Monthly Archives: August 2013

August in Review

The Site

I have been experimenting with Tumblr.  This has been for no reason other than the fact that WordPress.com now supports direct updates to Tumblr.  So there are now Tumblr versions of both my blog.

Tumblr The Ancient Gaming Noob

Tumblr EVE Online Pictures

I would have to say that the Tumblr version of this blog is… not worthwhile.  The auto-update basically takes the first picture from any given post, adds in a link back to it, and calls it a day.  Add in the fact that I could not get tagn.tumblr.com as the URL and I am vaguely dissatisfied with the result.  Only the fact that it is zero effort keeps it going.

The EVE Online Pictures Tumblr however seems to be working out quite nicely.  Since every post is just a picture anyway, with maybe a sentence of text, nothing is lost in the updates.  WordPress.com even successfully moved my tags over for each post, though not the categories.  So it seems to fit into the Tumblr mold just fine.

Nobody appears to actually have looked at either of those sites, but there they are, experiment in progress.

One Year Ago

Star Trek Online was totally not dying and Star Wars: The Old Republic was totally not a failure as it shed more customers and announced it was going free to play.

Then Vanguard suddenly went free to play ahead of schedule, no doubt trying to get in early and avoid the crowd.

It was announced that NCsoft would be closing down City of Heroes.

Torchlight II gave us a launch date.  But not before giving us a date for a date.  And I am still waiting for the Mac OS version for my daughter.

Turbine delayed Riders of Rohan, but continued pushing the crazy stuff you would see.

SOE decided that you can afford integrity only after you pay the bills, and threw in with lockboxes.  What happened to the implied social contract?

GuildWars 2 went live at last, thwarting Blizzard’s nefarious scheme.

I was paid up on my 1 year subscription for WoW, but Blizzard wouldn’t let me cancel further payment.  They must have been concerned about subscribers, having dropped more subs than SWTOR had left.

Speaking of year long commitments, Trion liked that Blizzard idea so much, they did it themselves and gave us an ugly mount for it right away.  Oh, and they got rid of faction group restrictions.  What population problems?  The instance group started on its attendance slide, with just four of us trying Runic Descent.  At least we had instant adventures.  Or was that instant levels?

In EVE Online, there was a revamp of mining ships.  I listed them out and wondered which would become the most popular.  In the end, the Mackinaw won I think.  All the while CSM7 seemed intent on proving that the thing they loved most in EVE was themselves.

Meanwhile, having been asked by TEST to leave the war down south, the CFC got into a scrap with Northern Coalition over moons.  We fought in Venal and some monkeys  lost a titan.  We were staging in QPO for a thrust into Tribute with the goal of taking a forward base at UMI-KK.

AWESOMESAUCE.LIVE was announced.  Only the fact that it was later cancelled preserved my faith in humanity.

Finally, I took the crazy train out of Barstow and threw out a few movie reviews.

Five Years Ago

After what seemed like endless delays, Darkfall went looking for beta testers for real.  Many asked if this product would shed its “vaporware” reputation and see the light of day, and if the feature set would be anything close to what was promised.

Meanwhile Warhammer Online was rolling on towards release with a preview weekend.  The CoWs were gathering.  I looked at races and classes as well as my general opinion of the game as I saw it.  I thought I was generally positive, though I wanted to be able to open up the quest log with a single keystroke.  Rabid fans sensed faint praise and whined a lot in the comments.  Still, Google liked me as I got the top spot for the search on “WAR Preview Weekend.”

Suicide Ganking was the plague in EVE Online.  I suggested that the Secure Insurance Commission be given the power to extract the cost of insurance payouts from high sec gankers as a way to make this “throw away character” exploit a bit less lucrative.  In the end, CCP just made CONCORD a bit more responsive to attacks right under their noses.

In WoW the instance group we were hitting level 70 and starting on the Caverns of Time dungeon Escape from Durnhold Keep. Instances were starting to get tough for us and it would take a revamp of our talents and some work on gear before we would be able to take on an at-level instance on the first try.

Also in WoW, Zhevra fever.

We went down to LEGOLand for vacation, but I left a vacation cliffhanger post to keep people amused.

LEGO Indiana Jones came out, and while it was a lot of fun, I wasn’t sure if it was worth list price.

And finally, people were fretting about Diablo III.  It was too colorful!  Internet petitions were deployed and accomplished what they generally do… nothing.

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 August

  1. 6VDT-H – The Biggest Battle in EVE History Ends the War in Fountain
  2. Who Holds the Oldest Null Sec Sovereignty?
  3. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  4. Comparing EverQuest and EverQuest Next in Two Pictures
  5. Conspiracies, Immersion, and the Secret Life of PLEX
  6. More Propaganda from the War in Fountain
  7. Monday Morning Talking Points for EverQuest Next
  8. The Elder Scrolls Online: Throwing Itself Under the Subscription Bus?
  9. Projecting on to EverQuest Next
  10. The Greater Western Co-Prosperity Sphere and You!
  11. Has the WildStar Team Looked Into How is Krono Working for SOE?
  12. Can SOE Keep the EverQuest Next Excitement Going?

Search Terms of the Month

is tobold trolling us
[clearly]

how to steal turbine points
[Way to support free to play!]

eve small or big ship in nullsec
[Bigger ship, bigger target]

Spam Comment of the Month

This blog was… how do I say it? Relevant!!
[Nobody has ever said that, until the payday loans spambot happened by at least]

EVE Online

It was a quiet for most of the month for me in New Eden, a time for training and plans.  I spent a lot of time in my high sec clone with implants to speed training along.  My focus changed to capital ships and, once I make up my mind, I could be in either a dreadnought or a carrier withing a day, skill-wise.  I still have to obtain one.

And then the call went out to deploy down to Delve.  I seemed to have missed the mass of convoys, if there was a mass of them, and only have two ships down there, a Megathron and a Harpy.  So if they aren’t in the fleet composition being called for, I stay docked.

EverQuest Next

I didn’t play any EQN, as there is nothing there to play yet.  But we all certainly spent a lot of time writing about what was shown at SOE Live at the beginning of the month.  A very exciting moment.  However, the moment has passed and I expect we won’t get any real news for a while now.

Lord of the Rings Online

I made it through Moria, one of my big goals.  And then, last weekend, Turbine had a “welcome back” double XP event.  Rather than using that to push my main guy into the Mirkwood expansion, I spent the whole time… and I was in-game for many hours… playing alts.  For example, I rolled up a guardian and ran him all the way to level 30.  His role in life is to finish off the epic quest line, which I always end up straying from somewhere in the Lone Lands.  And I pushed my champion into Evendim and started up a rune keeper as well, because hey, lightning!

NeverWinter

I need to invest some time in this just to get far enough in to tell if I like it or not.

Coming Up

Autumn is coming, though it is often more a state of mind and an arbitrary date on a calendar here in California.   Still, in anticipation of the regular bout of autumnal nostalgia, I started looking into how to play EverQuest Mac on a Windows PC.  I haven’t actually got it running yet, but I have all the parts in place, including a copy of EverQuest Titanium I unearthed.  Old school, Planes of Power level EverQuest could be a possibility.  We’ll see how much I enjoy that cup.

Of course, there are other choices for the nostalgia season if I cannot get EverQuest Mac going, including other flavors of Norrath, Azeroth, or even NeverWinter Nights 2, where we stopped playing mid-campaign.  Plus there are a few new delights out there, like World of Warplanes and War Thunder, both of which I have totally meant to try, and neither of which I have actually played yet.  I have even considered Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn due to reports of its old school nature and it not being cash shop driven.  Unfortunately, part of its old school nature included a rough launch.  Some things never change.

And then there is the cast iron rule of MMOs for me is that I can really only play two at any given time while maybe dabbling in a third.  That would likely mean LOTRO going dormant again, since EVE is different enough from anything else that I want to stick with that for now.

So I expect my play time pursuits will change up soon.

Quote of the Day – Commandments of Online Worlds

Thou shalt not mistake online worlds for games, for they encompass far more; nor shalt thou forget that play is noble, and game is no epithet.

Raph Koster, The Commandments of Online Worlds

A little over seven years ago Raph wrote his commandments post.  It, and the resulting discussion in comments, feels like it is from another era.  Of course, it is from before Zynga and gamification and free to play as the default revenue model, back when the idea of a virtual world had meaning to a lot more people.

I was reminded of this post because I was listening to VirginWorlds postcast #17 this morning.  The show itself is a nice time capsule, having gone live back in July 2006.  Brent talks about DarkFall, EA buying Mythic and what that could portend, The Burning Crusade expansion that was set to come out six months later, along with a discussion of subscription numbers and what they mean.  Or meant.

Neverwinter – Enormous Red Tape in the Bush

In theory Neverwinter ought to be a slam dunk winner for me.

It is based on Forgotten Realms, my favorite D&D campaign setting.  It has beautiful scenery.  Classes are distinct and have a limited number of skills available at any given time.  The UI is responsive.  While being free to play, it does not remind me every minute of the day that I should visit the cash shop.  And the game includes a good deal of instanced, small group content so our regular group can go off and do a dungeon crawl whenever we get together.

And yet this past weekend I spent nearly every available gaming moment playing Lord of the Rings Online.   While LOTRO does have perhaps the one setting that trumps Forgotten Realms in my book… Middle-earth… and the scenery is good, objectively you could conclude that Neverwinter is a better game for me.  If nothing else, LOTRO seems absolutely determined to remind me that it has a cash shop at every possible moment.  It is like a small child with a new toy, every conversation must be turned to discuss it.  I am sure Neverwinter will get there as well… it seems to be the way of things… but for the moment I can play for long stretches of time without being asked for a buck.

But I have kept Neverwinter patched up all the same.  It is part of the matrix of possible games for Saturday night, the choice of which is driven by who happens to be online and available to play.  And I have put my nose into the game a few times since I was last there with the group.

One of the first things I did was trade in my great weapon fighter, Sven Sverdsk for a trickster rogue.  I named him Sans Serif.

Surprised that names was available

Surprised that names was available

He is based somewhat on Sean Connery of the Zardoz / Man Who Would Be King era for no good reason.  A balding guy with distinctive facial hair.

I rolled him up, got him through the tutorial and well into level 4 before leaving him be for a while.  But last Saturday when the “who’s online” came up with me, Potshot, and Mike (the guy in our group without a consistent character naming pattern who is not me), Neverwinter was the pick.

They had both been playing a bit more than I had and were up to level 8, though that did not seem to be an impediment really.  We first ran through a couple of quests that Mike had, and I had no problem keeping up, doing damage, or surviving any hostile intent from mobs.  He was able to share them and we all go credit.  Then we turned towards the quests I had, which I was able to share with everybody and which we blazed through.  That the whole thing was designed to be soloable no doubt helped speed our progress.

Camp fire stop

Camp fire stop

After basically blitzing through four different quests, we decided to roll the dice with some user created content.  Last time around this worked out well for us.  We ended up with a connected series of a few adventures that at least showed off the potential for the foundry tool.  This time around we were less fortunate.

The first choice sent us off to an inn because… well… D&D!

Room at the inn?

Room at the inn?

And a fine looking inn it was.  However, from there the adventure seemed to be broken.  Our first attempt to advance beyond the “hanging about” stage of things dropped us from the game.  And upon returning, things did not recover well.  I was still at the inn but Mike was not and couldn’t get back.  We all dropped the quest, went back to where we started, and tried again.  This time we all got to the inn, but then could not activate whatever was required to move things forward.  After a bit more poking around we gave up.

The second one we tried was created by somebody who clearly felt that actually getting to your destination in these adventures was far too easy.  And, admittedly, things are often on a pretty clear set of rails path.  This person had a solution though.

One word: Foliage!

One word: Foliage!

This was an outdoor instance where the author went nuts with nature in an attempt to simulate crossing a dense forest.  At night.  I had to lighten these screen shots up a bit so you could see what we were facing.  Then imagine that you couldn’t really see it because it was dark and there was no path, and you immediately got separated from the rest of your group.

Uh, guys...

Uh, guys…

And it was just “okay, we’ll hide the trail underneath bushes.”  There were some serious log jams where it took a lot of jumping and turning and trying to find the right perch to get through.  I fell into a pit and one point and spent several minutes trying to get myself unstuck.  And I don’t mean that in the “GuildWars 2 jumping puzzle” way, where you know you have to hit the space bar at just the right moment to get to that next ledge.  This was “it’s dark, I can’t see shit, so I am just spamming the space bar and turning in hopes that I will land on something that will help me move forward.”

We would occasionally reach a quest objective, or fight a couple of mobs.

Oh, look, a light!

Oh, look, a light!

But for the most part the whole thing seemed be designed around the premise, “Make movement difficult.”  After what seemed like a long time of fighting foliage… but which was probably only about 20 minutes… a motion was made and seconded to “fuck this shit” and we left.

We decided to move back to the quests that were part of the game, which lead us to chasing a series of glowy lined in search of sludge samples.

Sludgeward ho!

Sludgeward ho!

That moved us back into a path of very little resistance as the three of us jumped on and destroyed anything that happened to cross our path with very few mouse clicks.  More satisfying that being stuck in a bush, granted, but still not quite as fulfilling as one might hope.  After a bit of that, which wasn’t all that engaging, I declared myself the party pooper and called it a night.  It was past 11pm, so I wasn’t parking the bus too early, but I was clearly the first one who wanted out.

So another night in Neverwinter and I remain unconvinced.

Now clearly part of the problem is I have not invested all that much in the game.  Expecting to find great challenges in a group with a level 5 and two level 8 characters in a game where the level cap is 60 is probably asking a bit much.  Judgement should probably be withheld until we get further along.

Still, everything killed was very very fast.  Fast enough to make Diablo III battles seem like protracted combat.  My rogue was clearly Mister Click-Click, Kill-Kill.  Nothing offered anything like a fight, even what I was levels down.

Except, of course, all of that foliage.  Defeated by plants.

A Memory of Hunters

That question took me all of about two seconds to answer.  The hunter class in World of Warcraft.

From a sheer overall enjoyment, most involved, most fun ever, the hunter wins out for me.

There are some other classes that I have quite enjoyed.  I liked my berserkers and swashbucklers in EverQuest II.  I had a soft spot for shadow knights and paladins and all their hybrid woes back in EverQuest.  In Lord of the Rings Online, the rune keeper may have some of the best spell effects ever.  You always know one is around because of those lightning flashes, and that wave of fire spell is a joy to behold.  And if you have never played a dwarf guardian in Middle-earth, then you have missed out on the most enthusiastic warriors ever.

Oddly, Rift holds no spot in my favored class list despite… or because of… the famed flexibility of the soul system that lets you mix and match and create your own flavor of a given class.  I think I just come from an age where a class had a role and a few skills and you made do with what you got and suffered when you couldn’t.

And when it came to making do with what you got, the hunter class had that in spades.  Well, the old hunter class did, the way the class played back when I started WoW in 2005.

Hunters were primarily a ranged weapon class.  You likely went with a gun if you were a dwarf or a tauren, or a bow if you were a night elf or an orc, since that was what they handed you at the outset.  Maybe you opted in for a crossbow later on, if you found a good one and wanted to buy and train up the skill.

But ranged weapons required ammunition, which came in stacks of 200 rounds and which took up space in your inventory.  And you wanted an ammo pouch or quiver because of the speed bonus it gave you, so essentially you ended up forfeiting an entire inventory slot.  This in the limited bag space hell of early WoW.

So you were hauling around stacks of ammo and had to make sure that your ammo pouch was full up before you set off on any prolonged adventure, with maybe a couple extra stacks in your bag, just in case.  And then you would level up and the ammo you wanted would change.

Ammo had a damage value that was rolled into the total damage done with each shot, and as you leveled up, you better ammo became available.  And then there was crafted ammo, which boosted damage a bit more.

And you still had to keep an up to date melee weapon or two around as well.  Ranged weapons had a minimum range, and when things went wrong, you might find yourself fighting toe-to-toe with a hostile mob.   It was nice that hunters could dual wield, and the saying was always “every weapon is a hunter weapon!”  I just hope you were keeping your melee weapon skills up to date as you leveled.  It could be embarrassing to be reminded that you were way behind on a skill in a tight situation.

But it was all worth it once you got your pet, which back in the day required you to get to level 10.  At that point you could run the pet starter quests, learn the skills, and the run off to tame your first pet.

Stella!

Love at first sight

But what kind of pet should you tame, and what skills would it come with?  You were given a special skill to tell if pets were tameable, which also showed what skills they knew and at what level.

And the level part was important.  You pet might come with all the skills it could learn, but as it leveled up, it would become eligible for a  new tier of its skills.  A couple of basic skills were available from the hunter trainer, but for the rest… you had to hunt.

You had to stable your pet… and your pet was a major part of your ability to fight and survive in the wild… to go find another animal that knew the skill you were looking for.  You had to tame that animal and then go off and kill mobs with it for a while until your close contact with the animal lead to the skill being rubbed off onto you, thus entering your knowledge.

Then, once you had acquired that knowledge, you could dismiss the pet you just tamed and then run back to town, get your own pet out of storage and train him in the new skill.

And then there was the whole food aspect to things.  Once you tamed a pet, you had to feed him to improve his attitude towards you.  A hostile pet would fight badly and might flee.  And each possible pet would only eat certain kinds of food, which you had to keep on had, using up more inventory space, in order to keep your pet a maximum happiness.

And then there was the matter of leveling up your pet.  It had levels and needed experience to advance.  And if the pet you really wanted was lower level than you, then you had to take your new catch out and level him up.

And for all that effort, you would just assume that it would be a sought after class for raids and instances, right?  Not at all.  While the hunter had its uses in groups, it was generally considered to be poor on the damage side relative to just about any alternative, while pets were not really up to the whole boss level tanking aspect of such play.  Besides which, what self-respecting hunter would choose any talent path other than Beast Mastery, the path least likely to make you attractive to a group?

No, your big compensation for choosing such an odd-duck class was the skill “Spirit of the Cheetah” which improved your run speed, which was actually a kind of a big deal back when you had to wait until level 40 to get a mount (and use chain armor).  You just did not want to forget an leave Cheetah running, as having it up meant getting stunned every time you were hit by a mob.

No, it was the class itself, which at the time was done better than any pet class I had ever played, that was the draw.  Warts and all, it has always been a popular class in Azeroth.  And getting the right pet has always been part of the allure.  Back when storage was limited, and strict leveling was in place, you really had to pick and focus on one or two companions.  My daughter and I traveled all over Azeroth to tame special pets.

Flare the Dragonhawk

Flare the Dragonhawk

My daughter would scan the site Petopia looking for new and interesting animals to consider taming.

Things have changed since the early days.  Skills are easy now.  Pets jump to your level on being tamed.  Feeding is no longer about attitude, just about healing.  Keeping pets with you or stabling them has changed dramatically.  And there is a whole tier of exotic pets.

None of which is bad I suppose.  The class has evolved with the game and has become more viable over time while remaining popular.

But there is something in me that misses the early days of hunters in Azeroth.

Deploying to Delve

The yearly migration down to Delve has begun.  It is a little later this year than normal.  The whole thing in Fountain slowed things down.  But it is a little earlier than some predicted.  No waiting for the jump bridge network to get set up.

Almost exactly 13 months ago we were headed back from Delve, having helped TEST take it and Querious.  Now we are inbound again to take the region from TEST.

TEST has actually abandoned the region, so it is sitting there waiting for somebody to knock it over.  Fweddit has been in and has knocked off a couple of systems on the border with Fountain, while the Pasta Syndicate has a constellation in the middle of things.

Cozy Constellation

Cozy Constellation

I am not sure how long that will last.  There are only six pilots currently in their alliance and the CFC plan for Delve is to conquer it all for the Greater Western Co-Prosperity Sphere, of which I wrote a little while back.  Wide open spaces for the CFC rental empire.

A new vision

A new vision for Delve

Meanwhile, I am starting to feel like an old hand.  The convoy made it out to our traditional staging system at 1DH-SX.

Blood Raiders Station

Blood Raiders Station

And upon docking I found all the items I left behind when we returned home last time around.  Bits and pieces for a shield tanked, missile firing fleet doctrine.  Drake fleet was big last year.  And the Rifter that I used to fly on the gate camp in F2OY-X.

This time around the outlook is not as exciting.  No titanic battles are in the immediate future.  Just a clean up of TEST’s former space holdings in Delve.

We shall see how that progresses.

Conspiracies, Immersion, and the Secret Life of PLEX

In which I attempt to set a record for insulting the most gaming industry professionals in a single post as I meander towards a conclusion you probably saw coming a mile away.

The business model announcements last week for WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online have gotten a lot of people writing about subscriptions and free to play.  The subscription-only model, declared dead and buried after SWTOR got through with it, is now generally cast as a proposition that is all downside.  Any perceived benefits of subscriptions are illusory, or so says the man who failed to make it work.  So he ought to know I guess.  Just don’t disagree with him, he gets upset.

But then WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online inexplicably threw in with the model.  And the question of the day became “What the hell are they thinking?” as people declared en masse that they would never play a subscription only game.

My completely uninformed opinion is that the TESO team is just hopelessly naive, though in an endearing sort of way.  Down there at the Hunt Valley end of the MTA light rail line, life is good, the air is clean, and the atmosphere just fills you with hope that it is still 2001 and you can launch an MMO that is simply better than the original EverQuest and have a winner.

Cynics… whose outlooks have no doubt been shaped by the industry… have opined that the ZeniMax Online team has an evil plan to launch as subscription, cashing in to the maximum amount possible, only to be ready to swap to a F2P model as soon as the sheep realize they are being shorn.  Then it will be flying pig mounts, pinwheel hats, and hotbars for sale all day every day, with regular in-game pop-ups to remind you of the latest currency specials.  Because fuck immersion… as far as I can tell only about 6 people on the internet believe there is such a thing… and these are just video games, so why not turn them all into a carnival midway?  Just crank the crap volume to 11 already and be done with it.

In my world view… and really, the only thing driving my world view in the regard is the TESO team’s seeming lack of understanding as to what drives the popularity of Elder Scrolls games… hint: It isn’t the availability of something like Barrens Chat… the team at ZeniMax is planning a picnic on a nice green median strip in the midst Interstate 83 and are going to get hit by a semi-truck while crossing the blacktop.

Irony demands that it be THIS truck

Irony demands that it be THIS truck

(Picture stolen from the EVE Online Facebook page, where they were encouraging people to suicide gank this truck, and then cropped and edited.  Don’t view the full-size version. Like people my age, it only looks good at a distance, if at all.)

And then all the subsequent drama will be the result of an emergency team trying to stitch things back together while the aforementioned cynics nod their heads and point out that it was all a setup.

We shall see how that works out.

And then there is the WildStar team at Carbine.  What the hell are they thinking?

You could easily assume that they, too, were just another start up in a self-contained reality distortion bubble where “we can make a better WoW” seems like a reasonable proposition.  They have the experience, the talent, and they have thrown in with the monthly subscription model.  Easy to dismiss as either misguided or, again, hatching an evil plot to bilk players out of money for boxes before jumping to a F2P model.

But then there is the whole CREDD thing.  The PLEX comparison is obvious, but just as easily dismissed due to the nature of EVE Online.

These guys aren’t dumb though.  Right?  This isn’t SOE with its seeming blind spot as to the obvious next question the moment they announce something.  Maybe they have a plan, maybe they feel they can build a player driven market with EVE Online-like participation levels.

And maybe, just maybe, they have their own model where running multiple accounts gives you a serious, tangible advantage in-game.

Because it is that, plus the advent of PLEX, that could be driving growth in EVE Online.

Think about this.

In EVE Online I think we can all agree that playing multiple accounts gives you an advantage.

And that has been the case for quite some time.  Even when I started playing the game, way back in 2006, you were only really serious about your internet spaceships if you has an extra pilot in space.  Multi-boxing was common.  And hey, if you enjoyed the game, then one or two additional accounts wasn’t a huge stretch.

But then along came PLEX back in 2009.

EVE Online was growing before PLEX.  It continued growing after PLEX.  But I do wonder what impact PLEX had on growth.

Because after the introduction of PLEX, it was suddenly viable to run more accounts, so long as you could use them to create enough ISK to buy PLEX to pay their subscription.  Having two or three accounts gave way to having five or six or ten or a dozen.  Seeing formations of mining ships clearly controlled by a single person became more common.

Pretty blue lasers

One fleet, one guy

In fact, CCP has expressed concern about the rising price of PLEX at times.  A single PLEX was selling for over 600 million ISK earlier this summer.  That concern has always been couched in terms of being concerned with the in-game economy.  And it is hard to deny that CCP takes the in-game economy seriously.  But I have to wonder if there isn’t also some concern around the out-of-game economy; specifically the bit that pays the bills that keeps payroll going and servers humming.  Because, while some players play for “free” by buying PLEX, every active account is still paid for by somebody, and nothing says “winning” more than an always increasing subscriber base.  Grow or die, as they might say on Wall Street.

Is that what the WildStar team is hoping to achieve with CREDD?  Because if it is, they aren’t convincing me.

I have been through this before, but I would be hard pressed to name another MMORPG where the player base is as invested in the in-game economy as in EVE Online.  And the in-game is what drives PLEX and enables it to succeed to the point that it likely contributes noticeably to the subscriber base totals.  And WildStar hasn’t said a thing that makes me think that they can manage that.

So I am throwing in with the conspiracy group on this one.  Carbine must be making a cynical cash grab with this “buy the box and subscribe” plan up front, while readying the transition to F2P once the sheep are well and truly shorn.

Did I use that metaphor already?  I can’t help it.  I have seen sheep shorn, and they always come out looking pathetic, cold, and pissed off, in the same way certain MMO players do when their game makes that F2P transition.

Anyway, there is no other logical explanation for Carbine’s plan aside from a complete loss of grip on reality.  And the TESO team will probably claim they own that and sue.

But it sure has given us all a lot to talk about.

Oh, and Brian Green’s hair continues its complete and total migration towards his chin.

I felt I needed just one more insult to secure the record.  Did I make it, or do I need to bring up the NGE?

PC Gamer Says EVE Online is #12

When my wife saw the cover of the September issue of PC Gamer magazine, which I am still getting thanks to the failure of The Official World of Warcraft Magazine (read about that trail of tears), she said she could see a blog post in the making.

She actually reads the blog and knows me better than I imagine.

You see, the cover was taken up with a giant graphic announcing that this issue included PC Gamer’s staff picks for the Top 100 PC Gamed of ALL TIME.

Really, Of All Time

Really, Of All Time

And as any long time reader knows, I love me a good list.  Or a bad list.  Or any sort of arbitrary ranking.

I love when a group decides to pull out some select number of items and declares them the best, most influential, or otherwise notable.  It says so much about the people who make the list, and about myself when I disagree with the choices.

And I always disagree with at least a few of the choices.  Whether it is games that defined the Apple II games or Ten Ton Hammer listing out the Top Ten PvP MMOs, I always find something to complain about.  Such lists are an argument waiting to happen, but in a fun way.  Viewed correctly, such a list at least makes you think and look for the reasoning.

Of course, the first pass through the list was to search for my chosen genre, MMORPGs.  The first thing my wife asked was, “Is World of Warcraft on the list?” followed quickly by, “And what about ‘Jacked up and good to go?'” a reference to the original StarCraft and probably how much I played it back in the day, given that she remembers it more than a decade down the road.

The first MMO on the list was EVE Online in 12th position, which is where the title of this post comes from.

The second was World of Warcraft, close behind in the 15th slot.  Not a bad showing for MMOs in the top 25% of the list I guess.  One fantasy based MMO and one science fiction, which also happen to be, perhaps not accidentally, the two big hold-outs in the subscription versus F2P struggle.

And after that… nothing.  That was it for MMOs.  No EverQuest, no Ultima Online.  The early champions of the genre were left out and nobody else was worthy.

Well, I suppose if you are going to make a list from PC games of ALL TIME and limit it to 100, prime candidates are bound to get left on the cutting room floor.

So I started browsing through the list, checking titles and dates to get something like the flavor of the list, to see if I could spot any sort of trend.

My initial gut reaction was that most of the games on the list were pretty recent in terms of PC games of ALL TIME.  There were some entries from the latter half of the 90s, with a special spot set aside for Doom and Secret of Monkey Island.  But those were the two oldest games on the list, and they stood out because their age.

I compare this to Time Magazine’s attempt at a Top 100 Video Games of All Time list, which wasn’t even limited to the PC, but included consoles and arcade games.  And in that they managed to find room for titles from the 70s and 80s.  But then they left Minecraft off the list.

My first reaction was that the staff was probably much younger than I…  a surprising number of people are these days… and that the prime formative period of their gaming psyche came about in the mid-to-late 90s.  They might never have played Seven Cities of Gold or the original Wasteland.

My second reaction was that perhaps we were working with different definitions.  For me “PC” means personal computer, and it a generalized thing that includes everything in my personal timeline from the Timex Sinclair 1000 to my current 64-bit Win7 box, and quite a few side paths along the way, including a series of Mac OS machines.

But to a lot of people, “PC” probably means Windows box, something that has been reinforced by both Apple and Microsoft in recent history.  So if I read “Top 100 PC Games” as “Top 100 Windows Games,” the list makes a little more sense.  In the timeline of Windows, the less said about things before 1990, the better.

In that context, I suppose the list makes more sense, as Windows games only start coming into their own with Windows 95, which brings us to the late 90s and blah blah blah.

Then again, I could be overthinking this… a common issue for me… and it might be that the team that did the list just thinks newer games are better.  That seemed to be the point of view with Complex Gaming and their Top 50 list, a list which put EVE Online in the #1 spot.  It certainly fits the “complex” side of the equation.

Ah well.

I would like to link to the list so that you could read it yourself, but it appears to be a print edition only feature.  It made for a dramatic cover that no doubt got a few people to pick up a copy.  And I am sure that they would not appreciate it if typed out the list myself.  But I will leave you with their top five games.

  1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  2. Mass Effect 2
  3. Half-Life 2
  4. Team Fortress 2
  5. Deus Ex

I suppose the first choice isn’t a huge surprise.  They justified it well and frankly liked it for all the right reasons; scope, freedom, mods, replayability.  The next three are probably not very controversial.  I haven’t touched any of the Mass Effect games, but you can hardly be any kind of a gamer and have not heard people going on about them.  I have played through Half-Life 2 and spent a bit of time with Team Fortress 2, but they are not really my thing. (And HL2 plus Garry’s Mod made for one of the best video game based comics ever.)

And then there is Deus Ex, which I really have no recollection of at all.  It was apparently quite a thing and I missed it completely.  But it came out when I was still absorbed with EverQuest the first time around, as well as Diablo II, StarCraft, and a few other games I would consider classics.  We can’t get them all.  There are only so many hours in the day.  Heck, just the other day a co-worker admitted to me that he had never seen The Wizard of Oz.  I am not sure our culture makes sense without having seen that.

Anyway, another list examined.  I await the next one.

On The Far Side of Moria

The odd thing about Moria is that, as a region, it gets much better as you move along.

That seems like a way to drive people off… though if you seek to reward persistence, I suppose it has some merit.

The initial quests are dull, presented in the usual quest-hub style, and involve a lot of running back and forth.  You end up getting sent back out of Moria at first and then, once inside, areas are dark and narrow and not very interesting.  I can see why I gave up the last time around within the threshold of the area.  It is something of a let down after all the build up in Hollin.

Moria Zones

Moria Zones

This time I persisted.  First the environments got better.  I found the Waterworks to be quite the place to just run around and sight see.  The quests were about the same and involved running back and forth pretty much constantly.  I wore out the paths around the Rotting Cellar.

From there I made my way to the Redhorn Lodes, where the quests moved from the strict hub dynamic to what I would call a much more organic approach.

Plus it is really red-ish

Plus it is really red-ish

You end up picking up quests along the way… though it took me a bit to notice the “you have a new quest” indicator on the right side of the window, as I associate that with the seasonal/holiday events… and some you can turn in on the fly, some send you back to a hub, while others move you forward to a new location.  And, like the Waterworks, the environments were still a draw in and of themselves.

Giant dwarves everywhere

Giant stone dwarves everywhere

I then made my way into the Flaming Deeps which continued the more organic approach and sent me through more epic environments.  At the end of that I was level 59 and moving into Nud-melek.  There were a few of the “back and forth” quests at the top, but then it evolved into a “take your quest giver with you” set of objectives that brought me to the bridge of Kazad-dum, which was broken.

Like the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge

Like the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge

That was actually a pretty neat moment, and in my head I was all, “Wow, this is where Gandalf fought the balrog that was Durin’s Bane!”

And then the more logical part of my brain pipped in with, “You know, that didn’t really happen.  It was a made up story you dolt.”  Why can’t I let me enjoy my moment?  But I was immersed for a moment there.

Anyway, I stood there looking across the abyss, wondering how Turbine was going to get me across that gap.  There is a whole new zone to explore… an outdoors zone… on the other side.

If you stare across the abyss, does it get annoyed?

If you stare across the abyss, does it get annoyed?

I wondered if the orcs had built some sort of rickety contraption to get over the great gap that separates the first and second halls of Moria.

And would I trust this over such an abyss?

And would I trust this over such an abyss?

Or had the dwarves now swarming Moria built up some sort of crossing already?

And, as a secondary thought, where did all those dwarves come from?  The soon-to-be-broken fellowship of the ring passed through here… what… fifteen minutes before I got here?  Back in Hollin I was picking up their fresh trash, putting out their campfires, and generally acting as cover and janitorial service.  Makes you wonder what kind of ranger Aragorn really is.

But now there are hundreds of dwarves swarming the place.  They have set up encampments all over and created a regular goat subway system, with standard cross-town goats as well as a spoke-and-hub insta-goat transit service.  They have a settlement in the twenty-first hall with a bank, a crafting hall, an auction house, and regular postal service.  And I am pretty sure they were building a strip mall there with a Starbucks, a Noah’s Bagels, and a Chipotle.

Did I bump my head somewhere between Hollin and Moria and fall asleep for a year… or five… or twenty?  Is the war over?

And speaking of the war, what are all these dwarves doing in Moria screwing around with public transit projects?  Don’t they know Sauron needs to be defeated?

Yeah, sometimes it is a burden to have to live inside my head.

But after all of that, how I ended up getting to the other side of the chasm did not seem like a big deal.  We just walked around.

Chasm - Deep, wide, but not so long

Chasm – Deep, wide, but not so long

Yes, Moria’s main line of defense, the chasm with the single bridge that no army could cross if even a dozen dwarves opposed them, has a big old gap about two football fields up the way.  And it isn’t like this was something new, a landslide caused by a balrog hitting the bottom or anything.  If you look at the map, they built a road that followed that path.  There is a whole Durin’s Way bypass/business loop that lets you avoid the rush hour traffic over the bridge.

So Svanr, my personal dwarf quest giver, and I did some quests, then went ’round the bypass, then did a few more quests that involved killing some orcs and destroying a few mining carts..  I hit level 60 while that was under way.

Officially Level 60

Officially Level 60

I now only have five levels of experience boost left in my pocket.

Derudhs Stone

Actually, that is an old screen shot.  I think the stats now show the maximum level as 64, so once you hit 65, you have to find something else to put in your pocket.  Turbine will sell me an upgraded, good to level 74 version for just 495 Turbine Points if I so desire.

Anyway, from there, Svanr and I headed to the first hall, where he then brought me on a little quest for my first peek outside of Moria.

We see the Dim

We see the Dimrill Dale at last

The goal was to point me at the first quest hub on the path to Lothlorien.  Though it was an odd quest, as it happened in a special instanced version of the zone where the quest hub wasn’t active yet.  I just had to go there, click on somebody, come back to Svanr, then it was back into Moria again to finally finish up, get a new title, a new goal, and to ride back out on my own.

To the exit!

To the exit!

I was mildly disappointed to find that you cannot walk/ride through the gates of Moria.  There is a zone teleport in the first hall that drops you outside of Moria.  I get why they did it.  It is the gateway between expansions, so they need to keep people who do not own the expansion out.  Or they did at one time.  I think now you can travel through them all, you just don’t get the quests or some such.  Anyway, I have a new zone to explore.

To Lothlorien

To Lothlorien

I am standing on the edge of a new expansion.  Or close to the edge of one.  And who keeps putting down damp cups on all the maps?  Could Turbine not come up with a different “this map is either old and weathered or was once a Denny’s place mat” graphic?

Not here, but I can see if from here

Not here, but I can see if from here

It is possible I could make it into the Siege of Mirkwood this time around, finally finishing up the expansion I bought five years ago and starting the one I bought four years ago.

At this rate I might have to buy Riders of Rohan some day.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Throwing Itself Under the Subscription Bus?

I moan a lot about the price we pay… both in cash and annoyance… for games that go free to play.  That is, in many ways, a reaction to people that seem to believe that “free” really means “free” and that there is absolutely no downside to dumping the monthly subscription model.  I try to sum it up from time to time.  But I still see plenty of people giving the free to play model unconditional their love.

That doesn’t mean I have left planet Earth however.  I can see still the scoreboard.

The reality of the situation today is that, if you are a new MMORPG on the market, the barrier to entry for the vast majority of your competitors is pretty low.  A couple games can get away with just a monthly subscription plan at this point.  World of Warcraft, because it remains more popular than any five western MMOs you care to mention.  EVE Online, because it offers an experience unlike any of its competitors.

But after those two, the market is pretty much free to play, with a few niche subscription model games hanging about.  Darkfall stuck with the monthly subscription because it is a niche game.  Camelot Unchained will have a monthly subscription under the current plan, but it seeks a niche and not market dominance as well.

So if you are going to go into the MMORPG market and you want the maximum number of players to play your game, free to play seems to be the only way to go.

Unless, of course, you are bringing a brand new experience to the genre.

I mean, if you have something that people will seriously want and won’t be able to get elsewhere, then there is your market advantage.  If you believe in it, you can skip free to play and move directly to Go, collect $200, and get with the monthly subscription plan.

But you had better well and truly be right.  Because everybody seems to think they have something special.  And the last few who have put their money where their mouths were on being special enough to command a monthly subscription… SWTOR or Rift or The Secret World for example… had to retreat from those positions.

So if you have an MMORPG project under way and you are considering a monthly subscription plan as the sole method of playing your game, you gotta to ask yourself a question, “Do I feel like a special snowflake?”

Well, do ya, punk?

So it was a surprise to me yesterday when WildStar came out swinging with the monthly subscription model.  Carbine has some interesting idea, but for the most part the game seems to be a mild remix of the same old thing.  More evolution of the genre without any “secret sauce” in evidence.  They left themselves a “free” fig leaf with CREDD.  But if that makes a game free to play, then EVE Online is free to play as well.

And, in a one-two punch, I was surprised again today when The Elder Scrolls Online threw in with the monthly subscription model.

Of course, I remain surprised that they are making this game as an MMORPG in the first place.  The primary “win” for this game is to fill the demand for people who love The Elder Scrolls games and who want to play them with their friends.

In playing Skyrim, my biggest disappointment so far is that I cannot play this with Potshot and the rest of our regular group.  My daughter, on watching me play, her eyes wide as she took in the scenery, asked, “Is this multiplayer? Can I play with you?”

So my first question is why this isn’t being developed as a 4-6 player co-op game in the style of Borderlands, with a ton of DLC to help finance things?  I may be missing something here, but that seems like the win.

But no, it is going to go the MMORPG route.  And the team has a reasonable tale as to why they feel it needs to be subscription, which I would sum up as “we don’t want to pollute the game with all the necessary evils that a free to play game requires in order to make money.”  You should read that article in full and soak in what they are trying to say.  It points at a lot of the things I complain about in free to play, and it is refreshing to see a developer in the genre admit that they might be an issue for some players.  The usual line seems to be “suck it up.”

Maybe they are right in going that route.  Certainly the franchise would not be enhanced by an in-game cash shop, crazy mounts, pirate hats, and lock boxes.

And maybe they can afford to.  The Elder Scrolls is a pretty impressive franchise.  That name alone should sell a lot of boxes.

And perhaps they have a plan.  Maybe they are not shooting to eclipse WoW, but to meet a sensible goal that they know can sustain the business and let them keep the subscription plan that they feel best fits the tone they want to set for the game.

Or it could all be a crass attempt to grab as much cash up front as possible while keeping their servers from getting completely swamped on day one while they work on pink cow mounts, pirate hats, and “talk to the hand” emotes for the big free to play transition nine months down the line.

We shall see.

But the monthly subscription model appears to still have some adherents in the industry.  Not everybody appears to have drunk the cash shop Kool-Aid.

Do these two games, WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online, have something special?  Do they have what it takes to sustain themselves on a monthly subscription model?  Or are we just watching two more victims of self-delusion headed for a fall?

And is the move by these two, plus Final Fantasy XIV, a last gasp for the monthly subscription model, just a chance to poke Smed in the eye again, or a harbinger of change?

Quote of the Day – Defending SWTOR… Badly

Was this supposed to be sarcastic?

kuja1988a

That was my exact thought when reading the Massively Hyperspace Beacon post Six misconceptions about SWTOR free-to-play.

The post purports to defend the SWTOR free to play model from people who “make it out to be something that it’s not.”

And yet, for me, the article managed to damn the game through defensiveness and hair splitting to the point that I really had to question if the author was secretly trying to undermine the game while pretending to be a fan.  Was this SynCaine writing under a pseudonym?  The author seemed more keen to reinforce than debunk a couple of his assertions.  For anybody looking to play the game for the first time, the post is not much of an endorsement.

I certainly had some trouble reconciling that post with the words of SWTOR’s lead designer, who says he has gotten religion about free to play, and who recently wrote:

One of my mantras about being a free-to-play game is that, in order to call yourself that, your evangelists have to feel good about telling their casual friends, “Yeah, you can totally play for free!”

I guess you can still feel a little guilt for not telling your casual friends that the restrictions on free will come early and often and will seem at times like they are specifically designed to make the game frustrating to play unless you pay.

Not that such methods makes SWTOR unique in any way.  I seem to recall that at one point somebody from SOE came right out and said that their model was to drive people to subscribe if they really wanted to play. [citation needed]  And LOTRO, which I have been playing a lot this summer, sure seems to have its hand out all the time, reminding me there is a cash shop almost constantly.

It comes with the territory, and doubly so with a subscription game that has been retrofitted into the model.

I have rambled on about my ambivalence towards the free to play model as currently implemented in popular MMORPGs.  I can see the upside.  New players, for example, are the life’s blood of such games, and free to play seems to be the only way to keep them showing up.  But I can also see the cost, the fact that revenue generation always gets a primary focus.  So if your model is based on unlocks and cash shop companions, that becomes the top priority and anything beyond that shares whatever resources are left.

The free to play model is certainly here to stay.  I am just not sure if were “there” yet when it comes to the model maturing into something I am really happy with.  But that might be a futile hope.