Monthly Archives: September 2012

September in Review

The Site

Hey, I got a achievement this month.


I bet you didn’t even know they had blogging achievements.

Meanwhile, I have written over 2,500 posts… so I guess only 1 in 5 items I put up are actually deemed likeable by a single individual.

And even then, while I get the occasional regular on the list, the profile of the average person who pushes the “Like” button at the bottom of my posts seems to be “random stranger who never comments and who seems to be hoping that if they click the button people will visit their blog.”  There was probably some “how to get more traffic” post somewhere recommending this.

So, yeah, clearly as meaningful as most achievements I get in any game.  Go me.

One Year Ago

I did the great survey of blogs that had, at one time or another, included this site in their blog roll over the last five years.  Only 28% of them were still up and active.  There was also the five year anniversary post and all that it entailed.

I implied that Tobold’s mother a llama.  This had NOTHING to do with him not having a blog roll.

I was totally going to resist Steam selling me Rift for cheap.  That didn’t work.  I’m still playing a year later.

Star Trek Online announced it was going free to play, though I couldn’t imagine how it wasn’t already.

In LOTRO, the Rise of Isengard expansion came out and I almost didn’t notice.  Which was odd, because we were kind of playing LOTRO still.

The Goons were going to wreck the EVE economy by blowing up high sec ice miners.  Another vast Goon conspiracy.  I was being nostalgic for my earlier days in EVE.

GameSpy had a post about re-imagining Diablo as a first person perspective game, which was met with much derision.  Me, I liked the idea and even had suggestions for further topics in that vein to explore.  Meanwhile, Diablo III was pushed out to the middle of 2012.

In other Blizzard news, the Official World of Warcraft Magazine went belly up after just five issues.

I was still playing Need for Speed: World pretty regularly.  I was filming police chases, avoiding police chases, and buying the squarest ride in the game.

On the Fippy Darkpaw server, the retro experience was made complete by “guilds behaving badly” when it came to contested content.  Some GMs came up with unorthodox ways to resolve conflicts.

ArenaNet said something about private GuildWars 2 PvP servers.  I wonder how that would play today?

EA/BioWare gave us a release date for SWTOR at last, so I could start fretting about pre-orders and grace periods.  While I wasn’t in beta yet, BioWare was asking how I was enjoying it.

There was no word about life on Planet Michael.

And, finally, I was wondering how 9/11, which took place just a couple months before the birth of my daughter, would influence her view of the world relative to my own.

Five Years Ago

Five years ago I was waxing nostalgic about the Thundering Steppes, complete with pictures.

Meanwhile, as Tabula Rasa prepared to show up, Auto Assault passed into the history of MMOs.  Unfair comparisons were made. (Which turned out to be surprisingly prescient.)

Our summer hiatus from WoW was over and the group was back together for more instance fun.

The return to WoW showed something of a contrast with the way LOTRO played.  I was asking why LOTRO was not as much fun as WoW while speculating on where LORTO might expand and making up silly sight-gag posts.

And I was responding to another blog meme, reading Play Money, warming to the Wii Virtual Console, remembering Adventure, looking towards the future of PvP play, wondering if I was a member of the press, and talking about getting naked.

New Linking Sites

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogroll, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in September

  1. Diablo III vs. Torchlight II – A Matter of Details
  2. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  3. And Then The World Reached Into Our Game…
  4. SWTOR – Did The Lore Choice Hurt It?
  5. Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk!
  6. Remembering Spaceship Warlock
  7. Theramore Fell While I was at the Auction House
  8. Two Hamsters, One Wheel
  9. Blizzard – Taken Over by The System
  10. Darkfall: Unholy Wars is What Now?
  11. Torchlight II – First Night
  12. But Now I am Six, I’m as Clever as Clever

EVE Online

The war against Northern Coalition and its allies continues.  The CFC is deep into the Tribute region and there are a few fleet operations, which is pretty much what I do in null sec, running almost every day.  The problem is with an around the clock game with a world spanning population, it can be tough to get in on some of those operations.  During the week, there is a fairly narrow band of time, call it 02:00 to 05:00 UTC, when I can start an op.  Otherwise I am at work, eating dinner, or sleeping.  And not a lot of ops have been falling in that time.

Still, I got in on a couple early in the month, got my requisite kills on the kill board to show that I am out there PvP’ing, and then flew logistics for the rest of the month since a Scimitar is the one ship welcome in almost any fleet.


The Saturday night group has slowly started rolling again.  We knocked out another instance and have a couple more on the list.  We are also getting closer to level cap, which is timely, as the Storm Legion expansion is due out in a little over a month.

In the mean time, I have also been working a little bit every night on my mage.  I will have at least 3 of the four classes at level 50 before Storm Legion launches.

Torchlight II

Runic launched their contender for the Diablo II crown at last.  It is good.  Light and fast and solid, I have spent a lot of time playing it.  Unfortunately, that time has been 100% solo, and solo play makes for boring posts in my opinion.  Still, once I get through the story line, it will be time to match the game up against Diablo III to see who I think best captured the spirit of Diablo II.

World of Warcraft

Pandas were unleashed, but I opted not to buy in.  Which, I guess if early reports are accurate, was not an uncommon reaction.  It isn’t that I am anti-panda.  It was more a matter of Cataclysm breaking my bond with the game.  And while I have one character at level 85, I was clearly only putting in a token effort over the last 8 months or so.  And then there was the “please stop charging my credit card” encounter with Blizzard customer support that left me unhappy with the company in general.  And so I count the days until my subscription expires… October 22, 2012 at 10:03 AM PST.  Then I have 19 hours to unsubscribe before they charge my card again.  And that will be that.

Coming Up

It will be October shortly.  Guild Wars 2, Mists of Pandaria, and Torchlight II have all launched at this point.

November should bring Rift’s Storm Legion, along with Something or Something expansions for EverQuest and EverQuest II.

And what does October bring?  Riders of Rohan, which is yet another expansion I won’t be buying, primarily because I am nowhere near high enough level to access any of the content.  Do level based MMOs contain the seeds of their own demise in the form of expansions?

So I suspect that, for me, gaming will mostly be Rift, EVE Online, and Torchlight II in October.

It is fall.  Once the weather turns a bit chilly, it will be time for nostalgia.  Maybe I’ll make another video or something.

Question of the Day – What Will Lord British’s Sith Name Be?

The more I think about this, the more the Anakin Skywalker / Richard Garriott de Cayeux parallel fits.

So here we are.  As I posted yesterday, Lord British acknowledges that Zynga is evil, or at least really annoying.  And since they are annoying not only purpose, but to their own material benefit, how does one distinguish that from evil? (See Tobold definition.)  And what is the Lord British response?

I’ll use this knowledge for good!

Knowing the truth, and even acknowledging it publicly and repeatedly, Lord British has still partnered with, and has been accepted as the apprentice of, a card carrying Sith Lord, the man who has admitted in the past that the ends clearly justify the mediocre means (the ends being increasing his wealth and power, as opposed to, say, making good games), Darth Pincus.

(Not to be confused with Greg Pincus, though the methods may sound similar.)

In the words of Lord British, when reflecting on the evil of Zynga:

Yet, it’s still really important to learn those lessons, and there’s no better place to learn them then by having Zynga as a partner.

Holy crap!

As a rabid consumer of crap science fiction and fantasy in my youth… and my relative youth… and, well, into middle age frankly… I know that this can only end one way.

Offensive monetization strategy? Sounds great!

So the immediate next question for me is, what name will Darth Pincus bestow upon his new apprentice?

And here is where things get a bit fuzzy, as the whole Sith naming structure is pretty opaque to me.  Do they have some deeper meaning?  Are they some sort of subtle mockery of their past, pre-Sith life?  Are they just supposed to sound badass so as to strike fear into their enemies and make it easier for movie goers to figure out who the bad guy really is when they are off screen?

So I can only guess how Lord British will be restyled once his transformation has begun.

Darth BritanniaVille?

Darth CosPlay?

Darth SoyuzVille?

What do you think it will be.  Who will rise up to cast down Darth Pincus and redeem our misguided hero?  And will George Lucas get involved somehow and screw the whole thing up?

This whole thing needs a web comic or something.  And a better version of Darth Vader’s head pasted on Lord British.  I was short on time before work this morning.

Quote of the Day – Lord British and a Fondness for Zynga

“Not just Zynga’s, but lots of social games use monetization strategies that, as a hardcore gamer, I find offensive, frankly,” Garriott admits. “I really don’t like games that constantly pester me to pay. I find it radically interferes with my suspension of disbelief. So, I’m devoted in the Ultimate RPG game to finding novel monetization strategies that don’t offend me like some of these do. Yet, it’s still really important to learn those lessons, and there’s no better place to learn them then by having Zynga as a partner.”

Richard Garriott de Cayeux, on his partnership with Zynga

I suppose we will see who ends up corrupting/influencing who in this partnership.

How are things with Mark Pincus?

Lord British and his company, Portalarium, teaming up with the foundering “Ville” magnate made the news a while back.  I hope he learns the right lessons for his Ultimate RPG.

I guess he must be pretty happy now that EA and Blizzard “let” Zynga have the casual market… such that it is.

Trash Collection Issues in Runic Descent

Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap…

-When your healer is saying this, time for a health potion

Just another Saturday night in Meridian.

There is always at least one out there…

After a couple more weeks off, we were able to assemble and take another poke at Runic Descent.

Last time around was something of a reconnaissance in force, with four of us venturing into the instance just to try it out.  Predictably, death was a common occurrence during that run.

This time around, with a full crew, things were bound to be better, right?  Or would irony show its hand?

  • Gizalia level 39 mage
  • Zahihawass level 39 cleric
  • Earlthecat level 39 warrior
  • Jollyreaper level 39 mage
  • Hillmar level 43 cleric (mentored to 38)

In a bit of a goof, I stopped doing anything with Hillmar for fear of getting too far ahead in levels, only to figure out that there is something of an awkward zone when it comes to mentoring.  The minimum number of levels you can mentor down is five, so if I had just played him a little more rather than holding off, I would have been able to hit the same level as the rest of the group.  Instead I was in at the lowest recommended level for the instance.

Did that make a difference?  See the quote at the top.

I did consider swapping in Solyndro, my mage, who was level 45 by that point.  I bought him another role and went with the provided healing spec.  But that was all too new to try live in the game on an instance night.  So we formed up to get on our way with the usual suspects.

By the healer… oh, I get to know her

More after the cut.

Continue reading

Wizardry in Online Form

I must admit to a bit of a mental disconnect when I think of Wizardry Online, a new game that SOE will be publishing this year.

For me, Wizardry brings this image to mind.

Wizardry on an Apple ][+ in 1983

And, well… not this.

Asian influence anybody?

The first Wizardry, Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, was one of the first games I acquired for my Apple back in 1983.  This, along with Ultima III, was one of the first games I really played to death.  I still have hand drawn and annotated graph paper maps of the whole dungeon sitting in a drawer in my office.  They look something like this, though not as neat.

The first level

And the game itself, on the Apple II… here it is full resolution.

A game image stolen from the internet

Not a lot of pixels on an Apple ][ screen.  That was back when we measured screens by the numbers rows and columns they could display, 24 rows and 80 columns being the standard, though the Apple ][+ only did 40 by default.  I did not get 80 columns until I upgraded to an Apple //e a year or so later.

The game, which appears on Gamasutra’s 20 Essential RPGs to Study list, is a dungeon crawl in almost the purest form. It taught you to map, advance cautiously, and to be patient.  After many a death in the dungeon, with whole parties being lost and unrecoverable, you learned to build up your strength and return to town frequently.

It also taught party structure, as only the first few characters in your party could come to grips directly with the enemy, while those behind were left to defense or support roles.  Hints of the holy trinity were visible more than 20 years before WoW.

And, of course, it taught me the phrase, “Cheap Apostates! Out!”  You got that message when you were short of money for healing or reviving at the monastery.  I got that message a lot early on.

As I said, I played the hell out the game, finished it, and pretty much moved on.  I think I may have purchased the next game in the series, Knight of Diamonds, but I don’t think I ever got into it.  I certainly never went beyond that, and the series went out to Wizardry 8, which came out just a decade back.

Instead I went on with Ultima IV, Bard’s Tale, and Wasteland for RPGs.  And then online gaming showed up and became a focus of mine.

So my memories of Wizardry are of the first game alone, causing me make a nearly 30 year mental jump to get caught up to what is being proposed now for Wizardry Online and what it has to offer.  And the web site helpfully offers up three great reasons to play.

Well, three allegedly great reason, though I would argue that the first two are not well stated.  I would have written the list as:

  1. An MMORPG designed for hardcore players!
  2. Permadeath puts an edge on your decisions!
  3. Amazing graphics!

Oddly, the first two are totally in line with my memories of the original game.  Wizardry was hardcore, with no maps, no easy travel, and corpse retrievals if your whole party was wiped out.  And you could fail to revive, thus lose characters permanently.

The third, well… I am not sure ~I~ would emphasize the anime influence of the graphical style.  I am not opposed to it myself, but it does tend to be one of those polarizing issues.

But there it is, Wizardry Online.  You can sign up for beta if you are impatient.  Otherwise SOE is pegging it for a 2012 release, and it will surely be “Free To Play – Your Way” as is the SOE norm, which generally means “Cheap Apostates must be hounded ceaselessly until they subscribe!”

Having missed the entire middle of the Wizardry saga, I will be interested to see exactly where this title lands.  Massively looked at the title over a year ago at E3, but who knows what has changed since then.

If it is really true to the original, a hardcore (whatever that really means these days), party based, dungeon crawler, it could be something interesting to try out.

Mists of Pandaria Launches Today

Nearly eight years after launching World of Warcraft, Blizzard today shipped the fourth expansion to its mega money making MMO, Mists of Pandaria.  As is the case with any Blizzard product release, there were midnight launch events all over.

I do wonder if, in the age of digital distribution, how long retailers will be willing to expand their hours for something that seems to be moving away from brick and mortar.

Mists of Pandaria continues the pattern set previously of WoW expansions coming out about every two years.

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days

Making the average time between releases just shy of 716 days.

I strongly suspect that Blizzard’s ability to get away with an expansion every two years with, at times, a seeming modest investment in additional content in between, while continuing to grow until recently, was a big influence on SOE who, up to that point, seemed to feel that cranking out an expansion every six months, finished or not, was necessary to stay afloat.  They have flailed about significantly less in the last few years.

Mists of Pandaria will likely stem the tide of subscription losses for now.  WoW has gone from over 12 million subscribers just after the launch of Cataclysm to 9.1 million at the last quarterly report.  We will know in a year or so if Pandas are a magic elixir or just a plateau on the way down.  Mike Morhaime wisely declined to make predictions on that topic.

Unlike past WoW expansions, I will not be picking up Mists of Pandaria today.  Our regular group grew bored of Cataclysm and moved on to other games.  We are currently playing Rift.

But a lot of people have been waiting for this day.  How about you?

Oh, and Ultima Online turned 15 today.  Imagine that. [Link fixed]

Something About People Who Buy Ink by the Barrel

One of the fundamental aspects that I do not think people fully appreciate about the Goons in EVE Online is their origin in the Something Awful forums.

To join Goonswarm in EVE, you need to be an active and contributing member of the SA community, which pretty much means being active on the forums.  The Mittani wrote a column describing the difference between groups like the Goons, who come to the game already part of a community, and those he refers to as the “EVE born,” a group that includes me, which comes to EVE and then begins forming communities… or not forming them and finding EVE to be a dark and lonely place.

But my point, or something like a point, is that Goons are drawn from a base of people who are, for lack of a better term, forum warriors.  They stem from a community that has its base in forums.  So it is always mildly amusing to me to see somebody exasperated by the fact that, when they post something clearly counter to Goon interest, like Trebor’s anti-bloc (or anti-Goon) voting proposal, they get blobbed by Goons posting challenges to it in the forums.

I think we need a new saying, something equivalent to the Mark Twain quote about never getting in an argument with somebody who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton, to cover the modern world.  In Twain’s day, the editor of a newspaper wielded a lot of power by his ability to get his words printed and out to people in a way that no other method could match.  In EVE, taking on an articulate, motivated, and forum focused community has similar issues.

All of which is probably not exactly news or even of interest to most people.  But I started thinking about this in the aftermath of the Glenn Beck “Goonswarm = CIA” story last week.

Mandated by truth in advertising laws I think

Predictably, the Goons were annoyed at their own being included in Beck’s fantasies and, among other things, mobbed the comments section related to the story on Glenn Beck’s site.  A very forum warrior style of response.

But I wonder if that was the best riposte to Beck’s attack?

As far as I can tell, Glenn Beck is all about getting attention for Glenn Beck.  He is trying for the status of living brand, making him a political Martha Stewart.  So I have to wonder if this was a win in his eyes, what with all the page views and nearly 300 comments on the story, which looks to be about 10-20x what other items on his site get.

I suppose we’ll know if he brings up the vast Goonswarm conspiracy again.

I also wonder what Dave Emory made of the same situation?  While being diametrically opposed politically to Glenn Beck, he also sees the hand of the CIA in just about everything.  I might have to go find out.  It would be, if nothing else, amusing to have two polar opposite sources claiming the Goons were in bed with the CIA.

Addendum: Of course, then there is the New York Times putting the CIA in the picture as well.  So it’s got to be true, right?

Theramore Fell While I was at the Auction House

People have been writing about the Theramore’s Fall scenario in WoW.  It is a limited time, pre-Pandaria event.

It is said to provide a glimpse into Blizzard’s plans for scenarios, which are supposed to be 3 player events which do not require a group structured along the now classic Healer/Tank/DPS lines.

So, with a month left on my account, I thought I would take a look at what Blizzard has is store.  Plus, there is an achievement.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Because the instance group gave up on Cataclysm, and because my own interest only extended to getting one character through the solo 81-85 content, I am not geared up enough to join in.

A quick look through the auction house showed that I would not be able to simply buy my way out of the item level hole.  Concentrating on just PvP gear, I managed to get myself up to 340, but 353 was out of my price range.

The ugly specter of ever increasing levels in aging MMOs rears its ugly head again.  Fall behind at your peril.

The event is only for dedicated players, among whose numbers I can clearly no longer be counted.  I clearly should have been grinding gear and gold.

The irony, of course, is that gear from the first level 85-86 zone in Pandaria would probably fill the bill, that being part of the cycle of life in Azeroth.  Greens from a new expansion have to be as good as purples from an old one.

But Theramore will have fallen (many, many times) by then, and the scenario will no longer be part of the game.

Torchlight II – First Night

Of course I got home last night and the first thing I did was get into Steam to see if Torchlight II was ready.

Steam says yes

It was available, it just wasn’t quite ready yet.

The game was now unlocked, but Steam had to download some additional… something… that apparently wasn’t installed with the pre-load packages.  This was hindered by Train Simulator, which just released its 2013 update, and which was hogging bandwidth.  I paused that, which somehow also paused the Torchlight download, which I didn’t notice immediately.  All told, something that was estimated at about 2 minutes of download time took nearly 20 minutes.

I suspect the popularity of the game was also hindering the download a bit, even on the might Steam.

Meanwhile, the other sign of launch day popularity was that the Torchlight II site was completely overwhelmed.    You couldn’t get there, much less create an account for online play.  Even this morning, while you can now reach the site, it has been configured as a special “low bandwidth” version to facilitate the masses.  This is the extent of the site:

Buy, download, or GTFO

And, because I couldn’t get to their site online, I had to just sit there getting the same error 37 over and over again.

Wait, what?

Ha ha!  Of course not.  I just chose a local game and ran off and played.

I went back to the same class, the berserker, as I did back in May when they had their beta weekend.  A berserker with a ferret pet because… OMFG it is too cute it has little goggles!

Warlimont and Snoogums

And it was good.

I cannot compare the May version side by side with the release version, but my gut and my fragmented memory say that the last few months were well spent on the game, as it feels tight and well put together.

There are still bits that annoy me.  I hate that you cannot click on the action bars to use them, that they respond to keyboard commands only.  You click on them to associate them with a skill, spell, scroll, or potion.  And I know in a click to kill game, your cursor should stay on the bad guys, not the hot bar, but every once in a while I’ll need a scroll and I’ll click on the hot bar by mistake and get the associate options rather than my option to identify  an item.

And I keep pressing “M” for map, which toggles through all the map/mini map on-screen configurations.  Bleh.

Fishing is also a bit odd.  I don’t really like the way it dominates the whole screen.  But my pet likes the fish.

The skill tree is, at least, something of an improvement over the Diablo/Diablo II raw trees.

Berserker Wolf Tree

It isn’t as on-the-fly flexible as Diablo III’s skills, but it also has more depth and you can respect your last three points spent if you make a mistake.  That won’t fix things if you decide you want to go another route, but it is better that the Diablo II “one free respec and you are stuck.”

Minor complaints aside, and I see those all as minor, the game is fun and draws you in with a “I’ll just go a little bit farther” that is completely parallel to the Civilization “just one more turn” and suddenly it is 2am addiction.

I ran around for a couple of hours, finding every corner of the overland maps, which as Gnome said in the comments of yesterday’s post, gives the game a much bigger feeling that the never ending dungeon crawl of the original Torchlight.  Dungeons are spread out amongst the open areas.

Dungeons are good, even if they are well lit. (Cue my atmosphere rant with accompanying Diablo II video clip.)  The ways are constricted but well designed.  There are plenty of urns to break (the Torchlight version of Diablo barrels) and occasional not-all-that-well-hidden secret rooms to find.

And, in a parallel to Diablo III, big bosses always have their own room in dungeons it seems, so if you die you can spawn again just outside to try again.  I had to do that when I went in and realized I only had to health potions.  I had to send Snoogums back for more potions before I tried again.

My daughter watched me run around for a bit and was very keen to play.  This enthusiasm doubled when I told her it was multiplayer and we could play together.  She made me hand over the controls so she could look at the character options.  She decided that an Outlander with a puma pet would suit here.  She was quite excited about the prospect and it was tough getting her off to bed.

This lead to the big disappointment of the night.  After my daughter went to bed, I went to get a copy of the game for her only to find that the Macintosh version is not out yet.

Spoiled again by Blizzard and their simultaneous Mac OS/Windows releases.

Thinking back, this is how it went for the original Torchlight as well, but for some reason that slipped my mind.  So I will have to break the news to her tonight that we won’t be able to play together for a while yet.

I am probably going to have to let her play on my computer for a bit.  Hopefully the Mac version will show up by Christmas.