Monthly Archives: March 2010

March in Review

The Site

The site actually hit another milestone in March.  TAGN has passed the one million page view mark.

Now, as I have said before, I generally do not write about the numbers this blog gets.  Some bloggers may be envious of reaching that number of page views while others will be dismissive, having reached that number in a shorter time or exceeding that number many times over in the same time frame.

But a million of anything is a lot, so just this once I thought I would share some actual raw data on page views.

Total and Average Page Views per month only keeps track of page views and not daily unique visitors.  However, I have used some third-party tracking for that at times, and uniques seem to run between 70-80% of page views on any given day.

This also does not count anybody who reads via RSS.  Following the philosophy of creating a blog that I would want to read, I push all the content out on the feed, rarely ever putting something behind a “more” prompt.

Judging from what and FeedReader tell me (because I have two RSS feeds, just to make sure I can’t get any consistent information) anywhere between 3 and 10 times as many people view any given post via RSS compared to the number of people who actually click on it.

Then again, since I rarely hide any of the content, most people just go to the main page to read any given post, so it is tough to get any real measure of how much RSS might change my page view numbers.

All of which I can sum up by saying I don’t really know how many people read this blog, but it is a lot more than I thought ever would.

One Year Ago

Last March we were excited about Pokemon Platinum around our house, although we weren’t really finished with Pokemon Diamond yet.  This year we’re excited about Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, and our excitement seems to have been more fully rewarded.

I spent a day up at GDC in San Francisco.

In WoW we finished up a short hiatus and started back in at the SteamVault.  My daughter was tearing up Warsong Gulch.  Meanwhile, the Lich King seemed to have laid a curse on my new video card.  Nothing I did ever seemed to change this issue, though it did seem to go away eventually.

In EVE Online, Apocrypha came out, and with it the classic graphics were swept away.  Adam though, was making his own adventures in New Eden.

Somebody tried to put together a list of the Ten Most Important MMORPGs.  Like all such list, this one started the comments rolling.

It was launch day and I was already complaining about Runes of Magic… well, about the patcher in any case.

I finished up the last book of the Wheel of Time series.  Of course, a new book in the series has come out since then.  I am not going there until the remain two are out.

The 10th EverQuest 10th anniversary just wasn’t evoking the level of nostalgia in me that I thought it would.

And we had to say goodbye to an old friend and family member.  The picture my daughter drew is still up on the wall.  It still draws the occasional tear later in the evenings when people are tired and a bit more emotionally fragile.

New Linking Sites

I would like to thank the following site for linking here.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in March

  1. Jirachi GameStop Event Announced
  2. Jirachi Download Event Dates Announced
  3. Play On: Guild Name Generator
  4. How To Find An Agent in EVE Online
  5. We Never Learn: Another Example
  6. Heroic Deadmines!
  7. Motorcycle for My Birthday
  8. STO – Season One Updates Coming
  9. April Fools Contest
  10. STO – Lifetime Subscription Perks
  11. A Quick Pass Through GDC 2010
  12. TTH Picks the Top Ten PvP MMOs

Spam Comment of the Month

Learn to Sing Without Nasal Sound
[Not sure that nasal sound is the main problem with my singing]

EVE Online

While I hit 50 million skill points in EVE, not much else was going on.  I blew some ISK on a Tengu, but haven’t finished fitting it.  My account will still be active when Tyrannis comes out, but unless there is something that real grabs me, I am probably heading for a hiatus.


Prompted by the buzz at GDC (which was palpable even to me, an outsider wandering around the expo floor) and in the name of research for a podcast, I spent a chunk of time playing games on Facebook.  I wrote up my experience with FarmVille and have a few more games to cover on that front.

Star Trek Online

STO suffers from being in second or third place when it comes to my gaming choices.  I seem to have all the ambition in Star Fleet as that alternate time-line Picard who never got in that bar fight and got stabbed through the chest.  I mean I spent time playing FarmVille rather than STO in March.  Still, some day I will become the dreaded rear admiral.

World of Warcraft

Long the staple of my MMO gaming and the venue for our weekly gaming, there are some cracks showing in the shiny veneer of Azeroth.  The instance group is getting a little tedious with the weekly walk-over in old Azeroth.  We are, however, almost the Burning Crusade content (should I cheer or groan?) where we can hope the instances might be a bit more of challenge.  We had problems with some of it the first time around.


Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver finally arrived at our house, which helped dramatically cut my already small STO play time.  But the wait for the new Pokemon game was not in vain.  While I have much to say about it, once I find the time, in general I declare it “Good.”

Coming Up

Tomorrow is April Fools Day!

In addition to checking out the usual hi-jinks offered up by Blizzard and other companies, I have to announce the winner of my own April Fools Contest.  Somebody will get a WoW in-game pet tomorrow.

And while we’re on April Fools, somebody needs to make a blogosphere April Fools Day bingo card.  It can having things like:

  • Complaint about April Fools Day post
  • Deliberate non-participation in April Fools Day post
  • Fake press release announce a new game
  • Fake press release about an expansion
  • “This site is shutting down” joke post
  • Obligatory link to Blizzard’s yearly April Fools Joke (center square)

What else could go on that bingo card?

Meanwhile, in April, there will no doubt be some further words on Facebook games, whether you like it or not, some views on the new Pokemon, the further adventures of the instance group in WoW, and the usual nonsense.

Shut Up We’re Talking #60

Shut Up We’re Talking, one of the podcasts in the VirginWorlds Podcast Collective, has released episode 60.

Regular hosts Darren from The Common Sense Gamer and Karen from Journey’s with Jaye were joined by Brent from VirginWorlds, and myself.


  • Introductions
  • What We’re Playing – EQ2 for most of us, WoW and Pokemon for me, and Ageod’s American Civil War for Darren.
  • Review of GDC San Francisco – We talk a bit about GDC, since we were all there, and review what we saw.
  • Facebook and the Future – Prompted by events at GDC, where so-called “social games” were the next big thing (previous “next big things” have included casual games, free to play games, browser games, and subscription MMOs).  We talk a lot about Facebook games, bringing up a lot of opinions from around net including those of Raph Koster, Soren Johnson, Brian Green, and others. (Reading those posts will bring you up to speed.)  This is pretty much the meat of the show and explicit language is used.
  • When A Million is not Enough – Sated on the Facebook front, we begin to moan about the subscription projections for Star Wars The Old Republic.  I covered this a bit, but Scott Jennings really gives voice to our fears in his column.
  • Show Close
  • Out Takes

Blogs of the Show

Special show thanks go out to the Bullet Points Blog, the self-declared keeper of the Blogs of the Show List.

The show is available on iTunes or can be downloaded over at VirginWorlds.

Down on the Farm

In which we discuss FarmVille.

Shut Up, We’re Talking episode #60 was recorded this past weekend and I was invited to be a guest on the show.  One of the topics of the show was Facebook games.

While the show is being prepared for release, I thought I might give some background about our prep for the show as well as my own impressions of the game FarmVille.

Your first question might be, “Why FarmVille?”

Certainly there are many other games on Facebook.  But FarmVille is the poster child for these games.  It is Zynga‘s biggest success, with an award at GDC and 82 million players.

Yes, you read that right, 82 million players.

From the information tag that Facebook puts up about the game:

I don’t know exactly how they calculate that number, but it sure is a big one.  That would be about 1.2% of the world’s population.  As a country, FarmVille would push Germany out of 14th place on the list of most populous countries and it would be eyeballing Vietnam.

This is the World of Warcraft of Facebook games.  And, as you couldn’t get very far talking about subscription MMORPGs without mentioning WoW, so it was felt that if we we’re going to talk about these casual, social network site based games, we would have to put in some time down on the farm.

Darren got a bit of a head start on the FarmVille fun and posted about his initial impressions already.

My own impression of the game after a week or so can be summed up as, “Eh, it’s not so bad.”

FarmVille is the classic simulation game where you start with a limited set of resources, money in this case, which you can use to buy seeds to plant which, when they mature, you can sell for more cash than you spent.  Thus enriched, you can turn around and buy more seeds, or trees, or livestock, which you then harvest in turn.

The environment is very simple.  The price you get for your crops is fixed.  You know up front how much money you are going to get when you plant.  You also know how much time the crop will take to mature (anywhere from a couple of hours to four days) so you can easily calculate the optimum crop for your needs.

There are two currencies, Farm Coins, which you get for most activities, and Farm Cash, which you only get for special events… so special in fact that I haven’t quite figured that out yet.  Oooh, complexity.

Currency is one aspect of the game, and if you run short, Zynga will glad sell you some to speed things up.

Exchange Rates Are Available For Most Major Currencies

There is also a leveling aspect to the game.  Certain actions, like tilling the soil to prepare it for planting, or harvesting some crops, earn you experience.  Experience gets you levels.  Levels open up new crops to plant and equipment for use on the farm.

You also earn experience for helping out your neighbors.

While I reject these games being called “social games,” if only because of the implication that the games I play, and have played for more than 20 years, are some how not social, there is something of a social aspect to them.

Certain things you can only accomplish via your friends and neighbors.  For example, there seems to be only two ways to expand the size of your farm.  The first route is with Farm Cash.  That is in short supply, probably to encourage you to buy some, thus fund the game.

Or you can buy the expansion with Farm Coins, which are plentiful, but only if you have met a minimum threshold for neighbors.

So to expand my farm up to the Homestead size, I need 20 Farm Cash (I have only acquired 15 so far) or 8 neighbors.  I only have three neighbors so far, Darren, Karen, and a woman name Mandi whom I don’t know, but who is a level 33 farmista (and shriner) and is, if you want to play this game, the neighbor and friend you desire.

Your friends and neighbors are the key to success in the game.  And all those annoying posts on your wall from your FarmVille playing friends, those are mana for people actually playing the game.

What is an annoyance to you is a free gift, an upgrade for the farm, to a player.

There is, in fact, almost a cult of the free gifts.

You are encouraged, if you idle in the game, to send gifts to your friends and neighbors.  These are often things that are useful, like fruit trees or livestock.  When you receive a gift you are encouraged to send a thank you gift in return.

And thus is the circle of gifts reinforced.

At first I felt silly with the constant gift giving.  FarmVille = annoying has been drummed into my head for a while now, so deliberately sending things from the game to people seemed like a bad idea.  But when you are playing the game, theses messages and gifts are good things.

Unfortunately, that is about it for the social.  You can send gifts to each other, read about each other on your wall, and even make a solo visit to each others farms.  You cannot, however, actually play the game together.  The closest you can come is leaving behind little messages when you visit.

So was it fun?

A bit.  It would be on the Taipan! level of fun for me I’d say.  A lot slower, but a lot more cute I guess.

You don’t have to invest a lot of time in the game.  You can come and go with the timing of your crops, with a stop in to fertilize the farms of your neighbors.  And it has a minor SimCity-like note to it, building and creating, that has some appeal to me.

And while we were, in part, playing the game for the lulz, once we all grouped around as neighbors, things picked up.  We spread the gifts around, did chores on the farms of the others, and left the occasional goofy message.  Even Darren picked up and ran with it after I came from behind and passed him in levels.  Nothing like a little healthy social competition I suppose.

But it was frankly much more fun to sit around before and during the show and talk about our experiences than it was to actually play the game.  In other words, it was more fun to be social than to play a so-called “social game.”

FarmVille wasn’t the only game we played.

Among us we played Mafia Wars, Vampire Wars, My Tribe, YoVille, D&D Tiny Adventures, NanoStar Siege, Bejeweled Blitz, and a few others.   We speak about many of them on the show.  I’ll take some time to write about a few of them here, though not all of them.  For example, I feel about Mafia Wars and its reskinned clone, Vampire Wars, about the way Darren felt about FarmVille in his first impressions post.

Will I keep playing FarmVille?  Probably for a bit.  It is pretty light and I am fond of the SimCity-like genre of simulation games.  Plus I have to keep ahead of Darren.

If you want to give it a try, you can always send a friend invite to Wilhelm Arcturus and add him as a neighbor.

And, yes, that is a real picture of me on my profile.  It is from 1988, and I am feeding a baby kangaroo.  That is my biggest mustache ever.

The Glory That Was Rome

I was trying to articulate the other week why I find Ancient Rome so interesting.

I just finished up the audio book version of Robert Harris’ Imperium, which follows the life of Marcus Tullius Cicero, and I loved it.  I grab audio books to listen to during my commute, but the ones I really like I end up listening to around the house.  Imperium was one of those.

But it wasn’t a stretch to imagine I would like it.

I have enjoyed the work of Robert Harris in the past, so another of his titles was a safe bet.

But more than that, they key to my enjoyment was the work being set in Rome.

Rome has a very strong track record with me.

Robert GravesI, Claudius and Claudius the God were excellent. (Though I found the mini-series a little dry after the books.)

Colleen McCullough‘s Masters of Rome series was also quite good.

And even back in high school, in freshman English where we had to read Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar aloud as a group in the class, Julius Caesar was many times more interesting (and comprehensible I suppose) that the other two as far as I was concerned.  (Hamlet only became interesting to me via Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.)

I cannot put my finger on what I find Rome so fascinating, though I suspect it is the absence of Christianity as an overlay on events.  For example, I found the HBO series Rome to be hugely fun to watch, but Showtime’s The Tudors has been something of a yawn to me.  Despite there being some obvious parallels of court intrigue, the church and the spin that puts on everything dragged it down for me. (Though Sam Neill as Cardinal Wolsey was a high point in the whole dreary production.)

And with this interest in Rome, which has a peak for me in the times of Sulla to those of Nero, I find it odd that I have never really found a game based on Rome that has been able get the same sort of reaction from me.

Certainly Rome: Total War was interesting.  And I recall spending some time with Rome: Pathway to Power.  And there were a couple of others that I can visualize, but the titles escape me.  But not one would make my Top 10 games list.  Or my Top 25.

Which does not mean there is not a game out there that would feed my Roman desires.  Perhaps I have just not found it yet.

How about you?  Do you like Rome?  Is there a good game out there that you have played that delivers the Roman experience?

April Fools Contest – The Entries

The April Fools Contest is now closed, all submissions are in.  Somebody from the list below is going to get a code for a WoW in-game pet.

The Monk and Lil' KT

This is your opportunity not only to see the entries in the contest but also to influence the decision on the winner.

Choose wisely.

Or choose carelessly.  I declare this poll and its results to be merely advisory and non-binding in any way.  Look for the final results on April 1st.

As a side note, the poll is set to randomize the order of the entries in order to try to protect against any sort of positional bias.

April Fools Contest – Submissions Closed

The time has come.  No more entries will be accepted for the April Fools Contest.

There were a total of 16 entries that met all the criteria and which were not repeats.  Submissions from those on the TAGN advisory committee and my mother are not included in that total.

If I find some time today, I will post all the entries in the form of a poll to help me decide on the winner.

Sunken Temple Completely Completed

After last week’s preparation, we were ready to finally get in there and finish off all we needed in Sunken Temple.

Sort of.

We did have to spend a little more time making sure that everybody had their class quest up to date.  But as we logged on, our group was as follows:

50 Tauren Druid – Azawak (Skronk)
50 Orc Shaman – Earlthebat (Earlthecat)
50 Undead Mage – Bigbutt (Bungholio)
51 Tauren Druid – Hurmoo (Vikund)
52 Blood Elf Paladin – Enaldie (Ula)

Bigbutt needed to head out to Aszarah to get himself ready, so he and Azawak flew off while the rest of us occupied ourselves with heading out to Stonard and harvesting.

When Bigbutt was finally primed to go, Earl and Hurmoo were standing around the summoning stone at Sunken Temple ready to bring people in.  Then it was suggested we not bother and just use the dungeon finder.

And then we realized that, if we used the random dungeon feature, we had a 1 in 3 chance of getting Sunken Temple as our destination, which would give us a bit of extra cash and a goody bag with a blue item.

Dungeon Finder - 3 Possible Destinations

The locks next to some of the dungeons meant that at least one person in the group was not eligible to go there.

And if we didn’t get Sunken Temple, we could back out and still have Earl and Hurmoo summon everybody so we wouldn’t have to wait out the timer.  So Azawak set the wayback machine for “random” and hit the button.  We all waited for the loading screen.

Sunken Temple! Winner!

And we got it!  That put us back in Sunken Temple for our final act there.

Once More Into The Temple

Once in, it was naturally back to the same things we had done two week previously.  We had to make the circuit to kill the mini-bosses.  We headed to the bottom of the temple so it could show us the pattern of the idols.  We had to activate the idols in the right order.

Idols Being Activated

And there were dragons and dragon kin to be slain.

Oh Look, Another Dragon

And that lead us all the way around to Eranikus, which is the end point of the exercise as far as the dungeon finder is concerned.

That got us our goody bag and such.  However, to finish off the last of our quests, we had one more event to take care of.  We had to defeat the minions of the god Hakkar.  That took us another 10 minutes.

Hakkar? No Problem

And that completed Sunken Temple for us.  We had to make a pass around Azeroth to turn in the various quests.  It helps to have a mage around for that sort of travel.  Portals speed things up quite a bit.

Now we have to start working on Blackrock Depths, which can be a considerable undertaking, at least in time.  And we’re hamstrung again in one way.  While as a group we are undoubtedly ready to march in and start slaying all and sundry, the quests for the instance are out of our reach by a few levels in some cases.

Well, levels come easily.  I just hope we don’t find ourselves suddenly beyond the level of Dire Maul, one of the few Azeroth instances we haven’t done as a group.  That is what happened last time around.

April Fools Contest Update 4

Time is running out for the April Fools Contest!

I’ve received a couple of good, competitive entries today, but nothing so amazingly good that there isn’t a chance they couldn’t be out done.  Or something.  There is a chance they could be out done, do de-negative-ize that sentence and sentiment.

Anyway, read the rules, and enter today, because time is running out.  No entries will be processed after noon Pacific time/3pm Eastern time/7pm (19:00) UTC on March 26th.

And, if you identify the painting below you will receive ABSOLUTELY no benefit or consideration whatsoever, but it will show how sophisticated and cultured you really are.  Explain why I chose this picture and… you probably read the same book I did.

So send your entry in ASAP!

Choosing That Initial Pokemon

I mentioned to my wife that If our daughter was good and finished her homework, perhaps she could be allowed to open up her copy of the new Pokemon game to get started.

With that incentive, it was no surprise to find that my daughter had already gotten her first gym badge in the game and that her main Pokemon was level 14.

Of course I had to jump in immediately.  My daughter has Pokemon HeartGold and I have SoulSilver, having learned the lesson about getting one copy of each back with Diamond and Pearl.

The first important choice you must make in the game is about your initial Pokemon.

You have three to choose from, Chikorita, Cydaquil, and Totodile.

The Three Initial Pokemon

These represent three basic types of Pokemon, grass, fire, and water, which is a rock, paper, scissors arrangement.  Fire burns grass, water puts out fire, grass absorbs water.  And, in reverse, water doesn’t do much harm to grass, fire can’t do much to water, and grass is very weak attacking fire.

Of course, things aren’t that simple over all.  There are other types of Pokemon, like flying, gaseous, rock, psychic, and so on.  So rather than rock, paper, scissors, the game ends up being more like rock, paper, scissors, slide hammer, toilet brush, harmonica, radial tire, pipe wrench, umbrella, and so on, each part of a complex matrix of who hurts who the most.

But initially you get the three way choice.  And whatever you choose, your rival in the game, an NPC you will have to face off with repeatedly, will also end up with one of these three, the one against which your choice is weakest.

My daughter is all about the fire Pokemon, so for her the choice was easy.  She went with Cyndaquil.  She named it Flame.

I, on the other hand, agree with Keen in finding fire Pokemon to be, if not hard mode, at least annoying to play.  I like to have one in my party to burn down any grass Pokemon.  In fact, they tend to be quite powerful on offense.  But they have a glass jaw against too many things.

So my choice, both to avoid a fire Pokemon and to have something different than my daughter, was Totodile which, in a flash of unique vision, I named Toto.

I had been quite successful in Pokemon Diamond with Piplup, the water Pokemon, which helped make my choice.  I had gone with grass in Pokemon Platinum and had found it much less satisfying.

Choice made, I was able to catch up, somewhat, to my daughter.  The first gym badge is less than two hours into the game.  It is also nothing like the epic gym battle fights in Pokemon Diamond where you had to face a half a dozen followers before you got to the gym leader whose full party was quite a challenge.

Of course, having the first gym battle be a bit more manageable might be a good thing.  It is more of an introduction battle than a big effort, a taste of bigger things to come.  And with that first gym badge we can transfer over the Jirachis that we got from the last pre-release download event.  They are level 5 and will fit in nicely.

Over all the game looks great.  The graphics have been nicely updated for openers.

I have no doubt what my daughter and I will be doing this weekend.