Monthly Archives: April 2007

Falling Through Maj’Dul

Falling through the world!  There are few activities that remind me so much of SOE games as falling through the world and then being reset to a safe location.  It was big fun in EverQuest.  I seemed to have a knack for it back then. 

I understand that Vanguard, in its effort to be the spiritual successor to EverQuest, has turned falling through the world into an event for everybody.  I thought I saw a quote from Brad McQuaid just the other day where he said that they were going to address this issue by adding discovery experience and a series of quests devoted to enhancing the whole falling through the world experience.  The only limits are your patience… er… imagination!

In EverQuest II, by contrast, I have have ended up looking at the back side of the scenery much less often.  I’ve seen lots of recurring issues, but the underside of the world has not been one of them.

That actually surprised me a bit.  I may be flippant on the subject, but I also know the issue is not an easy one to address.  Any virtual world in an MMO, despite its substantial appearance, is as thin as a decimal place.  Norrath is a Potemkin Village of microscopic depth.  All it takes is one little misalignment in the terrain leaving a hole so tiny that a pixel would seem giant beside it.  Land in just the right location and you might end up plummeting through the void.  It gives new thought to the idea of a “seamless” world. 

But I do seem to have the knack for finding these locations.  The other night I found one with Blintz in Maj’Dul.  It appears you need Fae Glide to fall through at this location, which I reported in a bug, but I managed to get it to happen 100% of the time.

Fae Glide!

My favorite feature of the fae, the reason I will probably never buy a mount for Blintz.

Fae Glide also gives a new feeling to falling through the world.  Rather than a rapid descent you get a nice, leisurely glide through the void behind the surface of Norrath.  And with Maj’Dul it is even more interesting.  This is, after all, a floating city.  You are not supposed to be able to jump off the edge, but falling through it is effectively the same thing.

Since I had such an easy descent through the void, I had some time to take screen shots.

Here is the point where I first fell through, when I grabbed a quick shot, thinking that I might never see this view again.

mdfall000.jpg

Here we are, a little later in the day (did somebody find out, definitively, the time scale of Norrath in EQ2?) and another view of Maj’Dul’s underside.

mdfall001.jpg

Bilntz, alone in the void.

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This is the false landscape below Maj’Dul.  I thought I might be able to land and walk around on it.  Instead, I fell right through.

mdfall003.jpg

On the other side of the landscape there was the night sky.

mdfall004.jpg

The void, at least around Maj’Dul, appears to be a sphere.  This is a bit different that I remember the sky in EverQuest.  I had a screen shot, long since lost, of the shape of the sky in EQ when I managed to get up on top of some buildings in Qeynos. (Solo play FTW!)  There the sky appeared more like an inverted fish bowl, with the opening out of sight of the players… or at least those players who had not yet managed to get up on the roof yet.

Anyway, that is my view of the underside of Maj’Dul.

LOTRO – Further Discounts

I was actually a bit surprised to see that if you take the $9.99 a month founder’s subscription plan, you can actually get a further discount on your subscription price if you pay for 3, 6, or 12 months at once.

lotrodiscount.png

This saves you $1.22 on 3 months, $4.19 on 6 months, and $9.89 for a full year.

While discounts for paying for a subscription in larger blocks of time is a standard practice in the industry (except, of course, when it comes to SOE Station Access) I was not expecting Turbine to extend this practice to the founder’s pricing model.

The whole founder’s pricing selection screen is here:

lotrofounders.png

One item of interest is that you have until May 24th to enter you pre-order and retail product key, so you still have time to get in on the founder’s plan if you can find a pre-order.

You can also change you mind about which founder’s plan path you wish to take up until the first billing cycle hits, 30 days into your subscription.

More details are available from the LOTRO Pre-Order FAQ.

Enjoying LOTRO – Buying LOTRO

I have played Lord of the Rings Online off and on since the end of February.  I have gone through bursts of activity in the game followed by a week or two of playing something else.

Last weekend though, I think I hit a transition point.  I went beyond abstract interest in a game whose world I know so well through the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

I started enjoying the game for the sake of the game itself.

I initially logged on to goof around with my champion for a bit.  I am still figuring out what class suits me.

After a bit of running around I decided to roll up a hunter.  An elf hunter.  Yes, “Legolas Syndrome” strikes again.

I had already been through the elven starting zone as a minstrel, so I knew the basics of where to go and what to do.  In a way, this second run through was somewhat liberating.  I spent a lot more time seeing the sights.

Once through the trial with Dwalin, I was out into the world.  Just running around solo I really found myself having a good time.  I think it was a combination of the new class (the hunter works for me so far), the scenery (and the fact that there are out of the way places to see), and the fact that I am getting used to the slightly different UI that gave me the warm fuzzy.

So, with that happy elf buzz still going, I ran down to Fry’s today (it is Tuesday, right?) to pick up my live retail box of LOTRO.

And there, in the PC games aisle, I had to make a decision: Special Edition or Not?

Since my Civilization III collectors edition purchase (least favorite version of Civilization ever) I have been somewhat down on spending extra money for a version of the game that, in the end, does not really deliver much extra value.

On the other hand, the suggested retail price for the Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar Special Edition (with Exclusive Special Edition Items!) is only $10 more than the standard edition.  Plus, it does not come in a giant, difficult to conceal-from-my-wife box like The Burning Crusade Collectors Edition.  (Which comes in a box big enough to contain Trivial Pursuit: Azeroth Edition.  And, frankly, I am surprised there is no such thing as Trivial Pursuit: Azeroth Edition yet.)

Granted, the making of DVD is something I might watch once, the 10 day buddy key is of negligible value, and the idea of a full color manual did not exactly thrill me.  Still, the sound track CD and the in-game item (The Glass of Aglaral, which appears to be a Quickie Mart Phial of Galadriel) sounded good.  Plus, I can always use another map of Middle Earth.

So the Special Edition was my choice!

And what is my initial reaction now that I have opened the box, popped in the CD, and pawed through everything?

  • Sound Track CD – It’s okay.  I can let it play in the background, but the sound track isn’t as compelling as WoW’s.
  • The Map of Middle Earth – While it is printed on parchment paper, it is a bit heavy on the browns overall, so it is not the easiest thing to read.  Plus it is tiny.  It is about the size of the map of Middle Earth you see in the front of any copy of “The Fellowship of the Ring.”  Okay, it is a little bigger than that… maybe if you have an oversized trade paperback copy of the book, but it isn’t even close to a letter size piece of paper.  I’ll use it as a bookmark for my Atlas of Middle Earth.
  • Color Manual – This is actually surprisingly good.  It doesn’t have an index at the back (you know, Word will do that for you automatically) but it does have a detailed table of contents that is almost a substitute.  The color makes it easy to read and I was able to find out how to bring up my Deeds window (shift-L) pretty quickly.
  • Buddy Key – Works for 10 days, then your buddy has to buy a full retail copy of the game to continue.  What a buddy!
  • Making of DVD – It is in there.  I’ll let you know when I watch it.
  • The Actual Game – On two DVDs.  I do not think I need to install it again.

Probably worth the extra $10 I guess.  Plus I would always be imagining that I missed out on a detailed, silk screened, flag-sized map of Middle Earth if I let the opportunity pass.  Sometimes it is better to know.

Now I am left with one more big decision:  Which founder’s path to take, $9.99 a  month until I cancel or $199 and never have to uninstall LOTRO?

Soloing – More Than A Requirement

Solo content  is an old argument.  Should a massively multiplayer online game should bother catering to the solo player? 

I thought that the argument had been settled some time back, but then games like Dungeons and Dragons Online release without any solo content and you wonder if anybody has been paying attention.  (Turbine added solo content later, but probably after it was too late to make the game a success.)

So I was glad to see a couple of people pipe in on the subject of solo content lately.

A little over a week back EverQuest II Executive Producer Scott Hartsman was quoted in an interview on WarCry on the topic of solo content.  “Primarily, there needs to be something to do when you?re all by yourself,” he explained.

Last week over on Nerfbat, MMO Development Lesson #12 was that solo content has to be an integral and fulfilling part of any MMO.

As somebody whose in-game time is 80% solo, I agree heartily.  I want to have something to do in-game when my friends are not available.  Being able to solo is one of the things that keeps me playing a game.  Not being able to solo, at least not without great difficulty, was one of the reasons I stopped playing EverQuest.

But there is another aspect to having solo content, something beyond giving you something to do when your friends are not around.

I find that playing solo is really how I get to know a game.  Being able to run off the main path and explore, seeing what is beyond a random hill, interacting with a variety of NPCs, crafting, and experimenting with your characters skills and abilities are just some of the activities that lend themselves to time alone.  These are things you want to do at your own pace.  These are also things that bring you closer to a game, that help you become familiar with the world.

For me to really get into a game, I have to be able to spend a lot of time just poking my nose into things and figuring things out. 

Not that I am down on grouping in any way.  I wish I could find more time to group up and play with my friends.  But a group tends to be mission oriented.  You have limited time together and you want to get things done that you might not be able to manage solo.  That does not lend itself to voyages of exploration. 

When I am grouped up, I want to do things with the group.  Sometimes that can be exploration and learning, but it has a different feel to it. In the end I hate wasting a group’s time to indulge my own curiosity. 

But if a game gives me the ability and provides me the opportunity to solo I am much more likely to feel a part of the game and end up playing (and paying for) that game for a long time.

Wanted: MMO Rosetta Stone

Here is an idea for an MMO web site if you are looking for a niche.  In playing several MMOs over the last year and having dragged a couple of friends from one MMO to another, I have wished for the equivalent of a Rosetta Stone for MMO knowledge.

This wish will probably become more universal with the upcoming release of Lord of the Rings Online.  LOTRO, while it sticks with many of the common MMO conventions, renamed nearly everything in an effort to meld the MMO standards into the Tolkien world.

In my vision, this site would be a comparison of the mechanics and terminology for playing different MMOs.  A few of the common topics that ought to be covered include:

Equipment

Most equipment in WoW is bind on equip or bind on pick up.  In EQ2 most equipment attuned, which is similar to bind on equip, but has a manual step (right click to attune) that somebody coming from WoW might not guess.  EvE has, to my knowledge, no such mechanism.

And then there is the “how good is this” aspect.  If it is “Rare” in WoW, is that as good as “Mastercrafted” in EQ2?  I suppose you won’t me able to line quality tiers up exactly, but it would be nice to have them list out next to each other.

Weight

Does stuff have weight in the game?  I mailed a few bank boxes to a friend who joined up on EQ2.  She put them in her bags and then could not figure out why she was suddenly moving so slowly.  She, of course, came from WoW, where nothing has weight.

Screen Shots

In WoW, Alt-Z turns off the UI and Print Scrn takes a screen shot in a raw format by default.  In EQ2, F10 turns off the UI, Print Scrn takes a screen shot in JPEG format by default, but you can adjust the compression or change to a raw format.

Time

WoW uses real time, but the time zone is based on the server on which you play.  EvE uses real time, but it is GMT.  EQ and EQ2 have their own time scale which is, if I recall right, on the order of one real time minute is one game time hour.

Currency

WoW has copper, silver, and gold, with the ratio of 100 = 10 = 1.  EvE just has ISK, and it frequently comes in 7 digit amounts.  EQ has copper, silver, gold, platinum with the ratio of 1000 = 100 = 10 = 1, but EQ2 has the same coins with the ratio of 1000000 = 10000 = 100  = 1, a ratio I did not notice for some time after I started playing.

Communication

Standard channels, how to speak on them, how to create your own channels, how to send messages directly to people, and how to use the mail system, if there is one, in game.

Other Items

A lot of basic game mechanics vary at least slightly from game to game.  The site should cover things like, how to form a group, how to create a guild, what guilds are called and if they even exist in some games, how to form a raid, and so on.

So that is my idea, you are welcome to it.  I suppose it could be done as a Wiki, though my own experience with Wikis are primarily with the internal ones at my company, where people seem to believe that “Wiki” is the Hawaiian word for “spastically disorganized,” so I am somewhat down on them at the moment. 

If somebody has already done such a site, point me at it!  If you want to do the site, I’ll be happy to contribute.  I just know that I will never get around to doing it myself.

How Green Was Mii Valley

A Mii is a character you can create on your Nintendo Wii.  You do not have to create one, but it is pretty cool if you do.  Your Mii acts as your avatar in some Wii games, including Wii Sports.

My daughter is in love with the Mii creation process.  We now have many Miis living in our Wii. (I am disappointed that Mii is not both singular and plural, like fish, sheep, or Wii.)

Frankly, this is one obsession that I understand.  Making a Mii is actually fun.  Nintendo hit right on the mark in the balance between customizability and simplicity.  The Mii creation interface offers more customization than any MMO I have ever played aside from City of Heroes.  Each Mii can be made to look quite distinct.  On the other hand, the designs are quite simple, so Mii are in no danger of straying into the Uncanny Valley.

When you have made up your Mii, you can then use that Mii as your in-game character for some games, such as Wii Sports.  In Wii Baseball, it actually fills out the other 8 players on your team from the Miis on your system.

This fact opened the door to rampant Mii creation.

When my daughter figured out that it drew from your Mii pool to fill out your team, she told me she needed to make a few more for her team.  We had four already, one that looks somewhat like me (which I made), one that looks like my wife (who has yet to touch the Wii), and two that my daughter made for herself.

Now every time I look at the Mii channel on our Wii, I find more and more Miis living there.  There were 22 there last night.  I suspect there will be a couple more before she goes to bed tonight.  The system caps out at 100 Miis, so we have some room to grow.

The funny thing is that my daughter has also taken over the role of inspector of Mii quality.  She has to approve of any Miis created.  If she does not like them, she does not hide the fact.

Now, I am the only other person in the house that is likely to create a Mii, so it isn’t a big deal when my ideas are rejected.

Still, she practically threw a hissy fit when I made an “ugly” Mii. (Her opinion.  I was just going for a Goth look.)

It also took quite a bit of negotiation to convince her to make a Mii with blonde hair, since all of her Miis so far look, superficially, like her when they are female (long brown hair in different styles, green eyes, and the like) or like me when they are male (tall, skinny, blue eyes, and somewhat goofy).

Even with that, we have fun with the Miis.  I hope that there will be more games like Wii Sports that let you use a Mii as your in game avatar.

I just wish I could save off a screen shot of my Mii.  I’d make him my forum avatar.

Flying Troll Invades Kelethin!

Of course, once I figured out that the Guise of the Deceiver would turn me into a flying dark elf, I had to see what those petrified eyes that are the reward for the bone quests would do.

Never being someone to throw things away, I had all the ones Blintz had managed to collect in the bank.  Unfortunately, I have not really gone very far with collection quests with Blintz, so I only had a few. 

Which to try?

Wood elf?  No.  High elf?  Nah.  Half elf?  Boring.  Troll?

 Troll!

Kelethin News Flash! Invasion of the Flying Troll!

Incoming!

The fierce flying troll brandishes his weaponary!  Grrr!

Once cook 4 kobolds on this rapier

The troll appears to come in peace.  Here he is trying to fit in with the natives.

Me more of a dwarf eater.

Now what will happen when I finish the ogre bone quest?

The Failure of Vision

There is a guest blog entry over on VirginWorlds that really brings home some emotion for me. 

Titled “Questions without Answer,” it looks at  Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and wonders at how the group that put it together over five years could have been blind to what was happening in the world of MMOs during that time.  How could they have thought Vanguard could be a hit?

The funny thing is that I know for a fact that they were not blind to events in that MMO space over the last five years.  I know they were completely aware of World or Warcraft, of its mechanics and success.  I have heard Jeff Butler say that, not only does he have a level 60 character in WoW, he has MANY level 60 characters in WoW.

Sigil studied the competition.  They just came to the wrong conclusions.

And they almost had to come to the conclusion they did, because the lens through which they saw the MMO world, the vision that drove the creation of the company, demanded it.

You may wonder how reasonable, intelligent, experienced people can let themselves be blinded by vision.  It is difficult to explain.  You really have to be part of such a team and have the vision fail so spectacularly that you are able to see the failure.

And even then, you may not find any problem with the vision itself.

I know this because I have worked at such a company.

In the early 90s I was part of a start-up in Silicon Valley that did very well.  A matter of timing, connections, and good luck vaulted our company from mild obscurity in our segment to the market leader.  In our market, we were the EverQuest.  Not the first, maybe not the best in all regards, but we had just the right mix at just the right time.

As these things happen, we had not planned for success.  There were rough times handling demand and expansion.  One of the founders, the man with the vision who made success possible, ended up getting sidelined in the press to bring the company public and cash in.  He made his money, but ended up leaving the company shortly after the IPO.

A driven man, a man of vision, the founder was determined to repeat success. 

The old company did well, but spent its time defending its current market.  Its attempts at expansion all lost money. 

Meanwhile, the man of vision had formulated a plan.  He founded a new company.  He invited some of his favorites over and showed them his vision.  I was part of that group, and like most of the group, I bought into the vision.

So I left the old company to join the new start up.

The vision was compelling.  The founder was the sort of person who could really motivate people, who could really make you believe in the vision.    

We believed.

Even when key external factors of the vision failed to come to pass, we believed.

Even when we ran out of money, we believed.

Even when most of us could no longer work for free and had to move on to other jobs, we believed.

Now, years later, the company is just a memory.  When some of us get together for a couple of drinks, we still mourn the failure of the vision to come to pass.  We still believe in it and we blame bad luck, bad timing, bad execution, and the rest of the world for its demise.  We end up sounding a bit like Brad McQuaid.  Things did not go right, but the vision was still valid.

And this may all seem silly, this talk of vision.  But that is the problem with a vision, you either buy into it or you do not.   If you do buy in, if you do believe, if you are party to real vision (and not the corporate nonsense “vision statements”) driven by somebody who can really make you believe, the truth of that vision becomes part of your world view.

So when you look at the foibles of Vanguard and think, “Well, I could have told them that was a bad idea!” I would have to disagree.  You might have told them, but you probably could not have convinced them.  Sigil quite clearly started with a vision, and one of the things vision does is help you keep on track through all the noise and interference that the world generates.

The problem is that while your vision can usually accommodate input from the real world, the real world is under no obligation to accommodate your vision.

Our little company did not have an out when reality ground us down.  Will Sigil have an out?  Somebody thinks so.

Night Four At Nektropos Castle

Wednesday night.  I got home late.  My wife stayed up just long enough to kiss me good night, then went to bed.  I am tired myself.

So what do I do?

Log on and zone into Nek Castle of course!

I just wanted to see if the Swinelord would spawn for me.

And sure enough, there he was.  Hello Swinelord!

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Of course, once I killed him, I was nearly done with the quest.  I went back to the froglock assassin who told me to go slay Maltus Everling (didn’t I do that on Sunday?) and take the mask.

Through the castle, the secret door, up the stairs, through Everling’s bedroom, down the hidden steps, and through a series of secret doors to his lab.

I forgot that running up the last corridor spawns encounters as you advance.  I realized this when I got to the end of the corridor and saw I had an angry mob of mobs after me.

They seem like a lot.  You can barely see me in the middle of the fray.

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In the end though, my mighty swashbuckler powers… and the fact that I was 18 levels above them… put things right, with them all down and me still standing.

Maltus Everling did not seem happy to see me a second time.  I did not even kill his whole family this time.  That was Sunday.  But he didn’t seem pleased at all.

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The battle was joined.  This time it went much more smoothly.  For me, that is.  Everling died in record time.

And with him down and his minions down, all I had to do was open the chest and the quest would be complete.

But I realized the quest was grey and I had no way to group and mentor with anybody in order to reap the AA experience.  Oh well.  I finished it anyway.  This put our guild within spitting distance of level 29.

And I got the guise of the deceiver, so I can turn Blintz into a dark elf.

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A dark elf with WINGS!

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A flying dark elf!

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This looks so funny that I may just keep this appearance all the time!

And now I do not have any tasks left in Nektropos Castle.  Well, there is the Ghoulbane.  But I haven’t even picked up the dusty blue stone yet to start the quest, so I have a ways to go.