Monthly Archives: September 2006

September in Review

The Site

I started it this month. I had thought about an MMO blog for a while for variety of motivations, but the trigger was finishing the write up on the EVE Online tutorial because it hit one of my major planned themes: I am a noob, learn from my mistakes.

EVE Online

I started off the month getting further into EVE Online. I have run a ton of missions, done some courier jobs, trained skills, and finally saved up enough to get into a Caldari Destroyer. Still, I seem to have hit a plateau. I have completed a couple of story-line missions, but they do not seem to have amounted to much in my overall status in the game. I did get an implant from one that improves my intelligence, and I was all over that, but nothing else seems to have come of them. Meanwhile, I appear to have done all of the missions from the agents to whom I have access. I still get assignments, but they are always repeats. They have not referred me to anybody else. Somebody in our corp was screwing up out status with these factions however, so that may have had some effect on me. (I am not sure yet how my corp’s standing influences my own.) I left PWN. Shop because it gone lifeless at this point (aside from the standing drain) and am now in one of the default Caldari corps. So I am looking for something else in game, but I do not know what exactly. I am doing the same missions over and over. I am looking for a corp. I am training skills. (I am just past 720K skill points at this time.)

World of Warcraft

I was getting a bit tired of WoW, which was one of the reasons I started EVE Online. However, as I wrote in Changing My Solo Ways, things started looking up in WoW. We have a bunch of new alts in the 12-16 range and hope to get into Deadmines or Wailing Caverns this weekend if we can manage it. I will find something to write about the solo-focused noob facing an actual dungeon crawl as well as some reflections on the rogue class.

The Saga of Ryzom

I downloaded the trial version and tried it out. I have a short piece on it I need to finish up.

Coming up in October

Along with more on the above, I have a backlog of half written essays including more of The EverQuest Nostalgia Tour still to finish. The EQNT is going to end up being four or five posts long. I am stuck finishing up part two because it has too much about me and not enough about the game to interest most people at this point.

I am looking for a regular feature to write, if only because something like that adds structure to my writing process, such that it is. Maybe an “ill informed view of an unreleased MMO after quickly scanning their web site” feature? I have a couple of those posted already!

Changing My Solo Ways

I have decided to do something new and different while playing World of Warcraft.  I have decided to group with other people.

Now there is a novel idea!  I bet you never thought of it!

I have the alt disease, or alt-itis, or whatever you want to call it.  I like to make and experiment with different characters.  Rarely is the first character I roll the one I end up enjoying the most.

I have been playing WoW continuously on the Eldre’Thalas server since January and I have five characters that are level 40 and above and a couple more in the 20-39 range.  The last character I started went from creation to level 40 in a little over two weeks, 99% of which was done solo. (I grouped with another player to knock off two elite quests in Duskwood.)  It was done completely via following the standard quest paths.  I usually do both the quest paths that start off new players outside Stormwind and Ironforge as well as picking up the quest thread that starts in Ashenvale a little further on.  This means I end up doing a bunch of quests that have gone green at points, but in the end it keeps me right in the sweet spot for quests.  I always have plenty to do and I always know what I am doing next.

This is very efficient.  It also sounds a bit boring, more so than it actually is. (Changing character classes changes the way you do things.)  I obviously did not follow this exact path from my first characters, but I think after my last one it won’t vary much any more.  I made an effort to finish every quest, seek out ones I missed or dropped in the past, and generally tried to maximize my exp gain and reduce my travel time. (I am not so well tuned on the horde side, but I am getting there.)

I have not avoided groups in the past because I am anti-social.  I am in a guild, I chat with my friends online when I have time while I am leveling away, though that tends to lead to somewhat disjointed conversations.

I have avoided groups because they make leveling take longer in WoW.  Solo play, for levels, is rewarded in WoW.  When you group, your exp per kill is reduced, time taken to finish drop related quests goes up dramatically with each person you add to the group (so you do kill more, which mitigates the exp per kill loss somewhat, but a lot of the exp is in finishing the quest, so your exp/hour is still taking a hit), and unless your group all has the same quests, somebody is usually waiting for everybody else to get to their quest.

This is one thing that EverQuest II had over WoW.  While normal quests are worth a lot less exp for your level when compared to WoW, in EQ2 you could get a two or three person group together and grind for some excellent exp. (Once you deciphered “The Fiendish CON System of Dr. Fu Manchu” and figured out what you should be killing.)  I had some phenomenal exp runs with just my templar and a friend’s guardian slaying moderately difficult mobs. (Of course, Sony kept changing the exp table while I was playing EQ2, so this happened when they were boosting small group experience.  They may have reversed course on the whole idea since then.)

My alting ways has also contributed to my lack of grouping.  I generally avoid pick-up groups under all but the most dire or compelling circumstances and the people whom I know and share a guild with are more restrained in their character creation, so there tends to be very few occasions where people I know are online and playing a character with whom it would make sense to group. (They all have at least one level 60 character while I have not managed to hit 50 yet.)

Still, I am reasonably happy playing WoW as I do.  The game is fun.  Why should I change?

First, I have found that I do actually miss grouping.  I grouped a lot more in EQ and EQ2 and it can make the game much more enjoyable.  When things go right, you get to share your victory and when things go wrong, well, misery loves company!

Second, I feel I am missing a lot of the game content.  I have a system, but that system never leads me into dungeon.

A week or so ago an opportunity came up. I got in touch with a friend from high school who plays WoW. (Oddly enough it was because we went to high school with the woman mentioned in this MMO item.) [Well, that link is worthless now. I meant her.]  Last time I exchanged email with him I was still playing EQ2 and was annoyed that WoW looked so much like the Warhammer. (I am not a fan of the whole “ugly dwarves with huge feet” thing.)  He said he was playing WoW and was not really interested in EQ2.  This time we were both on the WoW page together.

After some back and forth he, I, his wife, and a friend rolled up new characters (making my 12th alt I think) with the intent of grouping together, staying in approximately the same level range, and doing instances together.  The last item is key.  We want to do instances as a group at the appropriate levels.  I’ve been towed through Deadmines and the Stockades by a level 60 guild mate, but that hardly counts.

So I hope get to experience some different content in WoW and I will get to hang out and chat with friends who are experiencing the same things in-game I am.  As an added bonus, I might possibly learn how to play a new character class.  I chose a rogue, a class which is not well represented in my list of alts, so we shall see.

Star Trek Online Musings

I am really looking forward to Star Trek Online, which is currently under development by Perpetual Entertainment.  It is a game I know I will play, at least for a little while.

I love space games.  I love the Trek franchise in general, if not every piece of it.  And I love MMOs.

So Star Trek Online (STO) is going to get some of my money.  We can take that as read.

Still, I have some reservations.

All Chiefs

The first is based off of my issue with Star Wars Galaxies (SWG).  I never played SWG primarily because I could spot a flaw in it a mile away:  Everybody wants to be a Jedi.

Okay, some people want to be Darth Vader… hell, I want to be Darth Vader.  I want the Imperial March to blare out when I enter a room rather than having to hum it myself!  Lore Sjöberg wrote in his Book of Ratings a perception about Darth Vader that I had at age 12, “…this is a man who made some good career choices.”  This may explain why I like Star Trek better than Star Wars.  In Star Trek I wanted to be Captain Kirk, but in Star Wars I associated primarily with the empire.  Would I like Trek as much if I had rooted for the Klingons? Probably not.  But I digress.

So SWG had to make a tough choice.  Either let everybody become a Jedi, which will piss off the purists and possibly ruin the game, or stick to the Star Wars idea that Jedi are rare, and then the aspirations of most of your player base will go unfulfilled.

STO faces an issue that is similar: Everybody wants to be Captain Kirk, Picard, or other favorite command rank officer… whoever gets to say, “Set course for Talos IV,” that is us.

This isn’t nearly as bad as the SWG situation.  Officers commanding Federation starships are a lot more common in the Trek universe than are Jedi in the Star Wars universe.  Still, if everybody wants to be the Captain, what will the game be like?  Will enough people follow the other professional paths to make for a viable, immersive universe?  Or do we all fear to become the mild-mannered science officer Picard from the episode where he gets to see what would have happened if he had avoided that brawl during his academy days?

Peace in Our Time

My second reservation comes from my experience with a couple Trek themed MUD/MUSH games: Business as usual in the 24th century is boring.  In the Star Trek universe the Federation is armed but peaceful.  Even the page for STO has this quote,

Stardate 77021.1: As the 25th century approaches, the military conflicts that have plagued the galaxy for untold generations appear to be coming to an end. The prime architect of this unprecedented era of peace, the United Federation of Planets, has begun beating its phasers into plowshares, and has set its gaze on the new frontiers first discovered by adventurous voyagers with names like Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and Kirk.”

Phasers to plowshares? I imagine most people will want to blow things up, to put it in the crudest form possible.  You can design clothes in Second Life.  You can become a trader or a miner in EVE Online.  But if you come to STO, you probably want to join the Federation, visit distant planets, meet strange new races, and kill Klingons.  And Romulans.  And those strange new races once they start getting on your nerves, prime directive be damned! 

The real outlet for this has got to be to let people get in touch with their inner Klingon.  The limited information about the game says that you may choose from nine different races, but they will all be in the Federation.  We will have to wait for a Klingon Empire expansion before we can shout “Hab SoSlI’ Quch!” and really mean it.  According to the site though, such expansions are planned.  Go Perpetual!

The Curse

And, finally, there is the Star Trek curse.  As a gaming franchise, Star Trek hasn’t exactly been stellar.  The only game from the franchise I still enjoy is Star Fleet Command II, and that is primarily driven from nostalgia for the Star Fleet Battles table top game I played back in the 70’s and 80’s. 

I don’t know if Paramount just partners with the wrong people, lacks vision, hasn’t built the brand, or is too protective of their intellectual property, but I am not holding my breath for anything like a LEGO Star Trek: The Original Series game any time soon. (And I so want to see the Star Trek cast in LEGO form!  LEGO would own me with that franchise!)

Maybe it is the Star Trek fans themselves.  Maybe we’re an aging demographic.  Or maybe we’re all just waiting for immersive Star Trek experience.  Could this be it?

Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings Online

I have to admit, straight out, that I hate the idea of this game as an MMO. 

There, I said it.

Furthermore, in the interest of complete openness I will disclose my answers to several questions on the “Tolkien Nerdiness Quiz” which I just made up:

-Owns multiple copies of the books (yes, 3 sets)
-Owns The Silmarillion (two copies, one of which matches one of the above sets)
-Has actually read The Silmarillion from cover to cover (more than once if you count audio books)
-Owns any of the Lost Tales books (two, in paperback)
-Has had a character in an MMO with a name that could be found in the appendix of “The Return of the King” (yes, I admit it)
-Has read rec.arts.books.tolkien with any regularity for a period over one year (yes, circa 1997-2001)
-Has posted to rec.arts.books.tolkien (no, never, I swear! I lurked, but I did not inhale!)
-Has opinions on balrog wings, Glorfindel, and the pointedness of elf ears (no “real” wings, same elf in both tales, not pointed)
-Has laughed out loud while reading the Tolkien Sarcasm Page (yes, “Saruman’s Diary” kills me)
-Has made up quizzes to show how much one knows (or does not know) about Tolkien’s work (just this one)

You might thus expect me to hold the purist line on Middle Earth, but I do not. I do not hate the idea of the game merely because it might seem a sacrilege against all that is holy.  After all, I got through the Peter Jackson movies without much pain.

I suppose I could live with the idea of Middle Earth with people shouting “LF1M For Barrows!”  “Need Healer for Moria!” and “Can somebody give me 10 farthings?”  A Middle Earth where thousands of hobbits roam the countryside in search of adventure, where elven loot whores are common, and where the real estate values in Minas Tirith are always at a pre-siege low.

What I really hate is the idea that an MMO, a persistent online world, is going to exist, unending, during the time frame of the first book of The Lord of the Rings.  The site for Lord of the Rings Online says in the FAQ that you may interact with the fellowship and many other important characters. 

My mind rebels at the thought. 

It is a story.  A linear tale where time progresses.  Will Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin be forever sitting in the Prancing Pony? Will Gandalf spend an eternity handing out quests and intoning some plot points on the road to Rivendale?  Or will there be multiple versions of these important characters, so you can simulate time travel?  Will it be, “Didn’t I just see those guys just outside Moria?  What are they doing back in Bree now?”

If they left out the major characters and just let you go about the world of Middle Earth at the end of the Third Age, I would be fine with it.  But to try to mingle the story with a persistent world just strikes me as wrong.

Maybe the developers have all of that covered.  Maybe they have a slick way to make my issues goes away. I don’t know.

And in a sense it is no different that most other MMOs.  No matter what you do, the world around you remains is unchanged. In Azeroth and Norrath the calendar moves forward but the conflicts remain the same.  But in Azeroth and Norrath you don’t wander around the with the knowledge that some short guy is supposed to end the game by destroying a drop from a low level instance. 

Anyway, I write from a position of ignorance when it comes to the game itself, so if you want to point me at something that will alleviate (or aggravate) my fears, please feel free!

The Official SOE Podcast #4

Alan “Brenlo” Crosby and Ryan “Blackguard” Shwayder open up the podcast.  They briefly cover the Austin Game Conference, Ryan’s departure from SOE, the EQ Serpent’s Spine expansion, the EQ2 Echo’s of Faydwer expansion, and that the SOE Podcast is moving to an every other week schedule.

Following that there is:

-A long Planetside segment (roughly 1/3 of the podcast) that includes questions from players.

-An EverQuest Online Adventures segment that is all questions from the player community

-An EverQuest II segment covering expansions in general and upcoming Echoes of Faydwer expansion specifically and which ends with a “song.”

And the show wraps up with out takes.

There is no EQ segment as the Serpent’s Spine expansion is in the process of launching this week so the EQ team was all way too busy.

The show duration is 58 minutes.  It is available on the EQ2 Players site here as well as on iTunes.

Stellar Emperor – 1986

Back in early 1986 I was in college, I had a job that paid the bills with a lot left over for fun (at least it seemed like a lot back then), an Apple //e, a 1200bps modem I bought from my friend Dennis, and a desire for a new gaming experience.At the time CompuServe, The Source, Delphi, and GEnie were all offering some sort of online gaming, but only GEnie and CompuServe had games that sounded good to me.  I chose GEnie because they had the bargain basement connection price of $5 per hour (non-peak hours only!) while CompuServe was charging $6 per hour for 1200 bps (less for 300 bps, more for faster), a monthly minimum charge, plus a surcharge for dialing in from my location through another service.$5 per hour!  So think about that next time you bitch about $15 a month for an MMO.

The game that appealed to me was Stellar Emperor (SE) by Kesmai.  (Had I chosen CompuServe, it would have been MegaWars III, which was the same game.)

I set up my GEnie account one Friday night, found my way to the SE menu and entered the game.

I was assigned the number 2451.  Each player had a number assigned.  You also put a name in with your number.  The name could be changed, but the number was associated with your account.  To change it you had to leave your account inactive for a set period of time (90 or 120 days as I recall) and then you could start again and be assigned a new number.

I chose the name Wilhelm because I happened to have Hogan’s Heroes on in the background while I was logging in and I had just heard Werner Klemperer announce to somebody that he was “Colonel Wilhelm Klink, Commandant of Stalag 13!”

This is why my handle on the blog is Wilhelm2451.  It represents my first online gaming name. (In game it would have shown up as “2451 Wilhelm” but whatever.)

Stellar Emperor, which began commercial development in 1981, had some things any MMO player will recognize.

– A persistent universe.  The game kept going when you logged off.
– Guilds.  Well, teams, but effectively the same thing.
– Public and private chat channels.  You could have three channels active.  The channels were numbered from 1-999.  Channel 1 was the universal channel, everybody kept that live.  Then your team could grab a channel and use that for private communication.
– Direct tells to players for private messages.
– A trade skill of sorts (planetary management)
– PvP

A game of Stellar Emperor lasted four weeks.

The first night of the game was the busiest.  You might find 100+ players on at once.  The galaxy was laid out into sectors with each sector containing a number of stars.  The stars, each identified by a number, remained in their positions from game to game.  The planets around those stars changed from game to game. On the first night people would scout the star systems looking for planets to colonize.

Each player was allowed six planets.  Planets had two attributes, habitability and metal content, both on a 1-100 scale.  You wanted both to be as close to 100 as possible.  You and your team would divide up the galaxy and begin scouting the 1200+ star systems.

There were text files available of each of the sectors and the stars they contained.  These were a requirement as the stars were not numbered in any order, so if you tried to scout them in order, you would spend most of your time traveling across the galaxy.

Travel, while not slow compared to EVE Online, still took time, so even in scouting a sector you would try to choose an efficient path from star to star.  We would all note where the decent planets were in our sectors, especially those already occupied by members of other teams, and we would try to find six good planets for ourselves.

You had to grab your planets on the first night if you wanted to have a chance of winning the game.  On a 99 habitability rated planet even a few hours lost could change your final score enough to drop you a couple of pegs in the ranking.

There was a scoreboard that was updated once a day.  For the first week or so, it reflected kills made by individual pilots.  You could attack any other ship and get points for kills, but in the end, the scores for planets are what decided the game.  Still, there were people game for combat, especially on the first night when everybody was out in scouts.  One player who went by the name Berserker (ship ID 7020 as I recall) who wrote a fighting program for the game that was viciously efficient.  You would have to gang up on him with three or four other ships to kill him.  So here it is 1986 and we already have botting.

Later in the game, as people built shipyards, score began to reflect ship size.  Only in the last half of the game would planet scores begin to take over.  You had to be careful not to let your score spike too soon.  Other teams probably scouted the locations of your planet so they could take them away from you if they looked good enough.

Planetary management, planetary defense, and planetary take overs were all arts unto themselves.

And did I mention that all of this was played in text on a screen that was 80 columns wide at 24 rows tall?  No ANSI color even, just plain, scrolling text.

Further notes about Stellar Emperor can be found by clicking on the tag or going here.  I also wrote a bit about Stellar Warrior and Air Warrior, which were also games on GEnie back in the day.

Blackguard and the SOE Podcast

This morning I read the announcement that Ryan Shwayder, known as Blackguard on the SOE forums, was leaving his position as the community relations manager for EverQuest 2.  This will no doubt be a blow to Sony.  No person is irreplaceable, but he has a passion for games in general and EQ2 in particular that he is able to communicate when speaking or writing.  This can be difficult in a large corporate environment. (My own company just issued its 36th “soulless press release from the undead” this year, so my test for passion is to compare it against those, which are… what is the opposite of passion?  Well, whatever it is, these are in the same ZIP code.)

You can find his farewell on the SOE forums here and a similar but not identical note on his own blog here.

While I have never interacted with Blackguard in person, I find I own him a debt. 

As I understand it, he was a driving force in getting the official SOE podcast going.

And the SOE podcast was the first podcast to which I ever bothered to listen.

A lot of people criticized the first SOE podcast, and with good reason.  It was heavily scripted and pretty lifeless, but there was enough there to show me that podcasts were a viable information source for the MMO world.  Even though I do not play EQ or EQ2 currently, I still remain interested in what is going on with the game, and with a podcast I can avoid the various forums which I find physically painful to read most days.

I began looking for other podcasts covering gaming in general and MMOs in particular and have found a couple to which I now listen regularly.  They in turn have expanded the amount of news I get about the MMO world and blah blah blah.  I will write more about other podcasts at another time.

Anyway, thank you Blackguard!  Good luck on your new path!

Micro Multiplayer Gaming

I have a great time playing “Simon Says” with my 4 1/2 year old daughter and I finally figured out why.

For a short period of time she actually does everything I say the first time I say it.  This is such a change from her usual behavior that it is almost intoxicating.

Also, I work her every time we play.  Hah!

EVEMon Utility

EVEMon is a great utility for EVE Online.  The basic function allows you to monitor the progress of skill training on your character, including a count-down timer, see what skills you already have trained, your ISK balance, your stats, and other basic information. 

That would have been enough for me, but there is more.

There is a skill planner utility that shows all of the skills that are available.  In the list the skills you have trained are highlighted and to what level they are trained is indicated by an icon.  Skills that you can train are also visibly highlighted.  As for the other skills, you can click on them and it will show you the prerequisites required to train the skill and an estimated duration to train through level one of the skill given your current skill knowledge. 

You can plan out a queue of skills you want to train and EVEMon will tell you if there is a way to speed up your path by training another skill earlier. 

It also contains a ship and item browser that is easy to use and allows you to scope out all of the equipment you can find in game.  In addition, you can select something, like a ship, and click on a button to add all of the skills you are missing for that item to your training plan.

Everybody else in the world might already have seen this utility, but I think it is so neat I have to post about it.

If you don’t have it, get it here.