a boss-like fight, you need the right set.

Picking the Right Fleet – NCDot Supers Down in Querious

ENEMY SUPERS TACKLED GET THE FUCK IN FLEET RIGHT NOW

Web Broadcast to [SIG] Reavers from Asher Elias

I wrote something yesterday about picking the right fleet.  This is the fleet you want to get into.  So I logged in and burned to LS-V29 to join in on the fun.  We ended up killing:

I managed to get a combat drone out and get on the kill mails for those ships with an asterisk.  Again, there were so many bubbles on grid at one point that the background in my screen shots turned white.

Signs I am a bad Logi pilot

Signs I am a bad Logi pilot

This was one of those “happens once in a while and makes all the slow fleets worthwhile” operations, like CCP was trying to illustrate in their This is EVE 2014 video.  People were excited, comms were buzzing, but it was far from clear exactly how many capital ships, if any, we would be able to kill.

When I got on grid our FC, Asher Elias, was pretty sure we would get the Aeon and maybe one of the Nyx.  They were trying to get to the safety of their POS shields, and it at least one Nyx was very close before he inexplicably turned around and started motoring away.  There was also the looming threat of reinforcements. The Nidhoggur and the Chimera were dropped onto the battle to try an repair the supers and were chewed up for the effort.  Eventually a couple of fleets of hostiles were on grid trying to drive us off and we started taking significant losses when the last Nyx got into structure.  We had enough left in us to take him out, then the call went out to scatter, safe up, cloak if possible, and “fofofofo” in local.

Let us "fofofo"

Let us “fofofo”

Then we escaped back to our staging system.

We got a bit of a briefing in the fleet about how this was all planned out, with tacklers logged off in the system waiting for the supers to log in, but the full story will probably come out in the morning. (Addendum: Here is the tale from the CFC end, and from the N3 end of things.)

Meanwhile, this other battle happened.  It will probably dominate the new cycle.  A titan was killed… killed by Brave Newbies no less, an alliance that prides itself on taking new players into combat.  A lot of younger pilots got their first taste of an epic battle with capital ships on grid.  Good for them, and good for EVE Online.  But our own kills cannot be made less sweet, and the battle report shows (ZKillboard version) we lost about 9 Billion ISK in ships while destroying 125 Billion ISK.

 

The CFC Holds All of Fountain Again

Last week was not looking very rosy for the CFC.  With the loss of the LGBI-2 system in Fountain to N3 and aggression by Triumvirate in Vale of the Silent coming just after the opening of a campaign against Black Legion in Venal.  Wags at the not-CFC EVE News site were quick to ask if the CFC was in real trouble, facing a situation that was “just not feasible post-Phoebe.”

A week later though, things look a little less dramatic.  Staging out of a system deeper in Fountain, but withing the 5 ly titan bridge range, fights started over Y-2ANO.

South Fountain Area

South Fountain Area

After losing a contested timer fight over the weekend, N3 backed off and did not contest any further structure shooting ops beyond harassment and trying to pick off stragglers.  Northern Coalition lost sovereignty yesterday and, after a last minute push to bring down the onlining TCU, FA once more had control of the system.

LGBI-2 Sov Changes

LGBI-2 Sov Changes

And that went on while there were continuing ops in the north and Reavers running around in Querious shooting up infrastructure.  So I am not sure we were stretch too thin or between “between a rock and a hard place” as just not organized for the jobs to hand.  Once people got the right ships in the right places with jump clones in staging systems, things immediately got better.

Through the magic of jump clones I managed to get into fleets on each front over the last week.  With current skills I have 9 jump clones with a cool down of 20 hours, which is just about perfect.  I can pick where to land during my usual block of play time most evenings.  The trick is just to choose the right theater of operations.

Unfortunately, I seemed to have missed all the big fights.  The timer at Y-2NAO had so many fleets that we never went to Fountain, and just chased Black Legion and shot SBUs instead.  The final timer fight at LGBI-2 ended up being a non-event.  Our fleet just shot towers while waiting to see if N3 would show up.

An unfueled tower

An unfueled tower no less

And when that was done, I clone jumped down to the Reavers deployment just in time to miss the fight while FA’s TCU was coming online.  And then, with Reavers, mistakes were made.  So, yes, perfect so long as I choose correctly.  I will pick right one of these days, and I do get to take more screen shots of various ships and structures.

A Table for Five in Draenor Please?

The Saturday after Thanksgiving we finally managed to get everybody at home, online, on coms, and in World of Warcraft together, so we could face the specter of how this expansion was going to work out for us.

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Are you ready?

Of course, we didn’t really have an answer for that, so we did what most people do and started rounding up the details in hopes that the big picture would resolve itself when the time was ripe.

So we spent some time working out who would be playing what in Draenor.  Mike was tired of Bungholio the warlock, a member of the team since we formed up in 2006.  Actually, all the characters on the team have remained static since 2006 except mine, which I am sure says something about somebody.  Anyway, he had his insta-90 option to hand, so we had to run through who might want to play what class and what role.

Nobody really wanted to change roles badly, so Earlthecat remained the tank… and he’ll be fearsome with his Garrosh heirloom sword… and Skronk held onto the healing role, while the rest of us stayed on as DPS.  Chris had Ula and Scsla into Draenor, so she could stick with mage or go with pally power for her character.

I was keen to drop the feral druid… after playing a rogue from scratch to level 88, a feral druid feels like a pale imitation, flight form aside… but haven’t really committed to what I will play.  I could go hunter or I could catch my rogue up to the group.  For the evening though I decided to get out my Draenei death knight, Tokarev to run with the group.

And, after some deliberation and discussions around flexibility, Mike went with a Draenei monk named BigBut.

He isn’t big on the role play compatible names, but I think we had figured that out after Bungholio, Shooty, Chicken, and TruckNut.

Anyway, with that… if not fully decided, at least as settled as it needed to be for the moment… we moved on to the next task, which was just getting into Draenor.  We were not very well  coordinated on that front.  Rather than running through the starter zone together, we ended up strung across various bits of the intro.

Assault all around the Dark Portal

Assault all around the Dark Portal

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  We all got to go at our own pace.  I, on my third trip through, was probably less interested in the story or the fights than Mike, who was both playing a new class and seeing the story unfold for the first time.  I held back a bit, in case he needed help, but he seemed to be doing okay, so I moved along, catching up to Skronk.

Tokarev and Skronk

Tokarev and Skronk

I was pleasantly surprised that the game did not duplicate our followers for that stage.  I wonder if we each saw the other with different companions.  The game was also less punishing of running solo quests in a group than it has been in past zones.  Not everything counted across the group… we each had to pick up our own pile of weapons at one point… but kills and the like seemed to work.

When we arrived at the final battle, Skronk asked what would happen if we just didn’t shoot anything from the giant tank.  Would the quest fail?  Would the bomb carts destroy us?

Bomb Cart

Bomb Cart

We didn’t quite have the nerve to try.  However, I did test to see what happens if, when you are supposed to run for the docks, you instead take off at a course 90 degrees off from your intended destination.  Once you stray too far, you get teleported all the way back to the dwarven quest giver at the Blackrock Quarry, about twice as far back as seemed necessary.  So now we know.

Eventually I stopped screwing around and, like everybody else, made it to the docks to be whisked away to Shadowmoon Landing and the first “being there” achievement.

TFFWelcomeToDraenor

It occurs to me now that the portal icon on that achievement is green, which was the Burning Crusade portal color, and not red, the Warlords of Draenor portal color.  Where is Red Shirt guy when you need him?

Anyway, we ran off to found our garrisons and what not.

To be built on the spot: A Garrison

To be built on the spot: A Garrison

Everybody landed at least at level 91 by the end of the evening, with level 92 being declared the “do not pass” mark.

So there we were.  Op success.  Mission accomplished.  Live and in Draenor.

But we still do not really have an answer to the big question, how this expansion is going to play out if we try to take it on as a full group.  My own, perhaps ill-formed impression, is that Blizzard has mostly punted on the leveling game and has attempted to move content to the level cap where it will at least stay somewhat relevant to players over the life of the expansion.  I was a bit heartened to see that there were at least a few quests about that recommended you tackle them with three players… or I was heartened until I realized I could solo them despite that recommendation.

So there are things to do, quests to run, rares to stalk and all of that.  But what should a team of five really expect if they want to move through the expansion together?

A Decade of Dual Screens – 10 Years of the Nintendo DS

I remember seeing the original GameBoy back in the early 90s.

Display Case #3

GameBoy units at the Nintendo Store

My youngest cousin, some 22 years my junior (which is about the same age difference as between my father and I) had one back then.  While I was mildly interested in it due to the fact that she had the Elevator Action cartridge, which faithfully reproduced the arcade game of the same name that I played in my own youth, overall my reaction was tepid.  I had a computer with a 17″ color monitor that played a myriad of deeper, more interesting, and much more colorful video games than the chubby little monochromatic brick battery hog from Nintendo.

But I had made the jump from arcades and consoles ages before the GameBoy showed up.  I dribbled a bit with a Sega Genesis when somebody gave it to me, but other than that I was strictly a computer gamer.  So the GameBoy was something off in the periphery.  I have vague recollections about changes in form factor, the arrival of color, and the advent of what might be the defining game for the platform, the Pokemon series of games.  Though the latter first came to my attention via the trading card game, which brought me to the TV show, and the finally to the realization that it all started as a video game.  That was at approximately the Pokemon Yellow stage of the series.  One of my nieces had a GameBoy Advance SP, which seemed like a flimsy bit of hardware.

And it still wasn’t of much interest.  The internet and online gaming was where it was at for me.

Then, on November 21, 2004 Nintendo officially launched the Nintendo DS in North America.

Again, something on the periphery of my gaming.  It was a big deal and, thus, hard to ignore.  The news bled through and I remember wondering how a two screen system would work and what advantage it would provide.  I think the fact that the unit had more buttons on it that its predecessors made a bigger impression on me.

Of course, by that time I had a daughter of my own, though she was far too young for that sort of thing.  But time passed.  I remember us being at Toys R Us one day when she started playing with one of the DS units on display.  It had Pokemon Diamond running on it and my daughter was transfixed by the idea of wandering the countryside in the game.

Not too long after that, we were preparing for a flight to Hawaii to visit family (my daughter has been to Hawaii more times in her few years than most people will go in their whole lives), when we discovered that the video player, used to maintain our sanity by keep our daughter busy, was no longer holding a charge.  It would not be an option for this trip.  Faced with six hours of “are we there yet?” my wife sent me out specifically to buy a Nintendo DS and a few games in order to keep our daughter busy during the flight.

And it had to be pink.  This was the era of the Nintendo DS Lite, the overhaul of the original hardware and maybe the best packaging Nintendo ever did.

I remember the bit about the color, because when I got to the store, they only had blue units.  So I bought a blue one because, what the hell, right?  My wife wasn’t having that, and when I arrived home with the wrong item she called around, found a pink unit, and sent me out to exchange the red unit for the pink.  That was a little over six and a half years ago.

The whole thing was a big hit, and I was as interested in the Nintendo DS Lite unit and the Pokemon game running on it as my daughter.  Within a few weeks I had my own cobalt blue Nintendo DS Lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond as well.  I remain impressed with the unit to this day.  It is solid, the screen is crisp and clear and colorful (though a bit small for my aging eyes these days), the battery life is excellent, and the built in WiFi and connectivity with the Wii was a master stroke.

And, of course, Pokemon.

There have been a few other games we have enjoyed on the DS hardware at our house.  The Mario Kart games have been good, and my daughter has played a lot of Animal Crossing.  But the mainline Pokemon RPG games have been the mainstay of the hardware for us, the reason for having the units.  There are now five DS models in our home, all of which still function.  We have the original two DS Lite units, a DSi XL unit my daughter got as a present, and then a pair of 3DS XL units, which followed the same pattern as the originals, as once my daughter got one… and started playing Pokemon X… I had to have one too.

Overall, I have to say I remain impressed with the design and functionality of the hardware.  I have had the DS Lite out in order to transfer Pokemon between versions of the game as well as to withdraw quite a herd of Pokemon from Pokemon Ranch, and it was still a solid, comfortable device to use.

And I am clearly not alone in my admiration of Nintendo’s dual screen handheld.  Over 150 million units of the original DS line sold during its life, making second only to the PlayStation 2 in console hardware sales, and another 45 million 3DS generation units have sold as well.  That is nearly 200 million units, or nearly 400 million screens.

Nintendo seems to run hot and cold with its living room consoles.  The NES and SNES were both hot, but the GameCube was not.  The Wii was on fire, but the Wii U hasn’t found its killer app.  The game pad controller seems like a weight around the console’s neck.  They should have left that sort of thing to the handheld side of the team, as they did with the Wii.

But on the handheld front, Nintendo has been dominant for years.  How much of it was hardware and how much of it was the games… especially Pokemon… I couldn’t say, but the combination has been a winner for Nintendo for a long time now.  And there is a new 3DS unit on its way to consumers next year.

The New 3DS

Colorful buttons and a second analog control

Over at The Verge they have a timeline of Nintendo portable devices, most of them hot, a few of them… well… not.