Burning Crusade Launch Load Test Round One

As I mentioned in the previous post, Blizzard was planning a server launch load test for Burning Crusade Classic to go along with the flood of beta invites they sent out.  The idea was to roll up a fresh server and get everybody to log in and try to get through the dark portal.

When the hour hit, 11:00 Pacific / 14:00 Eastern / 19:00 UTC, I logged in and picked the new server, it being the only one available, copied over my level 60 hunter again, and logged in.  I was back in Ironforge, where he sits in live WoW Classic, so had to fly on down to the Blasted Lands and the Dark Portal.

Landing there, I rode with a pack of others towards the portal.  The server was setup as a PvP server, so I was determined to ride on through the inevitable crowd at the portal looking to gank.  But when I hit the portal it was apparently out of order, so I ended up in the scrum forming around it.

Traffic control at the gate

Everything was very laggy at that point too.  It was a good ten count to get anything to respond.  And it was only when I was in the thick of that when I realized I had not set my spec, so I opened that up to try and pick… but like everything else, it was 20 clicks behind on anything you wanted to do.  Even dying was slow.  I saw I had zero health for about a minute before I actually got the notification asking if I wanted to release… and it took even longer for me to actually fall over and the screen to go to the dead gray.

Eventually I was back at the graveyard and running to the portal again with the other victims of the fight.

Corpse run time

I got back into my body and tried to rush the portal, but it wasn’t letting anybody pass, so it was just that run through to hit the wall routine.  Comedy gold, except for the fact that I died again.

Corpse pile at the portal

Then, as I was running back they put out a server message saying they were going to disconnect everybody so we could load up the system with a mass login hit.

The dread mass-loing

So offline things went.  I logged back in, got in a short queue… maybe 85 deep when I landed, which amounted to less than a minute of waiting, which made it the most responsive aspect of the test… and then was foundering about trying to get back to my corpse and healed up.  I spotted a bunch of alliance players trying to gather around the edge of the portal, out of line of sight and joined them.

Another line? This reminds me of the WoW Classic launch

However the Horde was wise to this and there were a few players off to the side of the portal on the hill picking people off, myself included.  Again, it was a long wait to die, fall over, and actually be dead.

Then we got another message indicating that the test was over.

All done here

Further announcements went up about the beta servers being up again and the test was pretty much over.  The whole thing ran about 30 minutes.

I must admit that I didn’t go through the dark portal on the day it went live back in 2007.  The instance group, which only kicked off in September of 2006, was around level 40 and still doing Razorfen Downs.  So while I was able to log into WoW on launch day with only a modest queue, I have no feel for how things at the portal were.  Certainly being on a PvP server made the test more chaotic, but the whole thing made me wonder if Blizz is up to a launch like this again.

The battle of the portal

I’ll give tomorrow’s test another try to see how they’re doing, but the laggy behavior in the regular beta and the way things played out at the portal is not inspiring me with a lot of day one confidence.  But at least I will be on a PvE-RP server.  We’ll probably all queue up for the portal for real when the time comes, just like we did before.

Through the Dark Portal Lightly

While I was away on the road north last week I received an invite to the Burning Crusade Classic Beta.

Why thank you

We’re getting close to the launch date, so I suspected that when I saw the email that I was at the head of a group being hauled in for some of the last big load tests, something confirmed in the forums on Monday.

But that is fine.  I wasn’t going to devote a lot of time to a beta in any case.  An early invite would have been wasted on me.

Now, however, with the expansion launch looming, I figured I could spend a bit of time in the beta, take a peek through the dark portal, and see how things were coming along.

The download was quick and the beta just shows up in your launcher like anything else.  It even dumped itself into the already existing WoW Classic beta directory left over from two years back and the ramp up to the original.

Beta available

I got in and had the option to roll a fresh character, spin up a character based on a level 58 template, or copy one of my own characters over.  I chose the latter.

Moving my hunter over

This was quick… and the ease of copying is probably weighing on Blizz when it comes to the $35 price tag they want for a live copy, but that is another story.  I was soon in the Burning Crusade Classic version of Ironforge and headed for the flightmaster to get to the now live Dark Portal.

A Green Portal means “Go!”

Through the portal I was into Hellfire Peninsula and the first quests.  I did stop for a moment to spec myself, remembering that was changed from vanilla.

Actually there

From there I followed the quests to get me to Honor Hold.  The place was crowded.  Not launch day crowded, but still teeming with people running about.

I ran out into the fields to shoot a few mobs and start on the first couple of quests, just to get a feel for things and… they felt kind of wrong.

Yes, there were a few bugs.  I wrote them up, though they seemed obvious enough that somebody probably tagged them already.  But you never know.  That we are about three weeks from launch made the obvious defects a little more disturbing.  But in just playing the game didn’t feel like it was responding like it should.

Here we have to cue Rob Pardo and that long speech he gave way back when about how diligently Blizz worked on little polish details like button responsiveness.  As I ran around there was a noticeable lag between initiating an action and getting a response.  Enough for me to click again or at least wonder if I mis-clicked.

And it wasn’t even constant.  It seemed to come and go.  It was enough though to make me wonder a bit about how things have been going in the beta.  I haven’t really be paying that much mind to it, largely because of how well Blizz seemed to do overall when it came to WoW Classic.  If they can get that right, surely they can get this on.

It is possible, I suppose, that having invited a bunch of new people onto the beta server that we’ve stretched its capability beyond what it was meant to support.

Anyway, I will certainly find some time today to try out the big launch load test that is planned for 11:00 PDT/14:00EDT/19:00UTC, which is a bit less than two hours from when this post goes live.  I’ll have my lunch and help stress the server and maybe get a feel for how ready things are for a June 1st launch. (Though Blizz hasn’t exactly gone overboard in announcing this test, so we’ll see.)

The crazy Outland sky

We’ll be headed there soon.

EverQuest II Returns to PvP with the Tarinax Server

The relationship between Norrath and PvP has been fraught over the years.  The rare high points have generally been drowned out by long stretches of bad times and low participation.

There was that brief period on the Nagefan server where PvP flourished, but only with people who stayed level locked around level 20 because PvE focused skills like evacuate opened up too many escape loopholes, frustrating players.  For the most part the tale of PvP in EverQuest II has been one of dead servers and people complaining on the forums.  The last run at a PvP was the 2016 Deathtoll server which lasted less than six months before it was merged into Antonia Bayle and forgotten.

But, in the search for something to get people back into the game Daybreak has decided to try the PvP route for EQ.  And so today they launched the Tarinax PvP server.

Welcome to Tainax

Tarinax is a time locked server, which means that expansions will be opened up over time.  It is launching with the original content along with the Desert of Flames and Kingdom of Sky expansions unlocked.  It also features faction based PvP, which hearkens back to the high point of the Nagefan server of old.

Will is succeed where past attempts have failed?  We shall see.  The only thing I don’t doubt is that, should it not become popular, the forums will be alight with all the things Daybreak did wrong, many of which will be contradictory.

For more information there are today’s update notes and the forum thread announcing the server.

Otherwise the server appears to have gone live at about the time expected, which in and of itself is no small feat for Daybreak.

Now to see if it thrives.

The Price of a WoW Classic Clone

With the coming of Burning Crusade Classic we get to make a choice.  Anybody logging into WoW Classic after the expansion pre-patch hits on May 18th will have to decide between keeping their character in vanilla WoW or advancing it to the world of The Burning Crusade expansion.

Through the Dark Portal

While I plan to move forward, I am sure that others will want to hold back and stay in vanilla.  As with EverQuest, there is a faction who just wants to live in the early game forever.

Moving forward… or staying behind… is free, at least for specific definitions of the word.  I bought a copy of The Burning Crusade back in 2007 and I pay a subscription fee in order to play the game, but I am not being asked to pay anything additional in order to advance through the dark portal.

Likewise, staying behind in vanilla WoW incurs no additional cost.

But for people who want to do both, that is another story.

As we were told back at BlizzConline, when the expansion pre-patch hits and the choice of paths needs to be made, there will be two copies of your character, one in vanilla and one in Burning Crusade, and you get to choose which one you want to play.  However, like some sort of Star Trek teleporter malfunction, the clone that remains behind sits in suspended animation, waiting for you, waiting for all of us.

The choice is coming

If you want to release that clone and have that second Riker or whoever running around free in the timeline you did not initially choose, it is going to cost you $35.

This has made some people angry.  PC Gamer says players are furious about the price.  Massively OP says players have begun to “riot,” though can’t be bothered to do more than link to an Icy Veins thread.  Seriously, it seems a pretty considerable breach of the five Ws of journalism to not even mention the price that is responsible for these alleged riots.  An extremely lazy piece of work there.

Extreme hyperbole aside, $35 does seem a bit steep.  It is certainly enough to prove a barrier to me, though having to play characters on a third version of WoW, after retail and Outland, was already a pretty big barrier for me.  Like I have time for that.

However, when a character transfer on a live or classic server is $25, activating and already created clone… Holly said that when the split happened there would be two versions of your character… doesn’t seem like something that justifies a $35 price tag.

But that is always the problem with these sorts of services.  In the end, the actual operation to get you want you want is generally a trivial exercise.  Back in the early EverQuest days, when SOE was charging $50 for a server transfer, the price was there to be a deterrent as much anything else, because the process wasn’t automated and a dev had to go in and move your character manually.  It was still only a database operation, but somebody had to devote time to actually getting it done and the bandwidth for transfer operations was limited.

Once SOE automated the process, the price went down.  It is still not valued relative to the cost of doing the operation because there has to be a support mechanism around the whole thing.  People make mistakes.  They pick the wrong character, they pick the wrong server, they change their minds, they could have sworn they had this or that piece of gear when they hit the button.  It can be a tech support nightmare, and all the more so when people are paying the monthly subscription fee that often makes them feel the company owes them. (A subscription fee that hasn’t gone up in fifteen years by the way.)

I’ve been in guilds where people have abused the support line, calling up to undelete characters or items or whatever.  And support has generally been very accommodating to those requests.  The company would like you to stay subscribed.

So at some level the price of these services is also to fund support and limit their use.  They seem likely to be price elastic, so if you change the price from $25 to $5, use would go up, and if you raised the price use would go down.  So, it is possible that $25 for a character transfer represents an analysis of the cost to support and the number of people likely to use it.  Or somebody just thought that sounded like a good number or seemed to be the market price based on what a competitor was charging.

None of which explains why Blizz thinks $35 is the right price for activating a clone.  It seems like the support cost would be lower and that usage might be higher if the price was in the $10-20 range.  I don’t see a downside to greater usage, as the clone has already been made, so the “work” has been done.  But I am also not exactly bent out of shape at the cost.  It makes my staying behind with a main character much less likely, but the likelihood was pretty low already.

If enough people are worked up about this perhaps Blizz will tinker with the price and make it more reasonable.  I suspect, however, that the stay behind crowd was already planning to do just that and are not all that interested in going through the dark portal to Outland, while those like me looking to progress are happy enough to leave vanilla WoW behind.  I enjoyed the stay, but it is time to go.  Those left in between… those who want to do both… well, we’ll see if they make up a big enough crowd I guess.

44 Weeks of World War Bee

I was gone for most of last week as we had to drive up to Oregon to pick up our daughter and bring her back from her first year of college.  That meant about 12 hours each way going up and down US Interstate 5 and all the attractions that has to offer.

Weed is as advertised

I will say that the Pilot/Flying J facility in Weed has some of the cleanest bathrooms you will find along any highway, and you can buy a camo muscle shirt emblazoned with the town name in their mini-mart.  We also had to stop in Yreka so that my wife could re-write an real estate purchase contract in the parking lot of the Starbucks using the WiFi with her laptop.  Between that and being on her phone while I drove, she didn’t miss a beat for most of the trip.

And, while I-5 is notoriously boring for much of its length, there is some nice scenery around the CA/OR border.

Mount Shasta

Meanwhile, the boring parts are mostly flat and wide and optimal for exceeding the speed limit, a habit or bother California and Oregon drivers who both seem to share the opinion that those numbers are mere suggestions.

But, it looked like a good week to be away as not much changed with the war.  There was some /r/eve drama when PAPI mod SapporoJones banned notorious Imperium shit poster Dr_Mibbles for reasons that, if applied more universally in the forum, would result in a dramatic decrease in posting for both sides in the war.  Then further bans hit Imperium posters pointing out the hypocrisy.  But because a PAPI mod went after an Imperium poster it just served as a rallying point for the Imperium and appears to have just reinforced the “PAPI can dish it out but can’t take it” narrative that The Mittani has been stoking up on The Meta Show.

So, not much happened in a general sense I suppose, though the Imperium did announce a Drake doctrine, which brings me back to 2012 and my first fleet battles.

The battle joined with Drake fleet in 2012

I look forward to throwing heavy missiles around.

Delve Front

As noted above, not much has changed.  I can re-roll last week’s map of the O-EIMK constellation because the situation remains mostly unchanged.

O-EIMK Constellation – May 9, 2021

The focus continues to be PAPI attempting to gain a foothold in 3-DMQT.  Rather than attacking the Ansiblex jump bridge, cyno jammers, and the POS towers set up by GSOL on every moon in the system, they have begun dropping their own structures.  Since the ADM for the system is high, they can’t drop a Raitaru or Astrahus, they have to go for large stuctures, and the Azbel seems to be the Upwell structure of choice.

A TEST Azbel deploying in the system

It takes a while for those to anchor in a hostile system, so there is a wait for it to come online.

More than five days left when I took this shot

A couple were caught before they could get into the anchoring timer.

Otherwise, Delve remained an active region in the war.  I ran another week long campaign report which shows that while the ships destroyed number was down from the 16K it was last week, it was still well above the 8K or so it was the week before.

Week 44 destruction in Delve

The ISK value of destruction was down some though, as there were no Keepstars and only a single capital kills to be found.  Also, both sides seemed content to feed Cormorants into fights, which even at PAPI prices are still relatively cheap hulls. (Also, I ran that report a little early in the day, there was a fairly big fight later on that boosted the number of kills by a couple hundred if you click on the link.)

Other Theaters

Feythabolis continues to see fighting, with Army of Mango (AOM) pushing into the region and a number of systems unclaimed by either side in the war currently.

Feythabolis – May 9, 2021

Esoteria continues to be active as well as AOM is also pushing back The Bastion and its allies along the northern extent of their reach.

Esoteria – May 9, 2021

AOM has taken back six ihubs from the Imperium and its allies and is still pushing on the stretch of systems that the insurgents have held for months now.

The Initiative plans for attacking Etherium Reach were momentarily stymied when PanFam jump cloned back home to attack and destroy the staging structures that INIT had set up in Wicked Creek.  So the map of the region shows no change so far.

Etherium Reach – May 9, 2021

However, INIT just changed tack and settled down in an NPC station in Uemon in The Forge region, which is just two gates from Etherium Reach.  So the campaign against PanFam’s back field is not yet over.

My Participation

While I was away for most of the week, I was back home by Saturday and was able to jump into a few ops.  However, they ended up mostly chasing PAPI fleets around.  PAPI was looking for targets of opportunity and ran when numbers showed up to oppose them, so we mostly saw them off then hung around a bit to make sure they wouldn’t just jump back in.

On the E-VKJV gate in 3-DMQT once again

As such, my losses for the war remain as follows:

  • Ares interceptor – 17
  • Malediction interceptor – 7
  • Crusader interceptor – 5
  • Atron entosis frigate – 6
  • Rokh battleship – 5
  • Scimitar logi – 5
  • Ferox battle cruiser – 4
  • Drake battle cruiser – 4
  • Purifier stealth bomber – 3
  • Guardian logi – 2
  • Scalpel logi frigate – 2
  • Raven battleship – 1
  • Crucifier ECM frigate – 1
  • Gnosis battlecruiser – 1
  • Bifrost command destroyer – 1
  • Cormorant destroyer – 1
  • Hurricane battle cruiser – 1
  • Sigil entosis industrial – 1
  • Mobile Small Warp Disruptor I – 1

Other Items

EVE Online turned 18 years old last week, as May 6th 2003 was the official launch date.   People celebrated by posting pictures of themselves when they were 18.

EVE Online becomes an adult I guess

On Thursday CCP launched a new login reward campaign with 8 days of rewards including SKINs, ships, and skill points.  The campaign runs long enough that if you log in today you can still claim all the prizes by visiting the game every day until the event is over.  The final day offers 100K skill points, even for alpha clones, so it might be worth the effort.

CCP also kicked of the new development quadrant.  Dubbed “Foundation,” it is focused on the main NPC empires of New Eden and has featured a number of significant lore events… well, significant for those into the lore anyway.  There was also a mention of the empires competing to construct  new stargates, with a hint that a low sec gate to the Stain region might be a possibility.

It is also your last chance to apply to run for a spot on CSM16.  Get it done now.

And then there is the peak concurrent user number for the week.  Week 44 of the war saw numbers stay on par with the previous week, though the peak landed on Saturday, no doubt because US players were all taking their mother’s out to brunch on Sunday for Mother’s Day.

  • Day 1 – 38,838
  • Week 1 – 37,034
  • Week 2 – 34,799
  • Week 3 – 34,692
  • Week 4 – 35,583
  • Week 5 – 35,479
  • Week 6 – 34,974
  • Week 7 – 38,299
  • Week 8 – 35,650
  • Week 9 – 35,075
  • Week 10 – 35,812
  • Week 11 – 35,165
  • Week 12 – 36,671
  • Week 13 – 35,618
  • Week 14 – 39,681
  • Week 15 – 40,359
  • Week 16 – 36,642
  • Week 17 – 37,695
  • Week 18 – 36,632
  • Week 19 – 35,816 (Saturday)
  • Week 20 – 37,628 (Saturday)
  • Week 21 – 34,888
  • Week 22 – 33,264
  • Week 23 – 33,149
  • Week 24 – 32,807 (Saturday)
  • Week 25 – 31,611
  • Week 26 – 39,667 (Saturday)
  • Week 27 – 34,989 (Saturday)
  • Week 28 – 34,713
  • Week 29 – 35,996
  • Week 30 – 38,323
  • Week 31 – 38,167
  • Week 32 – 37,259
  • Week 33 – 35,886 (Saturday)
  • Week 34 – 35,626
  • Week 35 – 35,379
  • Week 36 – 35,085
  • Week 37 – 34,394
  • Week 38 – 36,319
  • Week 39 – 35,597 (Saturday)
  • Week 40 – 35,384 (Saturday)
  • Week 41 – 33,708
  • Week 42 – 33,521
  • Week 43 – 33,731
  • Week 44 – 33,742 (Saturday)


Memories of a Checkstand Lifestyle

A strange thing happened on the way to my COVID-19 vaccine shot.  Well, not on the way, but at the location where I got it.  In the online concert-ticket rush to get a vaccine appointment the first appointment I was able to snag was at the Safeway on Shoreline Blvd. in Mountain View.

That happened to be the store I worked at in high school and college back in the 80s.

I had not been back to that store for ages.  Even in the 90s when I had an apartment just a couple miles down the road I made a point of shopping elsewhere.  When I went back into the store for the first time in at least 20 years, I was hit with a reverie of memories, good and bad.

And it isn’t even the same store.  At some point in the 90s they tore down the store I worked in, which was done in that somewhat iconic mid-century style with tall ceilings and large front windows that let in a lot of light.  I probably have a picture of the store somewhere, but I am too lazy to dig it out right now, so I grabbed an image from the web that gives the right sense of what I mean.

A typical 60s Safeway store design

That image is about the same template as the store I used to work in, right down to the rocky wall style outside the exit door.  The store there now is more in the squared off, few windows, design.  But every store has a similar feel and even that new style couldn’t repress the flood of images and emotions of being in that location.

Working in a grocery store is kind of a strange retail experience.  You end up seeing the same people over and over.  And this store, nestled in the middle of several large apartment complexes, was especially prone to the “same faces” phenomena.  Apartment dwellers, as I was told, tend to buy groceries more frequently, often stopping in on the way home from work to buy something for dinner.  So I often saw the same people every evening I was there.

And, living not too far away, the strangeness was compounded.  I would go to downtown Mountain View for lunch or to visit the used bookstore and would constantly see faces I recognized.  Some I would be able to place… this guy smokes Marlboro reds in the box, that woman is a pain in the ass about showing her ID when writing a check, and this other person isn’t allowed in the store because we busted them for shoplifting… but others were just annoyingly familiar but lacking the context of the store in which to place them.

It was a decent job at the time, though I worked through what was very much a transitional era for the grocery industry.  Or one of them anyway.  It was a union job.  I had to join the United Food and Commercial Workers, which was still a new-ish union at the time, being a consolidation of a couple unions.  I showed up just as the union was losing its leverage.  There had been a big strike a few months before and the union had to make quite a few concessions.

I started as a bag boy, or a courtesy clerk in the contract parlance, and spent my first year bagging groceries, putting things back on the shelves, cleaning up spills, and rounding up shopping carts in the parking lot.  At the time we had electro-mechanical cash registers that looked to be out of the 50s.  I remember once, early on, the power went out and the cashiers all had to fish around in the checkstands to find the cranks that attached to the side of the registers and allowed them to be operated manually.  There was a journal tape from each register than had to be pulled every night after the store closed and was used to reconcile the books for the day, something that often took hours.  Any mistakes made by cashiers had to have a note in the cash drawer to help with the balance.

Those were soon replaced by NCR electronic cash registers, which had a 10 key pad and could take code numbers for specific products to get prices.  Those were in place before the summer I went off to checkers school.  Learning to be a checker, being promoted to food clerk, meant spending a week up in Oakland at the Safeway training center taking a class that you could fail.

I had to learn to use the 10 key pad by touch, accurately key in prices, know the categories of items which meant knowing the arcane sales tax rules of the state (which meant knowing things like water not being taxable, unless in containers under a half gallon or in frozen form (ice) and prepared food not being taxable unless it was heated), and the dreaded fruit and vegetable identification test.  This involved a timed test where I had to identify the fruit or vegetable in question and supply the produce code for it.  There was a lookup sheet for the codes, but if you had to look them all up you during the test you might not make the time limit.  There were 50 items to identify and you were only allowed to miss five on the test.  There were people who did not make the cut.  I drove up to Oakland with another person taking the class and we would quiz each other in the car on the ride back and forth.  I had college classes that were less demanding.

But this was when the union was still pushing the image of professional food clerks.  And the pay, at the time, was decent.  As a freshly minted food clerk in 1985 I made $7.68 hour.  But, after every 500 hours on the job I got a raid, which capped out after 2,000 hours… basically a year of full time work… at $13.48 an hour.

That doesn’t sound like much in an era when we’re talking about a $15 an hour minimum wage, but that was decent money.  And there was overtime, holiday pay (double time), Sunday pay (time and two thirds when I started, time and a half after the next contract), and a 50 cent per hour premium for hours worked between 7pm and 7am.  And, if you wanted to run the show, be in charge when the boss was away, there was also head clerk pay, which I immediately signed up for, so ended up earning a lot more during my 2,000 hour run up to journeyman clerk than I might have otherwise.

I made more in 1987 than I did at my first three post-Safeway jobs in tech.  I think my total income in 1994 finally passed my Safeway peak.  Couples I knew who both worked for Safeway bought houses, raised kids, and sent them off to college on journeyman food clerk salaries.

My health insurance was basically no cost to me.  They handed me a Kaiser card and required no employee contribution.  Of course, that is also a reflection of how messed up the US health care system has become.  And if I worked the equivalent of ten years of full time I qualified for the first tier of the long since gone pension system.

It felt like a bit of a plateau in my life, that I had hit the first step where I had a real job, decent pay, and could be an adult if I so desired.  A lot of people I worked with dropped out of college and decided to stick with Safeway as a career.  You were getting a decent paycheck every week and the work wasn’t horrible.

Of course, there were a lot of downsides to the job, the general public being a key one.  But it was an uncertain life.  Only those employees designated as “full time” were guaranteed at least 32 hours a week.  Everybody else, myself included, only had to be given 16 hours a week.  If business was slow, staffing had to follow, and you could find yourself getting some thin paychecks.

And the work schedule… I blame my own current unwillingness to plan very far ahead on that.  The schedule for a given week was supposed to be posted in the store by 5pm on the Thursday of the preceding week, but good luck with that.  So, generally speaking, I didn’t know what I was up to until Friday of the week before, and how you got scheduled was the luck of the draw and how much the boss liked you.  They had to schedule to cover the store needs, so you might end up working all hours of the day or night.  I generally worked 3pm to midnight during the week, which covered the peak evening rush.  But I might work 6am to 3pm on Saturday to cover the frozen food or dairy guy’s day off or midnight to 9am if one of the night stocking crew was on vacation.  I had weeks where I just worked evenings for long stretches… the manager would get lazy once in a while and just re-used the previous week’s schedule if there were no vacations to cover… and I had weeks during the summer when people were out on vacation where I saw every hour of the day in the store.

Then there was vacation.  Even as the lowliest clerk on the list I was allowed two weeks of vacation.  But the sign up for vacation was a bit of a challenge.  A big chart would go up at the beginning of the year, with all employees listed out in seniority order.  Everybody picked their weeks in that order, but the store could only allow so many people to be out on a given week, and once that number was hit for a given week, that week was blocked out.  So not only did I have to know when exactly I wanted to go on vacation at some point in mid-January, I could only choose weeks that were still open to me when it was finally my turn to pick.

I think I got a week in April and a week in October that time around, which corresponded pretty much to the two ends of the allowed vacation season.  And the weekly work schedule was written from Sunday through Saturday, so your vacation weeks, which had to be taken in week long chunks, were also Sunday to Saturday.  If the boss liked you, you might get the Saturday before and Sunday after your vacation off.  But you wouldn’t know about the Sunday in advance, since the schedule wouldn’t be up until the Thursday before.

It was very much a lifestyle.  I was often working when most people were done with work and off in the middle of prime business hours.  I had a new car and an apartment in Mountain View that some Google employee is probably paying more than three grand a month to rent now.

Eventually though it became clear I could finish school or keep working at Safeway.  I got a lot of hours, so always had money, but never had time, which led to me taking fewer classes than I should.  I never skipped a semester, but there were some weak showing when it came to units.   Eventually we got a manager that told me he’d schedule me whenever he damn well pleased… previous ones had been good about at least giving me the first half of the day for classes… and I put in my notice as soon as the fall semester got close.

That was well over 30 years ago but, to this day, when I have anxiety dreams I don’t dream about showing up for a final exam and realizing I haven’t studied or getting to the end of a semester and finding out that I forgot to drop a class or any of the usual suspects.  I dream that I have gone for lunch on my shift back then and forgot to get back when my time was up or that I am there and ready for my shift but have forgotten my apron or name badge or some other part of the required uniform.  I sometimes dream that I still work there part time, that I never quit, or that I had to go back to help make ends meet.

Anyway, two visits to that store… I have both of my vaccine shots now… shook up a bunch of old memories.  If I can filter them down I might make a series about some aspects of the job.  There were some humorous bits as well as the usual disappointing human behavior and the reality of having to deal with people every day.

Pondering my Teenage Internet Spaceship Picture Blog

As some of you may recall, I actually have two active blogs. (And a few inactive ones.)  There is this one and EVE Online Pictures, both of which have been around and active for more than a decade.

The original banner for the blog back in 2008

In fact, EVE Online Pictures will hit the 13 year mark later on this month.  For some reason I thought it was today when I set out to write this… I probably mixed up May 2008 with May 8th or something… but we’re close enough for me to carry on.  And that is kind of a long time to run.  The site pre-dates DOTLAN EVE Maps by a couple months.

That blog started as an experiment in blogging, a tale I covered at the five year anniversary, and then kind of carried on for a while. Eventually it had been around long enough that it served as a vehicle to get me into the fansite program.  But the fansite program is gone, and I did not make the cut for the new program, so now it is just a place where I post some screen shots regularly.  That has led me to wonder if it is even worth the effort.

In favor of keeping it is the fact that it isn’t all that onerous of task to post three screen shots a week, my current posting tempo.  The most difficult aspect of that is just me being picky about what gets posted and trying not to post a bunch of the same thing in a row and keeping to a general philosophy of trying to find pictures of things that are cool of things or situations that maybe not everybody has seen.

The abundance of “fleet bridging off of a titan” shots is probably telling.  I have been doing that regularly for almost 10 years now and I still think it is a spectacle worth sharing.

Then again, there are more than a few screen shots of Jita 4-4, which is probably a location more people have seen than any other in the game, so clearly that philosophy might need some tuning.

Anyway, by merely lowering my standards a bit, and given all the screen shots I have taken over the years, I could probably keep posting pictures for the rest of my natural life even if I stopped playing the game today.

The downside of carrying on is that almost nobody visits the blog.

It was never as popular as this blog.  Even at its peak in late 2012 it was barely closing in on 200 page views a day, while this site was around 2,000, back during the last gasp of blogging being popular.   The peak day logged 959 page views, thanks to CCP linking to me in regards to an image they used.  This blog, for comparison, still passes that number regularly.

The peak times ended when the Google image search change came in.  Google was the source for most of the site’s traffic, though the top posts might indicate that perhaps I wasn’t always getting people who were looking for EVE Online related item.  The top five most popular posts are:

  1. B-R5RB Infographic
  2. Space Cockroach
  3. Sansha Battle Station
  4. Asteroid Mining Station
  5. The Maze Complex

Three of those five aren’t even screen shots I took.

Then, in January 2013, Google changed their image search model so that kept cached versions of images and would simply display a larger version of the image you clicked on rather than sending you to the hosting site, and traffic fell off rather sharply.

Traffic is now low enough… down to about 20 page views a day during slow months, which is a step or two down from even the slow times I recorded at the 10 year anniversary… that a single person scrolling down through pictures… infinite scroll for the win… can influence the page view count.  I had a month a while back where, looking at the stats, somebody scrolled back through every picture.  That was the month with the most page views for the whole year.

Traffic is low.  Comments are almost non-existant unless I mistake a Stratios for an Astero (which I have done twice).  The most feedback I get is over on Tumblr, where all my images get re-posted automatically, where a couple of people will like a post and occasionally somebody will re-post one to their own thread.

Does traffic matter?

I have said, for this blog, that I would keep on as I have done even as traffic has fallen off, and have pretty much kept to that.  The peak of this blog, when it comes to traffic and comments and whatever, was back in 2013 as well.  It has been mostly downhill since then.  Meanwhile, I have posted for more than 400 days in a row… WP.com keeps me abreast of my posting streak… and my word count per post has continued to rise.  It is almost as if more words means fewer page views!

However, what I write here is mostly for me or a few select individuals.  Everybody else is invited along for the ride, but only my attendance is mandatory to keep going.

With screen shots… not so much.  There are some images over there that are meaningful… but generally, those same images get used over here as well, often in a post describing the context that makes them meaningful.  As much as I love to inject screen shots into my posts… and I do that do excess because they often bring back the emotions of the moment… it is the words around them that set the context that matter more.

And then there is WP.com itself, which has made having a picture blog more annoying over time.  I did finally find a way to post a screen shot that let you click on it and see a bigger version with an option to see the full size version.  You have to use the new block editor… I hate it for actual writing, but for posting a screen shot I can deal with it… then remember to dig down and set the image link correct… which I forget to do about half the time… and then it sort of works.  Otherwise it won’t let you view the image in a larger for, or constricts it into a frame that is a big ad for “start a blog!”  I miss the old days when you could just click on an image and see the full size raw if you wanted, because most of these screen shots really should be viewed in a larger frame that the blog allows.  But, then again, as noted above, almost nobody even shows up at the blog and somebody actually clicking on an image to view it’s full size form is so rare as to be almost a once a year occurrence.

So I have hit a point of malaise when it comes to EVE Online Pictures.  Thirteen years is a long time to do anything consistently and I am starting to feel tired of doing it.  I have, on occasion, tried to make it more than a screen shot blog, posting the latest videos from CCP or noting events or updates.  But I really do that here for the most part, so I tended to slip back rather that be redundant.

If I could go back in time and give myself some blogging advice, right after suggesting that I find a better name for this blog, and just forgetting about that pizza blog idea, I’d tell myself just to make screen shots a regular feature here rather than devoting a whole blog to the idea.  Better to consolidate in one location.

Then again, I wonder if I would have been so diligent about categorizing screen shots by ship faction and tagging them all by hull type. (The Avatar titan is the most tagged hull on the site, appearing 121 of the approximately two thousand screen shots there.)

Getting back to where I started, having meandered down the page, I have been thinking about the future of that blog.  I get tired just thinking about it right now, but I wonder if I will regret it later if I stop.  I suspect that habit will carry me forward for a while longer, along with a war that is still giving me plenty of material.  But the war will end some day, though I might be tired enough of New Eden at that point that I’ll want a break from there as well.

Stumbling Into War in the Pacific

I said I would get to this in the April month in review post.

I ended up owning War in the Pacific in the usual way these things come to pass.  In this case a friend has been posting to twitter about an epic, full war campaign they have been playing.

War in the Pacific: Admiral’s Edition

As is often the case, when watching or reading about somebody else playing a game, my immediate thought is, “I want to play too!”  I am bad at watching people stream video games.  If I own the game, I tend to stop and go play it myself instead.  If I don’t, I end up tabbing out and looking into the game.  A while back I had been watching videos about people playing IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad and had to suppress the urge to go buy it and try it out.

Anyway, as I was watching the Twitter threat unfold, the virtual campaign moving along almost in real time to the actual war, but taking different twist, I became invested and wanted to try it myself.

The title is available from Matrix Games, which specializes in war game niche.  The price of the game, however, is $80, which is a bit much for me to drop on a whim.  But then on Easter weekend they had a big sale and I violated the standard purchase limitation rule and bought something after 8pm on a Friday night because I was a bit bored.

And now I am wondering what I have gotten myself into.

Development work on the game started back in 2003 and the goals set for it were highly ambitious.  Creating the game was quite a trial, or so I have read, and it finally released in 2009.

In 2015 the game got an overhaul, and is now referred to as War in the Pacific: Admiral’s Edition to distinguish it from the original release.

I knew that in advance and was prepared for some bad UI design.  War games are a niche market and few developers will worry about horrific interface choices getting in the way of the simulation they are trying to achieve.  Even more mainstream titles, like the Hearts of Iron series has been known do things like scroll information past you and off screen before you can read it.

And I was not disappointed.  WitP has a UI that feels like a war game from the turn of the century in many ways.

What I was not prepared for was the difficulty in figuring out how to play.  Not how to play well, or to know all the options, but how to play at all.

There is no tutorial, no simple scenario, or other “babby’s first campaign” option, unless you count jumping into the battle for the Coral Sea or the Guadalcanal campaign as such.  I am not sure they should count, even if their scope is reduced from fighting the whole war against Japan.

The basic scenario options

Nor is there a manual [edit: There is, just not at the link on the download page. It is a .pdf in the install directory.] or any sort of guide to get you started, so I have spent a considerable amount of time just figuring out what to do in a very basic, mechanics sense.  Turn based games tend to have a cycle of play, a series of steps like “supply, orders, movement, combat, resolution, start again,” and it is clear that WitP follows that general idea.  But the game is opaque enough that I cannot quite grab onto it.

Again, I am not struggling to play well, I am struggling to play at all.  I would be happy to play badly but at least feel like I had some grasp of the turn cycle and basic mechanics.

But this is what the internet if for, right?  My ability to fix things as a home owner is directly proportional to how many YouTube videos exist related to whatever is broken.  And there is a very passionate community around WitP, so there is lots of material to explore.  There are some community patches that fix some issues, make the map more readable, and even a utility to set up the launch alias to set it to the right screen resolution and settings.  Unfortunately, when it comes to actual game play I have yet to find the right bit of material.

What I have run into tends to either be strategy and tactics that assumes you know what the hell you’re doing at a basic level, which I clearly do not, or so basic and introductory as to leave me feeling I have made little progress.  I spent two hours watching a series of videos that went through the basic premise, the map, icons, and the types of units each side has access to, but which never once actually played a turn of the game.

I saw a bit of advice that suggested I pick one the smaller scenarios and set it to play through with both sides run by the AI.  This is kind of a neat feature.  The AI is said to be good and you can use the scenario editor to create situations and watch the AI battle it out as kind of an observers view.  You can turn off the fog of war even to see what both sides are up to.

The basic game play options

Unfortunately the AI doesn’t use the UI to give orders, set ship courses, select patrol areas, or any of the other many bits and pieces of the game.  It does that in the background, so you can see the results, but the mechanics, the simple “how to” bit is missing.

Anyway, I am not giving up yet.  I put a bit of time in now and then trying to get over the hump that separates me from feeling like I am playing the game.  I am still looking for that tutorial or description that will get me into it.

Blizzard Confirms June 1st for Burning Crusade Classic, May 18th for Pre-Expansion Patch

Of course I’m away from home for the first time in months when the news hits.

Blizzard let slip the June first date for Burning Crusade Classic by accident on Tuesday, but covered it back up again rapidly.

But earlier today they finally let the cat out of the bag, officially confirming both the date for the expansion launch and the rumored May 18th date for the pre-expansion patch.

The Announcement at Last

They even provided the now standard global launch time map.

The World Wide Launch Plan

Come the pre-patch on May 18th we will all have a choice to make, whether or not to go forward into the era of the dark portal or to stay behind and continue on in the classic era.

Choose your path forward

Blizzard has a post up about how to make the choice you want… as well as how to have it both ways should you desire and be willing to part with some real world cash… but it boils down to this set of bullets.

  • On patch day, you’ll be able to open the Battle.net desktop app and choose which game you want to play—Burning Crusade Classic or WoW Classic.
  • Your existing characters will show on both game types under your old realm name/s.
  • Once you’ve chosen a game to play, you’ll select a character to play and confirm your choice.
  • If you decide you’d like to play your character in both game types, you’ll be able to use an optional paid service to gain access to the cloned character in both game types.
  • Then all you need to do is log in as you normally would and play.

So you have until the 18th to consider your path. For me, the dark portal beckons, and Outland will be the next destination.

A Return to Dire Maul East

The instance group returned to WoW Classic this past weekend.  Our last run, when we finally wrapped up Blackrock Depths, was back in February.  We have spent most of our time since then in the Viking afterlife that is Valheim.  But the coming of Burning Crusade Classic… Blizz seems set to drop the pre-expansion patch some time this month… stirred us from our resource collection and biome explorations to return to Azeroth.

All of us together again

We had a few goals for this return run, the first of which was to get back into the swing  of playing WoW.  While getting used to how to move passed pretty quickly, I think everybody was pressing the space bar to try and sprint or the Tab key for inventory more often than they would like to admit.  Fortunately, nobody can see you do that and it doesn’t have any real in-game impact.

We also wanted to get to level 60.  That was a low bar goal, as we were all well on our way towards that after the last run.

And we also wanted some felcloth.  Felcloth drops from satyrs in Felwood and is the primary ingredient to make mooncloth bags, which are the 16 slot bags that tailors can make.  To be in WoW Classic is to be in a time when 16 slot bags were a big deal.  Ula, our group tailor, has us mostly covered with 14 slot runecloth bags, but those extra two slots add up.

The coveted mooncloth bag

We spent some time trying for the mooncloth bag recipe drop at one point and eventually snagged it for an acceptable price at the auction house so Ula could start making them.

But to feed the production we need felcloth, and the one place where it drops besides Felwood is in Dire Maul East.  So that set our destination.  It offered xp, we had done it before so it was a probably a good warm up, and there was felcloth to be had.

We got ourselves online on Sunday afternoon and headed towards Feathermoon in Feralas from where ever we last left our characters.  Viniki was out in Gadgetzan for some reason… thorium recipes I think… so was the closest to our destination.

Flying out over the Mirage Raceway

Our group, in the guild window, was all level 59 and looking to level up.

All close to level cap

We managed to find the right instance on the first try… Dire Maul East is on the east side of the Dire Maul complex as advertised… and got ourselves setup.  This is the instance with Pusillin, the little demon that you have to chase down as he has the key to unlock the other wings of the complex.

What if we already have the key?

We started in on clearing our way through, the familiar rhythm of fights coming back to us after not too many rounds.

Viniki was the first to level up.  I had been out mining ore in high level zones, which means killing mobs now and then, so had crept up pretty close to the level cap already.

Hitting level 60 in the first area

We followed Pusillin, not so much because we needed his key or a drop from him, but because he runs off into an area populated by satyrs, and satyrs mean felcloth.

Attack all satyrs!

This was in contrast to our last visit, where we bypassed a lot of the satyrs.  The layout of the instance is such that you don’t need to grab every group.  But if you want felcloth you grab them all.

We made it to Pusillin and managed to wipe on his fight on the first try, the same as we did the last time we came to visit.

Wiped again

Pusillin summons a group of non-elite helpers who hit hard with fire based attacks, which overwhelmed Skronk’s ability to heal.  I heard him say, “Viniki pot!” even as I was going to hit a health pot, but even in motion already I was too late.

We had to run back, but once we got there, the fight was fairly simple.  If you wipe Pusillin wanders back to the far end of the room, but his summoned demons all crowd in at the near end, so you can fight them separately.

From there it was back up through the halls, sweeping up satyrs that we had missed or which spawned after we passed… which is a thing in DME, because I am pretty sure we didn’t miss that one guy in the narrow hallway on our way in… and off into the side rooms with the other bosses and more satyrs.

Lethtendris down

While gear upgrades seemed unlikely, we somehow still managed to find a couple, along with the Frost Ward V tome for Ula, which dropped just after she hit level 60.  And items that were not upgrades went to Moronae, who had taken up the enchanter profession for us, to be disenchanted for materials.

We pushed on, and managed not to wipe again, though we did have a couple of deaths.  Moronae’s combat ress came in handy when Skronk went down in a fight that got away from us for a bit.

Nobody died on Zevrim’s altar this time

Time, however, started to press.  We had been slow to get started and had stopped to slay all the satyrs for a stretch.  As we got towards the end we needed to speed things up a bit as dinner was about ready at my end.

In the conservatory we skipped as many groups as we dared to clear the way for Ironbark to open the last door for us.

Lets get moving there Ironbark

It was in the conservatory that Skronk hit level 60, the last of us to do so.  We were all at the level cap.

Ready for Outland now

We made it through and got down to the final boss, Azzin the Wildshaper, another fight where we forgot that a bunch minions show up to help the boss mid-fight.  It was a bit touch and go for a while, but I managed to keep them mostly on me.

Sudden mid-fight pile on!

We made it through and defeated Azzin.  We had finished the instance.

Victory over Azzin

We had managed to get up to speed, all hit level 60, and even grabbed a few pieces of felcloth.  I think there were five drops, which doesn’t feel like a lot, though the drops per mobs ratio was much better than trying to farm them in Felwood.  And Ula only needs one piece per bag.  Now she just has to turn them into mooncloth at the local moonwell, something that is on a timer, so it will take a bit to process even five.

There are still some instances left that we have not done in WoW Classic.  But even if we do not get to them all, we are set for Outland.  The gear we have will be replaced by the first round of green quest drops once we get to Hellfire Peninsula.