Thrill of the Hunt Not Thrilling Enough, Being Removed from New Eden

About a month ago I posted about how CCP had added what they called a “recurring opportunity” to EVE Online in the for of a daily quest called “The Thrill of the Hunt.”  All you had to do was undock and blow up a single NPC ship and you would be rewarded with 10,000 skill points.

The offer...

The offer…

The plan seemed to be to entice more people to log in, to get more people to undock, and to provide a reward that would be significant for newer players.

The move was controversial… though, I say this in the context of EVE Online, where some pretty trivial stuff seems to get people inordinately worked up on a regular basis… with people angry about other people getting free skill points, about the skill point reward being too much, or not enough, and about the mere idea of introducing anything that looked like a daily quest into the game because then we will all be “forced” to go do it.

With nearly 160 million skill points in the bag already, I wasn’t dying to undock my main just to get another 10K.  But I played around with a couple of alt characters.  On my main account I ran one out daily to see if just that 10K daily feed would get me anywhere useful.  On my alt account I switched the training queue from my main alt… sitting at 115 million skill points and training level V skills just because… to a new character to see if that added 10K would be worthwhile.

I gave up pretty quickly on the character without a skill queue… 10K a day is like the skill queue running at 20% of normal speed, which is to say very slowly… but kept logging in with the other, running a level 1 mission daily to get that kill and earn a bit of ISK.  Getting what adds up to about 5 hours of free training a day… or a skill injector every 50 days… did make a noticeable difference in the skill climb from new player into being able to do something.

In a game that puts you in space and then makes you wait while skills train almost immediately, being able to dump 10K SP into a new skill, bumping it up to level II or III right then, can be quite the boon.

Apply skill points now

Apply skill points now

However nice that might be for new players, or the obsessives with alts like myself, it became clear yesterday that new players were not the goal here.  Getting more people to log in was the goal, as noted in this post by CCP Rise:

I’m here to let you know that on Tuesday, in the 118.6 release, we are planning to remove the recurring opportunity “Thrill of the Hunt”.

Our hope in releasing this feature was to gain insight on how direct, daily rewards might effect and improve engagement in EVE. I can’t go into too much detail about results but I thought you guys might like to know a bit about what did happen after it launched. The biggest conclusions we can draw so far (though we are still gathering and analyzing data) are that recurring opportunities did have a significant effect on player activity in game. We saw a pretty big bump in the share of folks heading out to kill something each day, and we heard some feedback that this in turn led to some pretty funny situations (read: kills). On the other hand, we saw very little change in login behavior, i.e. if you weren’t planning to log on anyway, the 10,000 free SP boost wasn’t really going to change your mind. This is really important for us and by collecting solid data with a fast and simple feature like recurring opportunities we will be able to make better decisions as we work on larger things in the future, such as the Shadow of the Serpent event, which begins on Tuesday in the 118.6 release.

I want to thank all of you for taking the time to talk with us about the feature, both online and in person at Fanfest. While there were certainly concerns from you guys, the conversation stayed mature and productive which is fantastic for us and we really appreciate it.

Basically, nobody logs in just to get the 10K SP, so CCP is killing the feature.

I cannot say that I will miss it personally.  I’ll just stop working that character as diligently, since it will go back to being easier to just setup a long skill queue and come back in a few months.

But I am a little disappointed that the sole metric that mattered to CCP was people logging in, that no other benefit was deemed to be worth the effort.  As I wrote above, for me playing a new character with the default set of skills trained, having that 10K boost was an almost immediate thrill.

But I have so many skills trained on my main that I might also be a bit more aware of all the skills I didn’t have.

Anyway, you have until the patch deployment on Tuesday to collect your daily 10K.  That is an extra 40K SP just waiting for you.

Return to Draenor

My daughter and I have been discussing our return to World of Warcraft for a while now.  That whole reflective nature thing I have about games has rubbed off on my daughter… a bit.  She did agree with my assessment that, in light of historical play trends in our house, it was safe to assume that there would be a limited timeline before either of us decided to stop playing WoW and move onto something else.

The release of the WoW 7.0 patch to the Public Test Realm put the need for a plan onto the front burner, and on Saturday we weighed the merits of a Father’s Day return to the game or pushing it off until the Independence Day holiday.  And then we were sitting around on Father’s Day this past Sunday wondering what daddy/daughter activity we should indulge in and an afternoon of playing WoW was declared.

So we returned to Azeroth and places connected there to.

And, of course, once clients had been updated, accounts activated, and so on, we came to the musical question of the hour, “So what are we going to do?”  Neither of us were keen to return to another stretch of Garrison Crossing: Follower Festival, so there was a bit of running about and checking out dimly recalled characters and what not.  It has been about a year or for both of us, barring that 30 day stint I did with a WoW Token, which was solely focused on running garrison missions to earn back the money I spent on the WoW Token in the first place.  Sure, I came out ahead, but I didn’t want to play another 30 days of that.

Remembering how to play and where to go and shouting at each other across the house from our respective computers until we settled down into our own little voyages of discovery pretty much occupied the balance of play time on Father’s Day.

By the end of the evening though, I had decided on a goal.  A goal is important to me.  I can put up with all sorts of tasks, both fun and tedious, in pursuit of such.  We just covered that in my Minecraft post earlier this week, right?

I announced to my daughter that I was going to try to unlock flying in Draenor.

She thought that sounded good, right up until I told her what it would take, at which point she said, “screw that” and went back to collecting things for transmog after she heard about the new wardrobe stuff coming with WoW Legion.

And she was put off by my vague notion of what was required.  I had written about it before, but I hadn’t really added the task up and then compared it to where I stood currently.  Tanaan Jungle wasn’t even in the game when I wrote that post.  To unlock the Draenor Pathfinder meta achievement, which gives you flying and a mount to go with it, you need:

Five achievements?  How hard could that be?

Then I started looking into how where I stood.  I didn’t have any of them completed yet.

For Tanaan Dilplomat, the reasons were pretty obvious… I stopped playing before Tanaan Jungle showed up.  However, I had at least built the shipyard in my garrison during that WoW Token stint and, in doing so, I had at least set foot in Tanaan and had the first flight point.

At the other end of the spectrum, I was a bit surprised I did not have Loremaster of Draenor on Vikund yet, as I had been pretty diligent about rolling up at least all the main quest lines, and even the bonus quest lines in the early zones.  In fact, I had all the achievements I needed for it save one, the Nagrand achievement.

Getting that meant going out to Nagrand to re-trace my steps and figure out why I hadn’t wrapped that one achievement up. (I also cleaned up my quest log a bit.  I still had Mists of Pandaria quests in there.  With just 25 quest slots, you can’t leave stuff sitting there forever.  EverQuest II and its 75 quest limit has spoiled me.)

After a bit of running about to find which quest was actually the one I needed, I got there and had a dim memory of it being bugged… like a year and a half ago.  Something happened and the item I needed didn’t spawn.  Anyway, I dropped the quest, found my way back to the quest giver, then started it up again and things seemed to proceed.  Whatever was wrong or whatever I missed back then didn’t seem to be an issue and I was on my way.  This all ended up with an assault on a Iron Horde camp with Yrel in order to arrest the trouble maker… again.

Didn't we take him into custody back in Pandaria already?

Always Garrosh…

That turned into a set piece where Thrall stepped in and eventually took him away.  If we have to go capture him again in some other timeline I am going to be annoyed.  This ended with all the big names standing around in a circle, so I took a pic.

The leadership powwow

The leadership powwow… and me

But what mattered at the moment was that I got the achievement I needed to wrap up the first item on the list for flying.

Always Garrosh, always achievements I guess...

Always Garrosh, always achievements I guess…

One down, four to go.

On the Explore Draenor front, I have a few corners of the map to explore.  It would be really easy to get this if I had flying… which I guess is somebody making a point.  Anyway, this is more a matter of just getting out and doing it.

Securing Draenor involves running a dozen missions from the map table in the garrison.  I have four down already, but some of the required missions are group focused, and I am not over-geared enough to handle elites solo or anything.  I demonstrated this to myself when I tried to do The Pit solo.  So some planning required on that.

Master Treasure Hunter requires looting 100 treasures in Draenor, excluding Tanaan Jungle.  I have 25 so far.  I am going to bet there is an addon that will help me with that.

And then there is the Tanaan Diplomat achievement, which requires me to get revered status with three factions in the jungle, the Saberstalkers, the Hand of the Prophet, and the Order of the Awakened.  I haven’t looked into that, but I imagine that will need running some dailies for a couple of weeks.

So that is my goal for now, to get flying in Draenor before the WoW 7.0 patch hits and the pre-Legion events begin.

Thrasher Holocaust

There was the possibility of a Naga fleet last night.

Asher’s pre-op ping said that Nagas or Hurricanes would be the likely ships for the 02:00 fleet.  Having secured a few Nagas, I was up for that.  Also, Asher had actually stopped by and left a comment on the blog, which I figured was a sign that I ought to log in. (Maybe FC ships will be a topic on his next podcast.)

I was on early, in my Naga, and ready to go.  Theoretically the 02:00 fleet should start forming up before that time, but things were not running to that plan, so I hung out in the station, refreshed the fleet finder window every so often, and watched the in-station ads flash past.

It is bad enough they are hanging out on the undock, but now they're in the station...

It was bad enough when they were just on the undock, but now they’re in the station…

I was also on voice coms, but forgot to actually turn on my headset, so I missed whatever pre-fleet banter might have been going on.

Eventually the ping went out, the fleet went up, and we all started to pile in.  There was an immediate din on voice coms with people asking, “Canes?”  “Nagas?” “Canes!” “Nagas!” in order to figure out, or influence, the doctrine choice for the evening.

The choice, given the turn out and what the opposition was up to, looked to be leaning towards Nagas.  The main question was whether or not enough Nagas were available for the fleet.  There were only five up on contract along with some hulls on the market that could potentially be fitted out.  As people worked on that Asher asked people to get into a Naga if they had one

The Naga count turned out to be low, so those of us who had them had to put them away for another day.  Instead of Nagas… or Hurricanes… the fleet doctrine for the night was going to be Thrashers.  The Thrasher was the original Minmatar destroyer and is also the basis for the Sabre interdictor, a common sight in null sec.

Since Thrashers are not an official doctrine, this was going to be a free handout fleet where we would all be given a pre-fit ship.  This led to the dynamics of Asher trying to get a few people to hand out ships for him so he wouldn’t have a hundred trade windows open up on him.  Then we had to open trades with the people who stepped in to do this, though because there is always somebody who isn’t listening, not everybody who X’d up in fleet chat actually had ships to give out.  So Asher had to drag the correct names into fleet chat, at which we probably all mobbed the first guy on the list judging from his comments on voice coms.

Eventually everybody who was paying attention had a Thrasher.  We were almost ready to go.  There was just one more detail.

Asher wanted somebody to X up in fleet chat who had an alt account in the station who could sit there and hand out Thrashers so people could reship if they got blown up.  That was met with crickets.  Nobody wanted to be that guy.  Eventually, after some uncomfortable silence and a bit of chiding, I X’d up, then logged my alt account in.  Asher put his name in the MOTD and those who were handing out ships traded their leftovers to him.  We were now ready to go.

Asher counted down and we all hit the undock button at something in the neighborhood of the same moment.  We cruised out, watching the invulnerability timer count down, not touching anything… well, some of us clearly grouped guns, chose ammo, or loaded scripts into sensor boosters, as a few ships started getting popped.  Then there was some problem and Asher had us all dock back up again.

Then we did the undock thing again.  I undocked, but people were already saying they needed reships, so I tabbed to my alt’s window, hoping to just catch the fleet warp and be whisked safely away.

However, as I handed out ships in one window, I heard somebody on coms say they didn’t get the warp.  It sounded like maybe Asher did just a wing or a squad warp.  Either way, when I got back to Wilhelm, he was back in the station in his pod, so I had to open a trade window to my alt as well.

Asher had some of the fleet out and at a safe distance, but a lot of people still needed to get away from the station.  The station camp moved some ships to the well known Karma Fleet insta-undock bookmark and sat there farming kills, so I sat in the station for a bit handing out even more ships.

Evenatully the handout queue had subsided and I swapped back to Wilhelm, got in my own Thrasher, and undocked.  I went to simply warp to Asher, but he was too close to warp to, so I warped off to my own insta undock bookmark, then warped to Asher.  I was finally at the fleet.

My Thrasher

My Thrasher with the Nefantar Skin

That was the only screen shot I have from the whole op.  You can see the sensor booster effects on the Thrashers behind mine and, in the distance, the citadel where we would end up shortly.

Once there I had to go back to my alt again to hand out more ships, so I once again trusted in Asher as I took care of administrative business.

Eventually I heard him say, “There’s your target” on coms and got back to Wilhelm’s window.  We were warping to the hostiles in order to pick off a Bhaalgorn.  We landed, I locked up the designated target and opened fire.  However, I was taking some pretty significant damage almost immediately after coming out of warp.

We had landed practically on top of a group of Apostles fitted with smart bombs.  They had those running, we were in range, so they were chewing us up right away.

If I understand how things went after that, Asher attempted to warp us away from this vortex of death using his alt, but his alt was too close to the target point, so warping was not an option.  By the time that got sorted we were all trying to warp out on out own.  I had to swap to a different overview tab, pick a celestial, and select warp, by which time I was safely away in my undamaged pod.  The Thrasher popped just before I was under way.

Back on my alt, trade windows began to spring up like mushrooms.  I was already low on Thrashers by that point, so I handed out the last ones I had and announced that I was out.

People were arriving back in station, the fleet had been almost entirely wiped out, and, as it turned out, there were no longer enough Thrashers to hand out to equip people for another run.  The fleet was over.

On my alt, one person opened up a trade and returned an unused Thrasher, which I turned around and traded back to Asher.  But a few trades kept coming up looking to get a ship.  At least one person had just joined up, the traditional, “Am I too late?” question when they are way, way too late.  By law this must occur at least once on every Imperium fleet op.

Asher thanked us for showing up, encouraged people to buy, build, ship, sell Nagas so we can get enough of them in Saranen to actually use the doctrine, and then posted a participation link in fleet.

Of course, we all clicked on it, at which point the EVE Online client brought us out of the game and to our respective default browsers where we were informed that one cannot click on participation links outside of the game.

As part of yesterday’s patch CCP started on its path to discontinuing the in-game browser by having it force you to use a browser outside of the game by default.  However, one of the interesting bits about the in-game browser is that it can grab information about your status in-game, like your location and the ship you’re flying, so you can use that information in your web app.  RAZOR had a great navigation app at one point that used the in-game browser.  And, of course, the participation link system grabs your character name, alliance, corp, location, and ship type to show that you were there.

That all doesn’t work outside of the game.

Fortunately, the in-game browser is still there.  You can open it up and use it still, it just won’t open up automatically when you click on links in-game anymore.  So we all had to open the in-game browser, copy the link from fleet chat, then paste it into the address field to get our “being there” accounted for.

So our participation link system will have to change.  We have until October for that.

As for the fleet, according to the battle report we burned up 105 Thrashers and 61 capsules for an estimated loss of 895 million ISK (35% of which looks to have been in the form of implants) for 7 incidental kills, to which I am not sure we can even lay claim.  So we’ll call that zero kills.  The only target the fleet shot at as a unit survived.

At least the ships were free.  It is hard to get mad when losing a free ship, unless you also lost a capsule with implants.   In fact, I made money on the venture.  I insured both ships fully before undocking, which netted me a small bit of money, something on the order of a million ISK.  That sort of venture isn’t going to buy me a titan anytime soon, but at least there was one upside for the night.

We shall see how it goes tomorrow.

Minecraft and a Year of Statistics

So now that I have the long winded reflection post out of the way, here is something lighter.

Also a pretty Minecraft sunset

Also a pretty Minecraft sunset

One interesting side-effect of playing on a single server for 99% of my one year Minecraft career is that my stats for that server are pretty much my overall stats.  So here we go.

General Stats:

  • Games Quit – 762
  • Items Dropped – 539
  • Fish Caught – 148
  • Junk Fished – 16
  • Treasure Fished – 9
  • Talked with Villager – 919
  • Traded with Villager – 921
  • Cauldrons Filled – 2
  • Water Taken from Cauldrons – 3
  • Interactions with Brewing Stand – 39
  • Chests opened – 11,996
  • Trapped chests triggered – 166
  • Hoppers searched – 1,108
  • Droppers searched – 4
  • Records played – 2
  • Ender chests opened – 58
  • Items enchanted – 71

I like that it is “games quit” rather than started for no real reason.

MOB Stats:

  • MOB Kills – 14,601
  • Damage Dealt – 89,672
  • Damage Taken – 6,086
  • Players Killed – 0
  • Number of Deaths – 35
  • Animals Bred – 1,087
  • Zombies killed – 1,424 (killed me 3 times)
  • Skeletons killed – 851
  • Spiders killed – 526
  • Creepers killed – 512
  • Zombie Pigmen killed – 255 (killed me 4 times)
  • Magma Cubes killed – 206
  • Blazes killed – 185
  • Cows killed – 153
  • Slimes killed – 140
  • Sheep killed – 135
  • Silverfish killed – 129 (killed me 1 time, don’t go AFK!)
  • Chickens killed – 110
  • Ghasts killed – 98 (killed me 1 time)
  • Cave Spiders killed – 75
  • Endermen killed – 72 (killed me 1 time)
  • Witches killed – 54 (killed me 3 times)
  • Rabbits killed – 19
  • Squids killed – 15
  • Bats killed – 2
  • Ocelots killed – 1
  • Wolves killed – 1
  • Unaccounted for kills – 9,638 (dunno, just copying the stats)

I am not sure what else is inflating the MOB kill number, which is on a different page from the individual MOB stats.  The Ocelot and Wolf kills were both accidents while trying to tame them.  Doh!

While Zombie Pigmen have been directly responsible for more deaths than any other mob, Ghasts and Skeletons have both knocked me into lava, and my death, multiple times.  Ghasts have also set me on fire, which lead to my death, as well.  So I think they might be the MOB most dangerous to me.  I learned to use the bow and arrow specifically to kill Ghasts.

Crafting Stats:

  • Crafting Table interactions – 6,335
  • Furnace interactions – 2,176
  • Most Crafted item – Stick (needed for rails, torches, fences, tools, and more)
  • Most used item – Pick
  • Most depleted item – Pick
  • Most dropped item – Fish (from the Guardian farm no doubt)
  • Most mined item – Stone
  • Most picked up item – Cobblestone
  • Most crafted block – Stone Brick

The mend enchant has meant using diamond tools which can be repaired by experience globes, so I haven’t crafted many tools since 1.9 came out.

Travel Stats:

  • Walked – 2,273.26km
  • Sprinted – 20.96km
  • Crouched – 24.56km (most of it backwards)
  • Swum – 16.04km
  • Fallen – 8.54km
  • Climbed – 29.39km
  • Flown – 14.49km
  • Dove – 9.19km
  • Minecart – 591.01km
  • Boat – 105.06km
  • Pig – 335.71m
  • Horse – 129.3km
  • Elytra – 0mm
  • Jumped – 94,150 times
  • Times slept in a bed – 560

I do most of my travel by foot, though that includes every movement not covered by any other travel method.

I ended up turning off the auto-jump that came with Minecraft 1.10 because it was way too easy to walk over barriers I had put up to keep me from falling into lava and the like.

Minecarts are the most hands-off travel, while boats are the most efficient, so long as there is water where you are going. (And now that boats don’t break when you sneeze on them.)

Horses are great, but you have to keep an eye on them and they need a path 2 blocks wide and 3 blocks high.

And then there is the pig, which I rode just because Bhagpuss brought it up the last time I put up some Minecraft stats.  Not a very good way to travel, since the pig moves at  about walking speed, but amusing for a lark. (You can compare travel speeds with the chart here.)

Riding a pig away from Farm Station

Riding a pig away from Farm Station

So that is what I have after a year.  Sticks and stone and picks and a lot of walking.

Reflecting on a Year with Minecraft

In which I write a lot of words about a game… again.

As of today I have spent a full year playing Minecraft.  It was on Father’s Day last year that my daughter suggested we play together, a suggestion she has come to regret in that dismissive way that only teens can manage.

“Are you still playing that?” she says with that eye-rolling world weariness that she gives all such parental endeavors.  But I still remember our first little house in the game, and remind her of it.

A house on the hill

A house on the hill

A lot of time has passed in the world since.

According to Raptr I have spent more time playing Minecraft than any other game besides EVE Online and World of Warcraft.  Considering that I have been tracking with Raptr for five and a half years and I have only been playing Minecraft for one year, that says something.  My top five games on Raptr, as a percentage of time tracked, are:

  1. World of Warcraft 24.5%
  2. EVE Online 20%
  3. Minecraft 9%
  4. Rift 8%
  5. EverQuest II 7%

There are reasons that Minecraft has gone up the list so fast.  We’ll get to that.  But needless to say, I have spent some time with the game over the past year.  Bang for the buck, even with server hosting, has been pretty high.

And I have a pile of blog posts that follow what I have done, which I will just list out here as a retrospective, in case you want to catch up with the story so far.  In order from oldest to newest:

  1. Father’s Day Minecraft
  2. Further Exploration in Minecraft
  3. Minecraft and the Importance of Not Falling off of Things
  4. Minecraft and Bringing Light to Dark Places
  5. Sheep Stole My Mining Cart
  6. Minecraft and the Accumulation of Material
  7. Minecraft and the Gift of Fire
  8. Minecraft and the Hosted Life
  9. Paving the Nether
  10. Minecraft and Another Vision in the World
  11. Minecraft and Dungeon Making
  12. Major Minecraft Setback with NetherByte
  13. Don’t Throw Eggs at the Zombie Pigmen
  14. Minecraft – Our World
  15. Minecraft and a New Age of Exploration
  16. The Demise of NetherByte and the Portability of Worlds
  17. Into the Roof of the Nether
  18. So Close to Taming an Ocelot…
  19. The Barad-dûr in Minecraft – First Attempt
  20. Minecraft, Bases, and the Urge to Explore
  21. Minecraft – Under the Sea
  22. Minecraft and the Great Northern Road
  23. Finishing the Great Northern Road
  24. Minecraft and The Guardian Farm
  25. Prismarine Towers and Horse Field Dreams
  26. Minecraft – This is The End
  27. Our Automated Farms in Minecraft
  28. Upgrading to Minecraft 1.9
  29. Just Another Pig in the Wall
  30. The Move to Minecraft Realms
  31. Minecraft Rail Plans
  32. Collecting Tears…
  33. Finding the Northeast Passage in Minecraft
  34. One Hundred Million Copies of Minecraft
  35. Abandoned Mines and Prismarine Spans
  36. Minecraft 1.10 The Frostburn Update
  37. Minecraft and Closing the Rail Loop

So, after a year of this, I figured it was time to reflect on the game, the good bits and the bits that maybe aren’t so good… because I have to have that whole dichotomy thing I insist on bringing with me wherever I go.  Bear with me.

The Good

The game really scratches the whole “wordly” itch, something that used to be the domain of MMORPGs like EverQuest, Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft.  Your Minecraft world is a place to explore and live in.  That has, no doubt, reduced the time I have spent in what I would consider my more traditional domain, fantasy based MMORPGs.

In addition, the whole persistence aspect of the MMO genre is also covered.  We’re still working with the same world my daughter and I started a year ago today.  A work in progress.  It has been hosted at home and on three different hosting services so far, so not only does it persist, it is portable as well.

The multiplayer aspect is a big deal and, again scratches an itch that was otherwise the exclusive domain of the aforementioned MMORPGs.  That I was able to setup a server and have friends along to play in the same world was a big draw, one that keeps me coming back.  Going to see what other people have done in the world is a treat.

Then there is how each of us tackle the world.  Everybody has their own vision and things they like to do, and that makes looking in on everybody else all the more interesting.

And, of course, the variety of hosting options out there make sharing your world easy.

The sandbox nature, the ability to not just explore, but change the world factors in my enjoyment.  I spend most of my time either building things, or collecting resources to build things.  Crafting and farming enter into this as well.

There are still some nice things to find in game, like villages, desert temples, abandoned mines, dungeons, along with the whole nether and end experience that give you something to work with in the sandbox.

Survival mode provides the requisite friction to make building, exploring, and whatever seem… game like maybe?  If I set the world to creative mode and could just create things out of thin air and build whatever I wanted, flying around and placing blocks, I would have likely tired of the whole thing fairly quickly.

Which is not to disparage creative mode in general.  A lot of people like that, my daughter included, and that is great for them.  But for myself, in order to scratch that itch that video games satisfy, the environment has to impose constraints to work against.  In Minecraft survival mode that manifests itself in the day/night cycle, hostile mobs, the need to gather resources and move them to the site where I want to use them, the time it takes to travel places, and even little things like falling damage, food requirements, and the need to work around things in the environment like water and lava.  Certainly the possibility of death brings spice to things, but even things like item wear and inventory management forces you to adapt.

The requirement to collect raw materials is actually one of my favorite bits of the game.  I spend a lot of time mining in Minecraft.  Funny that.  I dig down to level 12, set up a central area with storage and an auto-furnace, and start throwing out shafts every third block.  I put on an audio book or a podcast and I can mine away for hours.  It can be quite relaxing… or exciting if I dig my way into something under ground.

There is a certain joy in the simplicity of the game, from graphics to actions.  I am not a fan of pixelated graphics for their own sake, but Minecraft has hit a happy balance for me.  The simple nature of the basic game “feels” in accord with the graphics.  The game itself is an odd mix of sophistication and doing things in what I might unfairly call “the easy way.”  The game graphically looks like something from a past era of video games, but in ways couldn’t exist outside of the current era.  Our world currently occupies about 1.2GB of drive space and requires fast internet to load and play effectively on the server.

So it looks like it could be from the 80s, but needs resources that have only become generally available… things like high speed internet and cheap 1TB hard drives… much more recently.  You couldn’t do this on an Apple ][ or a 486 Windows 3.1 PC or probably even that 400MHz Pentium II Windows 98 box with a TNT2 card I had around the turn of the century.  However, even with those requirements, its simplicity makes it feel happily retro.

Finally, there is the whole mod situation, which extends from simple client mods like texture packs, to handy additions like a mini-map, to server mods to change the very nature of the game.  There is a wide world of choices out there which I have yet to scratch the surface of at this point.  All I have really used is Minecraft Overviewer, which renders your world into Google Maps format so you can see it all.  I love this.  And it even has a UI now, so you don’t have to learn the command line if you don’t want.

The Downsides

The world in Minecraft can be a repetitive place.  For every interesting bit of scenery there is another plain or forest or desert or ocean that looks very much like the last one I saw.  Exploration can end up being very much a race to find something, anything interesting in a world of sameness.  I feel like I am most likely to get lost because any stretch of forest looks pretty much like any other, causing me to work out my frustration by setting things on fire.  Burn, forest, burn.  I’ll find another just like you over the next hill.

The downside of persistence is that sense of wanting to hang on to your work.  There are times when I want to just start another world, but then I look at all the work done on ours… and I don’t want to redo that.  I don’t even want to play on other worlds because if I want to play Minecraft, I want to spend the time improving our world… for specific definitions of “improving.”

Sharing your world with others is very cool, but actually doing things with other people can be annoying.  It can be surprisingly difficult to do simple things like travel overland together.  The whole first person view thing makes keeping and eye on other people a chore.  And, in this sandbox which is focused so much on building, we do tend to just build away on our own little projects.  I did get significant help on resources for the rail project from both Skronk and Aaron.  But you tend to let people do what they’re doing because it is their project.

Sharing is also… complicated.  Now and again I want more people to join in on what we have, but who can I really trust?  Who will be compatible and who will just come in and just blow up our stuff.  The joys of a destructible world!  Doubly so since a couple of us have our kids on the server now and again, so there are minors to protect, which lets out almost anybody who plays EVE Online as a possibility, because we’re all horrible people.

The weight of the sandbox nature of the game can be a burden.  When you have a project, all systems are go.  But when you have finished it… well, you have to come up with another project or else just potter around with what you have already setup.  And, frankly, pottering around mostly involves waiting; waiting for crops to grow, waiting for villagers to get something interesting up for trade, waiting for your automated production marvel to make the stuff it makes, or just waiting for the sun to come back up again.

I feel a bit of emptiness in some of my projects.  When my daughter and I first started, she built us a shelter that was just what we needed and no more.  It was pretty cramped.  Then she built the house we moved to, which was nice.  It had a few rooms, but there was something going in on each room.  Then I went and built a castle.  I had a vision of many rooms, each with a function.

However, as I completed the castle, I noticed that I really only used the room that I had setup initially to shelter in over night, plus some empty space around it where I put in chests for storage and built an auto furnace.  That and the automated farm on the roof are about all that the castle has in it.  The problem is that there is nothing to “do” in the castle.  I don’t need any rooms outside of the one where I sleep.  Likewise, in the area I refer to as The Kremlin, I have built several towers, a stable, and a large two story building, all of which are starkly empty inside because I still just sleep at night in the little room I dug in the side of the mountain when I first arrived.

Enaldi and Skronk have built the most amazing Italian town in our world.  Great buildings decorated inside and out.  They set it up with NPC villagers so that they go about their business around the town square.   It is the most wonderfully alive place in our world.  I love it.  But, in the end, there still isn’t anything to “do,” it is just decorative.  Enaldi and Skronk, to my knowledge, don’t log in to “play” in their creation.  They just add more to it.  Just building more and more can feel a little Sarah Winchester now and again.  (I live not far from her house.)

And, without that sense of function, I have stopped putting up large buildings for the most part.  Bridges I like, because they have a function.  But putting up a castle or the like doesn’t appeal to me now because they just end up feeling empty and lonely.  So I work out my anger by marring the landscape with giant public works projects.  I have seriously considered making the rail project double tracked.  Or maybe a six lane highway right through the middle of the continent.

Meanwhile, the friction which keeps the world interesting can also make it annoying at times.  The day/night cycle especially.   If you are on alone, you just hit a bed when the sun goes down and then the day begins anew.  But if other people are on and in the middle of something… nobody cares about day or night deep in a mine, nor when they are AFK waiting for their automated device to crank out some supplied… you have to coordinate or interrupt them or just deal with the night side of the cycle.  And, in the way of things, the day always feels too short because you’re getting things done, while the night feels like it goes on forever because you’re stuck inside or you’re fighting zombies, skeletons, and the seemingly endless supply of creepers the game loves to spawn.

I am unhappy with the behavior of water in the game.  Lava too, but I don’t want to create rivers of lava in the world.  Okay, that’s a lie, I would totally create rivers of lava as well if I could.  But working with water to create anything like a river just involves too many runs with a bucket.  I could just turn on creative mode and do that, but then there goes the magic of friction in the world.  And I want water to flow.  I want to drain lakes and flood mines.  Instead water just sits there or, at best, runs off for a few blocks, gets tired, and gives up.  It does make very nice waterfalls at times though.  I will give it that.

I have also had some poor experiences with hosting services.  There are so many to choose from and there is no real way to tell how things are going to work out.  Who knew NetherByte would fold up shop suddenly?  I suspect that our problems with MC Pro Hosting were related to them co-hosting us on an over taxed machine, so performance went to hell during peak hours.  I understand that problem, but for what we were paying I expected more.  Minecraft Realms has been good, and it is probably the simplest solution, certainly it is the one most integrated into the product, and the price is right, but you give up a lot of control options there.  So I remain vaguely dissatisfied on that front.

Finally, I have, to this point, spent exactly zero time with mods.  Part of that is because in my long history with video games I have developed a love/hate relationship with player developed mods and extensions to games.  I like them, but I have been burned enough times that I also try to keep them to a minimum.  Part of it is a desire not to screw up our world based on experiences related to the former.  Part of it is that it is nice just to be working with the simplest possible set of rules.  And, finally, since we now host on Minecraft Realms, we cannot have any server mods, and even if we could, they would all be broken right now because Realms is always running the latest release version.  There are still mods out there that haven’t been brought up to version 1.8 and we’re now at version 1.10.

Also, totally off the farm here, but I hate when versions don’t get zero padded and the plan is to change the digit count.  For me the sequence should be either this:

1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 2.0

or

1.07. 1.08, 1.09, 1.10

Where I grew up, 1.1 = 1.10.  But that might just be me.  I still like monospace fonts too.

Summary

If you are reading this and just love Minecraft beyond life itself, don’t take my comments too much to heart.  The day I cannot find something to complain about is probably the day I show up dead.

For me, understanding what I do not like about a game, and why, is as important as understanding what I do like.  Not, I cannot just play the game.  It just isn’t in me.  And, I will add a the long standing policy here at TAGN is that I almost never bother to write about games I simply do not like, and certainly not at depth.  This is just a bit of my collected thoughts after a year of playing the game.

I logged in and played yesterday, I will likely log in and play again tomorrow or the next day.

Minecraft and Closing the Rail Loop

After finishing up the Prismarine Bridge and under water glass tunnel… and screwing around with that huge series of abandoned mines which I still haven’t finished clearing out… I took the rail supplies I had accumulated and started building that last stretch of rail line to cut across the north of the rail loop and bring me to the mesa biome where I could start angling to join the whole thing together.

I made one base along the way in order to have a place to hole up at night.  The day/night cycle can be a burden.  You can either commute to and from your base every time the sun goes down or you can stay in the field and fight stuff all night.  Commuting is safer, but it eats up valuable daylight hours the further you get from your base.

From that point I kept pressing forward across plains, through a forest, into a savannah, until there, in the distance, I got my first glimpse of the mesa biome from this end of the tracks.

That bit of color there past all the sand

That bit of color there past all the sand

Seeing that put my goal in sight.  Also visible there is a desert temple, one of those naturally generated bits of the game.  When I reached it I found that it had, of course, been looted by Xydd already.  All of the hallmarks of his work were on the place.

But that was fine.  I didn’t need any more luggage, though I was happy enough to reuse the empty chests he left behind.  I sealed the place up, putting doors on the openings, lit the interior and the surroundings, and ran the rail line right up next to it, creating a station stop there.  This was to be my base at the north end of the mesa biome.

Desert temple becomes base

Desert temple becomes base

I needed a base because I still had to build a rail line across most of the mesa biome which, as its name implies, is made up of a lot of flat topped mountains.

There I had to make a choice as to how to proceed.  I could stay at about sea level and tunnel through mesas at need, or I could run rails up to the top of the first mesa and build bridges between them.

Tunnels would certainly let me collect plenty of colored clay, but I had already got to the top of a mesa at the south end of the biome, so going upwards seemed to be the better choice.  Plus the view is better from up there.

Also, using some extra powered golden rails was a benefit, as I have an excess of gold and redstone, while I am always looking for more iron.  I actually started laying golden rails more often as I went along.  You only need 1 every 30 iron rails to keep a mine cart up at full speed, but I cut that back to about 1 in 20 to reduce iron usage a bit and because, if you get stopped by something on the track that 1 in 30 plan won’t get you back up to full speed unless you hit a hill or a station.

I had also hauled along a lot of stone brick.  I have furnaces all along the rail line smelting cobblestone back into stone in order to make stone bricks, which is my current preferred building material.

So I pushed the rail line into the mesa biome and ran it up to the top of the first mesa that seemed to connect to a line of mesas that formed an arc along the eastern shore of the biome.

After I had gotten that side settled in, I went back down the rail line to the portal at the prismarine bridge, took the nether transit system to the portal already in the mesa biome, and came up there to start building the rail line from the other direction.  This was because there was going to be more work at that end of the line.  I had built the original rail terminus where there happened to be a portal and not with an eye to extending the line further along.  So I had to turn the terminus into a station and start building eastward to catch the southern end of that same arc of mesas.  From there I pushed northward until I got the other end in sight.

At that point I ran a bit ahead to build a last bridge on the northern end of the line so as to bring the two ends together at a point where I could build a little marker.  And so the circle was complete.

On this spot, the golden rail was laid...

On this spot, the golden rail was laid…

So what have I wrought with all of this work?

Well, there is a great loop railroad.  Single track I am afraid, and no sidings.  But there isn’t much traffic on it, so collisions are unlikely, unless we are talking about wildlife.  I’ve run into a few pigs.

The line is horse compatible, which means the right of way, as railroad people refer to it, is two blocks wide and three blocks high.  That is the size you need to be able to ride a horse through, so it can act as a road for those in the saddle.  The only exception is the line between Skronkholm and Firenze, but there is an alternate surface path there.

There are 19 main stations along the line, spread out thus:

Stations... you may want to click to enlarge that...

Stations… you may want to click to enlarge that…

The stations that are at each of those numbers:

  1. Desert Temple Station – North end of the mesa biome, lodging and storage only.
  2. Mesa Biome Station – Former terminus of the rail line, has a portal and the beginnings of a mine. (screen shot when it was just the terminus)
  3. Bridge Portal Station – A quick tower to spend the night in and a portal.
  4. Horse Fields Station – A prismarine rest stop with a stable and a portal.
  5. Farm Station – A large base of mine with a portal, a large series of mines, and a farm.  Additional building projects and a town nearby. (screen shot)
  6. Schloss Adler Station – A base I made in a mountain, with a mine and a portal.
  7. The Kremlin Station – A sprawling, walled base at the end of my second major rail line.  Has a portal, a farm, livestock, a mine, and paths off to a town and other structures.  Has several experiments in tower building and an ender portal off one of the mine shafts.
  8. Aaron & Xydd Station – The stop that leads off to both of their bases.  There is a rail line to either, though Aaron’s has grown such that it has crossed over the main line.  Portals and all sorts of buildings and machinery there. (screen shot of the vicinity)
  9. Spawn Point North Station – The stop at my first castle north of the spawn point.  A portal, a mine, and a farm are nearby.
  10. Spawn Point South Station – The stop south of the spawn point that used to be the end of the rail line to Skronk’s holdings.  Our first base in the game is nearby.
  11. Skronkholm Station – Skonk’s first works.  Includes a farm, a portal, and mining.
  12. Firenze Station – Skronk and Enadli’s elaborate base that has about everything.  Voted a world historical site by unanimous acclaim. (screen shot)
  13. Southwest Station – A minor base on the southern end of the west line, a quick place to sleep.
  14. West Plains Station – A small base located near a portal with a mine.  Food is available. (screen shot)
  15. Stone Mountain Station – A more elaborate base near a portal, with a mine and a small farm.
  16. Fire Town Station – A station I built adjacent to an NPC town, which I then walled in, expanded, and added a portal and a mine to.  So called because I built a two story red building that looks a bit like a fire station.  Horses are nearby as well. (screen shot before I built the fire station)
  17. Desert Town Station – A convenient stopping place during the build. Only lightly improved with an unfinished wall, no portal and no mine.
  18. Prismarine Bridge Station – A long time resting point for me, with a portal, small farm, dock, and a mine that leads down to a series of abandoned mines that were a source for much of my iron rail in the last push.
  19. North Point Station – The last station built on the line, used primarily as an overnight spot so I did not have to roll all the way back to the bridge.  Has a stable, as I rode a horse up there to use to scout the way.

Of course, that isn’t nearly obsessive enough.  After finishing off the line I had to go and travel the whole thing.  I decided to go from station to station and chart the distance between each, noting my odometer setting in the statistics panel as I hit each station.

  • Desert Temple to Mesa Biome – 1.58km
  • Mesa Biome to Bridge Portal – 1.12km
  • Bridge Portal to Horse Fields – 1.71km
  • Horse Fields to Farm – 1.70km
  • Farm to Schloss Adler – 1.43km
  • Schloss Adler to The Kremlin – 1.03km
  • The Kremlin to Aaron & Xydd – 0.50km
  • Aaron & Xydd to Spawn Point North – 0.41km
  • Spawn Point North to Spawn Point South – 0.36km
  • Spawn Point South to Skronkholm – 0.53km
  • Skronkholm to Firenze – 0.59km
  • Firenze to Southwest – 1.31km
  • Southwest to West Plains – 0.46km
  • West Plains to Stone Mountain – 2.52km
  • Stone Mountain to Fire Town – 1.61km
  • Fire Town to Desert Town – 1.57km
  • Desert Town to Prismarine Bridge – 1.67km
  • Prismarine Bridge to North Point – 1.30km
  • North Point to Desert Temple – 1.07km

That ends up totally to a 22.47km rail loop.  Of course, I opened up Excel and put that data into a two dimensional grid so I can expand it out to have a table that shows the distance along the rail line between any two stations.

I also timed the runs between each station, though that was a bit more problematic.  That required me to start and stop a stopwatch, which introduces some error.  Then I ran into animals at a couple points, which put off the time.  And then there are a couple of stretches of the line where I need to go back and inject a few more golden rails to keep mine carts at full speed.  I was stingy with those rails early on.

The times were off, but they seemed to indicate that a minecart, kept at top speed, moves about a half a km a minute.  That jibes with the wiki, which says the top speed is 8 blocks a second, and blocks in the game are a meter on each side. (Speeds of various things in Minecraft if you are interested.)

So that is a rail line that is 22,470 meters long… or, if you prefer, 22,470 sections of track… which, if you kept at top speed, would take 2,808.75 seconds to travel, or a bit more than 45 minutes.  I was considering how to showcase the rail line and thought about taking a video of a trip around the loop, but I don’t think a 45 minute video would be a big winner.  I’d have to speed it up.

And, as one additional bit of semi-related trivia, the explored area of our world… which admittedly still has some holes in it… is about 15km by 8km, which makes it about the same as the estimated size of the Kalimdor continent, as measured by somebody who attempted to apply some science to the topic.

So that is a major project completed in Minecraft.  I still want to go back and spruce up the bridges I build in the mesa biome.  I was in a bit of a hurry towards the end, so they are mostly just flat platforms between mesas.

So what was The Great Northern Road back in October, finished up in November, which later became the Great Northern Railroad ,and then plans for the great loop were hatched, which I did not post about until early May, when I was already pretty far along (14 of 19 stations in place by that point), is finished.  And that brings us to the eternal Minecraft question, “What next?”

Warcraft – Watching the Movie

Worst. Cinematic. Ever.

-My Daughter, on leaving the theater

We went to go see the Warcraft movie last weekend.

Coming June 10, 2016

Really, no need to reserve, plenty of seats available

Looking at the movie times I could see that the poor reviews the movie was getting was starting to influence the theater operators.  The movie was showing in almost every single first-run theater in Silicon Valley, the exceptions being a couple venues that tend towards art house sorts of releases.

But the show times were… sparse.  It seemed that the big multi-screen theaters were shuffling their options and cutting back on Warcraft showings.  The big AMC theater near us only had three showings on Saturday for the standard version of the movie.  There were four showings for the 3D version and five for the 3D IMax version, both of which come with a surcharge that boosts the box office take.

Any real summer season blockbuster would have had standard version showings starting every hour and as many 3D running…. which is what Finding Dory has running this weekend.  This weekend Warcraft has two showings each for standard and 3D, but still five for IMax.  I guess if you want to see if, they want to get the most money they can out of you.

And so the movie was a bit of a damp squib on its opening weekend, bringing in $24 million.

That sounds like a lot of money, but lets put this in perspective with other recent opening weekends.

  • Captain America: Civil War – $179 million
  • Finding Dory – $136 million
  • The Jungle Book – $103 million
  • X-Men Apocalypse – $65.7 million
  • The Conjuring 2 – $40.4 million (opened against Warcraft)
  • The Angry Birds Movie – $38.1 million
  • TMNT: Out of the Shadows – $35.3 million
  • Central Intelligence – $35.5 million (opened against Finding Dory)
  • Alice Through the Looking Glass – $26.8 million (opened against X-Men)
  • Warcraft – $24.1 million
  • Now You See Me 2 – $22.3 million (opened against Warcraft)
  • Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising – $21.7 million (opened against Angry Birds)

Warcraft isn’t setting any records, and is down more than 70% this weekend, looking to bring in a meager $6.5 million.  It won’t catch The Angry Birds Movie.  There is a metaphor in that I am sure.  So not a big success.

But look how well it did in China!

-Every over-invested fan trying to distract from the US Box office

You tell me what percentage of the Chinese theater revenues the studio gets to repatriate and we’ll talk about that.  A dollar earned in China isn’t the same as a dollar earned in the US.  The China success is an interesting side story, but not much else.

But how was the actual movie?

We went with a mixed group, myself, my wife, my mother, my daughter, and her boyfriend. (Lord help me.)  Of the five of us (out of a total of 10 in the theater, so it wasn’t going to well already), only my wife had never played the game, so she was our disinterested outsider.  The rest of us were in what I would consider the sweet spot target audience, we had all played the game, had a generally positive view of it, and were not immersed enough in the lore to nit pick anything that might come up.

The Good

The film looked good.  Stormwind looked really good.  The brief glimpse we got of Ironforge looked great.  Lorthar’s griffon mount looked very good.  Orcs looked good.  Magic effects looked good.  Even the fel taint looked good.  Visually, I approve.  This is the main argument for seeing it on the big screen.

Lothar’s griffon fought like a badass.  That was awesome.

That murloc we see in a stream early on.  He was the best.

Also, some amusing asides.

The Bad

Don’t see the movie in 3D.  The action includes a lot of camera shake and jumping around that will make you regret your 3D choice, as it just blurs things and will likely give you a bit of motion sickness.

The story they chose to tell is so distant from the current game as to be confusing.  I had one friend comment later about the portal not being in the Blasted Lands, and I had to point out that the portal in the movie was a DIFFERENT portal… we’re up to three portals now I think.  The one in the movie is the one from the Cavern’s of Time mission The Black Morass, which is in the Swamp of Sorrows if I recall right.  They had done that run before, but had forgotten.

The passage of time is not handled well in the film.  I could not tell you if the events in the film took place over a week, a month, or a year.  Travel takes exactly as long as the plot requires it in order to setup the next set piece, and not one second longer.

For a movie that is set in the what is now the distant back story for the current game, it made a lot of jumps and assumptions.  Even the scene with the portal opening for the orcs is pretty much, “Our world is screwed, let’s get another one by burning these unexplained blue people to power a portal.”  I came out of there with more questions than answers.

The story, despite jumping about, still seems to plods along in between the action so I felt every minute of the two hour journey.

Character motivation is pretty scant at times.  Still not sure why Medivh did what he did.

While the story correctly leaves the other races out of the events… it being Orcs and Humans like the box said… the brief glimpses of elves and dwarves were not pretty.  Do not want.

What the hell was Lothar’s griffon doing while he was unconscious?  Did he just give up and go have drinks with the orcs?  He was hanging around, ready to fly him home afterwards.  I expected the orcs to have eaten him at a minimum.

They just had to use the fucking Wilhelm scream.

Summary

Not a good movie.  It deserved the reviews it got.  The viewer ratings are just fan boy backlash.

It isn’t even bad enough to have a hope of being “so bad it’s good” after a while.  It was bland.

There were no real stand-out performances.  Nobody was horrible, but I didn’t come away with a new appreciation for any of the actors.  The plot was muddled and did not do anybody any favors.  Yes, the plots of video games are convoluted to start with, but this just made things worse, not better.  I feel no compulsion to watch it again.

They should have cut this down to a 20 minute cinematic for people to watch before the REAL movie, which should start somewhere between Warcraft III and World of Warcraft, if not later.

Seriously, Warcraft III was considered a huge success because it moved 4.5 million copies back in 2002.  WoW has that many people playing it right now, and has sold many, many more copies, falling only behind Minecraft for best selling PC game ever.  The prime target audience cares about Azeroth in the WoW timeline.

This was highlighted by questions my wife asked about how this related to WoW, wherein I had explain that the green orc baby and the teen mage have to grow into middle and old age respectively before we get to the actual game we started playing in 2004.

The whole enterprise covered production costs, but that doesn’t include marketing and other expenses, as anybody who has every had a “percentage of net profits” deal in such a venture will tell you.  I would guess that any result under half a billion in gross receipts guarantees no sequel, and it would have to somehow climb beyond three quarters of a billion to have a good chance of one.

So if you are a fan, go see it in the theater, if only to take in the scenery.