Monthly Archives: November 2007

November in Review

The Site

Since WordPress.com has changed up their configuration to allow both posting categories (permanent high level topics) as well as tags (sub categories you can add on the fly) I have re-arranged a bit of the site.

Most interesting, at least to me, was adding in an Instance Group tag to all of our WoW instance adventures.  So now you can see them all by just clicking on that tag.

I also hid the characters page for now due to the seeming demise of the site EQsig.com.  The site is still there, but it is no longer generating signature files, so all of my EverQuest and EverQuest II sigs were failing to load.

And then there was a bit of site traffic humor.  It seems that my post “WoW Patch 2.3 Coming… Slowly” got some traction on the search engines.  The days around the patch release showed a pretty substantial spike in page views.  You can see this spike on the page views per day chart below:

nov07chart.jpg

The spike is also shown on Blogflux tracking chart:

nov07chart2.jpg

I use Blogflux to give me some sort of external measure of page views.  It isn’t that I do not trust WordPress.com, but they do not give you a ton of site data and they have things setup so you are pretty limited in what 3rd party tools you can use to get stats.  So I can verify that WordPress’ stats are reasonably accurate.  Plus Blogflux let me see that the unique user count, which WordPress does not give me, tracks page views pretty well.  All those page views are just on stalker.  It is just too bad that I did so bad on that second November the 4th this year.  That day went by so fast, I barely remember it.  Was that some sort of Daylight Savings Time adjunct?

On Year Ago

The WoW Saturday Night Permenant Floating Instance Group finished up Blackfathom Deeps, The Stockades, Shadowfang Keep, and started in on Razorfen Kraul.

In EverQuest, I picked up The Serpent’s Spine and tried running a new character though some of the new level 1-70 content.  I also set out a minor goal of taking screen shots to compare Faydwer in EQ and Faydwer in EQII that lead to posts about Kaladim and Kelethin.  Come to think of it, I took a lot more screen shots of places and never posted them.  Some day.

And in EverQuest II, Echoes of Faydwer came out.  Once I found a copy and got past the patching process and into the game, I made a fae swashbuckler and went to town.

New Linking Sites

A big thanks to these sites who link to TAGN.  I encourage you to give them a visit in return.

Most Viewed Posts in November

  • WoW Patch 2.3 Coming… Slowly
  • Play On: Guild Name Generator
  • LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
  • LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
  • How To Find An Agent in EVE Online
  • Single Server Theory
  • What Is A “Tank” In EVE?
  • Perpetual Contest Machine
  • EverQuest II Four Year Veteran Rewards
  • Why Isn’t LOTRO More Fun?

Best Search Terms

war games for 166mhz computer
[There were some good ones.  I don’t know where they are today.]

strongbadia pen
[Mentioned once here, I now get hits on this search every month.  The Brothers Chaps need to bring back the pen!]

avatar go away
[Try logging off]

EVE Online

I have hit something of a plateau in EVE, at least when it comes to mining.  Once I bought and had skills ready for the Hulk, the Strip Miner IIs, and the tech II crystals for the Strip Miner IIs (Oh, yeah, you need skills to the fit crystals!), I started to reach a point where big gains in ore mining were behind me.  I have fiddled with mining drones, which means I trained more skills.  But even with Drones V, Mining Drone Operation IV, Drone Navigation IV, and Drone Interfacing IV, mining with drones is pretty inefficient unless you are right next to a Concentrated Veldspar asteroid.  Then the drones seem to be worth having active, but only just.

Still, mining pays the bills for other activities: Production, research, invention.

I also started in on level III missions, but the results of that are for future posts.

EverQuest

A new expansion came out which, along with the weather, and the general sense of nostalgia it brings on, has made me want to poke my nose back in the game.  Too bad it ab ends every time I try to log in to the game.  My current CPU is a mess though.  That might be for the best, given that I don’t really have the time.

EverQuest II

A new expansion and more nostalgia.  I avoided the game for the first few days after release, as the usual woes of expansion day were delivered upon us.  I did play a bit in the beta, where I made a pink Sarnak with my daughter. (Try explaining to a five year old that their pink dragon person is gone because it was only “beta.”)  Both in beta and my poking around on the periphery of the new areas after the release has shown that the expansion is a bit tougher on my system than the older stuff.  Or so it seems.  But, my system is a mess, as I said.  Still, I managed to get to level 60.

World of Warcraft

The permanent floating Saturday night instance group and riot club (can you say “flash instance?”) managed to make its way through Sunken Temple both before and after patch 2.3.  We took a week off as both I and Bung had other things going on Saturday night, but we are poised (and in my case, camped near by) to hit Blackrock Depths this weekend.  The major worry of the group: Can we finish the remaining pre-Burning Crusade instances before we all hit level 60?  That and, “Can we resist the dark portal and the lure of easy gear upgrades?” when we get to 58 are real questions.

Wii

LEGO Star Wars – The Complete Saga.  I should not have to say anything more.  And then GameFly sent us Pokemon Battle Revolution.  Now my daughter seems a bit more interested in that, which is a shame, because it is only a single player game. (And it is really focused on people who have the Nintendo DS Pokemon games.) Still, she promised she would play LEGO Star Wars with me.  I want to finish out the whole game. (Currently 45% complete) before Christmas comes, as there is a rumor that Mrs. Claus has Super Mario Galaxies: Jump to Koopa-speed ready for somebody’s stocking. (Good thing somebody doesn’t read my blog… yet.)

Upcoming

EVE Online level III mission foibles and production issues.

More WoW instance fun.

A does of Intel QuadCore goodness.

Some sort of contest results.

And this years Christmas tale.

And, Finally, Level 60

After getting to 59, I still had a couple more quests left to clean up in Lesser Faydark, plus two city writs, so off I went.

Running through the last couple of quests and the writs ended up with Blintz about 20% into level.  But at that point he was left with nothing but heroic quests in LFay. 

Wondering what to do, I decided to go on another spending spree.

I headed to the broker to buy out a few more collection quests.

Last time I spent all of two plat, which still seems like a lot of cash to me.  But I remember complaining when some of these collection quest items were close to a whole GOLD in price!  Now I do not even think twice about something that is only a gold.

This time around I splurged a bit more, forking out about 7 plat for collection items.  I even managed to get the rhino horn collection quest from Kunark.  At least I think it is from Kunark.  Rhinos are a theme there and all, at least when it comes to mounts.

This time the outlay paid off a bit better.  I jumped from around 20% into level to 97%.

With that little amount left to go, I grabbed one more city writ for creatures in the Shadowed Grove and headed to Lesser Faydark to get that level.

I like the Shadowed Grove primarily because of one creature, the void beast invader.

At rest, the void beast invader looks like a human silhouette, but when he moves, he suddenly unfolds into a scary looking creepy crawly critter, like this:

voidbeastinv.png

Somebody did nice work with that creature idea.

Anyway, 3% did not take long.  A few Shadowed Man Invaders for the writ and the level was mine.

level60.png

60 at last.  Another level cap reached… the level cap for the two-year old Desert of Flames expansion.

Blintz was created on November 15, 2006, so it took about a year to get to level 60, though I have not played him very much over the last four months.

Time played 12 days 17 hours (1099685 seconds)

He as 73 AA Points and has completed 582 quests. (494 + 88 collections)

I was so happy that I grabbed some more writs and headed off to the Loping Plains where, after some initial success, I proceeded to get my ass handed to be repeatedly. 

I think I will cross Loping Plains off my list for a couple more levels and see what the Kingdom of the Sky has to offer.  I have not spent much time there so far.

Draw Down of Production

I am closing down most of the first part of my production experiment.  I have managed to go in and prove that money can be made with some basic blueprints in EVE Online.  I ended up producing the following items:

Flameburst Missile
Production Cost Per Unit 6.33 ISK
Average Sale Price 8.84 ISK
Comment:  The first item I decided to produce.  Because I use a lot of these missiles, it made sense.  While I ended up with a net profit after all costs, including materials, I did face a lot of price pressure in some systems, so I did not exactly get rich making these missiles.

Sabertooth Missile
Production Cost Per Unit 10.91 ISK
Average Sale Price 17.89 ISK
Comment:  A slow seller, but there was also not much competition, so I made back my investment over the course of my run.

Widowmaker Missile
Production Cost Per Unit 29.10 ISK
Average Sale Price 31.01 ISK
Comment:  Chosen more for the fact that I couldn’t find any close by one night when I needed some heavy missiles.  Depending on what system I was selling in, I either faced a huge amount of price pressure or I was able to charge freely.  I did not make my money back on this blueprint directly, but that does not take into account the fact that I fired a good chunk of the missiles I made out of my own launchers.

Antimatter Charge S
Production Cost Per Unit 10.45 ISK
Average Sale Price 12.10 ISK
Comment:  I picked this up on the suggestion of Debes and it turned out to be a good deal.  I made my money back and, because I have gone all missiles with my Drake, I did not even fire off any of the inventory.  Money made back on my investment.

Iron Charge S
Production Cost Per Unit 8.02 ISK
Average Sale Price 5.17 ISK
Comment:  Simply the worst thing I produced.  I bought the blueprint way back in January when I was starting to think about production.  I found the blueprint when I was moving stuff to our corp HQ and decided to produce a run.  A full run of 150K charges.  I had the materials handy, but I should have checked the market first.  The price point is horrible.  And even priced way below costs I have only sold 1/3 of the lot.  Anybody want some iron charges, cheap?

Expanded Cargohold I
Production Cost Per Unit 959.92 ISK
Average Sale Price 4824.80 ISK
Comment:  The best item I chose to produce.  I don’t sell huge lots of these, like I do with missiles or hybrid charges, but they sell consistently and at a decent margin.  I will continue to produce these as time goes on.

But why would I stop producing any of these (except for the iron charges) you might ask.

I finally woke up to why the price competition was so fierce and why some people seemed to be selling below the cost of producing these items.

The thing with EVE is that it does have some of the same problems that other MMOs face.  One of those problems is often misunderstood mudflation.  The term implies that all prices rise as a MUD or MMO ages.  But, in reality, some items fall in price because they become too commonplace.  And one reason they become common because easy mobs drop them all the time.

And what do easy mobs… say NPC pirates… drop all the time in EVE Online?

Light missiles, small hybrid charges, and frigate modules.

So I found that I could buy things like Flameburst missiles, antimatter charges, and even Widowmaker missiles, for as much as 35-65% less than the cost of production. 

Why spend 29 ISK making a Widowmaker missile when you can put out a buy order and pick them up for 15 ISK?

So my economic empire has shifted priorities.  It will be arbitrage rather than production for most things now.  I have buy orders out now for my area to purchase millions of missiles and charges at prices well below my cost to produce, even with material effeciency research.  And the missiles and charges are coming in, so I have begun replenishing my sales channel with these lower cost items.

Still, some things are better to make.

Expanded Cargoholds, for example, do not drop very often and have buy orders all over for pretty close to the cost of production.  So I am better off making those, as they sell for a large mark-up and move at a steady rate.

So for my next round of production, I am looking for things that are in demand that do not drop, or do not drop very often, from NPCs.  Mining crystals might be something to look at.  And rigs, though the parts are hard to come by.  And then there is always blueprint copying and invention to look into.

Perpetual Contest Machine

I am stealing Two Hammers’ headline from Game Bunny and make it my own.

As with the cancellation of Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising, the news of Perpetual going into liquidation while it is sitting on top of the MMO franchise for Star Trek has the potential to be a gold mine for snarky headlines. 

I have seen some good tries, like the ones below:

“Perpetual Cancelation Machine”  –Game Bunny

“On stun-but not shocked” –The Common Sense Gamer

“The Final Frontier” –Clockwork Gamer

Tribbles under new ownership” –Tobold’s MMORPG Blog

But I have yet to see one that really lives up to the huge expectations that the source material should allow.  This is freakin’ Trek, right?

So I am declaring another minor contest. 

Stop trying to figure out what level of support you want to give VirginWorlds for a minute and put on your thinking caps.

To enter, in the comments for this post you may either:

1) Make up your own headline about the uncertain future of Star Trek Online

2) Point us all at a worthy headline that you or somebody else has already used

The Prize:  The winner will be featured in a post declaring his or her fine taste, wit, and wisdom and generally praising them with great praise.  If the winner has a web site, blog, podcast, or something else they would like linked, that will be included. (Since this will no doubt be a topic for Shut Up We’re Talking #15, maybe Darren will let me announce the winner on the show.)

All entries must be in by 23:59 GMT, Friday, December 7th, 2007. (A date that will live in infamy.) 

Multiple entries will be accepted, but too many will dilute your chances.  If you want to ammend, delete, or otherwise alter your entry before the deadline, use the form on the About page.

The winner will be picked by the Saturday Night Permanent Floating Instance Group, current members of the Shades of Twilight Guild that feel inclined to participate, and perhaps a host or two from Shut Up We’re Talking. (But no judge can enter and no entrant can judge. )

In event of a tie, I will simply go with the FDR plan, pack the supreme court, and get the results I want… only I’ll make it work.

Tips:

  • Brevity is the soul of wit
  • Quality trumps quantity (Think twice, post once)
  • With puns, the worse they are, the better they are
  • Latin is good: We have lawyers and scholars on staff
  • Acknowledge the work of others: We have lawyers and scholars on staff
  • References can be too obscure, but you will have to work hard to get there
  • Obscure references with bad puns in Klingon have the potential to steal the show

[If you need some Trek inspiration, you can always check out this Wired article.]

And Then 59

I decided after getting that easy, discovery experience lift into level 58 that I should get out and try to get a little close to 60.

Kendricke had suggested I look at the Isle of Mara, the setting for the The Fallen Dynasty adventure pack and the only place in the game where you can put money down on a pig race.  Since I have chewed through the meat of the quests in Pillars of Flame and Lesser Faydark, I thought I would give Mara a spin.

Unfortunately, I forgot that I had been to Mara before, back when I had Station Access, and had run through some of the lower level quests.  There were a few left for me still and, once there, I decided to quaff one of my 55% experience bonus elixirs (only 11 left!) and grind pirates for a while.  They were not worth much experience however, and I ended up heading back to the Pillars of Flame to finish up two quests there and to grind some harpies (better exp, or so it seemed to me) while my experience buff lasted.

While on the Isle of Mara I did see the most curious bear corpse. 

bearcorpse.png

That bear seemed a little drowsy perhaps, but still quite alive to me. [Insert Holy Grail quote from the “bring out your dead” scene here]

But off to the Pillars of Flame The trip was: Recall to Kelethin, run to Butcherblock, evac to the docks, take the carpet to the desert, another carpet to the tears, and run on into PoF.  That sounds like a chore, but took me less time than five manual system jumps in EVE.

Once there, I ran down the clock on my elixir with the harpies, actually completing the harpy mastery quest, which gave me a nice new attack to use on them.  Then I finished up a couple more quests in the zone before I was left with nothing but heroic quests to do.  At this point I was 30% into level, which wasn’t bad considering I started out about 1 experience point into level 58, but I still had a ways to go for another level.

I decided to buy a vowel, so to speak.  Or several vowels.  I recalled back to Kelethin again and hit the broker to buy out a few more collection quests.  I actually spent a few plat on quest items just to finish them out, but the net total was only 45% of a level. 

I need to get into some higher level collection quests.  Those bone quests just are not doing it any more, even if they do give me ever more goofy screen shot potential.  Eeek!  Flying Ratonga!

wingedratonga.png

There I was in Kelethin with 25% of a level to go.  I opened up my quest journal to see what I might have available.

I had a series of heroic quests in Lesser Faydark, but there were also a couple of solo quests and a couple of writs I could do.  So off I went.

Even after a few levels in Lesser Faydark, I still do not have my bearings.  It is another one of those zones, like Feerrott, where to get where I want to be I have to start travelling in the opposite direction first to get around to that point.

Eventually I ended up in a dark corner of the zone where some level 60 solo quests lurked.  Also there were a series of giant shadow men and other strange creatures.  Fortunately, none of them appeared to be able to see through stealth, so Blintz was able to sneak around the around and strike when the coast was clear.  A swashbuckler can take on a mob a level or two above his level with a good chance of winning, but when it becomes two or three, the odds go down dramatically.

In the end I was able to get through the quests, then grind out a few more shadow men for the level.

level59.png

Blintz is still fairly secure as my highest level character in any level based MMO.  But he will have to watch out.  Vikund, my paladin in World of Warcraft is 54 and the road to 60 just got a lot easier in Azeroth.

EverQuest And Accessibility

The magic of EverQuest is how much content it has.

Clint Worley, Official SOE Podcast #25

In Official SOE Podcast #25, Alan “Brenlo” Crosby interviewed EverQuest producer Clint Worley.  While he does not get quite the press that Scott Hartsman, the EverQuest II producer may gate, he oversees a product that has a community as sizable and important to SOE as the EQII community.

He was on primarily to talk about the new expansion for EverQuest, Secrets of Faydwer. While the subject was certainly of interest to me, my ears really perked up when he mentioned accessibility.

After all, that is something I have been on about for some time now.  As Mr. Worley pointed out, content is EverQuest’s high card.  After 14 expansions, the terrain of pre-cataclysm Norrath is huge and interesting. 

Getting Boxed In

Accessibility has many meanings and nuances however, and Mr. Worley’s prime point for accessibility was being able to get the software.  With Secrets of Faydwer the EverQuest team has taken a page from the EverQuest II play book and packaged up the current expansion with all of its predecessors back to the original game (EverQuest Classic, as they call it).

Certainly, that does improve accessibility.  If I go over to Fry’s and look at the assortment of EverQuest boxes on the shelf, it is immediately apparent that something needs to be done on that score.  Even the mid-term EverQuest roll-up packs (Platinum, Titanium, and Anniversary Edition) sit there, side-by-side on the shelf with single expansion boxes, causing no end of confusion I am sure.

At least having one ultimate, all-in-one box is a move in the right direction.  Getting the retailers to pull some of those out dated boxes would be another.  Not advertising the Platinum Edition (which pre-dates the Titanium and Anniversary editions) on the EQPlayers web site would be a third.

Seriously, what is SOE thinking with that last item?  They have the Anniversary Edition, which is only missing the latest expansion, out for the same price, yet they are pimping the way-out-of-date Platinum Edition on the EQ Players side bar like this:

eqplatad.png

At least with Secrets of Faydwer they go the whole package on two DVDs, down from 8 CDs in the Anniversary Edition (and the same for the Platinum Edition if I recall right), so that was an accessibility plus.

Are You Experienced?

But that really wasn’t the sort of accessibility I wanted to hear about.  Anybody sufficiently determined could get into the game with even the dated Platinum Edition.

No, what I wanted to hear about was bridging the gap between new players entering the game and the vast majority of the content… the newest and presumably the best content… which requires a player to at least get to within spitting distance at least of level 50.

Yes, they have their whole “Hot Zone” strategy going on in EverQuest, but I see that as somewhat lacking.  When I looked at the current hot zones two weeks back, the lowest level zone was for player level 20 and up.  This isn’t World of Warcraft, the grind doesn’t start after level 20.  You’ve already been grinding if you’ve made it that far.

And even if I was level 20 or above, I did not know how to get to any of the zones on the hot zone list.  So the hot zone deal is good, but only if you already know what you’re doing.  It does not help accessibility for new players.

Still, there is some good news.  Over at Mobhunter, where Loral is helping to keep the EverQuest flame alive, there is a Q&A post with EverQuest Lead Designer Travis “Rashere” McGeathy that includes the following:

Is there any intent to change the rate at which characters earn experience or AA experience?

There are two areas concerning experience where we are looking at making changes.

First, we’re going to smooth out the bonus experience you get for killing a creature close to your level. Currently, when you kill a creature that is dark blue to you, you get double the creature?s base experience. If you kill a creature that is even one level below dark blue, you just get the base experience. We?re going to change it so that you continue to get double experience at dark blue, but the bonus will slowly fall away as the NPC gets further below dark blue instead of going away immediately. This will be happening in the near future.

Second, I’m looking at smoothing out the experience requirements from level 51 to 60 so it’s a more gradual transition from the easier experience levels prior to level 51.

Well, that is something.  The level grind makes any improvement worth noting.  Still, I would borrow from the excellent  Fixing EverQuest post over on Random Battle and advocate for simply making every zone under level 40 a hot zone.

(Of course, the second part, easing the climb from 51 to 60 gives one pause.  You mean the grind gets worse?  Intellectually, I know it must, but enough that the EQ team is more worried about that than getting people within range of those levels?)

You’ll Go Blind

Unfortunately, while that piece on accessibility was a bit upbeat, it was followed by a real downer, at least for me.

Does Secrets of Faydwer include any improved solo hunting areas or solo quests?

EverQuest is a group-based game, so we don’t specifically design content for soloing. Instead, the ability to solo happens naturally due to player abilities and power progression. That being said, there are several areas in the new expansion that beta players have had a lot of success soloing. Also, the majority of quests in the expansion are available as a solo player, though you may require help to finish them if you?re taking on content that is difficult for you.

Basically, if you can solo it, it is solo content, but we didn’t plan it that way.

So the great lesson of WoW, that if you give people something to do when they can’t find a group or their regular group isn’t on, they will keep playing your game, doesn’t seem to have found any fertile ground in the world of EQ.

Too Much QQ?

So there is another round of carping about EverQuest out of my system.  Cloudy skies, cold weather, and a new expansion bring this on every autumn.  I want to play the game, but the price, in time, effort, and commitment is too high.

Still, I live in hope.  Hope that EQ team will stray from their true faith in grouping and recognize that solo content might bring some more vitality back to the game.  Hope that they might recognize that the true value of the game may very well be the content, but that the steep price to get within grasp of a majority of it is holding the game back.  Hope that the success of the progression servers might bring about something like an EverQuest Lite(tm) server.  Hope that the game might change enough to let me get back into it.

Or hope, at least, that they’ll call up Tipa and let her run with her idea.

Pushing for Numbers?

It was announced recently that on November 16, 2007 at 13:59 GMT, EVE Online passed the 200,000 subscriber mark.  A notable  achievement for a game that has continued to grow since its slow launch back in 2003.  You can see a posting here about it from CCP Kieron.

But I have to wonder what the makeup of the recent subscribers is.

More than a month before the 200,000 subscriber mark was hit, CCP ran their “Feel The Power of 2” campaign, where any current subscriber could get a second account for the bargain price of $49.95 for a six month subscription.  A campaign that was supposed to originally end on November 4th, but which got extended to November 20th.  That extension ran just long enough for the 200,000 subscriber mark to be hit.

Which, of course, raises the question I alluded to above: How many of the recent subscribers are conversions from 14-Day trial accounts and how many of them are “Feel the Power of 2” add-on accounts?

Not that selling to your installed base is a bad thing.  It is a popular and lucrative practice in most industries.  But how sticky will those second accounts be?

As part of the announcement CCP said that their next goals were 50,000 players in game simultaneously (the last record I saw was 37,481 on at once) and 300,000 subscriptions.  But will the “Feel the Power of 2” accounts stay active on the whole after the six month special has passed and the $14.99 a month reality kicks in?  Or will this lead to a dip in subscriptions when the time runs out on the special pricing?

And will the Trinity upgrades, which are bound to make the game more CPU and GPU intensive, influence this by making two-boxing manageable on a smaller populations of player machines?

Since I do not know of another MMO that has pushed two-boxing with a deal like CCP’s, they may very well be breaking new ground again by merely finding out the answer in six months time.