Monthly Archives: October 2008

SWTOR – Let the Hubris Commence

The Register reports that LucasArts is targeting 11 million subscribers for Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I wonder what prompted them to pick that number?  Could it be World of Warcraft?

As John Smedley said some time back, it is Star Wars, it should be huge.  Of course, he was talking about the failure of Star Wars Galaxies to become a market leader.

EA and BioWare: They aren’t aiming low.

15 Years of TorilMUD

This past Monday was the 30th birthday of the original MUD, rightly noted and celebrated on a number of sites.

MUD 1 represents one of the roots of the game genre we refer to with the adjective “Massive” these days, an online user experience shared by many people at once.

This fall represents another anniversary for me.  I don’t recall the exact date, but it was in the autumn of 1993 when my friend and, at the time, co-worker Scott came over to my cube and told me there was an online game I just had to play.  It was a MUD called Sojourn.

And as surely as MUD1 was on the path to the MMOs of today, Sojourn MUD put me on the path to playing those very MMOs.

It wasn’t that MUDs were something new and different to me at that time.  I had played Gemstone on GEnie and a few other MUDs along the way, but none of them really captured my attention.

So what was so special about Sojourn MUD?

A friend of mine, Scott, was already playing.  I think history bears out that as the number one reasons for playing a given game; somebody you know is already playing it.

It was free.  We worked for a company that made modems at the time, so I even had access to terminal emulation software at no cost.  Unlike the early days when I was playing games on GEnie at an hourly rate, I was now working for a living, paying rent, insurance, taxes, and all that other fun stuff that finds a way to dun your savings every month.

It was populated.  One thing about a lot of MUDs is that they are often deserted.  Only a few make it into triple digits of users at any time in their life.  Sojourn had lots of players.  There were even problems at one point when they were limited to 127 simultaneous connections.  Queues to log in?  Been in that boat off and on for 15 years now I guess.

It was colorful.  Unlike a lot of other MUDs, Sojourn got on the ANSI color boat pretty early.  Very few items in the game were just plain white text unless that was the natural color of the item.  And because I had a fully functional terminal emulator, I could see all that color as it was meant to be seen, which was actually not that common back then.  A lot of emulators only had partial support for color.

It was Forgotten Realms.  In addition to real life, real job, and all that the days of my being able to devote time to live role playing games was diminishing both because of my own time constraints as well as the constraints on the people with whom I played.  The last campaign set we played with any regularity was Forgotten Realms, a setting that was developing both in depth and popularity.  And, suddenly, here before me, was Toril right here in text whenever I wanted, with people to play with and I did not even have to roll any dice.

And so off I went into this world of text.  A world alive in my mind.  To this day I can picture in my mind a whole host of locations despite never having actually seen them.  The descriptions and the things that happened there made a picture in my mind all its own.

Some things, of course, I had seen drawings of before I played Sojourn, like the City of Brass.  And, of course, every creature in the Monster Manual already had a drawing, sometimes a bit silly, associated with it in my head.

I was fortunate to also arrive in the game just after a pwipe, (I cannot believe that Wikipedia does not have an entry on pwipe!) which meant I was new and leveling up at the same time everybody else was starting afresh.  Veterans and noobs alike were leveling up together.  In the months that followed I made friends, some of whom I still chat with, or even game with, to this day.  I met Gaff somewhere near the Tinker camp, probably killing Bandor for experience. (What was the experience cirle we would run? Bandor, Kobold Taskmasters, and a couple other mobs, over and over again?)

I also ended up playing with people who went on to create EverQuest, Brad McQuaid being probably the most well known among them.  So, years later, when EverQuest launched, Norrath was a place both fresh and new as well as a place of familiarity and known concepts.  Those concepts included last names at level 20, stiff experience curves, required grouping, and a severe death penalty that included the possibility losing all your equipment should you not be able to recover your corpse.

Time passed.  Sojourn persisted at times, went away at others.  It changed names.  Sometimes it was Sojourn, sometimes Toril.  Then there was a point around 2000 where it seemed like it was going to be gone for good.

Then, a couple of years later, I got an email from Scott saying, “It’s back!”

And, sure enough, there it was again, up and running as TorilMUD.  We got on right at the end of a beta and were able to start fresh at a new pwipe and relive the joy of everybody leveling up together.

And everybody was about right, as people and names from as far as 15 years back (and probably further) showed back up to play.  It was glorious.  My druid, Zouve Telcontar, lived again to move groups around the lands via moonwells. (Who’s in Baldur’s Gate? I need a well target.)

Of course, time moved along.  We all hit level 50, did the MUD version of raiding (a 16 person group tackling a high level zone with bosses), made alts, had a good time, and then grew restless.

A new set of MMOs came out that drew people away.  Some of us went to EverQuest II, more went to WoW, and a few are even lurking in EVE Online, but the memories remain.  The guild names you see me write about here are often reflections of the Toril guild I was in, Shades of Twilight.

Still, the game persists.  It is up and active and there are people there every time I log in for a peek.  I don’t play, having sold or given away almost every single item I had in the game so as to make a clean break from the game… at least until the next pwipe. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And, for all that EverQuest borrowed from Sojourn/Toril MUD, it is also interesting to look at how much of the life of EverQuest was foreshadowed by it as well.

Sojourn was founded and run by people who had very set ideas on how the game should be played and they actively tried to get people to do things “the right way.”  For example, being able to solo was was frowned upon.  Experience, equipment, and abilities were altered or nerfed to discourage it.  But as time went along, as the gods in the game came and went and as the population fell, that changed.  In the current version there is a much friendlier attitude.  They even had a “multiplay” weekend at one point, where you could log on two characters at once to play.  That was absolute heresy at one point in the game, a character deletion offense.  And while that was a single event, it shows that views soften, especially when you need 16 people to do a zone and there might be as few as 25 people on at a given time.

The economy in the game mirrored what happened in EverQuest.  Platinum coins can’t buy you decent equipment because… well… you cannot spend that platinum on anything better.  People who have played the game since pwipe have piles of platinum stored away in the bank.  The economy is admittedly not that bad in EverQuest, but it is a matter of degrees in the MUDflation effect.

Finally, there is longevity.  People still play TorilMUD regularly.  Daily.  I see the some of the same names every time I log on. (I’m looking at you, Lilithelle… but Corth, you don’t count, you’re always AFK.)  The content has been updated and expanded regularly, there is still a team working on the code, and there is still a supportive audience, so people still play the game.  Some people still play it as their main game after 15 years.

EverQuest is coming up on the 10 year mark next year, and the same holds true for it.  And, as TorilMUD goes, so seems to go EverQuest.  Populations may diminish, but we will still see the game live and viable for years to come it seems, unless we hit a point where 3D graphics become dated more quickly than text.

And, so, after all that text, the real message here is, “Oh, wow! Has it really been 15 years?”

It has, and TorilMUD still lives on.  Go Team!

To celebrate this milestone I am going to go into the archives and fish out some choice items I have stored away from my time in the game to post.  I am not only a packrat in game, but in real life as well, so I have email from 15 years ago in a folder in Eudora.

Some of them will be generally amusing.  Some of them will be obscure.  If nothing else, Gaff and I will enjoy them!

[Addemdum: If you want to see what else I have written about TorilMUD, you can click on the tag… or you can just click on this link.]

Darkfall – Athens Event Video

Last week Aventurine held a press event in Athens (Greece, not Georgia, in case you’re a B-52s fan) to promote their “coming in 2008” MMORPG, Darkfall, about which I have posted previously. (In case you need a refresher course.)

The team at the fan site Darkfall World has put up a video taken at the event that includes a live demo of some of the game play mechanics.

The video certainly shows better graphics than the highly compressed game play videos that Aventurine posted back in August.

You can find the video taken at the event, plus a video of local news coverage (sub-titled) here.

The news coverage clip, in the typical main-stream media fashion, needed to find a link to the game we could all understand, so declared it “based on The Lord of the Rings.”

The target release for the game is still 2008.

WoW Custom Guild Shirts

Blizzard put out a note today that you can get a T-shirt or hoodie with your guild tabard and guild information printed on it via an officially sponsored source, SwagDog.

While any guild can go out make their own shirt, and certainly get something more unique, for a members one-off option, this is actually pretty neat.

The prices are a bit dear at $25 for a T-shirt through $50 for a hoodie, but I am tempted to order one for myself with the Twilight Cadre tabard and info on it.

The big problem is that the controls on the order page do not seem to be fully compatible with Firefox or IE6.

It could be that the site is getting over loaded since Blizzard just put this up on the main page, but the site itself says you should be using IE7 and I cannot go there.  Our IT department only supports IE6 for web applications they have created, so I cannot upgrade, even at home.

Still, I like the idea.  I bet this will be a money maker for Blizzard and their vendor once it gets rolling.

Update: This service is no longer available, so I killed the link.

Screw Job in the Altdorf Sewers

Saturday night found the entire cast of the Twilight Dandies in Warhammer Online looking for adventure or maybe a musical number.

Scenarios were out.  I think we have all hit the point where they are still fun, but perhaps not something we want to keep doing over and over and over again every time we get together.

Open RvR was a possibility, but a look at the map showed that things were pretty quiet in the world, at last up through tier 2.  We owned all the keeps and most of the control points in the various RvR zones.

That left PvE as an option.  We thought we might see what Warhammer Online dungeons were all about, so we flew to Altdorf to see how we might fare in the instanced sewers under the Empire’s capital.  The team available was:

Bluelinebasher – Level 10 Ironbreaker
Earlthecathree – Level 10 Swordmaster
Denrohir – Level 13 Archmage
Chicken – Level 13 Shadow Warrior
Varsoon – Level 14 Warrior Priest
Meclin – Level 16 Ironbreaker
Stardoe – Level 17 Warrior Priest

Seven people and we were not quite sure if there was a limit on how many people could do an instance.  So we formed a warband and decided to give it a shot.  We all entered the instance.

Six of us were in the same instance while Bluelinebasher was all by himself in another.  That answered that question: Six people per instance please.

Well, it looked like Bluelinebasher was not going to be part of our story for the night, so he ran off to greener pastures while we looked at what faced us.

This wing of the sewers is for levels 12-15 and we found ourselves facing a series of champion mobs in the level 13-15 range grouped in threes for the most part.

The sewers themselves looked good enough.  They were somewhat reminiscent, to me at least, of some sections of the Freeport Sewers or Qeynos Catacombs in EverQuest II, at least in style.  Size is another matter.  Here we are piling in for the first time.

Looks very sewer like...

Looks very sewer like…

Getting 3 champions on us did not make for a huge, hairy fight and we were able to contain things for the most part with only a death now and again, but the limitations of the ironbreaker’s taunting ability was somewhat exposed.  Challenge, the skill available to Meclin to keep mobs on him has a 30 second cool down and fades after 15 seconds, so mobs were getting off the leash more often than we would have liked.

Couple that with the awkward targeting (no target forwarding off of the tank unless you /assist) and the lack of group/raid targeting functions and the whole thing felt a little more “wild west” than it should have.  This is 2008.  Haven’t we solved all these problems in other games?  Do we have to go through a voyage of discovery as another company learns how to implement group mechanics?

We plugged along through what we assumed was a very short segment of the first wing of the sewers which consisted of 18 or so champion mobs, some normal mobs crowded at one end, and a boss mob off in his own little room.  We cleared the champions and killed off the boss without too much ado.  There were two deaths in that battle, but we were all in close so figured it might have been an AOE attack.

Here we our with our first WAR instance boss slain.

Who is your hero now?

Who is your hero now?

In the fine tradition of bosses dropping items that nobody in the group can use, this one dropped a nice piece for a bright wizard.

After the boss, we turned our attention on a hoard of zombies that were at the far end hall.  They were guarding what I would call a “zone swirl” where we expected the instance would continue.  The zombies were all normal mobs and were dispatched easily enough.  We then entered the swirl.

And we found ourselves back out in the street again in front of the entrance to the first wing of the sewers.

That was it.

One very small zone, a couple dozen trash mobs, and a boss.  Elapsed time: 20 minutes.

I guess that is what passes for a dungeon in WAR.  Not exactly on par with, say, the Deadmines for a first dungeon experience.  Nobody can accuse Mythic of trying an Age of Conan bait-and-switch on when it comes to instances.  They served up crap from the outset in this regard.

We decided to give the second wing a run.  We were obviously not out of time at that point.

Can you hit me now?

More sewer

The second wing was a bit more of a challenge, but only because everything was higher level.  One improvement was that the linked groups of three champions were not all identical, which made focusing on a single target easier for the group.  Fights went on.  Deaths happened.  Finally we reached a boss named “The Bulbous One.”

And there we were thwarted.

The boss was tough, but via what we agreed was pretty much a screw job mechanic.

Basically, the boss has a zone wide AOE.  Everybody in the party takes damage all the time.  We did enough runs at this boss to experiment with different ranges.  We fought in close.  We put the healers at extreme healing range (150 feet).  Chicken ran around the corner and back towards the entrance to see if he could escape this relentless barrage.  But it hit everybody every tick no matter where they were.

Can you hit me now?

Can you hit me now?

The boss in the first instance probably had this same mechanic, only weaker, so were were able to power through with only a couple of deaths.

This time we did not have the firepower to take him down fast enough and even with three healers we could not keep people alive long enough to wear him down.

So after a number of runs, we gave up.

I am not sure we missed much.  The second wing looked to be identical to the first with just a change to the mobs.

All I can say is that if that was an example of the instanced, dungeon crawl experience in WAR, then no other game need fear WAR as a competitor in that regard.  And to those who will say, “Well, WAR is really about RvR…” I ask, “Why put such a half-assed feature in the game then?”

Giving up on instances, probably for good in WAR, we decided to go look for some open RvR.  A good keep battle seemed like just the tonic to cheer us up after the sewer fiasco.

A look at the map showed that all of the keeps were ours and that none were under attack.

There appeared to be two open RvR objectives to take in the Shadowlands though, so off we went to the tier 2 High Elf area.

When we got there and checked the map again, the two objectives in question appeared to be under Order control already.  Somebody either grabbed them really quickly or the map isn’t as accurate as one would hope when it comes to remote zones.

Then we were alerted that one of our keeps was under attack!  We ran headlong to defend it… and found one Destruction player in the vicinity.  He didn’t live long as the word “gank” was demonstrated to him in real time.

So we stood about and wondered where all the open RvR action had gone.  In tier 2 Order owned literally everything.  The Destruction steam roller, and all the fun, had apparently moved on to tier 3.

To find the fun, we would have to get to tier 3, which seems to mean running scenarios and doing public quests ad infinitum.  At the mention of that, half our party called it a night.

Three of us stayed on a bit more and tried a public quest, but we did not have enough help in the area to have a hope of finishing it.

So ended our evening.  Fun seemed to be at low ebb or playing elsewhere.  Our own arrival at tier 3 looks to be weeks away at our casual rate of play unless we get on the endless scenario treadmill.  And the PvE content in WAR, billed as a playstyle option for the game, continues to show itself as not very fun to play and not incredibly viable to level up.

Looking for the fun entry in the Tome of Knowledge

Looking for the “fun” entry in the Tome of Knowledge

And, the final insult… no false Kendricke AGAIN!  I may have to let that joke die if we don’t have a spotting next week.  Of course, we didn’t see many other people at all playing in tier 2 at prime time on a Saturday night.  It was kind of spooky.

WAR, we’re trying, but we’re not hard core enough to stay in the fun curve it seems.

Tycoon At Last!

As mentioned previously, a freighter is in my future.

There are, however, prerequisites.

Building up my ISK reserves was the first item on that list.  I have been working dilligently on that and will continue.  The point of the freighter is to enhance that.

Then, of course, there were the skills required: Advanced Spaceship Command and Caldari Freighter.  I have yet to purchase those, but it shouldn’t be too long now.

And then there was one more skill to increase the number of buy and sell orders I can have open at a time.  The skill called Tycoon.

Without Tycoon I am limited to 145 open orders.

That seems like a lot of orders, but buying and selling in a few different quest hubs eats up order slots pretty quickly.  I have been operating with only a few free slots for a while now.

Each level of Tycoon I train will give me another 32 slots.

Finally, last weekend, I hit the limit.  I had juggled, merged, and cancelled orders so that everything I had left was productive and viable.  There was nothing I felt I could cancel.  Time to go buy the skill Tycoon.

The reason I put off buying the skill was the price: 90,000,000 ISK.

I believe that to be the most expensive skill I have purchased so far.

But I needed it.  I took the plunge.  90 million ISK left my account.

I flew off to pick up the skill.

Once at the station, I immediately went to train it and got that seeming ever present message in EVE Online: I was missing a prerequisite.

While I had trained Wholesale up to V, I forgot to train Marketing to IV.

Two more days of training.

Finally, yesterday I was able to train up Tycoon.  And it quite a high ranked skill.  Just training the first level ran 51 minutes.  I don’t recall another level 1 skill that took more than 30 minutes.  I trained it to level II, so now I have 209 slots open for buying and selling with another 96 available, should I want to train the skill to level V.  Level V is only 36 days away, with 30 days of it being V itself.

But for now I have other skills to train.

Star Wars: This Time With Feeling!

So, yes, the much anticipated Knights of the Old Republic Online has been announce, though the name will actually be:

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Fears that it would be a spin-off of the Clone Wars animated series have proven false.

And, to paraphrase an episode of the Flintstone’s, “What’s their angle?”

From the FAQ:

How does Star Wars: The Old Republic differ from other MMO titles?

Star Wars: The Old Republic will be similar to other MMOs but with several key innovations. Traditionally MMOs are built on three pillars; Exploration, Combat, and Progression. We at BioWare and LucasArts believe there is a fourth pillar: Story. Our mission is to create the best story-driven games in the world. We believe that the compelling, interactive storylines in Star Wars: The Old Republic are a significant innovation to MMOs and will offer an entertainment experience unlike any other.

Raph, how could you have missed that angle the first time around, Jedi-poet-designer that you are?

Certainly BioWare is good with story.

LucasArts… well, it isn’t like they personally directed Star Wars episodes I-III.

(And, as an aside, those of you who decry the betrayal that was episodes I-III, how can you sleep at night giving episode VI a pass?  Episodes I-III don’t grate on me because I’ve felt betrayed for 25 years by Star Wars: The Muppet Movie.  Jar-Jar and midi-chlorians were nothing when I knew the Ewok army was going to defeat the Empire in the end.)

So, interesting times are coming.  When they are coming… well, no release date has been announced.

But we have a title now!

BlizzCon on Direct TV – Round 2

If you missed out on the BlizzCon weekend, Direct TV is running an encore presentation of the 16 hours of BlizzCon this Thursday, October 23rd.  It starts at 8 am Pacific time and runs straight through in one giant blob of Blizz-o-centric programming.  Read about it here.

And, yes, you still get the polar bear mount if you purchase the encore package.

Getting Level 69 on Candy

As I mentioned last week, I have been back in World of Warcraft a bit to play my hunter and to look at some of the new stuff that has shown up with the big pre-Lich King 3.0.2 patch.

This past weekend Hallow’s End, the WoW Halloween celebration began as well.  I actually knew that in advance thanks to the new calendar in WoW.

While I was out with my hunter, I saw a pumpkin at the Inn with a big exclamation point over it, that universal “I have a quest for you” sign in WoW.  I had looked through the achievements and knew that there was one for Hallow’s End that required you to visit all of the Inns on a given continent and click on these pumpkins.  So, while I wasn’t sure I wanted to devote the time, I figured I might as well click on it while I was there.

Sure enough, I got an update for the achievement.  That was one Inn off the list.

I also got some pretty good candy that give decent stat boosts and which stacks up to 4 times.  The downside is that they only last for 24 hours, so you have to use them soon.

And then there was also a 6,000 experience point reward.

At level 68, 6,000 experience points isn’t so bad.  In fact, that is about half the reward from your average quest.

Given that the three achievement quests had a total of 44 inns listed, that would give me a grand total of 264,000 experience if I just ran along and visited them all.  That is about one third of a level of experience at 68.  Since I had a bit less of that left to go before level 69, I decided to hit the flight points and start visiting Inns.

Fortunately by level 68 I had managed to get most of the flight points.  In doing the Outland segment of the run, I was only two flight points short, and neither was much of a run from points I had already visited.

Then it was on to the Eastern Kingdoms, where I had all the flight points I needed already.  You do have to visit two inns that are somewhat remote from flight points, the ones in Goldshire and Kharanos, which are the inns on the way from the starting areas to Stormwind and Ironforge respectively.  While there I also knocked off two of the Hallow’s End quests, each of which gave 12,000 experience.

Then it was off to Kalimdor for the final leg. Not too many Inn visits into that, I hit the mark, level 69.

Awash in Candy!

Awash in Candy!

Along with a level I also ended up with about 140 pieces of candy, 3 flimsy masks, the random Hallowed Wand, and the Rickety Magic Broom which eluded me last year.

It seemed cool when other people had them

It seemed cool when other people had them

I continued on a bit, having a few more Inns within short flight range, and found that with my level, the experience output scaled up to 6,150 experience points per inn.  The experience scales from level 1 (where you get 40 experience) to level 69.

Finally though, after a bit of riding to points I had not visited in the past, like the Dranei starting area, Silithius, and Mudsprocket, I finished up my trick or treat achievements.

Trick or Treat Junkie

Trick or Treat Junkie

Hallow’s End seems to be quite popular.  Everywhere I went I saw people doing the trick or treat run, and the areas where Hallow’s End events were happening were quite crowded.  In fact, there was even a queue to get on the server at one point, something I had not seen since Burning Crusade came out.

After finishing up with Tistann, I wondered what somebody at level 70 might get, so I logged on as Vikund.   You get 3 gold, 75 silver for each Inn, which adds up to 165 gold for doing all three achievements.  Not too bad.  I’ve done more annoying quests for much less.

And so I am now poised to have two level 70 characters.  Since my next highest level character is only 42, I don’t think I’ll have more than that before Lich King comes out.