Monthly Archives: August 2009

What Genre is Our Post-Apocalyptic Future?

Fantasy is the impossible made probable.  Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.

Rod Serling

I was looking at Fallen Earth last night.  It is a new, post-apocalyptic MMORPG that is currently in open beta.  If you have a FilePlanet subscription, you are eligible to get in and play as of this week.

As I was going through the tutorial, I was thinking that here at last I was going to get another shot at a science fiction MMORPG, the genre I bemoaned the lack of in a post a year and a half back that still attracts heated comments now and again.

Then I mentally had to step back.  Something was really bugging me about that thought.  Is a game science fiction just because it is post-apocalyptic?

I mean, it can be.  Wikipedia says apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction.  But I’ve had issues with how things get defined on Wikipedia before.  Whoever edits last and all that.

Certainly a future where SkyNet takes over and mankind is fighting a self-aware army of machines has all the hallmarks of science fiction.

But what if the apocalypse arrives by more mundane means?  What if it isn’t technology gone awry or aliens or anything that would fill the “science” bill for science fiction?  What if it is a pandemic or running out of oil or a season of American Idol so compelling that society falls due to neglect?  Is it still really science fiction then?

Of course, this then goes in the direction of defining science fiction, something many people a lot smarter or more creative than myself have taken a crack at.  A futile direction for me to travel.

So I stepped back one more pace.

Why was I trying to exclude Fallen Earth from the category of science fiction?

I think why my bias was driving me in that direction is that Fallen Earth isn’t the science fiction MMORPG I am looking for.  It is not the genre shaking beacon that will lead science fiction away from the fantasy MMORPG paradigm.  It isn’t that hope for the genre that I seek.

Not that it is necessarily a bad game.  I haven’t played it enough to judge the long term game play.  And it does seem reasonably polished and such.  But I’ll post about the game itself at some future date.

But it does wholeheartedly embrace the fantasy MMORPG paradigm.  The game certainly isn’t just Mad Max or Tank Girl pasted over WoW.  But anybody who had played WoW will recognize interface and draw almost all the correct conclusions about how to play.

And since it does not deviate from the fantasy MMORPG norms, something within me wants to deny it is science fiction at all, as irrational as that might sound.

I’ll keep playing Fallen Earth for now, but it isn’t that science fiction MMORPG messiah that will lead us to the gaming promised land.

Creative Fail

You partnered with Blizzard to deliver a custom, high end gaming headset branded for World of Warcraft.  With millions of players in the US and Europe, this is sure to draw attention to your brand.

Only when Blizzard puts up their announcement about the product as the top news item on the World of Warcraft web site

Sound Blaster World of Warcraft Wireless Headset

Creative Labs is partnering with Blizzard Entertainment to announce the new Sound Blaster World of Warcraft Wireless Headset, catering specifically to the World of Warcraft gamer. From the customizable ear cup “Glyphs” featuring Horde and Alliance artwork illuminated by 16 million color programmable LEDs, to the huge emphasis on comfort for extended wear, this headset pushes the envelope in both technology and design. For more information about the Sound Blaster World of Warcraft Wireless Headset, visit Creative.com.

…there is no mention at all on your own site, which is linked in the announcement, of the product.  None.  Not anywhere.

I’m sure the info will be there at some point, but you’re only the top headline for a limited amount of time.

Oh, hey, they went to #2 position even as I wrote this.  And with BlizzCon, they’ll be off the front page before Monday.

There is nothing like a well executed plan.

A Nesingwary Sunday

I was finally able to get my daughter away from her alts and back to her alleged main character on Sunday.

Too many alts.

She is truly my daughter in that regard, and then some.  She is coming close to the 50 total characters limit that World of Warcraft imposes on accounts.  I am waiting to hear the wail from the family room that announces that she cannot make another character.

But I managed to get her away from her many Blood Elf alts by basically telling her she couldn’t play unless she got out her level 40 night elf hunter to play with dad and grandma.

Threats worked.  Finally the three of us were back together, all mounted up on our epic cat mounts and ready to take on Stranglethorn Vale.

On the train in STV

On the trail in the 'vale

Our goal was to finish up the Hemet Nesingwary quest line including the terminal quest, Big Game Hunter.

Fortunately, we had worked on the Nesingwary hunting quest line previously, so we only had to finish up Raptor Mastery before going off to hunt King Bangalash.  With the three of us it was a reasonable fight.  One of the pets ended up with low health, but otherwise there was little drama.

We will have to go back to King Bangalash in a few levels as my daughter wants to capture him as a pet.  But she has a long list of animals she wants as pets, so we’ll see.

Once back at Nesingwary’s camp we turned in the quest.

GHofSTV
Another achievement.

Then we spent some time working on faction with Booty Bay.  Somehow my daughter ended up hated by Booty Bay which means she cannot do any of the quests there.  So off we went to grind some Bloodsail Buccaneers.

Then, later that very night, I was out in Sholazar Basin with Vikund rolling up some leftover quests in hopes of getting closer to that distant Loremaster achievement when I hit another one.

NesingwaryAchi
This is the other end of the Stranglethorn Vale quests, the culmination of a vast slaughter of animals in the game, Hemet Nesingwary: The Collected Quests achievement.

Still a long way to go for the Loremaster, but I am done with the Nesingwary clan… at least until the next expansion.

Parallels and Portents

If we look back a little over five years we can see the #1 subscription MMORPG in the US and Europe, EverQuest, and how things were going for it.

It was actually at its peak, with over 500K subscriptions.

It had established a pattern of regular expansions (7 by that point) with incremental changes to the game.

EverQuest was the game to study.

SOE studied the game and by the fifth anniversary had a successor in the wings.  EverQuest II was poised to take up the standard.

Only EverQuest II never did come to outshine the success of EverQuest.  Early EQ2 alienated a lot of loyal EQ players.  And SOE hasn’t done as well as EQ2 since then.

Blizzard too studied EverQuest, and did a good job of it.  Despite the fact that World of Warcraft eschewed many of the tenets of EQ, things like the need to group to advance in the game and frequent and regular expansions, it came to be the leading subscription MMORPG in the US and Europe with, by some counts, as many as ten times the subscribers that EQ had as its peak.

WoW became the new EQ.

But now the five year mark is approaching for WoW.  Blizzard has certainly continued to study EQ and EQ2, so we can be pretty sure that the main announcement at BlizzCon won’t be World of Warcraft II.

Instead, the rumor mill has it that the replacement for WoW will be… WoW.  A vast cataclysm will reshape the world allowing for the original game to be re-imagined in a new way.  If this is true, Blizzard is attempting to revitalize its game by changing its core.

Of course, this is, as yet, still speculation, regardless of how much datamining people have done.  I wouldn’t put it past Blizzard to lay some false clues.  It isn’t like they aren’t fully aware of how people dig through their files.

But if it is true, if this does come to pass, it will be interesting to see how well it succeeds.  A change in place means that there is a guaranteed player base ready to give it a try.

On the other hand, a lot of MMORPG players are both conservative and nostalgic.  I would expect to see, at a minimum, more calls for a “classic Azeroth” server.

BlizzCon is this coming weekend.  I hope we get some answers!

Return to Pokemon Gold and Silver

Pokemon.com announced last week that the next installments in the Pokemon series would return to the Johto region last visited in Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal back in the days of the original GameBoy and the GameBoy Color.

The new games will be called Pokemon HeartGold and Pokemon SoulSilver and will bring all the advances found in the recent Pokemon games to a long absent region.

PokeJohto

As with the original Pokemon Gold and Silver, players will start off with one of three Pokemon, Chikorita, Totodile, or Cyndquil, representing leaf, water, and fire types.

The game is slated for Spring 2010.  Pokemon games usually release in Japan first, so I am sure we will hear a lot about these two titles before they arrive in other markets.

A Mount of a Different Color

I am generally not one for faction grinds in WoW or any other game.

Once in a while though I can combine something else with such a grind to make it tolerable.  Getting to exalted with the Kalu’ak for example gave me decent experience running their daily quests and I really wanted that fishing pole.

So when Ula decided over the past weekend to take on the tailor role in our little guild, I jumped in to help gather netherweave cloth for the effort.  I already knew where I could get some.

I had been working, very slowly on faction with the Kurenai in Nagrand.  By killing ogres in Nagrand you get a small boost to Kurenai faction, plus you have a chance to get warbead drops which can been handed over in stacks of 10 for 500 faction with the Kurenai.

I was already at revered with the Kurenai, but I was having a problem motivating myself for that 21K faction point climb to get to exalted.

But as a side benefit from killing the ogres, you end up with a lot of netherweave cloth.  So there was the hook and away I went.

By the time Ula was done with netherweave I was past the 16K faction mark and I had a pile of warbeads on me, so I went to turn them in.

Kurenai
The main benefit from Kurenai faction for me was the ability to purchase talbuk mounts from them.  So I picked out a nice cobalt blue riding talbuk.

Talbuk in the Snow

Talbuk in the Snow

I showed this new mount to my daughter.  She liked it.  It is a bit different.  But then she wanted to know when I was going to get a dragon mount to fly around on.  That is another faction grind.

I actually bought a couple of the talbuk mounts, which got me another achievement.

StableKeeper
Stable Keeper is the achievement for having 10 mounts.  At 50 mounts you get the achievement Leading the Cavalry which also comes with an Albino Drake as a reward.  I will have to go study the Warcraft Mounts web site to see what it would take me to get there.

Of course, as a paladin and an engineer, Vikund gets a pretty easy four mount boost.  Still, 40 mounts to go.  I’d probably best start with faction from the original alliance factions first.  If I can stand the grind.

An Evening (Wasted) with Blackrock Spire

With Bung away on vacation, the four of us had to find something to do on Saturday night.  There are still a variety of Outlands heroic instances left for us to try in addition to re-running instances that we had done already but for which we have not been given achievement credit.

But buoyed by the experiences of our last 4-person evening, we decided to head back to old Azeroth to see some sights from days gone by.  The four of us were:

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

As you can see, after being let off the leash at allowed to hit level cap, both Earl and I raced ahead.

Our target for the evening was to do no less than conquer Blackrock Spire.  Or at least pick up the achievements for Blackrock Spire that we did not already have.

We had, after all, earned our access to Upper Blackrock Spire the old fashioned way, before Blizzard nailed the door open for all and sundry.

We were suffering from some “Onyxification” of our expectations after our battle with the brood mother, which went off pretty much without a hitch.  (And it is a good thing we got her when we did, as they are going to redo her lair it seems.)  We felt invulnerable in old Azeroth, simply irresistable.

The first item on our list was to get to Upper Blackrock Spire, which is a bit of a challenge in itself.  I fell off one of the chains and into the lava.

The good news is that, at level 80, the fire resist aura and the occasional heal will keep you alive enough to get back out of the lava.

Once we were all assembled, we headed to the Rookery to get the “Leeeeeeeeeeeeeroy!” achievement.  I thought this was actually going to be the tough part of the evening. Killing 50 of anything in 15 seconds seemed like an iffy proposition to me.

We got into the Rookery, picked a concentration point, then all ran in different directions to get the eggs to hatch and bring back whelps.  Obviously woke up way too many as we got the achievement long before we dispatched all the whelps that followed us back.  And even then there were groups of a dozen or so that didn’t follow.  It happened so fast that I almost didn’t get the screenshot.

Plenty of whelps to spare

Plenty of whelps to spare

First achievement down.

Then it was time to crawl through Upper Blackrock Spire (UBRS) and defeat the main boss.  This was something of a toddle, as we gathered groups of trash mobs to dispatch them.  We went through the event with Gyth and Rend Blackhand, which let us into the route to the main boss.

Rend about to be rent

Rend about to be rent

After that it did not take us long to make our way to General Drakkisath.

As we made our way to him, a couple of things struck me.

First, there are a lot of places where you can fall or go over a ledge and find yourself genuinely screwed.  All the more so if you were doing this at level.  I compare this do some of the instance we have done in Northrend where any drop-off is usually guarded by an invisible barrier to keep you from falling into so difficult/impossible ress location.

Second, for a raid boss, General Drakkisath’s place is kind of a dump.  He’s just there with a couple of minions in this bare niche in the wall.  No throne, no altar, no piles of loot, no bones of victims.  This isn’t where a raid boss lives.  This is where a raid boss parks his car.  It looks like he just got the keys to the place.

We have an appointment with an interior designer, I swear

We have an appointment with an interior designer, I swear

Well, we didn’t have to stare at his bare walls for long.  Soon he was the late General Drakkisath and his landlord didn’t have to clean up much for the next tenent.  Well, there was some blood.  And since the theme of the night up to this point seemed to be not quite getting the achievement screenshot, a mis-click by one of us brought up the loot on top of the achievement.  You can still see it, plus now I have put in the gratuitous loot shot.

Hidden Achievement

Hidden Achievement

That done, we dropped off Drak’s balcony and considered our next target.  We had passed the entrance to Blackwing Lair (which would have made the reference in my title more clear if I had used that instead of Blackrock Spire) so decided to recon that as an option.

We made out way up the stairs and into the instance and ended up in a room with a couple of bosses, a beam of energy, and a bunch of eggs.  As usual, we went into this without any research.  We had a choice between Razorgore the Untamed and Grethok the Controller.

We chose Grethok and got them both.

And from a “kill them all and let Blizzard sort them out” point of view, the fight went pretty well for the first 99%.  Then Razorgore went from Untamed to Unleased or something and blew us all up.

All Dead

All Dead

There was obviously something else we needed to do or understand to finish that fight.  I mean, technically, we won I suppose.  Everybody was dead, the status quo was upset.  But this seemed a little more complicated than we wanted.  After a little research, we put Blackwing Lair on hold and headed to Molten Core.

Visit Molten Core!

Visit Molten Core!

We had actually done the quest Attunement to the Core so go to jump straight in… once we could get an instance.  We had hit some peak time or some instance land rush or something, because we spend the next few minutes trying to get into Molten Core.  It probably wasn’t that long of a wait, but the fact that you have to talk to Lothos Riftwalker each and every time you try to get into the instance, which means cycling through his four or five stock phrases over and over.

And then the trouble began.

The first thing we noticed was that yard trash designed to keep 40 people busy has a lot of hit points.  Grinding down each mob in the instance was like going through a series of mini-boss fights in terms of duration.

We decided to play the level 80 aggro radius card. We stopped clearing and started threading our way around the yard trash, slaying only when necessary.  This came back to haunt us at the first boss, Gehennas.

Gehennas Screams!

Gehennas Screams!

We didn’t clear the stuff wandering around him, which eventually lead to adds which tipped the balance against us, and down we went.

Then were faced with another old-school issue, the long run back from Thorium Point to the instance. Dying was much less convenient in old Azeroth.

Back to Gehennas, we managed to take him down on the second go, but it wasn’t a cake walk.  He has a nasty curse that reduces all healing amount on you by 75%.  Vikund used lay hands at the end of the first battle and I went, “Huh?” when the health bar barely went up.

Gehennas down we slipped between the wandering mobs and made our way to the next boss, Garr.

Garr and Company

Garr and Company

Garr was probably the highlight of the evening.  By this point we had begun reading up on bosses before fights, since it was clear this wasn’t going to be a series of push-overs.  With Garr we read, “The more warlocks in a group, the easier this battle will be…”

A quick count showed no warlocks in our group.  We opted for the “hang the tank out and hope you can keep him healed” approach, with which we are so familiar.  And with Skronk keeping the healing rolling while Vikund chucked out the divine storms and judging to boost mana, Earl’s health was never in doubt.

Garr dropped a load of stuff when he went down.

Bung missed out, since the tier 1 headpiece he dropped was the Felheart Horns.  That is headgear I would wear around town if I could.

Vikund with the Felheart Horns

Vikund with the Felheart Horns

Among the other items dropped was the Drillborer Disk, a great looking shield that Vikund now wears around town along with his Argent Avenger “lightsaber.”

Vikund showing off glowing gear

Vikund showing off glowing gear

After that though, the evening began to fade for us.

We made it to within sight of Shazzrah, but had to tangle with Baron Geddon first and that wasn’t working out for us.

Baron Geddon wins again!

Baron Geddon wins again!

If we had been determined we could have gotten past him.  Each time we went down it was due to a mistake on our part, something that could have been averted.  However it was getting late, we were getting tired, and there was frankly no immediate end in sight for Molten Core, so we called it a night.

If Bung is back next week, we’re still lined up for the Halls of Lightning.  Otherwise we’ll end up with another evening of achievement hunting.  Maybe some Outlands heroics instead.

Sentry Drones are Boring

On my last post about a mission in the Sushi Boat, the ever popular Gallente battleship the Dominix, my drone armed AFK mission runner, Tony suggested that I give sentry drones a try.

I didn’t know anything about sentry drones, but I am always keen to commit myself to another round of EVE Online skill training.  I bought Sentry Drone Interfacing and trained the skill up to level 4.

Of course, EVE offered up its usual detailed and verbose explanation on the subject.

SentryInfo
A fine lot of help that was.

So the only thing for it was to buy some sentry drones and see what they did.  I bought 10 Garde I sentry drones, pulled the Ogre I drones out of the bay, then tossed in the Gardes along with a few small and medium drones as backups.  I pulled another level 3 mission for the check ride, The Slaves must be Returned, and headed out.

The mission is a quickie.  I popped in and the red ships went aggro.  I started towards them, turning on my modules and deploying five of the sentry drones.

I figured out rather quickly that their listed speed of zero meters per second was not a typo as they slowly moved away from the Sushi Boat, floating placidly in its wake.

I quickly pulled them back in before I got out of range and thought for a second on what to do.

I didn’t want to have to go back and fish them out of space later.  So I pulled the Domi to a halt and threw the drones overboard again.  The I targeted one of the cruisers and set the drones to work.

I put the camera on one of them, just to see them in action close up.  The drone rotated towards the target, then nothing happened.  I checked to make sure the target was in range.  It looked good.

I noticed that the target was taking damage.  That seemed to be a good sign.  But the drones themselves just didn’t… you know… go PEW PEW or anything.

They sit.  They turn.  The target takes damage.  But I didn’t get any light show.

They might be shooting... maybe...

They might be shooting... maybe...

So much for dramatic screenshot potential.

The sentry drones also had trouble with the frigates, which closed to about 8km and then pelted us with rocks and garbage.  After watching a lot of nothing going on… nothing but the Sushi Boat taking tiny hits… I pulled in two of the sentry drones and sent out a pair of scout drones to clean up the frigates.

So my sentry drone test was mostly successful.  I will have to figure out how to effectively deploy these guys.  I am sure there are some surprises you can pull off with a drone that stays put.

But I want some fireworks out of them when they shoot.  Are they all like that or did I just get some lemons?

The Approaching Cataclysm

We have apparently learned the name of the next World of Warcraft expansion due to the usual trademark registering routine.  Something to do with “Cataclysm,” which explains the title of this post.

Didn’t EverQuest II already play the cataclysm card?  Didn’t we all see how that worked out for SOE?

And we also seem to have been made aware of two new races that will be coming as part of that expansion.

I trust in Blizzard due to their track record of moving from success to success… but… Worgen and Goblins?

WoW needs a couple new races like it needs more gold sellers spelling out their web sites in corpses on the streets of Stormwind and Orgrimmar. (Which seems to be on the upswing of late.  What’s the deal with that?)

Worgen and Goblins… hairy trolls with claws and amoral gnomes with bad skin.  Some people see the appeal, but it is lost on me.   Better than blue skinned space goats I suppose.

And, to hear it told, it is all going to be based around that whirlpool in the middle of the map of Azeroth.

Expansion Goes Here

Perfect for a “down the drain metaphor,” just what the competitors want to hear I’m sure.  We need a Mark Jacobs sound bite on that.

This is all still speculation, of course.  Sure, there is some evidence to drive people to these conclusions, but it isn’t final until the Blizzard press release sings.

But with BlizzCon coming up people are expecting to get some details about the next WoW expansion.

In anticipation of that I am going to take some wild ass guesses at what will be in the next expansion, without benefit of research or much in the way of logic.

1. The level cap will go up by 20 levels

-Ten levels or twenty, neither will keep the hard core end-game addicts busy for long, but 20 levels would keep the casual crowd happy for ages.  Plus 100 is a nice, round number.

2. A new level of faction above Exalted

-Because Blizzard knows some of you will grind out 42,000 more points if they just put a shiny achievement and a purple item at the end.

3. Central Focus – The Caverns of Time

-There will be some new lands, but we’ll be going back in time for most of the expansion, to play out new adventures on Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms.  Recycled artwork for the win.  This will mean:

3. Most of the original instances re-imagined

-We’ll get to see surprisingly updated versions of places we’ve been.

4. Instances will run in reverse order

-We’ll start in Blackrock Spire and end up in the Deadmines with VanCleef or his predecessor as the big boss at the end of the last raid available at launch. (10 and 25 person versions, of course.)

5. Instanced player housing

6. Some form of guild halls

-This is going to be the money-sink expansion… urm… even more so than Lich King.  Earning gold is easy enough that even I have an epic mount and the people who actually try to earn gold… well… there are a lot of those 18K mammoths running around these days. Both housing and halls will have a base price and then a pile of amenities to buy.  Of course that will required…

7. A new trade skill based around wood and a wood harvesting skill

-They will make all your furniture, some guild hall items, staves, bows, and some raw items that other classes can use in creation of things.

9. Buy orders at the auction house

-Probably not, but it would be nice.  And, as long as I am wishing…

10. Achievement points will mean something

-And won’t all of you who scoffed at them feel bad then!

Those are my crazy guesses.  If I get one right I’m claiming victory.

Oh, one more guess… the expansion will be released in Q4 2010.

What do you think we’ll see in the next WoW expansion?

Fun Under Stormwind

My daughter was shouting, “Dad!  Come look!”

Something had happened in World of Warcraft yesterday morning that she really wanted me to see.

I came over to see what she was so excited about.

She had fallen through Stormwind.  She took some screen shots for me.

A new view of Stormwind

A new view of Stormwind

But she hadn’t just fallen.

Looking up to see down

Looking up to see down

She had been working on something.

Open architecture

Open architecture

She had been trying to climb up the walls of Stormwind ala Super Mario to try to get up on the roofs of the city.

She is truly my daughter.  I remember doing the same thing in EverQuest.  And I remember being especially proud when I made it up and could see over the edge of the city.  The sky, it turned out, was just an inverted bowl, open down below the horizon where people normally wouldn’t be able to see. (Unlike in EverQuest II, where the sky appears to be a complete sphere.)  But there I was, seeing things from a new perspective.

So it was a shared moment, a thrill that we both understood.

And even better, falling through was repeatable.  She walked back out from under Stormwind, which you can do by just heading to the harbor, then went back to the same spot and showed me how she had jumped from a box to a torch, then from the torch to a ledge.  And, walking along the ledge, she fell through.

I went back to my computer to try it.

I failed.

It turns out that you need to be a night elf to do this.  I had been trying to jump up to the torch with Vikund, who is human, and humans just cannot seem to make that jump.  This may be the first tangible difference between races I have seen in WoW.

After switching to one of my night elf druids (I have two) I was able to make the leap up to the torch and then the ledge quite easily, thus confirming my daughter’s assertion that you need to be a night elf to do this.

The Jump

The Jump

Once I ran up the ledge I fell through to the green fields below Stormwind.

Amazing how much sunlight gets through the city

Amazing how much sunlight gets through the city

Also amazing is how much better WoW screen shots look when taken from out iMac.  Does QuickTime compress that much better by default?

So I was able to share this moment of accomplishment with my daughter, and appreciate it through the eyes of someone who has experience the same joy of getting into some place they weren’t supposed to be.