Monthly Archives: August 2009

August in Review

The Site

Here we are for my 36th “month in review” post.  Let that be a warning that at some point next month there will be a “Hey, it’s been three years” post.

As for the site itself, I haven’t made much in the way of changes, so I’ll just gripe about the number 13.

I’m number 13 according to that little Blogflux Topsites tab thing down near the bottom of the right side-bar.

You know, this one.

Thirteen

I’ve been number 13 for over six weeks now, by my count.  On the Blogflux details page for this site the stats are up to date, but the list itself seems to be broken.  Not that I care all that much.  I had been as high as number 8 at times and well down in the 20s at others.  I like to measure things, even if it is pointless.

Anyway, if you know somebody at Blogflux, have them go kick the server or something to get the list unstuck.

One Year Ago

After what seemed like endless delays, Darkfall went looking for beta testers for real.  Many asked if this product would shed its “vaporware” reputation and see the light of day, and if the feature set would be anything close to what was promised.

Meanwhile Warhammer Online was rolling on towards release with a preview weekend.  I looked at races and classes as well as my general opinion of the game as I saw it.  I thought I was generally positive, though I wanted to be able to open up the quest log with a single keystroke.  Rabid fans sensed faint praise and whined a lot in the comments.  Still, Google liked me as I got the top spot for the search on “WAR Preview Weekend.” (And I still am the top result for that search! Imagine that.)

Suicide Ganking was the plague in EVE Online last year at this time.  I suggested that the Secure Insurance Commission be given the power to extract the cost of insurance payouts from high sec gankers as a way to make this “throw away character” exploit a bit less lucrative.  In the end, CCP just made CONCORD a bit more responsive to attacks right under their noses.

In WoW the instance group we were hitting level 70 and starting on the Caverns of Time dungeon Escape from Durnhold Keep. Instances were starting to get tough for us and it would take a revamp of our talents and some work on gear before we would be able to take on an at-level instance on the first try.

We went down to LEGOLand for vacation, but I left a vacation cliffhanger post to keep people amused.

LEGO Indiana Jones came out, and while it was a lot of fun, I wasn’t sure if it was worth list price.

And finally, people were fretting about Diablo III.  It was too colorful!  Internet petitions were deployed and accomplished what they generally do… nothing.

New Linking Sites

The following sites have been kind enough to link here.  Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in August

  1. Play On: Guild Name Generator
  2. Darkrai Member Card Event
  3. How To Find An Agent in EVE Online
  4. Heroic Deadmines!
  5. My Interests with WoW Patch 3.2
  6. WoW Patch 3.2 – Cautiously Optimistic
  7. The Approaching Cataclysm
  8. Sentry Drones are Boring
  9. Follow the Ring
  10. Getting Upper Blackrock Spire Access
  11. Fun Under Stormwind
  12. Why Does Tetris Get Faster?

Search Term of the Month

coilfang underdog
[It’s “underbog,” baby]

cmud crack
[This is actually a search term every month.  Come on people, CMUD isn’t that expensive.]

BlizzCon

I finally finished up watching Day 1 and am a decent way into Day 2!  Despite the fact that every detail from the event has been posted in some way on the net, it is still interesting to watch.  Watching the Q&A sessions after panels gives me some hope for gamer sub-culture.  While we’re very focused on our hobby, many of us seem to be articulate, clear thinking, and not overweight.

Plus some of us can dance it seems.

Stereotypes begone!

I’m still waiting for Grunty the Murloc.  4-6 weeks they say.

EVE Online

It has been a month in the hanger for the most part in EVE Online.  I have been rounding out my skills and plotting future directions, but have spent very little time actually shooting or mining.

World of Warcraft

Being level 80 hasn’t killed WoW for me yet.  It has, however, made the game a little more like EVE Online in one very specific way.  Rather than there being the grand drive for the level cap where one follows a series of quests related to an over-arcing story, it is now much more of a find a goal and drive towards it.  Fortunately, for Blizzard, achievements are a very good source of goals, so several of us in the guild have been cranking along various paths outside of group time.

I am also surprised at the amount of gold one can accumulate just running around doing daily quests or cleaning up old quest lines.  Despite the fact that I have been spending gold pretty freely (for me) my player stats show that I am constantly raising the bar for that “most gold at one time” metric.

Will all this keep me going and interested until Cataclysm comes out?  I’d be surprised if it did.

Open Betas

I did go out and download Fallen Earth and Champions Online and give them each a try.  I’m just not sure I have anything of value to say about them, so I haven’t bothered to put up a post regarding either.

Fallen Earth kept me interested for a bit, though my character, which I tried to make look like me, ended up looking like Paul Sorvino circa 1990 wearing a velour warm-up suit.  I am not sure that is a good sign.  Anyway, the game didn’t quite hook me.  I might go back to it at a later date, but nothing about it engaged that “must play now!” mania that overtakes me when a really good game comes out.

Meanwhile, Champions Online just reconfirmed that I am not really a super hero person.  I thought, perhaps, if I could make the right hero it could work for me.  And I enjoyed making heroes.  The character creator in Champions Online is a step beyond City of Heroes/Villains.  But even controlling the likes of “Miss Anne Throwpee” and “Ruth Bader Killberg” couldn’t keep me going past the starter area.  It looks very much like a comic book.  The colors and art style really work for that.  But like City of Whatever, when I’m done with the character creator, I’m done with the game.

Coming Up

I will attempt to keep this from becoming an “All WoW All The Time” blog, despite the fact that WoW is pretty much what I have been playing of late.  I still have a pile of ancient gaming articles to write that should break up the Azerothness.

The wife and I will be going away for a couple days to celebrate our wedding anniversary, so expect some lag in posts.

And, as mentioned at the top, the third year of this blog is coming to a close.  It might be time to evaluate what I am doing.  Is this what I set out to do back in 2006?

I Think We Need a Futile Gesture

I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.

Eric “Otter” Stratton, Animal House

It has been pointed out that the company which makes Evony has been behaving… badly I guess would be the right term… with their game and ads and spam comments. They have even been declared an aspirant to the title “Most Hated Game on the Net” by The Guardian,

Evony LLC is, I gather, somewhat unhappy about these responses to its game and ad campaign, especially those from Bruce Everiss.

Evony LLC is now positioning themselves as a small company defending itself from abuse and have done what any such small company would do, tried to contact Bruce Everiss and show that he is being unfair in his characterizations of the game and the practices surrounding it.  You know, an outreach sort of thing, because that is what these games are about: Community.

Oh, wait, no they didn’t.

No, they lawyered up first thing and had their attorneys start sending notes threatening legal action on the opposite site of the globe from Mr. Everiss.  Because that is what small US based companies which believe in the justness of their cause do, they hire lawyers in Australia to sue somebody in England.

Craptasitic.

And what can people like you and I do about this sort of thing?

Frankly, nothing.

Nothing except mock the people at Evony for being such transparently bad sports, to put the situation mildly.

I applaud the team at PopCap who have taken to making parodies of the ever-present Evony ads to advertise their own game, Plants vs. Zombies.

But PopCap is somewhat constrained in what it can do, being a business and interested in selling its game rather than scolding a mis-behaving company.  We can do better.

I want to come up with some really hilarious versions of the Evony ads.  Something like a Last Tango in Paris version:

Your Butter awaits, my Lord!

What can we come up with?  And who wants to do some artwork?  You can treat this as a meme if you like, or a challenge.

Should we make this a contest?

And who has some good ideas for parody ads?

Saturday Night Shuffle

We didn’t really have a plan for Saturday night.  Bung was out again and none of us seemed to have anything on our “to do” list except try to pick up a little more gold for various reasons.

Our team for the night was:

Ula – 79 Mage
Skronk – 80 Priest
Earlthecat – 80 Warrior
Vikund – 80 Paladin

Skronk had picked up 80 earlier and Ula was closing in, so we decided to run around a do some daily quests and whatever happened to pop up.

My own first task was to finish off one of the cooking achievements.

NorthGourmet
I am now literally one recipe away from getting the achievement and the title Hail to the Chef achievement, which also gives you the title “Chef.”  I just need to finish off The Outland Gourmet, and the only thing holding me back on that is one recipe, Stormchops.  It only drops as part of one of the cooking daily quests, and so far it has eluded me.

Then it was noticed that Wintergrasp was starting in just a few minutes.  It is inevitably an hour or more away whenever I think to check on it.  Skronk and I queued up and jumped in for our first ever experience in that battleground.

The Alliance lost.  We certainly weren’t helping much, not knowing what was going on in the first place really.  I did get to roll around as a gunner in a siege engine for a bit, and blew up quite a bit of stuff that fell within range.

Shooting things, I understand that part

Shooting things, I understand that part

We managed to complete a few of the quests that were offered up in the zone along the way, including the destruction of three Horde siege engines.  I had to finish off that last one on foot.  I hadn’t yet discovered the anti-tank weapons in the battleground, so I did it in with a constant stream of pally attacks.

We then joined up with Ula who had picked up level 80 in the mean time, and ran some daily quests in Icecrown where we got to experience the new, multiple Ula effect.

Gnomes! Gnomes everywhere!

Gnomes! Gnomes everywhere!

That only leaves Bung to pick up level 80.

In turning in daily quests I hit another achievement along with the meta achievement for being exalted with both the Argent Dawn and the Argent Crusade.

ArgChamp
Meanwhile Earl was out grinding some other daily quests and mining to save up for the Jeeves repair bot, another engineering marvel.  He actually saved up enough to make it last night.  Of course, now he is broke again.  More daily quests!

And then we wrapped up the night around the Argent Tournament.  Earl and Skronk were just starting off while Vikund, already an exalted champion of Stormwind, is looking to add Gnomergen to his achievements so he can ride around on a mechanostrider.

And that was about it.  A light round for the instance group.

Wii Bowling Ball Back in the News

You remember this guy from CTA Digital.  I mentioned it back in June.

I'm a distaster to be, just a disaster to be...

I'm a disaster to be, just a disaster to be...

It is back in the news.

Sort of.

It hasn’t become the wrecking ball of terror yet.

And you have to consider Yahoo blogs news.

You see, somebody over at Yahoo blogs wrote a post about this darling a little while after I did which came to about the same conclusions.  After all, given the flying Wii Remotes of destruction, what other conclusion could you come to?  This looked like the console control of the apocalypse.  Especially when CTA Digital felt the need to festoon the web page about the Wii Bowling Ball with warnings like:

USE EXTREME CAUTION WHEN USING THIS PRODUCT. CTA DIGITAL, INC IS NOT AND WILL NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGES RESULTING FROM THE BOWLING BALL ATTACHMENT

When the manufacturer feels that their opening statement has to include “don’t sue us,” you know there is some doubt.

Well, somebody at CTA Digital no doubt noticed the editorial slant that was beginning to surround their product.

They cleaned up all the dire warnings from the product page on their web site.  I am going to guess that it all remains in the actual product documentation.  I would download the .pdf of the documentation and verify that, except that the link for the .pdf is wrong on the site.  Whoops.  An accident I am sure.

And CTA Digital apparently went back to Yahoo to ask for another chance.  And they got it.

Yahoo went and used the device and put up a new post about it.

And while there was an obvious attempt at a positive spin, the praise was pretty close to faint.  Yahoo agreed that perhaps this was not the peripheral of doom, unless you are an idiot, but they did list out why it was still a hazard, summarizing with:

…we’re convinced CTA Digital has made this controller adapter as safe as it can be, but it’s still significantly more dangerous than bowling with just the Wiimote.

It’s inherently more dangerous than the standard Wii controller simply due to its weight and size.

They suggested you call upon your friendly neighborhood Physicist to back up their claims about momentum.  I’m thinking any high school science teacher could correct their claim (it is mass, not weight, and there is more to the equation than just mass), but if you feel the need to hit up somebody who works in the domain of Einstein to get solid verification, don’t let me stop you.

And while they recommended the peripheral (if you think it’s a cool idea) they had to tack on:

Just don’t blame us — or CTA Digital — if you throw it through your TV.

Another big win for CTA Digital.

I am still waiting for something about their Skateboard attachment for the Wii Fit balance board.  What would a physicist have to say about it?

Follow the Ring

Visions of the Ring is a site I have mentioned before because of its great LOTRO related maps, such as the Interactive Horse Route Map and the LOTRO Expansion Speculation Map.

I had not been by the site lately, but when I poked my nose in last weekend I saw a new map available.

While not directly related to the game, the Hunt for the Ring map uses map assets from the game to plot out the positions in the world of key characters from the point when Gandalf warns Frodo about the true nature of the ring and the need to leave The Shire to Frodo’s arrival in Rivendell.

Using the map you can follow that same path in game, though since distances have been drastically scaled down (I recall reading that the distance from the Brandywine to Bree was 75 miles, while you can walk it in five minutes in game), it won’t take you nearly as long as it did Frodo.

XP vs. Vista vs. Windows 7

Over at Firing Squad they put together a test to see exactly which Windows OS delivers the best gaming performance.

I’ll spoil the results with this quote:

While there were a couple of cases where WinXP outran Windows 7 and Vista, for the most part Windows 7 wins more than it loses, especially when you factor in multi-GPU technologies like SLI and CrossFire.

So Windows 7 looks like the winner.

Win7

Of course, that doesn’t tell you how close things were, so you’ll have to go take a look.  The big surprise was 64-bit XP, but I suppose that has to do with the sort of driver support it gets.

Things look good for Windows 7 when it comes out.  Of course, companies ilke Dell won’t be able to charge us $99 for XP “downgrades” any more, but then we shouldn’t need them any more.

BlizzCon Overload!

There are 20 hours of BlizzCon video on our Tivo at the moment.  It was supposed to be 16 hours, then 18 hours, but somehow it ended up at 20 hours.

BlizzCon 2009

I’ve watched about 6 hours of it so far.  And even that is a lot of gaming video to watch, certainly enough to form some opinions.

The Good

It is a very different experience to hear somebody involved with the development of games talk about their pet project versus reading a summary of it on a news site.  WoW.com did a great job putting up facts about what was shown, but it cannot replace hearing it from the horses mouth, so to speak.  Hearing somebody like Chris Metzen talk about the game, to feel the passion he has for the game, can change your viewpoint on things.

That is the true selling point, the only reason any big fan of Blizzard games needs to know.

The Bad

The sound was horrible.  I don’t know if the problem was in Anaheim or at DirecTV, but sound was cutting out during the first hour of the event and was really, really soft for the whole thing.  I had the volume on the sound system cranked up so high that the beeps from the Tivo when I hit a button were deafening.

As much as I like Tivo, their interface isn’t ideal for dealing with 10 hours of content.  Fast forward and 30 second skip aren’t cutting it.

Things That Stuck

Blizzard expects to ship StarCraft II and WoW Cataclysm in 2010, though they were a bit soft on the Cataclysm date.  And Diablo III is much further out.  We have a wait ahead of us still.

I still have trouble believing what a change to the game Cataclysm is going to be. (Cataclysm FAQ here.)  Has any other MMO in the past changed their whole base game as much as Blizzard is proposing to do?  The safe path would have been the EverQuest route that I wrote about last week, expansion for the core, milk the cow, build the next game.  But Blizzard is going to redo the core game instead.  And while some zoned will be affected more than others, they were quite clear that EVERY zone on Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms will experience changes.

The first question at the first panel was about “cannot launch additional instances,” which made me laugh out loud.  But the panel was ready for it.  They had talked about cross-server LFG for instances.  The tech that will support that will also alleviate the instance launching issue.  As for why it is happening now, we all seem to love to run instances these days.

After watching Rob Pardo talk about the Blizzard plans for StarCraft II and Battle.net, I get why they don’t want LAN play in the game.  I don’t like it, but I get it.  Keen had some dour thoughts on the subject, but I am trying to keep an open mind.  Mostly that is because if they work out their plans for StarCraft II with the new Battle.net, it could be a huge addition when it comes to Diablo III.  Actual support for a mod’ing community… they should have done that for Diablo II.

The stuff about Diablo III was interesting, and the game play video I saw looked good, but it is still way too early for me to get excited about the game, either for good or for bad.  Still, people are warming up blogs about it.

The in-between panels segments were actually better than I thought they would be.  I figured I would skip over them, but I ended up watching most of them.  A tour of Mike Morhaime‘s office, complete with the promissory note written for the money he borrow from his grandmother to help start the company, was classic.

Watching StarCraft tournament play, which was on my initial “to-be-skipped list,” turned out to be a lot more interesting and intense than I thought it would be.  There was some insane unit management going on… well, insane compared to anything I’d be able to do.

There was a lot more information presented than I could possibly retain, even for the six hours I have watched so far.  But that is what keeps sites like WoW.com in business.  Still, it was difficult for me to just relax and watch rather than take notes obsessively about things like Battle.net having more users than World of Warcraft. (Well, I remembered that.)

Overall, while I have no real desire to attend BlizzCon in person, I would consider watching it on Pay Per View again next year… if I finish watching BlizzCon 2009 by then.

Heroic Deadmines!

From the WoW.com coverage of the Cataclysm expansion preview panel

1:31PM Heroic Deadmines and Heroic Shadowfang Keep. Existing art, but new fights, creatures and abilities. Heroic level 85 dungeon. “VanCleefier than ever before.”

Yay for more VanCleefiness!

[Addendum: There is a list of the current Cataclysm 5-person dungeons on WoW.com.]

Tuned in for BlizzCon

This year I decided to get BlizzCon on Pay-per-View through DirecTV.  There are enough potential announcements that could come up this time around related to StarCraft II, Diablo III, and World of Warcraft that I felt it was worthwhile to sign up to watch.

Not that there won’t be adequate press coverage of BlizzCon.  But sometimes it is good to see announcements and presentations directly rather than filtered through the lens that is the perception of others.

I signed up and, after an hour on the phone with DirecTV’s support department, I am ready to roll.  The feed starts at 11am today, while I am at work, so I wanted to record the session on the DVR and there were some technical issues preventing me from scheduling the recording.  But DirecTV solved the problem and gave me $15 off my bill for the inconvenience.

So once I get home tonight I will be ready for a weekend of BlizzCon viewing.  16 hours of gaming TV.  I have my TV viewing equipment ready.

Greetings over your orthicon tube!

Greetings over your orthicon tube!

They had better announce something good.  And, if not, I still get Gunty the Murloc Marine as an in-game pet in WoW.

Being the Lightning Rod in the Halls of Lightning

When I summarized our romp through the Halls of Stone previously, a couple of people expressed an interest in how we would do in the Halls of Lightning.  It was described as “a bunch of gimmick fights.”

While the temptation was there to do some research on the instance, we stuck to our policy of doing an instance fresh.

But the foreknowledge that things would be different did get us in the state of mind of having to do each boss fight at least twice, once to figure out what was going on and then at least one more time to get it right.

And so we assembled in Ulduar.

Original Target - Halls or Stone

Not the Halls of Lightning, but close

Our team for the evening was:

79 Priest – Skronk
79 Mage – Ula
79 Warlock – Bungholio
80 Warrior – Earlthecat
80 Paladin – Vikund

My initial reaction after our first fight in the instance was, “Cool!  Faction!”

Halls of Lightning, which I am just going to call “HOL” going forward, is a level 80 instance, the first we’ve been in, so you get a faction boost for each kill.  And you can choose which faction gets boosted by wearing the tabard of that faction.  Since I was wearing my Argent Crusade tabard, I got some help getting to exalted status with them.

Those with just the guild tabard got faction with the Alliance Vanguard or Valiance Expedition or some such.

The odd one out was Skronk, who was wearing his explorer’s tabard, which I felt should have given him faction with the Explorer’s League, doubly so since the tabard comes from Brann Bronzebeard, but no such luck.  It was the same as the guild tabard when it came to faction boost.

Anyway, as happy as I was about the faction thing, we were looking at the first boss, General Bjarngrim (wasn’t that a Goldie Hawn movie?), wandering up and down the ramps that made up the big first room of the instance.  He was moving through several groups of his soldiers, with a couple attendants in tow, so we picked the troop of four closest to us, cleared them out, and waited for him to walk over.

And walk over us he did.  We had noted the electrical buff on him but had not divined how it came and went.  When he reached us the buff was up, which boosts his damage by 30%, and which turned out to be enough to get Earl killed part way into the fight, which led to our first wipe.

Returning, we followed him around his path, knocking off groups behind him, watching his buff come and go.  When he was unbuffed we jumped him.  That, plus having had a good warm up fight, seemed to be enough to tip the balance in our favor and we were able to knock down the general and his two helpers without much of a fuss.

The General derailed

The General derailed

From where we stood we could see the next boss, Vulcan… erm… I mean Volkhan… at his forge on a balcony above us.  I am sure that the similarity of the names of these two metalworkers was completely accidental. (I’m pretty sure the name Volkhan was totally ripped off from the Volgans.)

But to get to him we had to get upstairs, which meant going through a room full of lava elementals called Slags.  While they were quite a few of them, they were not elite, so we waded into them and started clearing out there room.

And we cleared and cleared and cleared from the middle of the room.  These slags were respawning at quite an annoying rate.  Eventually mana ran low and we backed out the way we came in.  Along the way though, we lost Ula.

The Hall of Slags

The Hall of Slags

We then spent quite a span of time trying to figure out how to ress Ula.  We made several attempts to get in, clear a corner, and ress Ula before the slags respawed.  However, the respawn rate was such that we could never manage it.  Ula had to release and walk back to us.

Through all of this we did figure out how to approach the room.  Once the group was restored and ready, we ran through the slag room to the stairs at the far side of the room.  At that point we killed off any followers and then set about our business of getting to Volkhan.

As predicted, our first run at Volkhan went badly and ended up in a wipe.  The funny thing is that while we prevailed in the second fight, we hadn’t actually figured out the fight.  We were worried about dealing with the molten golem adds but didn’t take into account that Volkhan would make their corpses explode every so often.  Those explosions thinned down the group to just Skronk and Vikund, thanks mostly to lucky spacing, but we were able to finish him off.

Volkhan shall forge no more

Volkhan shall forge no more

Still, we are set now should we face Volkhan again.  Stay away from the molten golem corpses.

Revived again and ready to move on, we faced the hall of watchers.

Looks quiet enough

Looks quiet enough

The hall is lined on either side by statues of warriors.  We weren’t sure how this was going to play out.  We figured somebody was going to come to life and attack us, but would we have to kill them all, would it become an event?  We ended up running around in the hall for way too long, getting a few people killed along the way, before we decided it was like the slags and that we should just run to the other end of the hall, kill whoever follows, and move on.

We cleared all we could around the next boss, Ionar, then managed to wipe for no good reason.  We should have made it.  It was just in the cards I guess.  The second attempt went off well though, and we were able to take him down.

Which left us clearing trash to get to the final boss, Loken.

People were starting tire though.  We had spent a lot longer than a usual instance run figuring things out and recovering from wipes.  The repair bot had to be brought out at one point.  We skirted whatever yard trash we could until we stood in front of Loken.

Loken looks bored

Loken looks bored

The fight with Loken went pretty fast.  He is all about lightning it seems and we, as a group, have absolutely no resistance to nature spells, so he fried us in a depressingly quick time frame.

Still, we thought we had one more attempt in us.  Maybe we could take him down.  We did not have a soul stone after that last wipe however, so we had to run back, which brought us to what we feared.  Respawns.

Hey, didn't we kill them already?

Hey, didn't we kill them already?

The instance between the front door and Volkhan had refilled.  We were not up for clearing that out again.  And so we called it a night.  The final death score was:

HOL1deaths
A tough evening for the cloth wearers.

On the bright side, I think we’re all up to speed on everything up to Loken.  We should be able to get to him much more quickly the next time around.

We do need to figure out the Loken fight though.  He seemed to work us quite quickly and thoroughly.  This may call for some research.

And it looks like our next run will be a return to the Halls of Lightning.