Monthly Archives: June 2012

June in Review

The Site

Summer is here, the silly season, when people go looking for news stories where none are to be found.  I think it officially started when that decade long Civilization II game made it to Yahoo news then somebody had to go to Sid Meier to get his take on things.  And the profound words from brother Sid?

It would be amazing if we could come back in 2025 and find out if someone’s had a 10-year game of ‘Civ V’ going.

Yes, way to push the current product line.  I’ll get right on that.

Which actually has nothing to do with the site except to prove that it is summer.

It has been quiet around here because I’m on a boat.  Summer means vacations.

The actual boat

Sing the song if you feel it to be appropriate.  I know I’ll run into somebody singing it.  I just hope it isn’t me.

I’d try to tie the ship’s name, Conquest, into the new Rift feature, but that seems like work.  So onto the usual end of the month blather.

One Year Ago

I had to get out my Monty Python and the Holy Grail DVD.

I was wondering if people were picking on Lord British.  This was before he started talking about his “ultimate RPG” and made it a very entertaining sport.

We were not playing WoW, but guild accounts were being hacked.  And we were not even among those 600K WoW players that supposedly went to Rift.

LOTRO announced the Rise of Isengard expansion and offered up a exp boosting item for pre-orders.

I was wondering what launch conditions would be like for SWTOR.  Of course, I sort of figured it might launch before mid-December.

LEGO Universe announced it was going free to play.  At our house, my daughter enjoyed it for a bit, but eventually dropped it for Animal Jam.

CCP began a slow and deliberate campaign of alternating between shooting itself in the foot and sticking said foot in its mouth, all in the name of the Incarna expansion.  And my sentry drones were still boring.  And then LulzSec brought them down.

SOE announced a new version of Station Access, its “all games for one low monthly price.”  Called SOE All Access, it had a price of $19.95 a month.  This was a welcome drop from the previous $29.99 a month price.

Of course, by this point, SOE had dropped The Matrix Online and had just announced they were killing Star Wars Galaxies, so there were certainly less games to play.  Of course, that was also back when they had some games that were not free to play.

At least SOE was up and running after the PSN/SOE outage.  A pity they fumbled the marketing opportunities offered by their make good plan.

The instance group had finally gotten out of the damn starter zone in EverQuest II Extended, but the game still wasn’t sitting well.

On the Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server, the Ruins of Kunark expansion was opened up and then “finished” in short order.

Five Years Ago

I got all Buddhist on the subject on the raiders vs. non-raiders rift. I think what I said could be applied to some current controversies.

I ran down my list of complimentary comment spam.

I did a poll asking which software people used for voice coms.  At the time, almost nobody who responded was using game-integrated voice software.  Most people were using Ventrilo.

We were still playing LOTRO.  I was out at the Forsaken Inn… not for the last time.  The instance group, minus Earl, finished the first epic book… again, not for the last time.  And server queues, something common at launch, were starting to disappear after just two months.  This was odd, since the last great server queue experience was with WoW, where queues went on for over a year on some servers.

Vanguard, which was merging servers… yet again, not for the last time… gave rise to a discussion about future proofing games.  I held that just making system requirements huge… something that was an issue with Vanguard… was not the same thing.

After letting Blizzard’s announcement of StarCraft II sink in, I put up a post about the original StarCraft back when it was our office game of choice.

Darren was all worked up about crafting being the suck, so I started trying to list out all the things that might be wrong with crafting. Then Tobold suggested the whole “figure out recipes by trial and error” idea and I ran screaming from the room.

And I said nice things about “Opinions of the Misinformed.”

New Linking Sites

The New Blogger Initiative helped me find a bunch of new linking blogs.  So I will mention a few of them each month.  The first round is:

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in June

  1. Diablo III vs. Torchlight II – A Matter of Details
  2. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  3. Reshiram and Zekrom Download Event for Pokemon Black and White
  4. Hulkageddon V – Destruction Comes to an End… Mostly…
  5. On Talent Trees and Skill Points
  6. Riders of Rohan – Higher Prices, Fewer Incentives
  7. The Decade Long War in Civilization II
  8. And Then We Ganked a Chimera
  9. Destroying the CSAA at YVSL-2
  10. Fifty – Not Just Another Level in Telara
  11. Hulkageddon, Technetium, and the Circle of Life
  12. Elemental Absurdity

Search Terms of the Month

female gabe newell
[Please, no, in the name of all that is holy]

cartoon pictures of little kids to be shown on microscoft word
[Not bean kids I hope]

why did star wars galaxies fail
[George Lucas – The George giveth and the George taketh away]

Diablo III

I came into June still playing a lot of Diablo III.  It had replaced Rift for a few weeks running as the Saturday night game for those of the instance group not on hiatus.  However, that has begun to taper off at my end.  Part of that was because of other games competing for my limited play hours, but some of it was no doubt because, having played through the game once in Normal mode, running it again in Nightmare was hasn’t provided much new.  The game is harder.  You have to pick your battles more carefully.  I cannot just run my barbarian into any huge group of monsters I see and expect to win every time.  And you have to start looking into different stats on equipment.  I noticed that gear with resistance was dropping a lot more and took the hint.  Grabbing fire resist gear for The Butcher actually made that fight easier the second time around.

But the longevity of the content, for me at least, seems to be in doubt.  Which brings me back to what I wrote a number of times; what is Blizzard going to do with the game going forward?

EVE Online

With the end of the war in the north, things have been quiet.  There was a jump in fleet ops when IRC was the target, but that seems to have settled down.  I have been spending some time doing industrial stuff in empire space with an alt who now has access to a fully equipped industrial station.  But otherwise there has not been much to write about.  Of course, it is said the Goons invade somebody every summer once school is out.  Maybe things will get lively soon.

Rift

I have been back in Rift quite a bit.  The announcement of the Storm Legion expansion prodded me to get to level 50, and then being there got me exploring what to do in the game at level cap.  All in all, I have put in more play time in Rift than any other game over the last month.  Meanwhile, the various vacation and outdoor plans of the instance group has put us on summer hiatus.  I did get my cleric out to try and level him up… I figure mentoring is coming soon… but found out that I really need to work out how to play a cleric solo around level 36.  I just died a lot.  Ah well.

Coming Up

What is coming up in July?  The instance group on hiatus, Diablo III winding down, playing Rift end game?  Am I going to have to start posting about Lord British tweeting about his running times?

We definitely need to invade somebody in null sec.

In the mean time I am going to have Issac make me another drink and go wander over to the Lido deck.

Summer Reruns – TorilMUD

Life has conspired to make this a quiet week for blogging.  I’ll get to why that is later in the week.

In the mean time, rather than just let days go by with nothing, I am going to fall back on the grand television tradition of summer reruns.  I am going to go back to a classic theme, TorilMUD, and call out some of my favorite posts.

Of course, the real problem is that I like all of my TorilMUD posts.  They are filled with nostalgia leavened with just the right amount MMO history.  Still, I think I can narrow it down to ten… links.  One points to five posts.  So sue me.

  • On Greater Challenges – How TorilMUD had a “hard mode.”  Why can’t we have this in modern MMOs?
  • Leuthilspar Tales – A few posts about the starter zones exclusive to grey elves. I should write more in this series.
  • Of Rooms and Rooms and Rooms – 19,584 rooms, each of which I visited and mapped.  And that was only about a third of the total rooms at the time!

Voice Software Poll – Five Years Later

About five years ago I put up what may have been my first poll related to gaming.  It was my second poll, the first being a simple test of some odd, external polling plug-in I was trying out.  This was before WordPress.com integrated with Poll Daddy for build-in polling.

The topic of this poll was voice software, and the poll was taken at a time of transition.

For me, the instance group was well and truly under way and we had settled on Skype for our group coms, which was a change for me.  At the time I was much more used to having TeamSpeak or Ventrilo speech servers available for guilds and gaming clans to which I belonged.  Just a few months before I had let our last guild voice server lapse.

But there was also change going on in the MMO space.  Voice communication was starting to be integrated directly into our games.  We were starting to hear about companies like Vivoxx.  The separate server/client voice software seemed to be getting some competition.

And so I wanted to know, what were people using.  I wanted to see if the integrated voice software was catching on.  The results (not scientifically valid) seemed to indicate that integrated voice was not catching fire..

That is a small sample, but it was heavily weighted in favor of the two most common guild voice servers, TeamSpeak and Ventrilo. (Nice typo in the poll, me of five years ago! Some things never change!)

Skype and “never” were each more popular than game integrated, while nobody chose “other” or Roger Wilco.  The latter I added for historical/sentimental reasons.  That was the voice software we were using in 1998, back when we did a lot of gaming at the office in part because we could use the phone system for conference call coms.

So here we are, five years later.  Voice software has moved ahead.  There are new players in the voice server sphere, while the old standards are still around.  Integrated voice coms in MMOs is now a standard and has had five years to work out glitches.

So I thought it might be time to ask the question again.  This time though, I am going to ask the question twice.  The first time will be the same question, what is your primary voice software, if any.  Same question, different year, a couple of new options.

Now for the part two.  The same list of options, but this time it is multiple choice.  Check all of the boxes that apply.

Right now, for me, the answer for the first question is probably Skype still, five years later, though Mumble, which is the CFC coms standard, is pretty close.

But five years after integrated voice started showing up in MMOs, I still have never used it regularly in any game.  I think the instance group experimented with it in LOTRO one night, but we went back to Skype pretty quickly.

Little Big Planet Defeats the Wii

We have had a PlayStation 3 for well over a year now.

Just in case you wanted to see a box

It showed up in our household where the Wii had been our only video console for the previous four years.

The PlayStation 3 was planned to have three roles in our home.

The first was to play Blu-ray disks.  In this role it has performed admirably.  It has show itself to be completely compatible with all the disks I have fed into it and Blu-ray movies look fantastic on our TV.  The opening scenes of Star Wars Episode III from the Blu-ray set were of such high quality that I had to get up and stand closer to the TV and drool.  Still, the unit was a bit pricey for just a Blu-ray player.

The second role involved streaming video.  This has been primarily from NetFlix, though Amazon Prime has jumped into the market with a PS3 app.  This has also delivered high quality.  I have been quite surprised actually at how smoothly NetFlix streams given our relatively low bandwidth DSL and the fact that the PS3 hooks up to the router over WiFi from half way across the house.

And the third role, the one for which it was designed, was to play… you know… video games.  And this is where it fell down on the job, much to my surprise.  I figured it would be higher quality video and about the same when it came to controllers.  In one of my more ironic complaints, I had previously griped about the fact that most Wii games end up having use the Wii remote and nun-chuck as a two piece standard game controller.

So imagine my surprise when I started using the PS3 controller only to discover that having the game controller in two pieces is actually much easier the body when playing for more than 20 minutes at a stretch.  It turns out that the small PS3 controller forces you into that “gamer’s clutch” with the unit grasped in front of you… a position which makes your arms and shoulders ache after a while if you are not used to it.

That was part of the issue.  A small part of it in any case.

The bigger reason for the PS3 failing to take on a significant role as a game platform in our house was that my daughter and her friends just like Wii games.  They all have Wiis and like the same games and so the PS3 would sit quietly while the Wii got all the game time.  And my daughter has become the real driver for console gaming in our house.  Long gone are the days when she would come to me to help her out.  Now it is she who pities me when she wrangles me into playing Super Mario Bros. Wii or Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a platformer and a fighting game respectively, neither of which were my strong suit even when I was young.  Now suddenly I am my own father struggling to simply not fail utterly while playing a video game with my child.

But recently, one game from the PS3 has been taking hold of my daughter, Little Big Planet.

Not the box we have…

I picked this game up early on, along with a couple of others people recommended, like Mod Nation Racers.  And while it was clearly a deep and interesting game, it still got shoved aside for the most part.  My daughter had Super Mario to play with her friends and as much as I liked the game, it was still a platform jumper, which meant I was horrible at it.

Over the last couple of months though, LBP came into fashion for my daughter.  She is trending on the creative path right now.  She wanted PhotoShop Elements for her birthday and saved up money for a Wacom tablet.  So the ability to dress up your sack boy avatar struck the right chord with her.  Then she started playing people’s custom levels.  Then she started making her own custom levels.  And recently she has been after me about some downloadable content that will give her more tools and features with which to create levels. (She wanted the Pirates of the Caribbean pack, since it let you have water in your levels.)

And then one day I noticed that on Raptr I was ranked Elite for Little Big Planet, something measured not in hours but achievements.  There were 42 listed, which put me in the top 10% of Raptr users.

Steam sales explain those 20 “newbie” ranks

I got the ranking because I hooked Raptr up to my PlayStation account, but those achievements were all earned by my daughter.  Those include achievements for having a given number of people play levels you created.

This has become her game of choice for the moment.  The Wii still gets its time when her friends are over, but even they are being introduced to LBP.

So now my daughter asks me to come and play LBP with her… and I still suck, because it is a platform jumper.  Once in a while she’ll play Mod Nation Racers with me, where I can still hold my own.

And just the other day she heard there was a Little Big Planet 2.  This, of course, came up just after I let her buy some content for LBP.  Fortunately, all of the DLC for LBP appears to transfer over to LBP2, along with all the levels you have made and so forth.  It all just shows up in higher quality with better visual effects.

So we might look at the sequel at some point, though for my daughter we are now at the far end of the calendar for birthdays, Christmas, and such.  Our change jar collection might have to go towards that rather than a certain panda-themed expansion.

Much Panda Phishing of Late

The WoW related phishing scam of the moment… because there always seems to be one going at any given time… is related to the Mists of Pandaria beta.  I have been seeing a lot of these in my inbox over the last few weeks.  They seem to be coming in at the rate of at least one a day here.

It is safe to click on this one…

And, as with higher quality phishing attempts, it looks good, isn’t full of typos or malformed English, and all of the visible links are legitimate.  But if you click on that PLAY FREE NOW button, you get sent off to worldofwarcraftqrt.tk or some other similarly bogus URL.

Of course, since I already have access to the Mists of Panda beta via the one year commitment deal, there wasn’t a chance that I would fall for this.  Plus they keep coming in on an email address not associated with my Blizzard account, always a warning sign.

Oddly, all of the bogus URLs I have seen are for the .tk top level domain, which apparently has a reputation for being scam and spam central.  I wonder how the ~1,500 people in Tokelau feel about that?

Sandbox in Seattle?

From the SF Bay Area Craig’s List job ads today:

We are assembling a team to build a technology demo of a fantasy sandbox MMO using the Hero Engine. This is a 90-day contract. Work to be performed in the Seattle area. Housing provided. Successful team members may be offered long-term contracts to work on the full development of the MMO following the completion of the Technology Demo.

  • Location: Seattle
  • Compensation: Based on experience and skill set
  • This is a contract job.
  • OK to highlight this job opening for persons with disabilities
  • Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
  • Please, no phone calls about this job!
  • Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

This might be more relevant to some people in Austin, since BioWare was using the Hero Engine with SWTOR and some of those people are now out of a job.

I am still waiting for somebody to come out and praise or repudiate the platform based on their experience on that project.

Fantasy sandbox though.  I wonder what is up?

Mods, Performance, Faith, and Spies

The story of that ten year long game of Civilization II certainly put thoughts of turn-based strategy into my brain.

I had been tinkering with Warlock: Master of the Arcane since shortly after Ken at Popehat mentioned it (which is when it went on sale for half price).  It is another strategy game from Paradox Interactive, the company that seems to have a near strangle hold on the strategy game market.  At least on my machine.

While a decent game, and well worth the money at half price, it didn’t quite scratch the itch the itch caused by all this Civ talk.  And while my impulse was to go straight to Civ II again, I decided to crank up Civilization V. It had been a while since I had played it and there being a new expansion and all.

That meant getting into Steam, and Steam took the opportunity opened by my looking their way for a minute to put up a message announcing that Civilization V was now on Steam Workshop.

Steam Workshop

Steam Workshop is Valve’s interface for dealing with mods and other user created content.  This got me looking through some of the player content.

Some items from the list…

I grabbed a few custom maps, including one of Westeros, which I immediately tried out.  It is a standard size map only, and it played pretty well.  I ended up starting north of Winterfell, so I was in the Night’s Watch position, which did leave me dealing with a horde of barbarians almost constantly throughout the game.

And City States, which I remain unenthusiastic about in Civ V, at least make sense in the context of Westeros, with its many nobles pledged to one liege lord or another and switching sides at awkward moments.

The game was fun and I ended up pretty much as King in the North.  It also left me susceptible to Valve’s next pitch, which was for the Civ V expansion, Gods & Kings, marked down 10% if I pre-ordered.  And so I did.

Well, some of the features sold it to me as well.  I was not so interested in other potential kingdoms or new technology, but the introduction of spies and faith into the game was big to me.  I miss spies especially.

The expansion dropped on Tuesday and I have had a chance to play a bit.  And for the most part I am happy.

Faith, in which you essentially found a state religion, is good.  You can tailor your religion, and there are details to master there, but it does not come up until your empire has reach a given status, so the game is well under way when you have to pick, rather than it being yet another starting parameter with which you can tinker.

And spies… spies are very good.  Spies are no longer units on the field of play, to be moved around and thrown at enemy cities.  Instead, there is a new interface to manage your espionage activities.  But through that interface, you can do all your old favorite spy things along with a few new twists.

Where are my spies?

And you can no longer create an army of spies to overwhelm your opponent via an espionage war.  You have to take a more refined view of their use.

Those two, along with things like embassies, revamped combat, and tweaks to things like city states have seemed pretty good so far.

But then we come to the annoying bit.

Actually, it isn’t annoying to me, because I bought the expansion.  This will annoy those who are waiting for a Steam sale on it.

Basically, the expansion includes improvements to performance.

Like all Civ games that I have played at launch… which is, pretty much, all REAL Civ games (so no Call to Power)… Civ V has shown itself to be a processor hogging behemoth, incapable of running quickly on my relatively beefy system, at least when it comes to the last third or so of the game.  At that point I generally spend as much time waiting for the game as I do playing.

It is part of the Civ tradition I guess.  I remember the time it took to play a game of Civ II dropping dramatically each time I upgraded my computer.

Anyway, along with fixes to the AI, which now fights better, performance overall in the late game has been improved noticeably.   But you only get that improvement if you buy the expansion.  If you don’t buy it, you can suck it as far as Sid Meier is concerned I guess.

So it is a good thing I felt the need for spies and religion, because I would be pissed if all I really wanted out of the expansion was to make the game work better.

All in all, it makes a decent game better.  Ars Technica and Kotaku both have pretty positive reviews posted, if you are skeptical of my point of view.  And you probably should be.

Now to see what that Middle-earth map is like.