Monthly Archives: March 2009

Time for GDC San Francisco

The Game Developers Conference is coming to San Francisco again next week, March 23 through 27.

One of my birthday presents this year was an Expo Pass for the event, so I will be taking a day off of work and heading up to the show on Thursday the 26th.

My wife says I need to come back with better booth swag this year.  Pencils and Post-it notes just aren’t cutting it for her.  So if you’re working the show, hook me up!  Thanks!

I know I’ll see Darren up at the show, and I have to imagine that Brent will be up there somewhere.  But who else who reads this blog and doesn’t… you know… hate me or anything… will be at the show and have some free time to say “Hi?”

Last year we ended up having a nice dinner after the show before some people went off to the CCP party.  This year, with tough economic times upon us, I wonder how crowded the whole even will be?

Runes of Magic – Let Me Start Complaining

Today is the launch day for Runes of Magic, a free to play fantasy MMORPG.  The open beta, which has been going on for some time, is over and the game is officially live.  Time to gripe about it!

I first really took note of the game Runes of Magic when Darren complained that it was a complete rip-off of World of Warcraft.

Like Tobold, I found that to be a hearty endorsement of the game rather than a negative.  If you are going to remake WoW you have to have some competitive advantage, and what bigger edge is there than free to play?

However, Darren was simplifying things a bit when writing about the game.  His observation was based on the basic look and feel of the user interface.  It bothered him that everything was very WoW-like in that regard.  For me, UI that works is fine. The fact that the elements have been used before isn’t such a big deal.

So I was a bit disappointed after I downloaded the game and found that it was not, in fact, just like WoW.  It is its own game, with its own flavor and more than a few rough edges. (Those rough edges are, oddly enough, often things they probably should have copied from WoW, but did not.)

After a couple of hours of play I let it go dormant on my desktop.  It wasn’t that I did not like the game, but that I really did not have time to start a new game.

Still, I have been reading Saylah’s coverage of the game over on Mystic Worlds, and there are things about the game that look interesting.  I will no doubt find some time to give it a more thorough try at some point.

In furtherance of that, I have run the game’s patcher every so often to keep it up to date.  I don’t want to spend five hours waiting for the  game to update when the time comes when I actually want to play.

I find the patcher quite annoying.  There is something they might have copied from WoW!

But no, it is actually annoying in its own way.

The downloading is fine, and the client reflects progress of the current download, if not the total downloads, in an accurate manner. (Total progress seems to be either 10% or 100%, but nothing in between.)  When it actually patches the client, the updater puts up a progress bar with the “on top” flag set so it is always on top of whatever you are doing.

It will jump in front of whatever you are doing, including looking at the task manager.

How much more on top?

Patcher set to “Annoy!”

I feel the need to paraphrase the Nigel Tunfel quote I used the other day.

How much more on top could it be?  None more on top!

So I run the download in the background and find myself interrupted when it actually begins to patch.  I was trying to take a screen shot in EVE the other night and managed to get the patcher progress bar right in the middle of a picture.

So Frogster, fix that would you?  Look into something like LOTRO does and maybe put up a little alert in the system tray on the task bar or some such.  I don’t think I am alone in doing other things while I wait for a game to patch.

Other than that… well… I really don’t have much in the way of complaints.

I don’t like the way they mapped the movement keys in the WASD grid, with A and D being strafe and Q and E being turn.  But I can at least remap that.  In fact, that was one of the first things I did.

Also, regardless of how much I loved Diablo/Diablo II, I’m not fond of click-to-move.  But I don’t have to use that.

And that is about it really.

I just don’t like the patcher.

It is still better than WoW’s patcher.

But not as good as some others.

I guess I’ll just have to play the game some more.

The Wheel of Time – 3,430,682 Words Later…

I wrapped up the last available book in Robert Jordan‘s “The Wheel of Time” saga, “The Knife of Dreams,” this past weekend.  I am now all ready for the last entry in the series, “The Memory of Light” which is due out this fall and which might end up so long that it may need to be broken into two books to accommodate the estimated 700,000 additional words that have gone into this partly posthumous work.

I did cheat a bit to get to this point.

You will note I did not say I read the series.  I listened to the whole thing in audio book form.  Audible.com has the entire series available in unabridged format. (I insist on unabridged.)

The series adds up to nearly 350  hours of audio, or about 14 and a half days to listen to all 11 books plus the prequel.

Most of that listening was done in the car during my commute to and from work, a 60-90 minute round trip.  I started listening in mid-January 2008 and just finish in mid-March 2009.  I am afraid that MMO related podcasts suffered a downturn in listening on my part as a result.

One of the nice things about listening to the whole series is that I know how to pronounce everything!  I compare this to my attempt to read The Silmarillion for the first time; I could not pronounce anything correctly!  Too many umlauts, for a start!

At least I sort of know how to pronounce every thing.  The book was read by two people, a man for all the parts that were from a male perspective and a woman for all the parts that were from a female perspective.  Unfortunately, for the first few books they appeared to be working with different pronunciation guides, so a change of narrator would change how some things were said, sometimes dramatically.  For a while I thought there were two different characters, one with a name that sounded like “Moe-gah-dean” and one with a name that sounded like “Muh-gid-ee-en.”  After a while they seem to have had a meeting of the minds and settled on a single pronunciation of Moghedien.

On the other hand, I couldn’t spell very many names of people of places.  Rand and Lan I could handle, but Egwene and Nynaeve, and frankly many of the female names, were not so easy for me to sound out into written form.  I had to go look them up, even to write that last sentence.  Robert Jordan seemed to relish coming up with names that were spelled in unexpected ways, at least when compared to how they were pronounced.

Another nice thing about going through the whole series as audio books is that I have a good deal more tolerance for… well… the tedious or boring bits.  One of the issues with the series is that it follows the paths of so many different people that it makes the works of James Michener read like The Bobbsey Twins.  And amongst all those threads (yes, I get it, they all weave together on the wheel of time) there are a few that I just didn’t give a damn about or that I felt could have gotten the point across in a couple hundred less pages.

Having gone through the whole series almost one after another, I started to notice patterns as well.  Repeated phrases began to grate, rather like the constant reference to cigarettes, their availability, price, and quality, by nearly every character in the Harry Turtledove Timeline 191 series.  Some that come to mind:

Must we hear about the ageless quality (or lack there of) of the face of every Aes Sedai that shows up?

Smiles that do not reach the eyes – can we come up with another description?

Tugging on braids; it was bad enough when just Nynaeve was doing it, but later other female characters show the same mannerism, at least when they aren’t needlessly/nervously smoothing their skirts, or stopping short of doing so.

And speaking of skirts, do skirts with multiple colors ever have a second color that isn’t a “slash.”  Blue skirts slashed with red, brown slashed with green.  Had they not discovered stripes?  Was plaid beyond them?  Maybe I am just unclear on the concept.

And, finally, can we dispense with the stock descriptions of some characters after the first couple of usages per book? Do I need to hear how Vanin, Mat‘s best scout in the Band of the Red Hand, sits in the saddle like a bag of suet every time he rides up?  Must I hear about Julin Sandar‘s red, flat topped conical cap (read: fez) or Thom Merrilin‘s mustaches every time they show up?  Every second tier character seemed to have some stock phrase associated with him or her that had to be used every time they showed up and it began to get on my nerves.

I know, who am I to nit pick?  I write a blog post and then I have to go back and remove my own excessively used turns of phrase, like starting sentences with, “So,” “Of course,” “On the other hand,” and the others that I over use out of habit.  And Robert Jordan has passed away, so it isn’t like he’s going to do a re-write for me in any case.

Still, maybe some author will take this to heart.  When you compare this with Patrick O’Brian‘s Aubrey/Machurin series, a 20 book epic of its own (also available on Audible.com) you will find that Mr. O’Brian never fell into this sort of repeated usage of the same phrases until they became tired cliches within his own work.  I have read interviews with him where he went on about the craft of writing and keeping just that sort of thing from happening.

Enough of that though.

I made it through the whole thing, listened to every word, never skipped ahead, and do not regret the effort.  I enjoyed most of the books and I do plan to read or listen to the final book(s) when available.  I have to find out how things end up for the five people who started off from the Two Rivers all those books ago, even if I am not so concerned about some of the people who they have met along the way.

But a company out there, Red Eagle Entertainment, says they are going to make movies and an MMO out of the series.  Is that viable?

For an MMO, there certainly is enough background material there.  There is a large and reasonably well described world.  There are key cities with lots of sparsely settled or empty space in between.  There are enough factions to go around and then some.  There is a set group of bad guys with their own army of slavering minions, plus a whole evil infrastructure in the dark friends to root out.  There is a wide range of potential classes.  The right company could make a Lord of the Rings Online level of game out of it.

I think the right company is the key, of course.  I know nothing about Red Eagle, so my confidence in there ever being such a game is pretty low.  And since they made their initial announcement, EA has loomed into the picture, adding not a whit of confidence on my part.  The wheel weaves as the wheel wills. (There was an oft repeated phrase that disappeared around book 7 or so.  I wonder why?)

As for movies… I rather picture the whole thing done as a low budget BBC 100 part series with old “Dr. Who” or “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” level of props but excellent writing for the screen play adaptation.

But that just might be me.

Adam and EVE, the True Hollywood Story!

The rush into space is on!  Interest in EVE Online in our little community has hit a new height.  Our wee corporation has nearly a dozen active accounts.  Not bad considering that for months at a stretch, the corp was just me.

So it was about time for some EVE corporate drama.

Among those coming along for fun times in space was Adam of the Witty Ranter podcast.

Adam, feeling a bit behind in the skill points department, had a “buddy” with an EVE account he was not using with a character on it with 13 million or so skill points.  Adam cut a deal with him, and logged in to say hello with his new character.  Then he went off to transfer it to his account.

The next day I got an IM from Gaff about goings on in space.

It seems that Adam’s “buddy” failed to mention that the character in question had been used to loot the coffers of the corporation to which it once belonged.  He had some contracts to move stuff for his corp and apparently decided just to keep the stuff, moving some of the items off to another character while leaving other pieces just sitting about.

Adam admits that this was just some guy he met in WoW… see what kind of people play WoW!

And the people in this characters old corp… they remember him.  Adam received an in-game mail from one of the aggrieved former corp mates of his buddy who wanted their stuff back.

Being the rock-solid, stand-by-your-friends corp that we are, we put Adam’s application to join the corp on hold… at least with that character… and practiced denying we knew him.  Visions of war declarations swam in our heads.

Of course, I suspect that these guys might not be the war declaration types.  Their big lever, the threat they laid on Adam, was to go to CCP with this issue!

Seriously!  Stop laughing!  They meant it!

Well, they wrote it in any case.

I have to hope that was an empty statement on their part, a goad to get Adam to cough up the goods, because otherwise it was threat without value.  If CCP let an alliance get wiped by one corporate director, then a little contract theft is hardly going to move them to action.  We’ll see if these guys have anything else in the plan.

While much of the “good stuff” was moved off to the other account, some interesting items remained.

There was a stockpile out in 0.0 space where the character also happened to have a jump clone stationed.  Adam jumped out there, but was in a different station.  Forgetting, or not realizing, that he was persona non-grata out there, he left the station only to discover he couldn’t get into the station where the stuff was stowed.  Nor could he get back in to the original station.

We were pondering how he was going to get back when Adam said that wasn’t going to be a problem as somebody was targeting him already.

One podding later, Adam was back in empire space again.  There is some equipment out in 0.0 that will never be claimed I guess.

Tallying up the items left where he could get them there was still substantial value in his grasp.  Adam should not have to worry to much about money for the short term.  At least I hope not.  Found money has a habit of being spent foolishly.

In a moment of unselfish generosity, or perhaps filling a need to find and implicate co-conspirators, Adam donated a good chunk of stuff to the corporation.  It is stuff that none of us can use yet, but which might guide the direction of future training plans.

Of course all that stuff it 20 jumps away and needs a freighter to haul back to our HQ.  I guess that would be me.

Adam has decided to “retire” the new character for now and go back to training up his own guy.  He has a ways to go to fly some of the ships at his disposal, but at least he isn’t a wanted man.

Adam also knows the name of his “buddy’s” other character, the transactions all appearing in the character logs.  We will have to see if that tidbit comes into play.  More if anything develops.

Thanks to Jonathan of the Through the Aftermath podcast for suggesting the title of this post in corp chat.  He should be required to register his wit as a deadly weapon.  More than once I’ve nearly died laughing.

When You Die In Cyberspace…

Several people (including my wife) have mentioned or sent me the link to a story on Yahoo! titled, “Death Leaves Online Lives in Limbo.”

It is not so much an interesting read as an interesting reflection on the cultural implications of online communities of people who may not otherwise interact in real life.  How often have people you have played with regularly just stopped logging in?

On reading it, my mind diverged to two tangential topics.

The first was people faking their own death online.  I have twice been in guilds where somebody has mentioned they have a terminal disease, recounted their progress towards death, and have finally disappeared, only to show up again at some later date or to be outed by somebody who knows them in real life.  Have you ever had this one happen?

The second was that I am sure there must be an elaborate “can I have your stuff” joke and/or punchline in that article somewhere.  Given what we’ve all seen on forums, I’m sure I am not alone in that.

And, no, you cannot have my stuff.

Am I Over EverQuest?

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of EverQuest.

Happy Birthday EverQuest!

I have chosen to celebrate the day by piling up random EverQuest related items from the shelves in my office, including the original disk and manual.

10 Years of EverQuest

A small part of my 10 years with EverQuest

There is more buried in boxes in my office, but I did not feel like doing the digging required to ferret all that out.

Today also marks the 10th anniversary of my own involvement with the game.  I have a receipt from Fry’s that shows I ran down there on my lunch and picked up a copy of the game on launch day.

And that night, and for many many nights after, I could not get enough of Norrath, the land of EverQuest.

Eventually I did tire of the game.  I stopped playing regularly at about the time The Planes of Power came out.  My youth was over, and with it went the seemingly endless hours to do things like play games. (At least they seem endless in retrospect.)  I still played games, but tended, for a while, towards games that required less time in a play session.

Still, though, nostalgia for those early, glorious days in the game brought my mind back into pre-cataclysm Norrath on a fairly regular cycle.  There seemed to be something about autumn, with the coming of shorter days, rainy weather, and the inevitable EverQuest expansion that would peak my interest.  I wouldn’t necessarily resubscribe, but I would chat with people I knew who still played to hear about how things were going in the game.

The coming of EverQuest II both hindered and stimulated this yearly nostalgic pilgrimage.  The reminders of the old game in the new were a spark, as was the fact that a number of people with whom I had played EverQuest showed up.  Though most of those people were gone within two months, either back to EverQuest or onward to World of Warcraft.  A few stayed longer, but not many.

And then there was the advent of Station Access, SOE’s plan that let you play any of their subscription games at a single, flat rate. (A rate that used to be less expensive that two concurrent subscriptions.)  The combination of that with the parsimonious character slot allowance in EQ2 (4 characters), which could only be increased by subscribing to Station Access, opened the door to regular Fall returns to EverQuest.

And so it went for several more years.  Until last Fall.

The last EverQuest expansion to come out, the Seeds of Destruction, actually had a number of items that interested me, the top of the list being the “hire a minion” system.  You could rent a healer, an incredible boon to somebody who often ends up solo.  I bought the expansion.  I even had Station Access going so I could dive in there as well as into EQ2.

But I never quite made it into the game.

The spark just wasn’t there.

Now, maybe the fact that I played some during the Living Legacy promotion earlier in the year meant that my quota was up by the time Fall came. But I am not so sure.

I just didn’t get that wistful feeling, that longing to revisit the spots that had such meaning at one time.  It isn’t that I have recently given up on recapturing that feeling that EverQuest gave so many people in the early days.  I let go of that long ago.

I think I might simply be over EverQuest.  It now seems a romance that has faded over time until it is no longer a passion, but just a fond memory.

Regigigas Obtained

My daughter and I made it to Toys R Us today for the Regigigas event and downloaded what may be the last special event Pokemon for Diamond and Pearl.  With Pokemon Platinum due out the Nintendo DS in a week, the torch is about to be passed to a new Pokemon franchise front runner.

Like such events in the past at Toys R Us, this was pretty low key.  One of the clerks gave us the standard “five dollar off any Pokemon game for DS” coupon.  I am not sure there are any Pokemon games for the DS that we do not already own.

We also got some Pokemon stickers this time around, which was a win in my daughter’s eyes.

The stickers of course included a plug for Pokemon Platinum.  The stick sheet sheet includes the following:

Your new level 100 Regigigas is already very powerful, but it hold a secret you can unlock in the newest Pokemon game, Pokemon Platinum Version.

Trade the Regigigas you recieved today to Pokemon Platinum Version [available March 22nd, 2009] and you can find Regirock, Regice, and Registeel in Sinnoh!

This trio of legendary Pokemon cannot be found in Pokemon Platinum Version during normal play.

Note: Obtaining Regigias through normal play in Pokemon Platinum Version will not cause these three legendary Pokemon to appear.

There is still another week to go to pick up Regigigas at Toys R Us.  The event runs through Saturday, March 21, 2009.  After that, Pokemon Platinum will be on the scene.

Mythic Tries To Tempt, Fails

I thought for a fleeting moment that Mythic had figured out a way to get me to try Warhammer Online again when I saw this in my inbox:

Karl Franz wants to talk... to me?

Karl Franz wants to talk... to me?

Like the rest of the tourists who fled Warhammer Online en mass (it’s Friday, right Syncaine?), I got an email from Mythic trying to get be to come back and try the game again.

My eye grabbed on to and processed “10 FREE DAYS” first and my mind quickly slotted that information in the “immediate attention” bin.

10 free days is one way that Mythic could get me back in the game.  Granted, as these things usually go, I would probably spend the first 2-5 days patching, but as long as I timed it right I could get in some play time on a weekend.

Then my mind finished processing the rest of that sentence, which included the word “REACTIVATE,” appended a $15 dollar charge to the 10 free days, removed it from the “immediate attention” box and dropped it in the recycle for blog post bin.

Seriously Mythic, I’ve already gambled on your product, put up money first in the hope of getting something I would like in return.  I bought a collectors edition and even played beyond the initial 30 days that came with purchase.  At the end of that I decided that I was having more fun playing games produced by your competitors.

And now you think you can come back and say, “No, look, we’re cool now.  Just give us your credit card number and things will be great.”

Sorry, no.

I see that you have tried to sweeten the deal a bit.

100daybribe

Rested experience and a special quest with a bonus item.  I rather expect to get the rested experience no matter what and the quest is another dubious pig in a poke as we all know you cannot hand out a bonus item that is of any use only to some players and not have other players scream.  By default it has to be superficial, so let’s not kid ourselves on this.

Give me the 10 free days, no strings attached, and we can talk.  I’ll commit to giving your game another shot with that deal.

But if you need to see a credit card up front, you can tell Karl Franz I’m busy fighting Shansha’s Nation.

When all your major competitors can figure out how to give me a few free days without needing a credit card, you need to figure it out as well.

Transportation Fund

With my mom, my daughter, and myself all pushing up through the 20s, my thoughts began to turn towards mounts.

Back in the old days, when you first became eligible for a mount at level 40 in World of Warcraft, having 100 gold set aside for your first mount wasn’t such a big deal.  Unless you were spending your gold as fast as it came in, it wasn’t hard to save up.

But I have not had to face having 100 gold set aside by level 30.  That seemed to require some planning.

So we got ourselves organized.

I had been doing herbalism and inscription on my character.  I always pick up a trade skill.  It is like a sickness with me.  But I decided to put off inscription for a while and just concentrate on harvesting and selling herbs.

My mom and daughter both got in on the plan, picking up herbalism and skinning on each of their characters.

Then I started up Auctioneer to get a feel for the market.  It had been a while since I used the addon, so I was glad to see there was an up to date version available and that it was still functioning well.

I took the first few batches of herbs and leather and sold the lot out.  I was up to 100 gold in a couple of days.

I took that 100 gold and invested in a guild bank tab.

That might seem like a bit of foolish spending, but with a 3 hour time difference with my mom and my daughter running around on her own at times during the weekend, I wanted to make sure it did not become a pain to collect raw material for sale.

Following that route our collected materials have brought in an additional 200 gold over the last week, selling mostly herbs and light leather.   At this rate I figured all our characters should have a mount when they hit level 30.

And then I actually looked up mounts and found out that not only had they lowered the level requirement for the first mount, Blizzard also lowered the price.

You only need 45 gold.

So we are well and truly covered and can invest in gear upgrades and the like.  16 slot bags for everyone!  I might even continue on with inscription.

Now, about epic mounts… those prices did not go down… well, we have another 30 levels before we have to worry about that.

Farewell Classic Graphics

Just fifteen month back, according to Kirith Kodachi’s EVE Tribune article “Growing and Growing,” the Trinity expansion to EVE Online introduced the premium graphics option to the game.

At the time I was not impressed.

Of course I was flying some ships that were newer in the game than most, so their forms did not change much in the jump from classic to premium, and others that looked pretty good as they were designed.  Drakes, Cormorants, Merlins, mining barges, Mammoths, and even Badgers did not change dramatically in the jump to premium, so it seemed like a big yawn to me.

Then I built a Raven.

Now there was a ship that was seriously improved by the premium graphics option.

As a reminder of how much of an improvement there was, I set my machine to classic graphics mode and took one last picture in the old art style for comparison.  The subject: My Raven Navy Issue.

Raven Navy Issue safe in its hanger

Raven Navy Issue - Premium Graphics

Raven Navy Issue - Classic Graphics

Raven Navy Issue - Classic Graphics

With Apocrypha the classic graphics are gone.  Now, if you want to boost performance, you can alter your settings to show lower resolution versions of the premium models.

But it is always good to remind ourselves once in a while where things once stood.