Monthly Archives: November 2009

Now That Is Disturbing

The effects of Blizzard’s latest marketing scheme.

Vikund Gets Mohawked

Blizzard has Mr. T out there doing commercials for Wow again, and to coincide with this they have introduced the night elf mohawk grenade.


When it hits you, you get the the head shown above.  Gold chains not included.  Look to get hit in your local auction house.

Fortunately, you just need to right click to dismiss the effect.

Nostalgia Proximity Alert! Collision Imminent!

Wihelm: Continuity One Two Three Abort Reminiscence!

Computer: Code invalid. Abort failed

Computer: Nostalgia field engaged

Computer: memory distortion set to random

Wilhelm: *scream*

So here we go.

Way back when I was a kid, back in a time between kindergarten and about third or fourth grade we, as kids, seemed to go through a stage where we ceased just playing with things and spent our recess and lunch hours playing at being things.

Looking back, it was very much a reflection of what was influencing us as kids… which is to say we played at things we saw on television.

Unlike my father in his day, we rarely ever played at being soldiers, at least at school.  He grew up in the shadow of WWII, which was viewed as a “good thing.”  For us, the Vietnam was on the news every night and it was a “bad thing.”  Many of our teachers actively discouraged anything that smacked of the military.

So we had to find other ways to dress up our desire to run around and pretend to shoot each other.

Cops and robbers was popular, primarily because it required little in the way of window dressing.  Some people were cops, some people were robbers, cops chased the robbers around, we had shoot outs, and argued about who shot whom first.  Generally the cops lost.  Authority figures were on the out, lawlessness reigned.  It was quite the exaggerated reflection of the country beyond the school yard.

We also played Planet of the Apes quite a bit.  This was not as popular because you had to conform at least minimally to the story line.  But it was an outlet for gun play and we did not care about the symbolism represented by the failure of man and the ascension of the apes.  We just wanted to pretend to shoot at each other.  Apes tended to lose and man usually reasserted his primacy.  In some way this probably predicted the election of Ronald Reagan.

And then, once in a while, we would play Star Trek.

Star Trek was different.  Not as many people would play, but girls would join in.  They wouldn’t play cops and robbers or Planet of the Apes, but a few would tag along for Star Trek.  So I knew there was something special going on, since the last time we played pretend with the girls was back before we decided playing house was for sissies.

And while we would cut to space battles and shooting phasers pretty quickly, the whole thing was different.  We would start out behind the backstop standing around as arrayed like the bridge crew.   We would crash around as the ship went into battle, then beam down to a planet or over to another ship looking for trouble.  Prime directive?  Our phasers were never set to “stun.”

But unlike the other two things we played, nobody was playing the bad guys.  This was a PvE roleplaying affair.  Nobody played a Klingon or a Romulan, they were all pretend.  When we shot, there was no follow on argument about who shot whom to break the flow of the story.

I should have written down the names of those who joined up on the bridge for these occasional play sessions, these pre-pubescent Trekkies, just to see who still feels the pull of that show to this day.

I don’t need to say that Star Trek was huge and had a lot of influence.  I think the fact that I can write about Star Trek without giving much in the way of context says enough.

But to be there, in the early 1970s, was to feel the influence when it was still young and fresh and still fit into its uniform and did not require a hair piece.  The original series was in syndicated reruns constantly throughout that decade. (Though at one point, every time I turned on the TV they seemed to be playing “And the Children Shall Lead,” an episode I grew to loathe.)

Star Trek lived on through some really bad episodes in the third season (see above), through cancellation, through an animated series, through some really weak movies and bad uniform choices, through a series of spin-offs (each with its own major flaws) and unlikely aliens, and through wave after wave of truly bad video games (with a rare gem now and again) to still exert influence today.

And I have pretty much eaten it up through most of its history.  I have watched all the shows, seen all the movies in the theater, read a disturbing number of the books, played the table top games, the role playing games, the MUDs, and a good portion of the computer games.  And after all of that, I still feel a great affinity for the universe of Star Trek.

Which is a blessing and a curse.

Star Trek again looms on the horizon for me.  Not a new TV series or a movie to stress my faith more than any midichlorian ever could.  No, it is a new computer game, a game with a lure unlike most that have come before it.

Star Trek Online.

Press Release Screen Shot - Your Game May Vary

A massively multiplayer version of the Star Trek universe.

Something within me sings with joy at the thought of a Star Trek MMO.  This is exactly what we were trying to achieve standing in a semi-circle out on the edge of the field at school way back in the day.

But part of me wants to look away.  That part shudders with the fear brought on by the dozens of mediocre TV episodes and poorly thought out games that came before.

According to the press release, Star Trek Online will be here soon.

ATARI TO SHIP STAR TREK ONLINE ON FEBRUARY 2, 2010

Star Trek Online Offers Fans and Gamers Opportunity to Experience Beloved Star Trek Universe through Space and Ground Gameplay

New York, NY (November 9, 2009) – Atari, Inc., one of the world’s most recognized videogame publishers, and Cryptic Studios™, creators of the acclaimed Champions Online, City of Heroes and City of Villains, announced today the highly anticipated Star Trek Online for PC is set to release on February 2, 2010 in North America and February 5, 2010 across Europe and Australia.  This first-of-a-kind massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) will offer space and ground gameplay to fans and players.

Star Trek Online is poised to become the ultimate Star Trek gaming experience,” said Jim Wilson, CEO of Atari, Inc. “Throughout the last four decades, Star Trek has been a mainstay in pop culture, influencing legions of fans through television, film, and more. Star Trek Online opens a whole new chapter and expands upon this incredible universe in 2010.”

Taking place in the year 2409, continuing the story of the latest film installment, Star Trek Online boasts extraordinary features and lets fans both new and old experience unparalleled adventures.  Players will have the opportunity to become a high ranking Starfleet officer and will participate in missions that will take them into the depths of space, across exotic planets and even inside other starships.  Star Trek Online offers total customization, where every ship players command can be customized, from color to construction. Additionally, anyone can create their own species in Star Trek Online, as well as customize the look of their avatar’s uniform.

For more information, please visit: www.startrekonline.com

February 2nd is sooner than I would have thought possible, which does not help me deal with the dread.

In an office just miles from where we played Star Trek as kids… and even closer to where I live today… a team at Cryptic Studios is preparing Star Trek Online.

Of course, just a couple of years back, the same game (or not the same game) was being developed by a team at Perpetual Entertainment just an hours drive from my home before it was cancelled, so salt is being consumed in quantities large enough to get a caution from my doctor when it comes to the eventual availability of the game.

Something about all of this playing out within proximity of my home makes it all the more compelling for no logical reason.

Not that it matters.  Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.

I do not have much in the way of a choice when it comes to this.  I’ll be there on day one.  If they offer a lifetime subscription, I’ll buy it.  A collectors edition?  Let me get out my credit card.  Star Trek alien prostetics I can wear whilst I play?  Sign me up.

Press Release Screen Shot - Things May Never Be This Cool

So you know where I will be on February 2nd.  Prepared for disappointment but still full of hope.

Unless, of course, the whole thing gets delayed.

Nah… that never happens!

Arceus Obtained

My daughter and I finally dusted off our Nintendo DSes and made our way down to Toys R Us to download Arceus on the last day of the event.

ArceusSolo

Arceus

We were alone downloading at the store.  I imagine that those with Pokemon on their mind grabbed theirs last weekend.

The process was simple as usual.  We have been to enough download events that there were no mysteries involved.

My daughter, on getting her first close look at Arceus declared it a complete rip-off of Dialga.

Dialga2

Dialga

I don’t quite see the resemblance myself, but I am probably distracted by that pet fence that Arceus appears to gotten stuck half way down his body.

A Theory of Fishing

A post in which I draw two points and declare there to be a line.

Before I start, I just want to point out the humor tag on this post.  Some people will miss that and not read the post in the spirit in which it was written.  It is Friday.  Relax and just chuckle at my folly.

I have a theory about fishing and fantasy MMORPGs.

FishingAgain

Fishing Yet Again

I believe that there is a correlation between how well a fantasy MMORPG does relative to its contemporary competitors and how deep and interesting the fishing mechanism that is available at launch.

So, the better the fishing is at launch, the better the game will do relative to other games that launch in a similar window of time.

My data set so far:

EverQuest: Launched March 1999

Fishing: A relatively straightforward but deep fishing mechanism.  You needed a fishing pole which had to be equipped.  You needed bait, which got used up as you fished.  You could fish in just about any water you could find.  And you caught a wide variety of things, from fish that could be used for cooking, to rusty weapons that could be sharpened, to junk for the vendor.  So in many ways very much like real fishing; pick your spot, grab your pole, make sure you have bait, and fish away.

Market position: Rapidly became the king of the hill, declining only when the next generation of competitors came along.

EverQuest II: Launched November 2004

Fishing: Barely a fishing mechanism at all.  No fishing pole or bait required.  Fishing was reduced to harvesting “fish nodes” which at launch would yield at most a single fish per try before the fisherman had to move on to the next node, so you were constantly on the run.  And then all you ever caught was fish, never the stereotypical old boot or rusty dagger.

Market position: A strong start that rapidly faded with the game never achieving anything close to the popularity of its predecessor.

Lord of the Rings Online: Launched April 2007

Fishing: None at launch, added later (too late by my theory)

Market position:  Mid-pack, never a contender for market leadership.

Warhammer Online: Launched September 2008

Fishing: None

Market position: Mid-pack after losing more than half of their early subscriber base

The Wild Card

Now, the hole in my data set is World of Warcraft, but only because I did not play on day one so I cannot speak personally to the state of fishing back then.  But from what I have seen since I started playing five months after launch is that WoW has a very EverQuest-like fishing paradigm.  You need a pole.  There is no bait, but you can attach a lure.  You can fish wherever you want.

And furthermore, WoW continued to improve fishing as time went along.  There are fishing tournaments, fishing achievements, fishing quests, some truly special fishing poles, and even some pets that you can obtain only by fishing.  You can fish up an amazing amount of things.  Plus there was that fishing chair that was in the card game.

FishingInOrgrimmar

Don't mind me, I'm just fishing

What Am I Saying?

Now at this point you may wonder if I am somehow suggesting that fishing is the most important feature of an MMORPG.

I am not.

I am moving more towards a “canary in a coal mine” view of fishing.  If a company has had the resources to deliver a reasonably polished game and has had, in addition, the time to include fishing as something more than an afterthought, that the game might have the makings of a winner.

More Data Needed

Of course, to test a theory one of the things you can do is see if it would have predicted the same outcome for similar events outside of the current data set.  In this case, other MMORPGs that have launched.  I have taken two sample cases of good and bad fishing and drawn a line and then forced a couple of null set results onto that line and called it a theory.

So what other games have had fishing at launch, how good was that fishing mechanic, and how have the games done?

For example, while I wasn’t there, I am going to guess that Ultima Online had fishing of some sort.  I mean, if you could be a shepherd, how could they miss fisherman.  And while I tend to see UO as more the culmination of the long running Ultima series of games rather than a game on the D&D-Diku-EQ-WoW trajectory of MMORPGs (which isn’t a bad thing), it was the market leader in its time, it exceeded the expectations of the developer, and it lives on today.

What about Aion, Runes of Magic, or the upcoming Alganon?  Alganon certainly took a cue from WoW on interface, did they also borrow fishing?

nomufishing01

Something on the hook

Other Questions

Should this theory include PvP oriented games or not?  I put WAR on the list because Mythic invested in a PvE game.

Is it limited to fantasy?  Did Star Wars Galaxies have fishing?  Could this have been an early indicator for the fates of Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa?

Is there another game mechanic besides fishing that fits the theory better?  I cannot bring myself to generalize this to a good resource harvesting mechanism because fishing generally represents such tangential feature to the game that I think it is special.

FishingDiplomat

Or is this all just the view of somebody who has maxed out the fishing skill in every MMO he has played?

Five Years of EverQuest II

Five years ago I rolled my first character, Nomu Stonemantle, a dwarf priest, in the post-cataclsym world of Norrath that is the setting for EverQuest II.

It was my primary game for a good 18 months and I have gone back to visit on a number of occasions.

While I have not played for almost a year at this point, I am sure I will be back at some point.

Norrath, both pre and post-cataclysm are virtual places, but places with real memories for me.

Ragefire Chasm Redux

We finally reached the point where there were no more holiday events to go after and no more fresh instances to run for the group.  It looked like we might spend a Saturday evening playing our new characters, the ones we rolled up on Lightninghoof, one of the RP-PvP servers.

But what should we do?

With five of us, running around the Barrens seems like a bit of a waste.  We had all progressed into the teens with characters though, so Ragefire Chasm seemed like a good plan.  It is a nice, low level instance.  Yes, we did it before, though not exactly as it was intended.

So an objective was set.  Now which characters should we play?  Each of us had at least two or three characters in the right level range.

We shuffled through the deck of possibilities and ended up with the following roster:

14 Troll Rogue – Azucar (Bungholio)
15 Tauren Druid – Hurmoo (Vikund)
16 Tauren Druid – Azawak (Skronk)
17 Orc Shaman – Earlthebat (Earlthecat)
19 Blood Elf Paladin – Enaldie (Ula)

This gave all of us somewhat different roles than we had in the old group.

Azawak became the tank, leaving the healing role behind.  Azucar and Enaldie left behind ranged DPS for… melee DPS.  Earlthebat got to stand back and take the ranged DPS route.  And Hurmoo was no longer in close doing melee DPS, but got to stand back and heal.

Fortunately, to support the learning curve for our new roles, we were, on average, a bit over level for the instance.

The first order of business was to get all the quests for the instance lined up.  A few were easy and could be shared, but there was one quest line that starts at Thrall that we had to all run through.  And run is the operative word, since it meant running back and forth around Orgrimmar for a bit.

Finally though we had all the quests and were ready to go.  We had all the quests.  We had a laundry list of things to kill.  We were at the instance door.

Somehow I, as Hurmoo, was nominated to be the group leader.  Usually that is a mistake on the order of going up against a Sicilian when death is on the line, but things did not go too badly.  I need to go off and find some macros for putting up raid icons, but otherwise the floaty crownie thing on my portrait was not the mark of death.

Considering how new we were to our roles, the run went smoothly.  None of us died despite some teething problems.

Azucar got some on-the-job training about stealth and sap, which was required because he was our only crowd control option.  Being the lowest level in the group meant that his stealth was not as effective as it might otherwise have, but that just reinforced the lessons.

We do have to get used to having somebody stealthed and leading the way in the group.  At least one group member kept following our stealthed rogue as he was trying to sap, triggering the expected proximity pull.  Again, we made it through despite the that.

Having a druid bear tank worked well enough.  At this level he also put out the most damage, thanks largely to the retribution aura Enaldie had up.

Ragefire Chasm itself is somewhat odd in its design philosophy.  There is a whole side path of mobs that leads to nowhere and the main boss, Taragaman the Hungerer, is the second of four bosses you kill, so the achievement comes up when you’ve still got work left to do.

RFCachi

He was not an epic fight for us.  We cleared some of the surrounding groups and then went after him.  Soon we stood over his corpse.

RFCfirstboss

Taragaman Defeated

That left us the clean up of the two passages behind Taragaman’s area, which we worked our way through slowly as we tried to fit into the new dynamic of our group.

In the end we stood looking out over the dungeon having made it to the far end.

RFCend

Mission Accomplished!

And then we had to walk all the way back to where we came in because there is no back door to Ragefire Chasm.

The ironic twist of the night was the loot.  Formerly we were a group that wore only plate or cloth and we seemed to get a huge amount of leather or mail armor drops.

Now we were a group that wore only leather and mail.  So what dropped all night?  Cloth.

So cloth much dropped that I later trained Hurmoo as an enchanter so that we could at least disenchant items we cannot use if we get a repeat performance.

Ragefire Chasm is nice, and served as a good place for us to start working on our grouping skills.  In fact, we were wondering why there wasn’t an Alliance instance at the same level before you got to the Deadmines.

Of course, Ragefire Chasm is something of a single use dungeon, so investing in an Alliance version might not be worthwhile, though who knows what Cataclysm will bring.

Once we were through the dungeon and had turned in all the quests, our group had all leveled at least once and three of us leveled twice.  So our group looked like this at the end:

16 Rogue – Azucar
17 Druid – Hurmoo
18 Druid – Azawak
18 Shaman – Earlthebat
20 Paladin – Enaldie

At those levels, there is little point to heading back into Ragefire Chasm.

But now where to go next?  Do we face the PvP aspect of the server and try to get to the Deadmines?  Or should we try the long and winding road that is Wailing Caverns?

Torchlight – Picking the Wrong Vendor

The weekend has come and gone and Runic released their patch as promised.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just a patch, it was a full re-build of the installer.  You need to uninstall the original version and install this new version.

This was all done for the right reasons, so I do not know if I can fault them for making this choice.  But it has left me waiting for the update.

The problem is, they say, that each of the digital vendors needs to add in their own DRM scheme.  As of this morning, some of the vendors have done that, and some have not.

TLPS10
Of course, I bought my copy via Direct2Drive, so I do not have access yet to the update yet and there is no word on when that may happen.

Lesson learned?  Try and buy directly from the company if possible I suppose.

Now, on the bright side, I am not suffering from any of the major, game-play stopping issues, so it isn’t critical for me to get this update.  I just have some mild, irrational anxiety knowing that I will have to reinstall.

Until then, I’m waiting for Direct2Drive.

Faults of the New Shaman

Our move over to the horde side of the Lightninghoof PvP-RP server has been progressing slowly.

We’re trying new classes and getting used to new home towns.

One of the classes I have been playing with is the shaman.  It is a fun class so far and I have a lot to learn about it, mana management being high on the list.

But I have a problem with the class.

At level 16 I got the ghost wolf form, which is a travel form that gives a speed boost akin to the druid’s cheetah form.  That part is great.

The problem is that the ghost wolf is… well… a ghost.  Unfortunately, for somebody who has spent a bit of time playing a rogue and a lot of time playing a druid in cat form, being a ghost has the same visual effect as being stealthed.

GhostWolf

Ghost Wolf

And while I know at some higher intellectual level that being a ghost is not the same as being stealthed, something in my brain keeps making that assumption.

I’ll be running across the Barrens and see something to harvest on the far side of a few aggro mobs, so I’ll just weave between them like they can’t see me.

Only they can see me.

At that point it is usually a good thing I am in travel form because I have to run away for a bit while I remind myself that I am not stealthed.

That lasts for about five minutes and then I do something similar.

It is really annoying.  But it is like breaking any habit, it is going to take time.

24 Slots is a Portable Hole?

WoW.com has a post up today that says Haris Pilton, vendor of the “Gigantique” bag in Shattrath, will be getting an even bigger bag when WoW patch 3.3 comes out.

The new bag, called the Portable Hole, will have 24 slots and will cost 3,000 gold.  It will no doubt be a boon for OCD packrats everywhere in Azeroth.

PortHole

Picture stolen from Wow.com

But to call 24 slots a “Portable Hole” seems a bit of an over-statement in my book.

After all, I’ve see what a Portable Hole can hold.

Blizzard, call me back when your Portable Hole can carry all of that or change the name.

Or do you think we’re never going to see a bigger container in game?

Scamville Juxtaposition

There is a nice piece up this morning over at The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs where Fake Steve (Dan Lyons) points out (with his usual flair) that while TechCrunch was going after Zynga’s scam ad driven virtual goods business all last week, over at the New York Times they were working on a piece that ran on Saturday about how virtual goods were now bringing in money, which included Zynga as an example of how this market was maturing.

Did the New York Times mention any of the practices that TechCrunch brought to light?

No.

But which will influence people more?

Which article scares you more?