Watching Dune Part One

The big day came this past weekend; the new Dune movie arrived.  I was going to put off posting this until next weekend, but I finished up the post and the topic seems timely, so here we go with a Monday movie post.

That brief moment when they tell you it is a two part series

I am also going to put a mild spoiler warning here.  I discuss plot points of the story.  If you’ve read the book or seen the previous movie or mini-series, these plot points are well known to you already.  If you haven’t, well, they’ll probably be more confusing than spoiler-ish.  But if you want to go into the film clean, don’t read any reviews, including this one.

My wife and I had been talking about seeing Dune in the theater and then I saw that it was also going to be available to watch on HBO Max for the first month of its release… the hedging against small pandemic audiences continues… so we decided to sit on the couch and watch it instead.

I regret not seeing it in the theater on a really big screen a bit… but not enough to actually go out and do so.  It is quite beautifully shot and there were points my wife and I both said something like, “I bet that would have been spectacular in the theater,” but that is the way it goes.

I am also going to make a minor fuss up front here about this being “Part One,” but only because the studio seems to have gone out of their way to hide that fact.

None of the movie posters, ads, or other marketing I have seen says that this is only the first half of the book.  Even on HBO Max it just says Dune.  This seems to me like a particularly pointless, and even counter productive, act.

People are going to find out.  I knew about it before we saw the film from people complaining that the studio seemed to be hiding the fact.  Turning the book into two films certainly didn’t bother me, and it is not something without precedent in Hollywood.  People remember Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Hunger Games: Mockingjay were both two parters and neither seemed to suffer in the box office… though admittedly both were the final chapters in already established successful series on the big screen.

So I am at a bit of a loss about the studio trying to hide this fact.  Even in the opening credits, the title of the movie only appears for about five seconds, and only in the last two seconds of that appearance does it say “Part One.”  That is enough to miss it, which actually happened to my wife while we were watching, though that is one of the hazards of watching at home where there are many more distractions.

Having hidden the whole “Part One” thing, what are they planning to call the next movie, Also Dune? More Dune? Dune Dune? Or will they go full George Lucas and call it Dune Episode IX – The Fremen Ascendant?
Anyway, that was more words expended than the issue required, though there is more to consider on this front, which I will get to in a bit.

The film itself is very good, certainly relative to its 1984 sibling, about which I wrote last week.

The whole tale still needs a lot of explaining to get the audience on board as to what is actually happening, but it is done in a much more organic way.  Gone is the almost non-stop intonations and articulated thoughts of the main characters of the earlier outing as the script/director strive to show the situation through a series of less structured encounters.

People are still spilling forth more information than they might otherwise, but it doesn’t begin to approach the “Ben Stein lectures on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act” presentation to the audience that even the book spins perilously close to at times.  My wife said aloud at several points early on that the story was being presented in a much better fashion.

The film also dispenses with the Princess Irulan historical narration, which is in both previous adaptations and the book.  This version is firmly set in the here and now.  Or the “then” I guess, since this is ten thousand years in the future.

Things are not quite as grandiose in this telling either.  It is beautifully filmed and looks excellent on screen, but it is also more like to real life.  Things are dirtier or grittier or less well lit.  Uniforms are not as gaudy, ceremonies are more subdued, and House Harkonnen isn’t so obviously the bad guys.

I mean, they are still clearly the antagonists, but not quite in the almost comic book fashion of the 1984 film, where they were comparable to Batman villains.  Their evil is more banal, their greed more ordinary, their machinations less fraught, their maniacal laughter much more subdued.  The Baron is still weird and icky, but at least we aren’t spending a lot of time focused on his acne issues..

We also get a much closer look at the Emperor’s Sardaukar troops, establishing their loyalty and fanaticism.  The Emperor himself though, he gives the whole thing a miss, and we see only his herald delivering the news about Arakkis is being transferred to House Atreides.

The whole house swap plan still seems like a mildly ludicrous way to deal with whatever problem the Emperor is trying to solve… a problem that is not really explained at all… but the film does at least spend some time demonstrating how House Harkonnen screwed over House Atreides on the deal more fully than I seem to recall even the book doing.  House Atreides is clearly being set up for failure, and that is the part of the plan that is important in the moment.

The film spends its first 90 minutes with foundational material and setting up the coming conflict before House Harkonnen finally attacks to retake Arakkis with support from the Emperor’s Sardaukar.  There is the betrayal, the battle, the escape, the Baron, and all the bits and pieces you may recall from book, movie, or mini-series past.

The battle and aftermath gets things close to the two hour mark, after which we spend about 40 minutes with Paul and his mother traipsing about the desert, finding the Fremen and getting accepted by them which, while an important aspect of the story, is kind of a slow roll even when compared to the early exposition laden portions of the film.  And then the end credits show up and we’re done.  That was a bit of a surprise to my wife who, as I mentioned above, missed the two seconds flash of “Part One” in the opening.

Overall a strong outing, well written and performed, with a Hans Zimmer score that seems to live and breath with the film.  I enjoyed it.  Go see it in the theater if you can, if Dune and theaters are both your thing.

They trimmed back the cast of characters, no doubt to keep the focus of the story getting too diluted/confused.  So the Emperor and his plans are left out, along with the Spacing Guild and Baron Harkonnen’s other nephew, played by Sting back in 1984.  But Dave Bautista has chops enough to fill out all the nephew needs of this film.  Even the Bene Gesserit feels like it has been left behind after the Reverend Mother plays “What’s in the box?” with Paul early on.

But there is time for all of those who went missing in Part One to make their appearance in the second film, which will necessarily revolve around Paul rising to lead the Fremen and the reactions of House Harkonnen, the Emperor, the Spacing Guild, and the Bene Gesserit to the Fremen insurrection and the disruption of the spice trade.

That is, if we get a second film.

Part of the reason the studio might have been shy about the whole “Part One” things is that, as of this writing, the second film hasn’t yet been officially sanctioned.  There is a lot of vagueness about the future of the series at the moment, which I imagine mostly rests on how well Dune Part One does at the box office.

Given that the film barely cracked $40 million mark in the US on its opening weekend, which is good but not great, there does seem to be reason for doubt. (For comparison, Venom did $90 million, Shang-li did $75 million, No Time to Die did $55 million, and even Halloween Kills managed $49 million, all during the last two months.)  I am sure HBO kicked in a pile of cash to be able to show it on their service, but was it enough to make up for how many people they kept from going to see it in the theater.

I know at this point somebody is at least thinking “foreign box office!”  I would like to remind anybody going down that path exactly how many Warcraft sequels we got when it did so well overseas:  Zero.  Zero sequels.

So we shall have to wait and see and hope.  I want the next film.  My worry is that the current one won’t make the cut financially to warrant it.

This is also a reminder to those of us in the nerd faction about the popularity of the Dune IP.  I keep seeing people ranking the Dune series in importance culturally with Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.  That might just be for our demographic.

Meanwhile, even if the sequel does get the green light to go forward, we’re probably 2-3 years away from a release.  Maybe more.  That will give people time enough to go read… or re-read… the entire Dune saga.

Honest Game Trailers does Diablo II Resurrected

By about the 30 second mark of this video I felt very seen.

 

I mean, I don’t play with random people online and I haven’t had much problem with the servers being offline… I play on BNet, but being in Pacific time zone has been good to me… but I am definitely ignoring a lot of newer and arguably better games to play something that’s mechanics are past the 20 year mark.

Also, I am pretty sure I have paid for Diablo II at least three times.  I kept a copy at work and another at home back in the day.  And, frankly, I am kind of interested in how it plays on console.  Is the Switch Lite screen too small for that to be a realistic option?

And while I am somewhat numb already to the sheer quantity of loot that drops, I do get kind of a surge when I get something like this out of the blue.

Just a chest in a building, maybe I should skip it…

That was in Act I on Normal mode.  The RNG hates me most days, then suddenly goes soft and throws me four rares out of left field that I will probably end up wearing through Act V because nothing else good will drop for the next month.

Anyway, there will probably be more posts about Diablo II Resurrected here because I post about what I play.

Watching Dune 1984

The new Dune movie landed this weekend and my wife and I are both considering seeing it in the theater.  We’re not James Bond worked up about it, like we were for No Time to Die, but going to the theater was still in contention.

Dune from another era

And, of course, we decided we might like to do a bit of build-up for it, so we decided to watch the first attempt at a Dune movie, the David Lynch film from 1984, which we happened to have on DVD right there on our shelf in the family room.

Two things right off the bat.

First, I have/had very strong positive memories of that version of Dune.  It had actors I liked, an extremely strong visual style, and I had read the book not too soon before it came out… though later, in digging through my memories, I might have read the book after it came out.  It is kind of a blur.

Second, I am not sure if I have watched the movie since I saw it in the theater when it came out.  Yes, we have the DVD, but who among us hasn’t bought a DVD then never watched it.  I know I considered it back when the SciFi channel, now SyFy, made their own mini-series… which I also only vaguely remember and which wasn’t available anywhere to watch or we might have given it a go as well… but I think I bought the DVD from the CompUSA that used to be down the street from us when they were fail cascading, whenever that was.  They went hard into DVDs one month, then were getting rid of them the next.

So, with that I booted up the PlayStation 3 once more, inserted the DVD, and off we went.

And… wow, that movie is a mess.

I mean, it is still visually stunning, and my having seen it in the theater back when it was new meant that those visuals left a lasting impression on me.  It was, and remains, unique in that regard.

Also the fact that I had not read the book before I saw the movie, something I am prone to at times, no doubt helped me some.  It is often easier to let the visuals wash over you as the dialog tries to keep up and not have to worry about whether or not it is actually getting the story right.  The movie version of a book is a work that has to stand on its own, should stand on its own, and while you can compare the translation from one medium to another and debate as to whether or not the essence of the story was captured, they will always different experiences.

Still, I am a bit surprised how positive my impression of the movie was going into this view was.   Sure, the visuals had a lasting impression and there is the whole passage of time to account for.

It suffers from what many movie adaptations stumble over, which is the need to condense a 400+ page science fiction novel… and one that eschews many of the easy tropes of the genre… into a movie experience that needs to be well under three hours from coming attractions to the end of the credits.

In order to catch viewers up the first hour of the movie is filled with exposition.  And when characters aren’t just filling us in by telling somebody else something they likely already knew in more detail than would be required in a conversation between anybody besides complete strangers, we’re hearing their thoughts, once again running through details that probably wouldn’t bear consideration if they were really part of the universe in which they are projected.  It would be rather like a fish being constantly concerned about the fact that it lives in water and going over all the details of that existence for the first 20 minutes or so of Finding Nemo.

Though, to be fair, the book does the same damn thing.  You can pick up a copy and find that the film grabbed the internal monologues almost verbatim from what Frank Herbert wrote.  The movie even tries to play the whole thing as being a history to explain the fact that it isn’t being seen through any one person’s eyes, once again, as the book does, though it doesn’t give you a lot to hang onto in that regard.  (I was ruined by a high school lit teacher and now my brain demands to know who is telling any story, whose perspective I am viewing, something that the entire Dune series, and the Brian Herbert prequels especially, are not very concerned with.)

Anyway, once you get past the “tell the story by voice overs of people’s thoughts” section of the movie… which I am sure I didn’t mind back in 1984 because I didn’t mind them in the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner either… the film hits one of the other problems of the translation to another media, the fact that it has spent a huge chunk of its run time setting up the story such that it doesn’t have a lot to waste on the middle of the tale and the build up for the finale.  And so we enter the “greatest hits” potion of the show, which even includes a montage of scenes meant to convey the rise of the Fremen under the leadership of Paul and how they are disrupting the flow of the spice.  You could splice in film clips of the French resistance or Russian partisans and they would fit.

And then everything comes to a head and everybody is on Arrakis including the emperor, who we at one point see sitting at a four seat periscope viewer device that I swear was a left over prop from the 1966 Batman film, spiffed up a bit and spray painted gold, and there is a little girl with a strange voice who later is Zelda in Orange is the New Black, and Kyle MacLachlan fights Sting, and then the emperor’s daughter is telling us about what happened and we’re in the credits and the whole thing is over.

A bit of a wild ride, though in hindsight I think my biggest problem with the whole thing was the plan from the book itself.  Was putting House Atreides on Arrakis to replace House Harkonnen only to have the Harkonnen’s come back almost immediately really the best plan they could come up with?  Seems a bit dodgy.

Overall, it is very much a piece of its time.  It is stylistically unique in a David Lynch sort of way… Patrick Stewart charging into battle shouting and carrying a pug cradled in his arm springs to mind… with a very talented cast tasked to carry too much story in too little time.  Our DVD is the original theatrical release, though there are other cuts available, some of which have David Lynch’s name removed as director by his request.  I am not sure the different cuts make a difference.  I doubt this is like Brazil, where the studio cut has a dramatically different ending from the Terry Gilliam cut.

I am a bit torn as to whether it is better to watch the movie having read the book and have it not translate into what your mind’s eye pictured, or whether it is best to go in blind and let its bizarre nature overwhelm.

Basically, it probably isn’t as bad as you’ve been told nor as good as you might remember.

And with that groundwork in place we’re keen to the new Dune.  I am already aware, in part through the wailing I have seen online, that it is a two part series and that  we’re only getting the first part now.  The marketing has been very low key on that, which reminds me a bit of the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings animated film that hit theaters back in 1978, which omitted the fact that it was only part of the story. (Excellent review of that fiasco here.)  If you’re not up front about the fact that people are not getting the full story they will be angry.

Be more like Mel Brooks with History of the World: Part I.  You can then get to the second part whenever.

Addendum: There are a bunch of re-reviews of this version of Dune out there, but my wife just pointed me to this one over at Ars Technica that might be the best ever.

The EverQuest Expansion Machine and the Future of WoW

I was a bit surprised to see a post over at Blizzard Watch which, as the name implies, is mostly about Blizzard and their games, musing about the fact that EverQuest was warming up to launch its 28th expansion, Terror of Luclin.

The Terror of Luclin approaches

And it is a nice smooth read, not too deep in insight, but respectful of what the EverQuest team has managed to pull off over the 22 years the game has been around and how it continues to put out annual expansions.

Of course, it isn’t all that surprising that they are expanding on the topics they cover.  Blizzard is both a mess, wracked by its own internal issues and a government investigation, and doesn’t really have much new on the horizon.  Since the launch of Burning Crusade Classic in May and Diablo II Resurrected in September, there hasn’t been much to write about.  You can can’t go on forever on the stagnation of the Shadowlands expansion for WoW or some tidbits about Diablo IV.

It says something that the big news out of Blizzard this year… erm… the big product related news that is… has been about remakes of a 20 year old title and a 14 year old expansion.

You can see why somebody at Blizzard Watch might glance over longingly at the Daybreak stable of games and wonder what it might be like to write about some titles that are actually planning to ship some new content.  LOTRO, EQ, EQII, DCUO, they all have new things on their plate this year.  And EverQuest is the king of that pack with its 28th expansion landing later this year.

I’ve been hard on SOE and Daybreak in the past, and justifiably so for some of their missteps, but I always given them credit for their ability to package up an expansion annually for both Norrath franchises.

They may not be as grandiose as they once were… the Visions of Vetrovia has four zones (not far off from how many as a recent WoW expansion generally has, delivered in half the time) while the Gates of Discord, the EQ expansion on which that content is being based, introduced 18 zones into old Norrath… but they still deliver expansions annually, with a major mid-year update as well.

And they wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t making money and keeping people subscribed.  I joke about expansions for the two titles being a bit of a commodity, with a requisite number of zones, dungeons, raids, collections, house items, pets, AA levels, and whatever else bundled up in those annual releases.

But the Norrath team is a content machine, able to turn out those expansions year after year while not having anything close to the resources that a title like World of Warcraft has available.

And the Norrath teams also launches special servers every year too.

Which does make one wonder what is really going on at Blizzard.

Yes, they have a different culture and a different view on how their IP ought to be presented and probably look down their noses a bit at how much the Norrath team reuses locations and how chaotic or easy to ignore a lot of their lore can be… I mean, I played through Blood of Luclin two years back and couldn’t really tell you much about it now beyond the fact that it was on the moon of Luclin and it looked pretty good… and how often a new expansion just leaves the old one behind without much in the way of transition, but there has been a whole additional expansion since I played Blood of Luclin and another one is arriving soon.

Blizzard has always prided itself on quality and polish and getting this just right, while SOE and Daybreak have had a much less intimate relationship with those qualities at times.  And the success of WoW enabled them to live on that reputation and the huge user base it built early on in the history of the game, even when they were annoying their base or letting the game drift without news or updates for months at a time during their two year expansion cycle.

Now, however, with content droughts becoming the norm for WoW, I have to wonder if they couldn’t learn a lesson or two from the Norrath team at Daybreak about content pacing and what they ought to be able to deliver.

After two lackluster expansions in a row and a the whole hostile work environment fiasco that broke loose earlier this year, it might be time for the WoW team to think hard about what they really need to do to keep their user base engaged and happy.

It has been more than three years since we saw the end of Legion, the last strong WoW expansion, and it will be at least another year until Blizzard can deliver a new one.  A two year expansion cycle feels like a long time when you get a lemon that doesn’t keep you invested.

I may not like all the Norrath expansions, but I will tell you true that knowing another one will land come the holidays takes some sting out of that.  I am not sure that the WoW team can managed that.  For all the pain of being understaffed, a small team can also be a more nimble team.  Too many cooks can slow things down.  But it feels like Blizzard needs to do something to get themselves and their WoW fan base on board and invested and looking forward to something new.

Seven Years of Reavers

Another year has flown past, so fast that I missed the actual anniversary date, which is October 15th.  But I am still in the right month.

Reavers forum bee

I have done a series of anniversary posts about the SIG, noting what we have been up to each year.  Those past posts:

Seven years is not an exceptionally long period of time in a game that is rounding the corner and headed towards its nineteenth anniversary.  There are corporations and alliances that have lasted nearly as long.  Goonswarm Federation, the CONDI version, is past the eleven year mark, and is predecessors go back to 2005.

SIG and squads though, they can be more transitory.  They are groups that do not exist strictly within the framework of the game.  EVE Online doesn’t know my various affiliations in that regard.

Some are almost stolid or venerable.  CapSwarm or GSOL or Corps Diplomatique are part of the framework of the organization, legs of the stool that keep Fat Bee from sprawling on the floor.

Others are more mercurial.  Some rise up due to a specific situation, then fade when the crisis has passed.  Others rise and fall only to return again later.  Some rise and fall with amazing rapidity.  I think there was a point where Bomberwaffe was getting purged and reformed every few moths.

The key for these groups seems to be the leadership and a core group of players who have bought in on the mission.  Black Ops and MiniLuv seem very consistent.  Liberty Squad fell when its leadership went off on a different adventure.  Bomberwaffer was mercurial because DBRB was running it, and mercurial is his middle name.

And in all that Reavers abide.

We are not as active as we once were.  There were a lot of ops on that first year summary as we deployed behind enemy lines.  This last year has been less active… at least as a group.

There was, after all, a giant war going on for most of the past 12 months where most of the rest of null sec grouped up and attacked us.  There was plenty to do on the home front, and with Asher being the Imperium sky marshal he couldn’t necessarily take us all off once more into hostile space for weeks at a time.

But still, we did some things.  We robbed some space banks when that became a thing.  We setup out in Catch and ran some ops with The Initiative to help put pressure on Brave and other Legacy alliances.  Eventually they abandoned the region and tried to live in our space.  But at the time Progodlegend accused Asher of abandoning the war.

Asher’s traveling trouble in Catch at Christmas

Of course, in the end, we know who really abandoned the war, undercutting his allies by starting to unachor structures even as they were making one last assault on 1DQ1-A.

A bunch of new groups formed up in the Imperium during the war, and some old ones revived. I joined a couple, flew with some more when they called for backup, but Reavers remains my home group.  Even when we aren’t officially doing something, it is a place where Asher can find some people to pick up a task that needs to be done.

I ended up in a Damnation boosting for one of the super fleets during the first battle of M2-XFE because Asher put out the call for help in our channel.

My Damnation in the the thick of our supers

I could have just stayed in a Rokh and gotten on a dozen more hostile titan kills, but sometimes you go where you are needed.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon to see names I recognize from Reavers now further up in the ranks of the coalition, punishment for showing competence in the face of need.

And our Mumble channel remains active.  I mentioned the anniversary earlier in the week, linking one of our early super kills, and there were people online who were there and remembered those early ops.

Since the end of the war things have been quiet.  I haven’t logged into EVE Online much at all over the weeks since then.  I think a lot of people are tired, and there is rebuilding to be done and ISK to be earned to build up reserves for the next war.

But eventually something will come up.  Some of our groups are already out in hostile space shooting our recent foes.  We may ride again when the time is right.

Our favorite ship and SKIN

The early days of Reavers, when we were out blowing up hostile titans in build and the Imperium was denying our existence (there is Progodlegend again) represent some good memories in New Eden.

An explosion from 2014

We will have to wait and see where we end up next.

The Diablo II Group Finds Andariel

The group got together again on Saturday afternoon.  Having previously rescued Deckard Cain, we were ready to press on into the back half of Act I.

The rest of Act I involves pressing forward through the darkness, though it is sometimes darker and sometimes lighter.  There is some sort of day/night cycle going on in the game that I never really noticed when I was playing it back in the day. High resolution betrays many details, like all the potions stored in Akara’s tent in the rogue encampment.

Can I just swipe one while she isn’t looking?

We were also becoming a small army as we swarmed across the countryside.  Kevin’s skeletons, Ulfar’s hounds, and everybody with a rogue archer tagging along.  As I said previously, one of the game’s repeated “gotcha” attempts is to suddenly come at you with a half a dozen mobs out of the dark.  But when there are 16 of you in the group, the attacker’s numbers don’t carry that much weight.  Even the carver camps, with a couple dozen little demons running around and their shaman ressing them up, fell pretty easily to us, though I always run in and knock down the shaman as soon as I can.

The game is supposed to dial up the difficulty with each player, but we seemed to be enough to overwhelm it.  I thought maybe we might face a bit of difficulty in the Black Marsh facing the Countess down in basement of the dark tower.  That is one of the first big fights where things can really get our of hand if you’re not careful.  Instead we found her and burned her down pretty quickly, clearing out the whole bottom floor.

The Countess now counts for less

I also kind of have to slow my own roll a bit.  The group game is different from solo, and I have mostly played solo when I have played over the last 18 years or so.  That has ingrained a few habits, like a tendency to run all over creation when looking for things and a discerning eye for what things I care to pick up.  Diablo games are all about the drops, but it rains so much stuff so often that have developed a sense of what vendor well, what is for my class, and what I need to hoard for later… the latter being gems, jewels, charms and runes.  And gold.  Always gold, which the game nicely auto-splits among your party.  My ability to savor the loot pile has atrophied over the years and now we have a group, and for some of us this is a fresh experience, so I have to remember to stop and identify the magic items.

And keeping track of each other was getting to be a bit of a chore.  As we made our way into the monastery and down into the jail levels, it became a bit too easy for everybody to run off in a different direction.  Fortunately, some digging through the options… which I hadn’t even considered because I guess I have just been playing default settings and solo for all these years… found the setting that shows everybody else on the map.

Everybody on the map… look at all of us

They also have different map placement options, including upper corner mini-map, though I stayed with the traditional overlay.

We made our way through the jail levels below the monastery, picking up the waypoint as we went.  I tend to obsess a bit about finding the waypoints.

Our army secures another waypoint

Then it was up to the inner cloister… another waypoint… and into the catacombs.  We seemed to be making good time, though we also seemed to be getting map layouts that put the entrances and exits close together.

We made our way down and I prematurely announced we were close when we hit level 3, only to be reminded that there were four levels.  And once we were on the fourth level I announced Andariel was behind the first door and then remembered there was actually a second door.  But we found her eventually and had a short sharp fight.

Solo she can be a bit of a chore and I habitually leave a town portal up by the stairs out in order to escape back to town.  He poison can bring you down and she hits hard, but with four of us… and all the hired help, she did not last long.

Andariel goes up in flames

I later looked her up and she is especially susceptible to fire, which Ulfar was dropping in great quantities during the fight, so that probably helped speed things along.

Once we cleaned up the few remaining mobs it was time to go through the loot pile and haul back likely items.

Then it was back to town to sort things out, get the congratulations of everybody in the rogue encampment, and finally to speak to Warriv to travel to Act II.

The caravan is ready

I also found a setting in the game options to make all the text larger.  That helps with my aging eyesight and the high resolution monitor.  We made the trip to Lut Gholein.

Town in the desert

We were all level 15 and ready for adventures in a new environment.

EverQuest II Visions of Vetrovia Expansion Available for Pre-Order

This years expansion for EverQuest II, Visions of Vetrovia, is now available for pre-order.  That means we also get some more information about what to expect from the game’s 18th full expansion.

What will we see in Vetrovia?

We got a bit of a tease about a month back when the pre-expansion events started and indicated that the new adventures would involve setting sail for new lands across the Shattered Sea on Norrath.  Speculation as to what it meant… I mean, they gave me a nice pirate hat for doing a few quests… was all over the place.  Now we get a few more details.  The new update gives us the following lead:

Inspired by mystical visions, a crew of explorers—sailing the uncharted waters beyond the Shattered Seas—has found an isolated continent plagued by dark curses and discordant energies. Ruins of an ancient civilization are scattered across the landscape, while the imposing silhouette of an opulent castle rises from the highest point of the land for all to see. Whispers can be heard in the native villages found along Vetrovia’s coast of its supernatural master and the horrors it contains. But are any of them true?

So perhaps it won’t be pirates after all… or much of a nautical adventure beyond sailing to a new land.  But it looks like dinosaurs might be on the menu.

The big news is that we’re up for another increase in the level cap, bringing the number up to 125.

There are new quests, new instances, new raids, new trade skills, new collections, and four new zones being added with the expansion.

  • Svarni Expanse
    • Located along the western shore of Vetrovia, lies what is known as the Svarni Expanse. The Svarni Gateway was once known as “Natimbi, The Broken Shores”, by the indigenous population.
  • Karuupa Jungle
    • Encompassing the entire southern half of the continent of Vetrovia is Karuupa Jungle. Much of the floor is covered by dense and twisting vegetation, making travel by foot a challenge, and particularly dangerous.
  • Mahngavi Wastes
    • Mahngavi Wastes encompasses the majority of the north-eastern most section of Vetrovia. This section of Vetrovia was the hardest hit during the Shattering and Rending, sending large sections of the landscape tumbling into the sea.
  • Forlorn Gist
    • The mysterious village that lies at the center of Vetrovia was once the location of a great city known as Qinimi, but nothing of the original structures remain, nor the structures built in their place by the invaders, known as the Muramite. No, what stands here now is a village without mercy, charity, or trust.

As with its EverQuest sibling, there are the usual four packages available if you wish to purchase the expansion.

Standard Edition – $34.99

  • Character Level 120 Boost

Collector’s Edition – $69.99

  • Everything from the Standard Edition
  • Legendary Mount: Artox, the Phantom Steed (for every character)
  • Legendary Mercenary: Villax Sneed (for every character)
  • Legendary Familiar: Svarni Painted Stork (for every character)
  • Prestige Home: Vacrul Castle (for every character)
  • Furniture Recipe: Vacrul (for every character)
  • Svarni Expanse Teleporter (for every character)
  • Visions of Vetrovia Painting (for every character)
  • Akashic Familiar Training Potion
  • Visions of Vetovia Weekly Overseer Adventure

Premium Edition – $139.99

  • Everything from the Collector’s Edition
  • Celestial Mount: Abzhu, the Evader (for every character)
  • Celestial Mercenary: Dakshesh, the Displaced (for every character)
  • Celestial Familiar: Floraform Gorilla (for every character)
  • Akashic Familiar Training Potion
  • Akashic Scroll Case

Family & Friends Edition – $249.99

  • Everything from the Premium Edition
  • Tradeable Standard Expansion
  • Tradeable Character Level 120 Boost
  • Tradeable Character Slot
  • Tradeable EXP/Vitality Potion
  • Tradeable Legendary Mount: Artox, the Phantom Steed
  • Tradeable Legendary Mercenary: Villax Sneed
  • Tradeable Legendary Familiar: Svarni Painted Stork
  • Tradeable Tradeskill Level 120 Boost
  • Akashic Familiar Training Potion x 2
  • Akashic Scroll Case x 2

In addition, for pre-ordering you get a feathered stalker pet and access to beta.

The base edition seems like a reasonable deal for more content, and if you’re behind there is even a level 120 boost to get you into the new stuff.  EverQuest II is the most scrupulous game I have seen when it comes to making sure you’re ready for the current expansion.  There is usually a chest of gear first thing upon arriving in the new content, just to make sure you’re geared up and ready to go.

The other editions… well, you have to decide what is worth the money to you.  I always love the painting of the expansion box art that you can hang in your house, but perhaps not for double the price of the base expansion.

I will say though, that all the tradable items in the Friends & Family edition makes it more attractive than its EverQuest counterpart.

The expansion is on its way.  Expect more warm up events to come along.

Related:

The Summon the Swarm Update brings CRABs and Tax Changes to EVE Online

The previously announced capital ship ratting enhancement has finally arrived in New Eden.  With the Summon the Swarm update the CONCORD Rogue Analysis Beacons (CRAB) can now be built and deployed in the game. (“Crab” is the in-game vernacular for somebody who rats or mines or otherwise focuses on gaining wealth, with “crabbing” being the verb, though it is often rendered as “Krab” because the term came from our Russian friends in New Eden.)

Calling all CRABs

According to the patch notes these new deployables, which can only be activated from capital ships, have four phases of operation:

  • 1 – Deployment
    • Anchoring III required to deploy, with restrictions in deployment locations.
    • Limited to Null and Low Security space.
    • Activation delay: 20 seconds
    • Maximum lifetime: 1 hour
    • Shield / Armor / Structure: 50,000 HP / 50,000 HP / 50,000 HP
  • 2 -Linking
    • Once deployed, it will be globally visible via the Overview for anyone to warp to.
    • After its initial Activation phase, it can then be Linked to by pilots in the following ships: Carrier, Dreadnought, Supercarrier, Titan.
    • For the ship that begins the linking phase, it will be locked in place in space for a duration of four minutes.
    • While linking, the following will be in effect: Tether Blocked (Debuff), Cloaking Disrupted (Debuff), Warp Drive Disabled (Debuff), Resistance Bonus of 10% (Buff to all resistance profiles, Shield/Armor/Structure).
    • After linking the above four statuses will clear after a duration of 60 seconds.
  • 3 – Scanning

    • After Linking, the CRAB will begin to broadcast a signal in the solar system that will attract the attention of Rogue Drone NPCs.
    • When Rogue Drones are in proximity of the CRAB, they will block the scanning progress and attack hostile threats in proximity to the CRAB.
    • The Rogue Drones must be destroyed to clear the perimeter so that the CRAB can continue its Scanning.
    • After 10 minutes of uninterrupted scanning, the CRAB will complete its analysis of the Rogue Drones and will have salvaged enough technology to reward players with new Mutaplasmids.
  • 4 – Reward

    • After successful scanning, the CRAB will have mutaplasmids from Rogue Drones inside of its cargohold .
    • For two minutes after scanning, the ship that initiated the CRAB during its linking phase will have exclusive access to the cargo hold of the CRAB.
    • After these two minutes pass, the CRAB will self-destruct with the generated mutaplasmids always safely being found in the wreckage (it will be a 100% chance to drop its contents when it self-destructs).

In order to keep these new modules under control so they don’t get run constantly and lead to some sort of economic overload, CCP has added the following items to limit their use.

  • Solar systems have a new property, “Signal Interference”.
    • Using the new CONCORD Rogue Analysis Beacon repeatedly in the same solar system will saturate a system with interference preventing the CRAB from being able to broadcast a signal that can be isolated. In practical terms, the CRAB will not be able to be linked to if interference is too high as the Rogue Drones cannot locate it.
    • Over time, Signal Interference will decay back down to a quiescent state. This state of decay is always ongoing and not attached to server downtime.
    • The time for a full recovery of a solar system with maximum signal interference is approximately 25 hours.
    • The User Interface has been updated to show Signal Interference in locations where appropriate.
  • Capsuleers now have a reserve of Complex Encryption Qubits (CEQs).
    • CEQs are used when initiating a link to the CONCORD Rogue Analysis Beacon.
    • Over time CEQs will regenerate back to their full reserve, and the regeneration is always ongoing and not attached to server downtime.
    • The time for a full regeneration of CEQs is approximately 22 hours.
    • As CEQs are only required by the CRAB, your current reserves will be visible in a tooltip on mouse-over of the CRAB in your inventory.

Blueprints for the new modules are now available from CONCORD and DED LP Stores.  A 5-Run BPC costs 20,000,000 ISK & 20,000 LP.

These rewards from CRABs include new Rogue Drone Mutaplasmid technology.  These ew Mutaplasmids come in four variations (Durability, Firepower, Navigation, Projection). Each variation will favor positively one attribute, with all other attributes having unknown results.

They also are sorted out by drone type, with heavy, medium, light, and sentry drone variations.  In addition, there are two wildcard modifiers, radical variations, for drones and fighters.

In order to use modified drones players will need to train up the new drone skill introduced with last week’s patch. CCP changed the skill name from ‘Rogue Drone Specialization’ to ‘Mutated Drone Specialization’ with this update.

CRABs are the headline for this patch, but there is another sizable change in the patch notes as well.  The three month tax holiday for NPC stations, which came in with The Grand Heist update back in July, has concluded.

The new base tax rates will be:

  • Sales Tax: 8%
  • Brokers Fee: 3%

The change to base, unmodified tax rates are now (holiday -> post holiday (pre-holiday):

  • Sales Tax: 2.5% -> 8.0% (Previously 5.0%)
  • Brokers Fee: 2.5% -> 3.0% (Previously 5.0%)
  • Total Taxes: 5.0% -> 11.0% (Previously 10.0%)

The minimum achievable tax rates for NPC stations, modified by skills, standings, etc, are now (holiday -> post holiday (pre-holiday):

  • Sales Tax: 1.125% -> 3.6% (Previously 2.25%)
  • Brokers Fee: 0.5% -> 1.0% (Previously 3.0%)
  • Total Taxes: 1.625% -> 4.6% (Previously 5.25%)

Buying things in NPC stations is now more expensive, and the shift to favoring Sales Tax over Broker’s fees means that player owned structures like the Tranquility Trading Tower in Perimeter will no longer be as attractive for sellers or lucrative for owners.

So those are the big changes with today’s update.  There are a few minor fixes… well, maybe not minor when it comes to the MacOS client… but nothing that changes game design.

Related:

Playing Diablo II Resurrected on Battle.net

Diablo II Resurrected has been my game of choice for a couple of weeks now for a few reasons, not the least of which was the server and queue issues that New World was having at its launch.

Seems a bit ironic now, doesn’t it?

We heard you liked queues

As I mentioned at the end of Friday’s post, Blizzard has a whole post up of their own about the problems they have been having and some of the fixes they have put in place, including that queue shown above.

I find the whole thing quite interesting, both because I am a bit impressed that 20 year old net code is holding up as well as it has, and because it is interesting to see how player behavior has changed over the two decades the game has been around.

The end game of Diablo II was always a grindy effort to get that perfect drop that you knew had to be out there.  The RNG is a cruel mistress in Diablo II.  My “almost done with nightmare” necromancer is still using some gear from Act II of normal mode because literally nothing better for my spec choice has deigned to drop.

But now, in 2021, the game is a solved problem, with guides to which specific mobs to farm for your item.  So people have been putting up BNet games, killing the mob, leaving them, and putting up a fresh one over and over in order to farm for items.  And, of course, that is rippling back on the servers and everybody else just the way it did in WoW when people were constantly resetting instances to farm a specific boss.

No new problems, just new circumstances.

Of course, this isn’t the first time BNet has had problems, and my gut reaction after having played Diablo and Diablo II at launch has been to simply avoid making BNet characters if at all possible.  A lot of the outrage about there being no local character mode for Diablo III wasn’t because we were all still keen to drag our computers over to a friend’s house for a LAN party, but because we’d all been there with online character before.

The Diablo III launch proved that point.

Then there is how quickly Blizz used to be in deleting your Diablo II BNet characters if you hadn’t logged on for a few months.

So the solution seemed to be to make offline characters.  They’re stored on your drive, the world is spun up and save locally, and you even get the same map for your ongoing local game.  One of the pissers about BNet games is that your exploration is always for naught once you leave your game.

And that was certainly my go-to when Diablo II Resurrected landed.  My first few characters were offline.

Then the group picked up the game and… well… there is no more LAN option, so if you want to play together you play on BNet.  So I started rolling up characters for non-group play on BNet as well, including my necromancer who has made it all the way through.  I might as well keep all of them together now that we have those three tabs of sweet shared storage… which I have totally filled up already.  I can’t bring myself to start tossing yellow and gold items until I am out of storage.  And I have been saving every rune, gem, or jewel as well.

Overall, playing on BNet hasn’t been much of a problem.  There are occasionally some network blips and we had a problem yesterday where I couldn’t join anybody’s game and they couldn’t join mine.  But I had been online and logged into BNet for a couple hours at that point playing one of my other characters, so the service seemed to have tucked me off in a corner on my own.  The issue was fixed by logging out and then back in again.

In the end, I have only see a queue twice so far.  The first time it was only a few people deep and I was connected in a couple of minutes.  That was Saturday when EU and US prime time was overlapping.  The second time, the 70 deep queue pictured above, was at 10:30pm Pacific time on Saturday night, which seemed a bit odd to me.  I guess people to the east of me were up late playing.  But Diablo and Diablo II were always games suitable to late night play.  Their atmosphere is enhanced by darkness and a late hour.

And even that queue was down to a single digit in the time it took me to go grab a drink and make myself an evening snack.

I don’t know what the policy is on character deletion there days though.  I hope they’re a little more lenient now that storage is a damn sight less expensive than it was 20 years ago.  The support site still says they’re purged if inactive for 90 days.  That was another reason to roll up a local character.  We’ll see how that plays out I guess.

No Time to Die First Take

We went to see No Time to Die this past Monday afternoon, which ought not to surprise anybody who read last week’s post about watching all the previous Daniel Craig Bond films.

This post contains spoilers.

I am going to put the title card in, then write a few more general paragraphs about the movie, then I will put a cut in and discuss spoilers below that.  Spoilers will not appear on the front page of the blog, but if you read this via RSS or came directly to the post then you are in danger of tainting yourself with them.

Again, spoiler warning.  You carry on from here at your own risk.

So, as noted, we saw the film on Monday at an afternoon matinee in a sizable theater with maybe a total of ten people on hand.  There is a reason we chose that time slot.  It was the first time we have been back to the theater since either Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker or Knives Out, both of which we saw during the holidays in 2019.

It has been a while.

And I will say that movie theater popcorn is every bit as good as I remember it.  It beats the crap out of home popped or microwave popcorn.  Really, they don’t even compare.  It was so good that I am sure it must somehow be destroying the environment or involve some sort of exploitation of labor.  Amazon probably runs the factory and the delivers services using entirely gig labor compensated as piece work with impossible to meet quotas.  But I savored it all the same.

James Bond, however, was a bit of a let down.

No Time to Die picks up where Spectre left off with James and Madeleine in Italy, together after having thwarted Blofeld.  They are in love and going to spend the rest of their lives together.  James says that they have “all the time in the world,” which I couldn’t help recalling is pretty much what George Lazenby said to Diana Rigg at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service right before Diana Rigg dies.

Foreshadow much Bond?

Maybe, or maybe not.  We’re not to the spoilers quite yet.  Anyway, it turns out SPECTRE the organization (as opposed to the movie) is still kind of pissed off and they come to get Bond and there is a car chase and guns and a guy loses his prosthetic eye and when they get clear there is the question of who sold out whom and the relationship is off.

Then we get the opening credits, which were a bland montage backed by a bland theme song.  Completely forgettable.  If you’re a Billie Eilish fan, I’m sorry, but it just wasn’t enough to carry the opening.

After the credits it is five years later, a sinister plot is afoot and Bond, who has been in retirement in Ian Flemming’s old digs in Jamaica, gets pulled into things despite the fact that he’s off the list and there is already another agent sitting at the desk labeled “007.”

Anyway, he goes in, there is action, betrayal, a major double cross, more action, lots of gun play, an escape, another double cross, then a big reveal about how all of this a black project that is now in the hands of the bads.  More Bond digging, plot discovered, bad guys one step ahead, big chase scene, Bond gets away.  Then finally the big set piece infiltration op, facing the bad guy, then the grand finale, roll credits, the Daniel Craig era is over.

And it was okay.  Mostly on formula.  It looked good on the big screen.  There are, as always, boxes that need to be checked.  Action was done in the Bond fashion.  But, as with Spectre, the whole didn’t really come together into something greater than the box-ticking parts.

Having seen all five in the space of a week, my wife and I hashed out our ranking of the Daniel Craig Bond films as:

  1. Skyfall
  2. Casino Royale
  3. Spectre
  4. No Time to Die
  5. Quantum of Solace

I might give QoS the benefit of the doubt and put it ahead of No Time to Die, maybe… as at least it wasn’t two hours and forty five minutes getting somewhere.  If you’re going to be mediocre, at least be brief about it.  But my wife insisted it be at the bottom, so I’ll leave it there.

The odd thing about that list is that the best film, at least in our ranking, is the one that doesn’t get all bogged down in the shadowy world of mysterious global criminal organizations that control most everything behind the scenes… though the SPECTRE organization roster seems a bit thin in No Time to Die for an organization that claims to have people everywhere.

Anyway, we are at the spoilers section.  You have been warned.

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