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SOE Live 2014 – What Are You Wishing For? August 12, 2014

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

Currently I am not very invested in any SOE games.  I pay some attention to changes in EverQuest, with occasional glaces towards EverQuest II, based mostly on nostalgia for the “good old days,” but otherwise there isn’t much in their current lineup that thrills me.  Landmark has some potential once it gets closer to being feature complete.  EverQuest Next has raised some enthusiasm, but exists only as a blur on the horizon at this point.  And the other remaining titles aren’t really my thing.

But here it is, the week of SOE Live, the time for announcements big and small.  Yes, whatever Smed says during the Thursday night keynote will likely be overwhelmed in the news cycle by Blizzard’s big Warlords of Draenor announcement planned for earlier in the day… I think the timing was more to head off the subscription numbers news than to stick it to SOE, but they seem to have gotten a threefer on that one if you include the SWTOR hit as well… plus there is Gamescom this week as well… but some of us will still be paying attention to SOE.

SOELiveLogo

And because it is that time, I am asking myself what I would like to see and what I expect come out of the event.  SOE Live can bring with it some very big news.  Last year had a lot of people talking about EverQuest Next.  What will we get year?

What I Expect

  • Some firming up of the Landmark timeline, with some more details about specific features, but no real “go live” information
  • Expansion announcements around EverQuest and EverQuest II, though as the F2P years roll along I am not sure expansions have all that much impact any more unless they raise the level cap or add new AA features
  • An open/paid beta plan for H1Z1 with an estimated date for access that will be off by at least a month
  • Something about fixing whatever woes are currently afflicting PlanetSide 2
  • Some more screenshots and in-game video from EverQuest Next, but nothing playable and no concrete details

Things I Would Like to See

  • A date for Landmark to be feature complete and generally available for those who didn’t pony up for a pay-to-test package. (Even if it is off by 3-6 months.)
  • Something solid, tangible, and new about EverQuest Next
  • Or just something that ignites some hope that EverQuest Next will be a game I want to play

Things I Fear Might Be Communicated

  • Closing down PlanetSide… well, that might not be a fear for me, but I do wonder how it is still running
  • Little or nothing about EverQuest Next
  • A draw down of content for EverQuest, no more expansions, limited content updates on a vaguely expressed timeline
  • That some new game is dedicated to the dispossessed players of another SOE title that has been shut down (e.g. The planned science fiction biome in Landmark is really dedicated to former players of Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures)
  • Some new technological dead end like SOEmote or SOE Launcher to eat up dev cycles for no real benefit or follow through (cue Sony Olfactory Enhancements or some such)

Dreams Likely to be Unfulfilled

  • Something about the next EverQuest nostalgia focused server, progression, classic, or otherwise
  • An announcement that an EverQuest II nostalgia focused server… original content, steeper leveling curve, more difficult mobs, or whatever… is in the offing
  • Something that might otherwise revive my interest in either EverQuest or EverQuest II… but I don’t know what… what is the “fix these games for Wilhelm” plan?
  • An open/paid beta plan for EverQuest Next with an estimated date for access… this I might pay for… maybe
  • Something about hats… no… wait…

From Left Field on Bizarro World Unlikely

  • The Agency being revived on the PlanetSide 2 platform ala H1Z1
  • The return of any dead SOE game
  • A new game announcement
  • The EverQuest Next plan being completely revised from last year’s announcement
  • EverQuest Next being cancelled
  • A ship date for EverQuest Next

So those are my various lists.  What do you want to see, expect to see, or fear might come from this year’s SOE Live?

 

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

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next.
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10 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LandmarkSteamSale

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

All packages marked down

All packages marked down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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23 comments

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

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

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

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

Dimension by the Sea

Unfurnished Dimension by the Sea

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

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

A house in Bree

A house in Bree

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

And then clipping issues...

And then clipping issues…

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

Elves and their damn monuments

Elves and their damn monuments

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

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

A more complete development

A Norrathian housing development

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

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

Go Google the outfit

Go Google the outfit

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

Behold Zuul's Sky Altar

Behold Zuul’s Sky Altar

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

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

What is on Space TV today?

What is on Space TV today?

That might be too meta for me.

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

Looks like a Star Wars trailer park

Literally a Tatooine trailer park

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

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

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

Weapons on the wall

Weapons on the wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Landmark – Another Quick Peek Week May 13, 2014

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

Sony dropped me an email Firday letting me know that they had activated my Landmark account for another seven days.  They seem to be trying to drum up interest by handing these seven day invites out.  I am not sure that this is the opportune time for such handouts.  The game… or what game there is… is still very raw right now and pretty much focused solely on resource gathering and building.  My daughter looked over my should at one point and said, “Oh, is that adult Minecraft?

Landmark_450px

Even the current logo just shows mining and building… though I haven’t seen anything as sophisticated as that water wheel as yet… though there is water of a sort in Landmark now.

Since I was able to amuse myself some the last time around, I decided to give the game another look in its closed beta (for specific definitions of “beta”) state.

Unfortunately, back when I first looked into things, there was a meager five day limit on how far out you could pay up the rent on your claim, so I knew my previous location and everything I had done would be gone.  SOE even sent me an in-game message telling me what happened to my claim.

Helpful yet unavailable mail message

Helpful yet unavailable mail message

And that message would have been very useful, had the game not crashed as I was trying to access it.

Something changed… not sure if it was on my side or on SOE’s… but I was getting a lot of video card related crash to desktop events in the first couple of hours I was back this past weekend, despite a couple reboots.  The joy of being in a pre-alpha closed beta I suppose.

Anyway, that left me running around on Saturday unaware that I hadn’t lost all of my stuff, it was just stored away some place I couldn’t access.  The game, however, was keen to let me know I had a template of my old structure, so I tried to figure out what to do with that.

I attempted to just lay it out, but it told me I needed a claim.  I ran off and created a new claim flag, my old one being stored away with everything else, and started looking around for a place to plant it.  I was able to find something not too far from the spires, at the junction of a couple of buffer zones.

A little spot of my own

A little spot of my own

I grabbed the spot and started fiddling with the template again, trying to use it on my new location.  This time it started telling me I was grossly short of materials to recreate such a structure.  I thought that you got refunded all of your building material when you lost your claim (which was true, and which I would have known had I been able to open up that mail and attachment mentioned above), so I was a bit annoyed to find myself short on mats.  I tried fiddling with the template, deleting it just in case the raw materials were somehow locked up as part of it.  No luck.

That might have put me in a sour mood for a while.

And that will be... December?

And that will be… December?

I tinkered with the remove tool on my claim, then went off to do something else.

The next day I returned for a bit and was actually able to access the mail message above and access the attachment, so was suddenly flush with resources again.  I took all of that and built a sacrificial altar dedicated to Zuul up in the sky above my claim.  I was originally thinking about some sort of swimming pool in the sky, until I found that water was a thing, but not yet a thing you could do anything with… plus the ocean was miles away… so a sacrificial altar in the sky became the choice.

Behold Zuul's Sky Altar

Behold Zuul’s Sky Altar

There is a platform extending behind the altar that allows one to dispose of the bodies by dropping them into the deepest pit the game will allow.  Seriously, I got out the removal tool, dialed it up to maximum size, and then started digging until it would let me dig no further.  You eventually hit a hard stop rather than, say, falling through the world.  Falling through the world doesn’t require any digging at all.  I managed to do that by just stepping off the ramp to the altar at an odd angle.

Lower than the deepest pit...

Lower than the deepest pit…

After digging my pit, I decided that I had better leave a way out, so I jumped into it and carved out a series of ascending caves leading back up to the surface.  The removal tool is my current favorite, as you can make a large impact on your claim with a relatively small effort.  Other potential building plans I had for my claim petered out when I started running low on materials again.  That served to remind me that any effort I expended in gathering would be for naught once the big pre-open beta wipe came.  Losing the results of all of ones efforts looms large over Landmark for me.

So I remain interested in where Landmark might end up… and, of course, what it might presage for the distant promise of EverQuest Next… but I am reluctant to expend a lot of effort on something that is going to be taken away.

So, yes, call me for open beta.  I’ll be ready to invest then.

Landmark – In Which I Claim April 11, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
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3 comments

My seven days of Landmark wind up today, so I thought I would use a little bit of the remaining time to take one more look.

My main goal was just to stake a claim, just because I could.  I was prompted by Liore’s guide to doing just that, because I realized I had all the materials.  So why not?  So I got on last night, after the update and the downtime and look for a place to call my own.  First, I made my claim flag.

Claim Flag

Claim Flag

Then I started looking around for a likely spot.

I wasn’t all that picky, but I also did not want to wander too far from the spires and the crafting stations… and apparently neither did anybody else.  So finding a claim turned out to be a little tricky.  I did end up being able to wedge myself into a spot between all the buffer zones.

Red means no!

Red means no!

You can see the amount of buffer SOE gives claims… that is the red zone… relative to the size of an actual claim… the little orange cubes.  But they didn’t quite squeeze me out.

Then it was time to figure out how to do something with my little patch of Landmark.  Initially I was not too impressed.

Little Blocks

Little Blocks

How long would it take to construct something using tiny little blocks?  Then I figured out that I could make the blocks bigger with the scroll wheel.  I discovered this by accident, trying to zoom the camera out.  The camera controls are pretty primitive, and I keep trying to move the camera to get a better shot of something, only to run into a wall.  Ah well.

Still, with bigger blocks, I decided to build upwards, so as to maximize the eyesore nature of my attempt.

Ascending into the sky

Ascending into the sky

I ended up creating a spiral set of blocks around a central spire in order to keep building higher and higher.  Eventually I had to start making the spiral bit wider, as I started falling off now and again, and the higher you go the more annoying it is to get back up when you fall.

Speaking of falling, I did manage to fall through the earth.

Oh, that shouldn't be there

Oh, that shouldn’t be there

It isn’t really an MMO beta if you haven’t fallen through the earth yet.  So I am set on that achievement.

Eventually I ran out of green earth material and had to switch over to a worked stone pattern that looked like wood.  Then I started to tire of the whole thing, so I built a platform, jammed a huge sphere onto it.  Seeing that I still had materials left, I jammed a big cube on top of that.  Then I went looking for a way to take a screen shot of my monstrosity.

Again, camera controls are primitive.

I ran up a nearby hill and tried to capture its ungainly nature.  You can sort of see it.  Physics need not apply.

My platform things

My platform things

Then I went back down to the base to sign it in yet another material I hadn’t used up.

Guess who?

Guess who?

I learned how to write in blocks back on the Atari 2600.  The “Video Graffiti” mode in the Surround game cartridge taught me much.

And that was about it for Landmark.

I did pay up my claim for as long as I was allowed.  But in 5 days and 22 hours it will be gone.

Claim Upkeep

Claim Upkeep

We’ll see if I end up getting an extension on my seven days in Landmark.  I suspect that if you don’t opt-in and buy a Founder’s Pack at that point, SOE is done with you, but you never know.  And, of course, even if I do get an extension, there is no guarantee that I would have any more to do in any case.

You can find my temporary awkward carbuncle on the face of the Lowland zone on the Courage server.

Addendum: Bhagpuss found me.  Do we have a new game here?  Claim hide and seek?

The Seven Day Landmark April 8, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next.
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6 comments

This dropped into my in box on Friday afternoon,

Subject: Your Access to the Landmark Closed Beta is Ready!

YOUR ACCOUNT HAS BEEN ACTIVATED

Congratulations,

You’ve got seven days of access to the Landmark Closed Beta, beginning now! If you redeem an additional Time-Limited Closed Beta key, that seven days will be added to your total. There is no limit to the number of Time-Limited Closed Beta keys you can consume. See below for information on how to download the client and begin playing

This came from the “EverQuest Franchise Team,” which amused me a bit because Landmark just had the E-word removed from its name, so is technically not an EverQuest anything at this time.

The email message was scrupulous in not using the E-word anywhere besides the “from” address.  But I know the full flavor of pain that comes with changing project names.  I have heard, “The product is named Y, but you have a sub-directory named X which contains a file named Z.config. Why is that?” or its like many times in my career.  Such is life.

My first bit of confusion was about being invited at all.

I have not been interested in Landmark at all, except in a “what does this say about SOE and its future directions” sort of way.  I certainly did not sign up to be in the beta.  I wouldn’t have bothered, if only not to waste SOE’s time as well as my own.

But I quickly realized that I probably had signed up for a beta.  Back in the heady days just after Fan Fest SOE Live last year, when EverQuest Next was the big announcement and something called Landmark was just a bullet point on the list of possible features (and a confusing one at that), and people were excited, I am pretty sure I ran off and signed up to be in beta.  I just meant EverQuest Next, not Landmark.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

THIS! This is what I wanted!

However, that was then and this is now.  And in the now EverQuest Next is just the promise of a sighting of a blurry vision on the horizon that might just be a mirage… or it might be if SOE was talking about it at all.  They have gone nearly The Agency level of quiet on it.  Landmark is what SOE is busy talking about to the point that it seems like they only have the bandwidth that topic alone.

Or so it seems in my little world, where EverQuest is pretty much what SOE does, the rest being games destined to be closed or handed back to their creators… and PlanetSide something or other.

And it was in that spirit that I decided to take up SOE’s offer.  I figured that Landmark started off being a part of the engine that would drive EverQuest Next, even as it has become the all- consuming passion for SOE, so that playing it might give me a little insight into the game I want.

So I grabbed the installer and went off to see what I could see.

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Small Items for a Cold Friday in March March 28, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest Next, Hardware, Torchlight II.
Tags: , , , ,
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It is even a bit chilly here in Silicon Valley.  I put on a jacket last night.  And there has been some rain this week, breaking up the run of warm and sunny days we have been experiencing of late.  Not enough to end the drought, but enough to keep the lawn watered.

It is Friday and I have a bunch of little, half-started posts and other tidbits that I am going to roll up into a single entry.

It Is Just Landmark

SOE, in a good move, decided that their Minecraft-like building game, with a promise of things like science fiction areas, wasn’t Norrathian enough to be considered an EverQuest title.  So it is now just Landmark.

LandmarkChange

This is not only how I have been referring to the game for a while now, but something that was part of my 2014 predictions.  Go me.

Now SOE just has to do something about the whole EverQuest Next name, something I brought up in another Friday post.  That is a cute name for development, but not so good as a shipping title.  Unless it is also going to be EverQuest Last, the name could become an albatross around their neck at some point.  Fortunately, we now have precedent for a name change.

Thank you Landmark! 

The Gamification of Texting

A friend sent this link to the Android version a keyboard addon for mobile devices.  As you master the Fleksy keyboard and its various functions and features, you will earn achievements!

Apple product owners may get a chance to join in as well,  as Fleksy is updating the iOS version for achievements as well.  To use the Fleksy keyboard, your app must be “Fleksy enabled.”

How Old is Your Hardware?

Pasduil wants to know.  He’s taking a survey.  You can find it here.

Bully Bullied by Bullies?

Erotica 1, the pilot behind the EVE Online controversy du jour, the Bonus Round recording (I could not recommend that you follow that link), has chosen to withdraw his name from the Council of Stellar Management elections scheduled for next month.  In his statement, after opening with a paragraph that included the line, “Some people just can’t be reasonable…”, he complained about Goons and “white knight carebear moral highground people” and threats to his physical safety (but no reference to this), then said he was withdrawing because his passport had expired.

This is where we all shout, “Didn’t want that seat on the CSM anyway!”

That CSM Election

It is coming up.  Should you care.

Candy Crush IPO

King, maker of the game everbody loves to hate, Candy Crush Saga, and one-time trademark troll, went public this week.  According to some, the IPO failed.  It failed because the opening price… the price King got for its shares… was $22.50, but afterwards the price dropped down to around $19.

In a way, this seems like a perfectly fitting IPO for the company.  King got the maximum value they could for their stock, filling company coffers, the founders and early investors who were in for a tiny fraction the IPO price still got their big cash-out opportunity, and the people and institutions who jumped on the stock at the IPO price got told they could sell now if they wanted to buy a $3 per share unlock or they could wait until whenever the price went up again.

A Farewell to Runic Games?

I was already wondering what was going to become of Runic Games.  We haven’t heard much from them, except about what they are not going to do.  They are not going to make a Torchlight MMO.  They are not going to work on anything new for Torchlight II.  They are not going to have a Mac OS version of Torchlight II.

So when two key founders leave to form a new studio, one might not seem rash wondering aloud if Runic Games is not going to be shipping anything else ever again.

Did burnout from Torchlight II kill the company, or was it Perfect World Entertainment buying in that did it?

MyDream is to do What to Minecraft? March 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
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First there was Minecraft, as it was good.

Minecraft

Or many people thought it was. It flourished and blossomed and jumped to different platforms and generally made Notch and his company quite a large pile of money.

It never really appealed to me, but I could still see the magic.  It was open and allowed you to do many, many things.  My daughter played it quite a bit, including on a PvP server.  I didn’t even know that was possible until she showed me.

Of course, where money flows, so do copy cats.  There were knock-offs like CastleMiner.  And, as time went by, bigger and more sophisticated players started into the market with their own spin on the Minecraft idea.  SOE’s Landmark is one and Trion’s Trove is another, both of which have a look and feel that sets them apart from mere clones of the original.

I know there are other examples out there, but since the genre really doesn’t do much for me, their names tend not to stick with me.  Fill in the blanks for me, because my writing things like, “And that one that people keep mentioning” doesn’t really work so well.

But even with all of that, there seemed to be room enough in the market.

Then, yesterday, I got a press release in my inbox… because PR people are a desperate sort and are happy when even when somebody so far down the food chain as myself mentions the product they are pushing… for a “Minecraft killer.”

Actually, it was (Minecraft killer), in parentheses, but it was right there in the subject line of the email.

And I actually groaned aloud upon reading that.

I groaned because I have lived through the age of the quest for the WoW killer.

Did I say “lived through?”  I meant “live in,” since if you Google “WoW killer” you will see that the quest is still alive and well and crushing souls.

Still, I had to wonder who would have the audacity to make such a claim.  So I went to the Kickstarter for MyDream (which I mentally read as “MyDream is to KILL Minecraft!!1″) to see who was standing up to slay the beast.

MyDream

To the company’s credit credit, the Kickstarter page doesn’t actually say “Minecraft killer” anywhere.  Neither does the actual press release.  I suspect that the injection of the phrase into the subject line came at the insistence of their PR person and does reflect the elevator pitch mentality of our society today, where you cannot describe something from the ground up, so you have to jump straight to associations like, “Think ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ meets ”Aliens!'” or some such.

And, reading through the Kickstarter, the whole thing sounds much more like SOE’s Landmark, which I would imagine is neither well known enough nor far enough along to have attracted a “killer” yet, than Minecraft, with a bit more emphasis on creating content.

Think Landmark meets Neverwinter’s Foundry… if you must.

A bit of it does seem a bit blue sky naive.  This in particular stuck out:

The MyDream team is currently working on a leveling system based on the novel idea helping others. We would like to eliminate hating, griefing and other forms of abuse that run rampant in other MMO’s. By creating a reputation system that promotes cooperative team play and honest rating of others, we assure a self-policing positive environment for all.

That sent my cynicism spiking off the meter… they assure this… while at the same time making me think, “Oh God, don’t put it like that, you’re practically daring people to prove that they can grief and otherwise behave badly!  You don’t know their power!  Don’t make eye contact!”

I suppose I am a product of my environment, which does include EVE Online.  But rare is the multiplayer game where I haven’t seen some amount of bad behavior exhibited simply because it could be done.

Anyway, I thought I would bring this up because… urm  uh… I’ve forgotten now.  I don’t plan on pledging or even playing.  Variety? Something about “Minecraft killer” possibly?  Or maybe because their office is just up the road in Palo Alto.  Go local devs.

Landmark and a Dire Vision of Things to Come… February 11, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
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Rowan Blaze over at I Have Touched the Sky has managed to sum up in one picture what I expect eventually to happen everywhere in SOE’s Landmark.

Freedom's just another name for...

Freedom’s just another name for…

I cropped his screen shot down to the essential message.   Free Donuts.

And therein lies the seeds of destruction.

Not that I object to the sign.  It is just a cute example of what one can do in a sandbox like Landmark.  Innocent fun.  And I am sure if the person with the adjacent claim was trying to build something with a different theme that contrasted with the idea of free donuts… maybe a place where donuts were currency, or perhaps some fantasy setting where donuts aren’t really a thing… Rowan would take down his sign.  Heck, his sign… and his claim… might disappear on their own at this point in development.  But even if it remained, I am sure he wouldn’t prop it up next to his neighbors medieval castle or whatever.

Landmark is in alpha after all, and a pay-to-play alpha at that.  Everybody who is playing in the alpha really wants to be there and, judging from what I have seen, are very quick to let you know you can get a full, no-questions-ask refund the moment you complain about anything in Landmark.

That is pretty common with pre-release communities.  They tend to be the most invested in the game and are always the ones to moan about how the community for a given game went down hill after release.  How often have we heard, “The game/The community/People were much better/nicer in beta?”

So Landmark is in that happy, like-minded, orthodoxy enforced, pre-release community state where everything is new and people seem to care more about the game and the idea of the game than the current state of the game.  If you worry about the current state of the game… well… you can get a full, no-questions-ask refund.  It is a happy time of newness and excitement.

But the game will not remain in alpha… or beta… or pre-release… forever.  The happy pre-release community that cares about the game will, if things go to plan, eventually be dwarfed by the a larger community that will not, in general, hold exactly the same values when it comes to Landmark.

Landmark will be an amusement, a distraction, a toy, a way to pass the time, and a way to express themselves.

One way that people have shown they enjoy expressing themselves in the past is through griefing their fellow players.  And the more freedom you give people the greater the of griefing that will occur and the hard it ends up being to stop it.

Basically, the proposition I am putting forward is that the more sandbox-like an online game is, the more there will be griefing.  And, with that in mind, I made a little chart.

Continuum_450That is my “pulled straight from my posterior end” assessment of the sandbox nature of some online games that came to mind given a few minutes thought.  Feel free to object or suggest a re-ordering or inject where other games may sit on the continuum of sandboxiness.  I am already reconsidering my placements, but I am too lazy to edit the picture.

At one end is Webkinz, in which your ability to do anything is pretty well constrained and interactions with other players is severely  limited.  This is a game for small children and their mothers.  Your ability to touch the game is limited to decorating your own house, which only a select few individuals… if anybody at all… will ever see.  Arrange your furniture in a swastika or penis shape and nobody will likely know or care.

I put League of Legends down the line towards Club Penguin because, despite its reputation, it seems to me that your freedom of action is pretty limited, and saying bad words in either game will get you banned eventually.

I put EVE Online in the middle, trending a bit towards the pure sandbox end of things.  The thing is, for all of its sandbox reputation, it really isn’t all as much of a sandbox as you might think.  The game is quite constrained by its mechanics.  What gives it the air of sandbox is more about the lack of central narrative… there is so little “game” in the game… the range of potential career paths, and the tolerance by CCP for what one might consider griefing in another game.  A sandbox attitude in a universe constrained by some occasionally strange mechanics.

I compare this to Wurm Online, about which I only know by what Stargrace has written.  She had a number of tales of people clear cutting her trees or stealing her livestock, or making pests of themselves, or just general drama.  That all sounded much more sandbox-like and much more grief prone… at least relative to the rules of the respective games… than EVE.

At the sandbox end of my little list I put Second Life.  This is the bugbear, the thing that should scare you about sandbox freedom, as things sometimes end up looking like this.

Second Soviet Life

Second Soviet Life

I actually find that picture amusing.  But then, I don’t have to look at it every day.

That picture is from a tale of an ongoing attempt to grief a player in Second Life, which including buying up adjacent properties and filling them with things meant to annoy the player.  The tale of that is over at Broken Toys, from where I swiped the screen shot.  So there is that, flying penises, and… well… you have to visit the place to see the range of things.  Griefing… like porn… isn’t everywhere in Second Life, but it can be brought to a level of art that would surprise you.

Just down the line from Second Life I put Landmark.  Again, my own gut call, and you can argue where it really belongs on the line.  But given the sandbox claims and Rowan’s sign, I have to think that it is far closer Second Life than any traditional MMO.

And while I do not think SOE is going to allow anywhere close to the amount of freedom to do… whatever… that Second Life has allowed, there is going to be a line somewhere.  The sign that says “Free Donuts” might be okay, but what if it gets changed to “Free Penises?”  What if Rowan builds a tower that happens to look like a penis?  What if he reconstructs St. Basil’s Cathedral, only with the onion-shaped domes looking suspiciously penis-like?  What is with Rowan and his obsession with phallic imagery?  (Do I need to say “just kidding” here?  I will, just in case.)

What happens when we get this?

Happy FarmVille Memories

Happy FarmVille Memories

At some point SOE is going to draw a line, and then there will be a group of people who will push right up to that line and dare SOE to do something about it.  And people will complain about those within the letter but perhaps not the spirit of the rules and there will be arguments and rage and rule lawyering and all the fun stuff we expect from online games, only magnified by the freedom allowed by Landmark.  Is it any wonder that SOE canned that other sandbox title before launch?  They were not ready for it then and I am not sure they are ready for it now.

Sure, SOE might believe they can police the internet.  But will they be able to handle the conflicting visions and personalities that will eventually flock to Landmark?  Has SOE articulated a plan for this?  Is my vision too dire, or not dire enough?  And how much enforcement can they impose and still keep things happy and sandboxy?

Anyway, I’m still waiting for EverQuest Next, which may or may not be as sandbox-ish in nature, but about which SOE has been very quiet.

Quote of the Day – For Specific Definitions of “Next” January 22, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next, Quote of the Day, Sony Online Entertainment.
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EverQuest Next — which is a totally different beast — has no current timetable. It could release in 2015 or 2025 for all we know right now.

Massively, Leaderboard: EQN vs. EQN Landmark

Therein lies the rub.

Last August, when SOE Live was done, I was quite excited about EverQuest Next.  It was the big announcement out of the event.  I wrote ~2,500 words about EQN, less than 100 of which were about Landmark, which was a Minecraft-esque tool set pseudo-game that I did not quite understand.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

The EverQuest Next Vision

I did not really care about Landmark.  I wanted the core game that was described at SOE Live.  The one that was… well… a freakin’ EverQuest MMORPG, with emergent AI and a new class system and all the things they presented.

I worried that, after the huge splash the EQN announcement made at SOE Live, that SOE would follow past patterns and let the excitement die off through neglect.

And, I guess if I am speaking strictly of of EQN, my worries were well founded.  EQN has been relegated to a series of banal survey questions that the same few people debate on their forums.  Such is the Round Table.  It apparently only seats about a dozen.

However, if we just follow from SOE Live, then excitement has been maintained to a certain extent… only occasionally interrupted by the usual SOE foibles… if we include Landmark in the picture.  Since SOE Live, Landmark has grown to take up almost the whole of the SOE marketing and community interaction effort.  At this point somebody stumbling onto the scene might justifiably conclude that EQN is just shorthand for EverQuest Next Landmark.

So I am… well… “frustrated” or “annoyed” are too strong… bemused, I guess, that SOE led with EQN at SOE Live, talking that up a great deal, only to let it fall by the wayside while all focus was devoted to Landmark, which looked like an adjunct product at the time of the announcement.

Yes, I understand that SOE ought to focus their marketing on the project shipping soonest… these days we ship at alpha and charge people for the privileged… and that there is an audience for Landmark… but dammit, they talked about this other thing I wanted and now barely acknowledge its existence.  Validate my selfish needs, damn you!

I guess I just fear another outcome like The Agency.