Monthly Archives: October 2013

October in Review

The Site

Not much has changed on the site and hasn’t mucked anything up of late, so I guess I will complain fruitlessly about Google a bit more.

I must remain in the bad graces of our friends over in Mountain View, as search engine related traffic continued to taper off this past month.  I think Bing is in danger of providing more traffic if this persists, and what does that say about the world? (Ha, ha, just kidding.  Who uses Bing here?  Raise your hand.  Even in decline, Google drives 50x the traffic to my site than Bing.)

Of course, Google continues to irk me on various fronts.  They will be making search private in the future, so say good-bye to the search terms of the month section of this post.  The Google+ interface continues to make Facebook look… well… not so bad in my eyes.  The Gmail interface only looks good when compared to the latest insanity taking over Yahoo’s mail interface.  And, of course, there was the demise of Google Reader and the impending end of iGoogle, which Google has reminded me about with a pop-up every single day this month.

So I've heard...

So I’ve heard…

With the demise of iGoogle I need a new default home page for my browser.  My start page was Yahoo for ages, before they turned their front page into a morass of ads and malformed JavaScript.  Remember those early days of Yahoo when the front page looked like this?

Yahoo, circa 1997

Yahoo, circa 1997

Then I moved to Google, which was the new thing.  And then came iGoogle, which let me put a couple of informational widgets on my start page… the calendar, headlines from a couple of news sources, and Google’s hilariously inaccurate weather widget… that struck a nice balance between minimalism and usefulness.

So I suppose it is back to just the main Google page as the default.  No more news headlines, I’ll just be aware of whatever obscure anniversary Google has chosen to commemorate in its logo.  Tomorrow is the 117th anniversary of the first bare female breasts shown on the pages of National Geographic Magazine.  That would make for an interesting doodle.

All of which is just me rambling, having little to do with this site… so carry on.

One Year Ago

The SF Giants won the World Series.  That makes twice in my lifetime, which was one more than I had any hope for.

Disney bought out Lucasfilm, claiming ownership of Star Wars.  Panic ensued.

Zynga was well into its troubles, leaving me to wonder how Lord British viewed his partnership with the imploding company.  Certainly the Zynga business plan seemed… childish?

I had a sudden crescendo of activity around World of Warcraft, culminating in Blizzard finally letting me cancel my subscription.  There was the Panda launch and people declaring success or failure.  I was off in the Emerald Dream attempting to relive what WoW was like back in 2006.  In involved a shovel.

The Project: Gorgon kickstarter kicked off.

I was invited on a pre-release tour of the Storm Legion expansion in Rift.  Then there was the big update to the soul system and some adventures in Lantern Hook.

In World of Tanks the word of the day was Sturmgeschütz.

Lord of the Rings Online launched the Rider of Rohan expansion.  I still don’t own it.

EVE-Kill was looking for donations to keep everybody’s favorite kill board up and running.  I was off on a CSAA killing mission that got me accused of cognitive dissonance.  I was feeling warm and cozy in null sec.  We were also pursuing our foes in Tribute and the Vale of the Silent.

I was wondering how EA Louse’s comments about Star Wars: The Old Republic were holding up two years later.

I was complaining about games (or, in my 30+ year old example, a game master) that try to impose their story on your character.   I don’t mind being a part of the overall story, but my characters have their own stories and motivations and I do not like it when games put their own words in my character’s mouth.

And, finally, there was the case for seat belts.

Five Years Ago

In one of the worst kept secrets, it was announced that BioWare’s MMO project was in fact Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Their subscription goals were, of course, quite modest.

I celebrated my 15 years of playing Sojourn/TorilMUD with the first in a series of posts.  Nostalgia FTW!  And I guess that makes this the 20 year mark.  My, how time flies!

And speaking of Nostalgia, Tipa was out looking for EverQuest blogs.  I’m not sure any were discovered.

The instance group formed up a guild and was running in Warhammer Online.  We had our best night and our worst night, plus a few that were somewhere in between.  All in all though, things were not as exciting as we had hoped.

Mythic was trying out incentives to get better server balance while starting to talk about new stuff coming soon.  Not a word about the quest log however.

In EVE Online Potshot, Gaff, and I were playing with fleets and I was flying a shiny new ship.  And the EVE Blog Pack was defined.

And I stared logging into World of Warcraft again to get things lined up for the upcoming Wrath of the Lich King expansion.  I managed to survive through the controversial scourge event and was intrigued by the shiny new achievements.

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 October

  1. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  2. Steam and the Path of Exile
  3. Rift and the End of the Happy Time
  4. The End of the Road for EverQuest Mac
  5. Quote of the Day – Screwed by the Autopilot
  6. Archon Acquired
  7. Sneaking Into Curse
  8. CCP to Attempt to Explain EVE Online to New Players
  9. What You Get in the Absence of Actual Information…
  10. Going Bombing in War Thunder
  11. Hardware Updates – Headphones, Video Cards, and Connectivity
  12. Hallow’s End, Brewfest, and an Empty Feeling

Search Terms of the Month

a fake star system built on cheating people for one s own self satisfaction
[Welcome to EVE Online! Or Scientology! Whichever.]

martha stewart a mud shark pictures
[But is that a good thing?]

what causes tiny air bubbles to form on top of anaround the top edge of the water in a beta fish bowl
[The fish?]

my god its full on stars
[ I am so many pages into that search that I stopped looking. But I did make the reference.]

EVE Online

Well, there was the deployment to Curse and the return home, which I participated in, and the whole SOMERBlink thing, in which I completely declined to participate.  Meta game fail on my part I guess, but it didn’t stop some people from being a dick.  So it has been a relatively quiet month in New Eden for me.  There was a corp day where most of us got out and did some ice mining to gather fuel for our towers.  Potshot and I did a little mining on our own.  But not much else came to pass.  Null sec is like that.  Big wars for a bit, then some quiet while everybody adapts to what has changed.


The various members of our regular instance group have continued to participate in Neverwinter in various combinations.  Sometimes there are three, sometimes there are four, but so far all five of us haven’t been on.  Still, we poke away at the game.  I think our overall group is close to level 20.

Path of Exile

This claimant to the Diablo II crown finally went live this past month, and it certainly has done a good job in that department, feeling more true to the original than either Diablo III or Torchlight II.  I have been enjoying it for its faithfulness to the source, but I do wonder how long that feeling can last.  It is clearly nostalgia and a desire to relive the joy of the original, and if you are a long term reader then you know how quickly nostalgia can evaporate around these parts.

War Thunder

Driven here by my annoyance with World of Warplanes… which stemmed mostly from my own ineptitude and choice of input devices… I have actually found something of a home here.  It is probably driven by Air Warrior nostalgia, and I am barely beyond terrible in my abilities in the game, but with the right settings and in the lowest tiers, I can occasionally look good relative to complete noobs on their first flight.  I am probably good for another month here on my desire to fly a variety of planes alone.

World of Warcraft

Blizzard’s main game has kept me interested, though I have clearly been distracted by some other titles this month.  I log on a few nights a week, but I haven’t done anything really exciting, hence the lack of posts about it.  Brewfest and Hallow’s End certainly didn’t do much for me.  Like the lonely asparagus, it seems that my hollandaise are behind me. (obscure reference alert)  But the game is still comfortable and enjoyable and accessible in small doses.  And at some point I will wrap up what I have been doing, as there is a story there that explains why I have been working on three different characters who are all now in the 40s.  Meanwhile my mom is almost level 60.

Coming Up

Some things are happening in November.

In EVE Online, the Rubicon expansion will drop.  A new expansion usually means a new conflict, so perhaps things will heat up in New Eden.  There are also expansions slated for Lord of the Rings Online and EverQuest II, neither of which interest me all that much.  They will both introduce content well beyond my levels.  Though the big class/skill/trait/whatever revamp that is coming in LOTRO will likely have some impact on me when I go back to visit Middle-earth.

There are more holidays coming up in just about every game.  At least I will be able to get my cooking skills up with Pilgrim’s Bounty in WoW.

There is BlizzCon coming up, so we might get some news.  I expect that there will be either an announcement about the next WoW expansion or some sort of “half-step towards F2P” change in the game’s business model.

Then there is the possibility that we might actually get something tangible around EverQuest Next Landmark.

And… and… hrmm, I thought there was something else.  It has probably slipped my mind.  Anyway, bring on the 11th month!

Returning Home from Curse and Waiting for Rubicon

The deployment to Curse is over.  Whatever we were sent down south to do has been done.  I think Wibla sent us down there to keep us out of trouble while he was off in Singapore for a stretch.  Anyway, the mission was declared “accomplished.” I managed to get a couple of kills while we were down there camping gates.and playing at ~elite PvP~.  My alt even got his first kill mail.  Meanwhile, our coalition friends a couple systems over managed to chase TEST out of null sec and into factional warfare.  So we were done, it was time to head home.

And I was all set.

I had my new Archon ready to take the cyno chain down to Curse, pick up my ships (and maybe Potshot’s as well, if I had room) and fly them all back up to Deklein.

Unfortunately, I had not been paying attention.  When we deployed to Curse, the cyno chain only went one direction.  People flew their carriers down, loaded with ships, and parked them.  They did not fly them back up to the relative safety of Deklein it seems.  Which meant that, when the time came to come back home, the cyno chain was only going to be lit in the order to bring people back north.

My Archon was not going to be any help at all.  Next deployment I guess.

But I still wanted to extract some of my ships from our deployment, so it looked like I was going to have to do it the hard way.  Again.

So it was back the way I came in. (Map courtesy of DOTLAN EVE Maps.)

Curse to Deklein

Curse to Deklein

I was also bringing out the same ships I brought in, neither of which activated their guns even once during the deployment.  I had my alt in a Manticore stealth bomber scouting ahead.

Manticore warping off again

Manticore warping off again

And I had my Eagle heavy assault cruiser following on behind.

Eagle hitting another gate

Eagle hitting another gate

Fortunately, at around 03:00 EVE time on a week night, things are relatively quiet.  Only the most die hard Europeans are still up and online and even those with day jobs on the East coast of the United States are hitting their limits.  I managed to exit Curse and get into the quiet pipe through the Great Wildlands without seeing another ship.

That was about the point that I remember that I forgot to install a jump clone back in XX9-WV.  Again.  I only left a single Harpy behind, but it is nice to have a jump clone in places like that should you need to travel.  I don’t think I have the standings to install a jump clone in Angel Cartel stations.  It was just that I did not even think about doing it, which happens to me all too often.  Fortunately, my alt has made a couple of trip into Curse so has a jump clone still down there should we need to head south again.  Or if I feel the burning need to try and fly that lone Harpy out.

As with Curse, the pipe through the Great Wildlands was pretty quiet.  I ran into a couple of systems where there were one or two people in local which, in a stretch of systems that has absolutely no stations, meant they were up to something.  But they were not camping the gates.  So aside from a guy who was either following me or traveling the same route (there aren’t a lot of other places to go once you are in the pipe, hence the term “pipe”) things were clear.  And I never saw the follower, I just noted that he kept popping into local just about the time I was jumping out of each system.

Things moved quickly until I hit the last null sec system on the route.  That is always the system that gets camped, the transition point from low sec to null.  In this case it was 7Q-8Z2, which the past 24 hour kill stats show tends to be hotter than most of the systems on the way to it.  And, sure enough, I warped the Manticore to the out gate and found a set of six bubbles about 60km off the gate arrayed to catch people attempting to warp to zero.  The looked like they were spread out to catch people trying to bounce off celestials even.

There were only two people in system and nobody was visible on grid around the gate so, with my follower still coming up, I decided to just warp the Eagle into the bubble blockade straight on and then turn on the microwarp drive and head for the gate ASAP.

Zipping past the bubbles

Zipping past the bubbles

I don’t know if the bubbles were left over from a more serious camp or if the pair in system decided that they weren’t up to a heavy assault cruiser, but nobody showed up.  Aside from uncloaking my alt’s stealth bomber by flying too close, the run to the gate went quietly and I jumped out of the land of bubbles and into low sec space.  From there I was only two systems out from high sec.  Nobody was present in the low sec systems, so I didn’t even have to worry about crashing gates and warping past anybody.

Then it was time for the 38 jumps to Onnamon through high sec space.  That took time and was mildly stressful.  I got used to local being full of strangers who I could accept were not there specifically to blow me up.  But I swear that at every other gate there was some doofus just sitting there doing nothing, and seeing a ship on a gate in your overview sets off a trained panic response.  I swear, I ask myself every time I go back to high sec, “Did I used to live like that?  Just hanging on a gate at a destination, probably after AFK autopiloting across space?”

I am sure I did, but my habits have changed and I see space through different eyes now.  Long strange trip and all that.

Finally I made it to Black Rise where I could at least assume people were ready to shoot me.  But the factional warfare people seemed to be invested in their own missions.  I only saw one person on a gate before I managed to slip into low sec again, and he warped off, probably as paranoid as I was.

Then in null sec I was back on the jump bridge network and home in Deklein in a few more jumps.  Home again, home again. It is sort of like EverQuest back in the day, running from Qeynos to Freeport or Butcherblock.  It took all evening, I didn’t really gain anything besides a change of location, but it still felt like an accomplishment.

Now it is just the waiting period for the next thing to happen.  In the post Fountain/Delve time, various members of the CFC have moved around.  LAWN is down Delve now.  The SpaceMonkey’s Alliance has moved out of Banch and taken up positions in Pure Blind astride the route into the Sisters of EVE owned bit of null sec, which might prove an interesting place to be when Rubicon drops and people want  blueprints for those new ships.

Sisters of EVE Frigate

Sisters of EVE Frigate

TNT likewise holds some sovereignty in Pure Blind along another route into Sisters of EVE space, so I expect we might be camping that when November 19th rolls around and Rubicon goes live.

And the Greater Western Co-Prosperity Sphere has expanded to include some systems way down in Period Basis, bringing the total number of rental systems available up to 87.  The current count shows there are about 50 corporations renting at this time, so clearly renting from Goons isn’t a barrier for some.

Otherwise we are in something of a quiet period I imagine while the bright minds in the coalition plan for the changes that Rubicon brings.

Time perhaps to make a bit of ISK and train some new skills.

Or I could spend some time trying to care about why people were upset (or were not upset) about what SOMERblink was (or wasn’t) doing, how CCP was clearly (or not at all) implicated in it, and how CCP eventually responded.  Given I cannot even find the strength to tie links to each of those statements, despite knowing where they are, I am not sure I can get there.  Anyway, CCP took action, are we done yet?

Maybe I’ll just fly my new USB Rifter around the house or shoot up a nightmare in Tama. (Many of the prizes provided by SOMERblink, of course.)

Hallow’s End, Brewfest, and an Empty Feeling

We were out shopping a couple of weeks back and stopped in at the Spirit Halloween store.  It is one of those seasonal stores that sets up for a holiday in an otherwise empty store front and then goes away once the holiday passes.  My daughter was looking for something for a Halloween costume.  As we wandered around the store, I found the whole place depressing.

The store was hastily put together, ending up feeling very “fly by night,” which of course it was.  The merchandise struck me as very cheap (in quality, not price) and often tacky in ways that offered no real redeeming humor value.  And the whole thing was set up in the former location of one of the two great hobby shops in the valley when I was growing up, adding another layer of despair to the whole scene in my eyes.

And, while I am sure I could work this into a “subscription to F2P” cash shop metaphor, that isn’t where I am going today.  This is more of a holiday depression themed post.

Though, really, depression is too strong of a word.  It is more like malaise.

We jumped back into World of Warcraft early in September, which put us in line for a round of Azerothian holidays.  At the time I thought that would be a good thing.  I have fond memories of many of the holiday events in WoW.  The instance group pursued many of them over the years.

However, once the holiday parade began, I started to feel a little different.

First there was Brewfest, which I headed out to see the day it got set up.  It was outside of Orgrimmar.  The music was playing (which is the one bit I couldn’t get enough of) the booths were set up, and the quests were ready to go.  I started out on the intro quests and quickly began to feel like I had done all of this before.

Which, of course, I had.

I checked out the now account unified achievements and saw that I had pretty much done it all.

Getting wild at Brewfest

Oh yeah, now I remember

I had raced the rams, captured the worpletinger, fought the dark iron, killed Coren Direbrew repeatedly, and even got the Swift Brewfest Ram.


So it was one of those things where there was really nothing new to do, the event itself seeming relatively unchanged since I last ran through it vigorously some four years ago.  And with unified achievements and shared mounts across accounts, I had all the goodies right down to the Brewmaster title.  So I listened to the Brewfest music a bit and went on my way.

Likewise, when Hallow’s End showed up after Brewfest, I felt like I had done just about everything.  I am one achievement shy on Hallow’s End, having earned 18 of 19 already.  And that last one is for the candy buckets in Pandaria.  And while I am sure that the Headless Horseman has some new/different drops this year (as no doubt Coren Direbrew did)  I actually do not have any characters high enough level to queue up for those fights at the moment.

Last Call for the Headless Horseman

Hallow’s End – 2009

On the heels of Hallow’s End we will have Pilgrim’s Bounty, for which I also already have all of the achievements.  I will no doubt use the event as a way to level up my cooking skills on some new characters, but aside from that, I am not feeling a big thrill.  And then will come Winter’s Veil where, again, I have about all of the achievements I can realistically expect to earn at this point.

None of which is exclusive to WoW at this point.  Holiday events in most games tend to hit a final state where the changes that come year by year are pretty small, so you end up doing the same thing every year.  It just happens that WoW is the game I am playing at the moment… or at least the one that has holiday events… and happens to be a game where I have, in the past, invested quite a bit of time in those events.  To use the standard phrase, I have both been there and done that for nearly every holiday in WoW.

Which brings up the question as to what else I should expect.

Do you jump into MMO holidays every year, even if little has changed, or are they more of a “fun once” sort of thing with you as well?

And should companies change up their holiday events, or is tradition more important than newness in this case?

Going Bombing in War Thunder

After last weekend’s plateau in War Thunder, where I settled upon the US tree for a while, I again began to wander.  Being in what I would call the “World of Tanks” model, where you earn experience that lets you unlock bigger/faster/better planes, I started thinking about where I wanted to go as opposed to what I wanted to do at that very moment.

And what I decided I wanted to do was drop bombs.

While I had been doing better with the P-26, I still had more time invested in the British tree.  I had even invested in the first rung of the light bomber line, the Fairy Swordfish.

Swordfish in Flight

Swordfish in Flight

I did not have a lot of luck with the Swordfish, which is part of why I jumped to the US tree for a bit.  The Swordfish is a torpedo bomber and comes by default with a torpedo slung between its under carriage.  I have yet to end up in that plane on a map where there is anything to torpedo however.  So that tends to get jettisoned at the first sign of trouble.  The plane is also slow, not very well armed, and a bit fragile.

Dear, the tail's come off again

Dear, the tail’s come off again

The Swordfish did introduce me to the joy of gunners.  At the low tiers even the sting of a single .303 in the rear cockpit can be quite a surprise, and my gunner sent a number of attackers packing.  You can, if you want, take over the gunner’s role.  You switch spots, the plane goes into a straight and level autopilot, and you get to aim the rear gun.  However, I found that the CPU gunner was doing okay on his own and that I was better off moving about rather than flying in a straight, predictable line.  And the gunner thing got me to focus back on the British tree.

More after the cut because the 8 year old in me keeps making me take screen shots of airplanes.

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Steam and the Path of Exile

Path of Exile was sort of the third horse in the two horse race to find the true successor to Diablo II.  I got into the beta almost two years back and was pleasantly surprised by how well the game recreated some of what I felt were the defining essences of Diablo II.  Grinding Gear Games seemed to be on the right path.  I put it on my list of games I was looking to play in 2012.

Path of Exile

Path of Exile

2012 came and we saw the release of Diablo III in the first half of the year on what has become known internationally as Error 37 day.  Then towards the end of 2012 Torchlight II made it on the scene.  Neither of those games really captured me as neither really felt like true successors to the Diablo II crown.  Diablo III clearly got story right, but failed on itemization as well as with the “OMG we hate RMT so much!!1” auction house plan, which even they now grant didn’t work out quite as plannedTorchlight II got points on simplicity and itemization plus having real modding potential, but really didn’t have a story that was at all compelling to me, which meant that the game ended up feeling like a disjointed series of fetch and carry quests. (Plus I am still waiting for the promised Macintosh version so my daughter an I can play together.)

And neither game got many points when it came to atmosphere, one of the more compelling aspects of Diablo II.  It takes more than just making sure there is a desert zone and a jungle zone and so on.  The sense of atmosphere was spoiled because both games apparently took place on worlds where OSHA had mandated all subterranean lairs must be fully illuminated via a blanket installation of indirect lighting.  They successfully banished the dark and, with it, the prevailing sense of mood.  Go look at that YouTube clip in that Essence of Diablo II post I did a couple of years back to see what I mean.

Yes, some people did not like that.  I happened to think it was a vital element in setting the mood of the game.

Those two games launched, I played them both for a bit, and then let them fall by the wayside.  Meanwhile, Path of Exile remained in beta.  Earlier this year it went into open beta, so more people could pile in and give it a try, but otherwise remained an unfinished project.

More text and some screen shots after the cut.

Continue reading

Four for the Foundry Please

Finally, back to a post about actually playing a game.

Saturday night was upon us again and we actually had four of us online.  There was what has become the Saturday night core group at this point, Potshot, Mike, and myself, along with Ula… or Mrs. Potshot… or Chris.

Since I referred to people by their characters for so long, when they change character names I am sometimes at a loss at how to keep continuity.  I probably need a cast of characters page or some such.

Anyway, we had four of us, basically minus Earl.  Some day all five of us will log on and we will create another guild to add to my list.

The three of us had been poking our noses into the game… I think we did a Saturday night run the week before and I simply forgot to post about it… and had gotten ourselves up to level 16.  This left Chris in a character choice situation.  She had a level 11 trickster rogue and a level 23 guardian fighter to choose between, neither of which were really felt like they were in the right level range.  She opted for the guardian fighter.

Meanwhile, the three of us were figuring out how to invoke and running down the initial companion quest.  By the end of the night I think we all hand companions out, which explains the profusion of individuals in any screen shots.  Some of the companions look like just another player at our state of equipment.  I opted for the healing companion and gave it the name “Eddie Haskell” before I realized it was female.  I tried to rename her to “Edie Haskell,” thinking to stay with the theme, but that actually costs more RMT currency than I had at the moment, so renaming has be deferred for now.

Potshot pick an likely suspect from the Foundry and shared it with all of us and, after a bit of running around because our sparkly path guides seemed to be in disagreement where to go, we ended up together for another dungeon crawl.  Or sewer crawl.

Back in the sewers

Back in the sewers

Sewers seem to be an very popular location for adventure in Forgotten Realms these days.  But then whoever designed the sewers of Neverwinter clearly had some sort of occupancy in mind.  The ceilings are high, the corridors are wide, locations are well lit, and the whole thing is remarkably bereft of… well… sewage.  It made me want to rework that early line from Holy Grail about how you could tell Arthur was a king.  In our case it was more like “How can you tell this is a group of sewer adventurers? They haven’t got shit all over them.”

So dry and well lit

So dry and well lit

Still, the tile set from the Foundry was quite impressive.  That represents some of Cryptic’s finest work.  It just isn’t quite what I picture a sewer being like.  Maybe they should call something like the catacombs, or an underground wain-based subway system, or a shelter for the masses in case of godly wrath, or some sort of “parent’s basement” location writ large for evil societies that are not quite ready to strike out on their own.

Anyway, we were there chasing down wererats in search of some cheese and a spoon… or whatever our excuse was to go crash into somebody’s living area, slaughter beings, and seize stuff without a warrant.  If we could call in drone strikes it would be just like today.

One thing we did notice was that the mob levels in the instance were all keyed off of Chris’ character.  Basically, everything was level 23, which worried us a bit at the start, with three of us being level 16.  We made Chris go first and be the tank.  In the end though, we seemed to do okay, and merrily slaughtered all who gave us a sideways look while we searched for the missing cheese.  Eventually that lead us to an even bigger, taller, and more well lit area of the sewers.

Department of Public Works HQ?

Department of Public Works HQ?

There we faced a series of “build up to the boss” fights where the level gap began to tell.  I was actually knocked out and then killed during one fight, which I think was a first for the group.  We certainly did not seem ready for that to happen and fumbled about wondering if our cleric had anything that would bring me back and such.  Eventually I just released, which put me back at the last campfire with some injuries.  These, the system reported, would impact my fighting ability until I spent enough time (3 minutes per) standing by the campfire to be healed.

But who is going to let a bump on the noggin stop them?  I ran back and we took on the boss, ending up with another one of us getting slain.  Actual danger, of a sort!

We wrapped that up and checked out what we had gained.

Sewer luxury

Sewer luxury

On the bright side, the rewards at the end of the instance were geared towards higher levels, so three of us got items that we could grow into.  On the downside, the experience gain did not seem to go as we expected.  We thought that, in grouping with a higher level, we would be more likely to catch up if experience was handed out equally.  Instead, Chris’s level 24 character seemed to be getting a lot more experience relative to her level than we were.  She leveled up while we did not see much progress.

Still, that was where we stood and we had enough time for another run.  So back to the Foundry and another roll of the dice.

This time we were out in the open again in one of those chain of events quests where you need A, but to get A you need B, and you find that to even get B, you must first run off and do C, with the subtasks D, E, and F thrown in along the way.

The whole thing started off modestly, go find an antidote for a poison, which required getting the help of a shaman who had some tasks.  The first few were of the slaughter variety.  But then he sent us off on a spirit quest which turned out to have some interesting turns and use of the Foundry tool set.  And Efreeti.  Well, one of them anyway.

And he has a job for us...

And he has a job for us…

Back in TorilMUD, also based on Forgotten Realms, the City of Brass, the capital city of the Efreeti in the elemental plane of fire, used to be one of our regular raids.  And I always had a vision of the Efreeti that was… different than the one that the Monster Manual put forth.

Kind of a dullard, really

Kind of a dullard, really

But the vision of the Efreeti in Neverwinter, comes much closer to my own mental image of a planar being made up of basalt, bronze, and congealed flames.  Plus, a set of armor inhabited by flames is pretty cool just by itself.  Let’s see him again.

Pardon my stare...

Pardon my stare…

Yeah, that’s what I am talking about.

Anyway, this all took place in a series of floating islands and strange invisible platforms that was really well done.

We're standing on what now?

We’re standing on what now?

And, because we are who we are, we did find out that there are no invisible safety rails on platforms, invisible or otherwise.   First Potshot went over the edge, then my, and then Mike.  Time was spend running around on the forest floor below… we all survived the fall… until we found a portal to bring us back up.  The author of the instance clearly figured out that people would drop off the various high points in his creation.

After our spirit journey, the antidote was obtain, the poison victim saved, and our rewards granted.

As before, it seemed that Chris got the lions share of the experience.  The three of us did make it up to level 17, but she ended up level 25.

So, another exploration of what the Foundry has to offer came to an end.  I remain impressed with the quality of the tools that Cryptic has provided and some of the innovations that people are trying our with them.  But as a whole, things are still not all that engaging.  There is no sense yet of an ongoing tale, just a bunch of random encounters really.  Things in the Foundry hint at longer term connections.  Most of the Foundry encounters we have tried list themselves as the first or second in a series, but in almost every cases the series seems to incomplete at this point.

However, we will continue on in Neverwinter, as there are no other games calling out to us at this point.

Quote of the Day – No, You Gotta CATCH Them All!

“When it comes to business, the one thing I’ve always said ‘no!’ to is ‘the act of buying Pokémon with money,'” says Sugimori. “That is something that has been said since the days [Satoshi] Tajiri was completely involved in everything.”

-Ken Sugimori, Art Director for Pokemon, on Pokemon DLC

In a world where we have things like Skylanders, it is interesting to hear from a company that has a line they won’t cross.

Granted, it isn’t like Nintendo doesn’t exploit the Pokemon franchise.  There are the original GameBoy role playing games, the hooked-in add-on games like Pokemon Ranch and Pokemon Battle Revolution, the decent spin-off games such as the Rogue inspired Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games, the dubious (in my opinion) spin-offs like Pokemon Snap or Pokemon Ranger, there is the collectible trading card game with its various sponsored tournaments, the guest appearances by Pikachu and others in games like Super Smash Bros., and then the whole television series which is now past the 800 episode mark, with 16 full length movies along with some short subjects in there as well.

Nintendo clearly grasped Miltank by the udders and commenced to make the cash flow with as much vigor as they could manage.

Yes Miltank is a cow Pokemon

Yes, Miltank is a cow Pokemon

But there is a limit.  Selling you a Pokemon directly would potentially “ruin the world view” set in the game.  You can catch them in game or pick them up by participating in special events, but going for outright Pokemon sales might damage the brand.

And given how lucrative the Pokemon franchise is, protecting the brand certainly has to be a high priority.  The latest versions of the game, Pokemon X and Y, look to be on track for best seller status, like so many versions before them.

Then again, the amount of 100 Yen (about one dollar) came up a few times during the interview.  Would you buy a Pokemon for a buck?

What if it was the last one you needed to complete the National Pokedex?

Destination? Journey? Destination? Journey?

I always feel a mixed set of emotions when something like a double experience event gets announced.  Lord of the Rings Online has one going now as part of their ramp up to the Helms Deep expansion in November.

30 days of bonus XP!

30 days of bonus XP!

That is a pretty long stretch of double experience.  A lot of games will toss that sort of thing out for a special weekend or maybe a holiday or “please come back and play!” event over maybe a week.  But a 30 day stretch seems like a lot.  I cannot recall off hand any other game going for double for quite that long.  I wonder what SynCaine would say?

And when I saw that offer on the front page of the LOTRO site, a little voice within me said, “Wow, I should totally take advantage of that to get a few level!”

I mean, I made it through Moria with my captain on Brandywine (5th server, 5th guild)  and if I just pushed a little bit forward I could actually get into Siege of Mirkwood content that I purchased a couple of years back.

Not here, but I can see if from here

Look, I made it out the far side!

Basically, opportunity!  I should take advantage of it.

Then another voice in my head coughs and says something along the lines of, “Weren’t you just grumbling about how fast leveling is in MMOs these day?”

And I must sheepishly admit to myself that I have groused about how trivial, for example, the 1 to 60 game in World of Warcraft has gotten.   One of my issues in my quest to see the Horde side of the post-Cataclysm world is that I seem to out-level the quest chains in a given zone long before I am done.  The achievement for doing all the quests in Azshara, as an example, shows 60 quests to be completed.  But the zone had pretty much gone gray to me just after the 40 quest mark with one character.  And with another, with whom I did a couple of instances, I was beyond the zone before the 30 quest mark.  In fact, I was so far beyond that the Warchief’s Call board directed me to essentially skip the next zone in line as well.

Likewise, back in LOTRO, I was skipping whole sections of content.  I actually optimized my path through the game to visit some of my favorite zones… The Lone Lands and Evendim being two where I ran down the whole zone of quests… but otherwise leapfrogged until I could get into Eregion and then Moria.  Even in Moria I ended up skipping a big chunk of the content while running through some of the areas.  As it turned out, I think I picked the better areas… the content in Moria is somewhat uneven, with areas in the old fetch-and-carry quest hub model while other areas are in the more recent, more dynamic vein that Turbine has adopted… but there was still a lot left behind.

Of course, I write that in full knowledge of my own hypocrisy.  What is that I have equipped in my pocket slot?

everybody must get stoned

Everybody must get stoned…

What has it got in its pocketses indeed!  A 25% XP boosting item!

Well there’s your problem.

Or at least an insight into the problem, the competing aspects of such games that pull some people, like myself, in contradictory directions.

While seeing the world, experiencing the content, ought to be the part of the package, at the same time level based progression oriented games like this also push the achievement button for people.  As somebody who tends to be very goal oriented, at times I find myself quite caught up in the progress aspect of games.  Pushing on, getting another level, getting access to another zone, another instance, another expansion, another whatever, can quickly become my focus, especially if the content is nothing to write home about.  A series of fetch-and-carry and solve the local bear/boar/wolf problem quests become an obstacle to overcome in pursuit of the next stage of the progression aspect of the game.

In getting my fourth character to level cap in Rift before the Storm Legion expansion, my run became very much a matter of progress over everything else.

Progress, and giving feedback on progress, can be very powerful motivators.  There is a reason we went from the dark ages of TorilMUD, where you had to travel back to town to speak to your guild leader to see where you stood in your progress to the next level (and he would only give a vague answer that you could translate into which 10% segment of the climb you were in), to the tiny little five bubble experience bar in the character window in EverQuest which used to cause people to track progress in pixels (I had a friend who used to take a before and after screen shot every time he played so he could compare the bars and get an exact pixel count), to experience bars that are part of the main UI and which go from edge to edge across the screen, chopped up into nice little 5% increment.

This whole thing is exacerbated by the general “more levels” expansion plan that MMORPGs have been using since at least Ruins of Kunark.  When you start a game and you are staring at 85-90 levels to get to the latest content… presumably the “best” content, or at least the content where most of the population is playing… It becomes just that much harder to ignore progress in favor of content.

And it is not just the fantasy MMORPG where this holds sway.  I was thinking about why I left off playing World of Tanks earlier this year.  In part I think it was because I had hit a point where I was logging on every night to get my “first win” bonus XP with a couple of tanks on trees that I wanted to advance, and then logging off when I was done.  The fights seemed like they were becoming secondary to progression, at which point you sort of have to ask yourself why you are playing.  In my case, that dialog seems to happen somewhere in my subconscious and I simply stop logging in if it comes out the wrong way.  And now that I have picked up War Thunder, which has a similar daily bonus scheme, I wonder if I will end up in the same rut over there eventually.

It is easy at this point to say that we should focus on games without levels and the like.  But we will find our various progress metrics.  There are no levels in EVE Online, but people will track their progress in ISK, skill points, kills, standings, loyalty points, or being in one of the alliances on the sovereignty map.  We do like to have our cut and dried indicators.  And I think if you worked to eliminate all such things, you might just end up with no game at all.

Progress is in these games for a reason.  It can be both a good and a bad motivator.  I like the idea of getting to level cap.  In a number of MMOs my having arrived at that point meant me feeling done, in both a satisfying and a terminal way.  And progress, in my mind, is invariably tied in with the journey.  I couldn’t really get myself on board with SOE’s play to sell the jump to level 85 in EverQuest II.  In part that was because of the mire of skills and points and what not you are handed without any context.  But it also feels a bit like cheating, jumping up all those levels.  That is my own feeling anyway.  I wouldn’t point fingers at those who chose that path, but in my gut it feels like skipping all that progress… even though I have no inclination to do it myself at this point… is skipping the game.

Which sort of ties progress back to content in some odd way in my brain.  But, in the end, do I play the content in order to progress, or progress in order to play content?  And is there a “right” balance in there somewhere?

How do you feel about the balance between content and progress?

NBI – To All The Guilds I’ve Loved Before…

Doone’s Permanent Floating New Blogger Initiative II has been up and running for a while now.  It has forums and goals and things to do and participants and all that.

Not the official logo

Not the official logo

And while I signed up as some sort of sponsor, I have so far completely failed to anything very sponsorly.

Of course, I was a bit glib the first time around as well.  In part that is because I have trouble swallowing some of the advice people throw out for bloggers.  And, also, because I have trouble taking myself seriously in this regard.  So while I came up with some bits and pieces of things that worked for me, my only real advice is to be the blog you want to read.  If you look at your blog and cannot answer the question, “Would I read this if it was written by some stranger?” then you might be doing it wrong.

Anyway, I thought it was about time to earn my so-called keep as a sponsor .  Doone has a couple of blogging activities for the month, including something called a “Talk Back Challenge” that appears to be an attempt get a few people tackling the same subject.  One of them happens to be about Guilds in MMOs.

Guilds: What For? What functions to guilds serve in games and what kind do you prefer? You can talk about your experiences in guilds, what attracts you to them, and their role in the games you play.

A broad enough topic, which has been taken on over at Casual Aggro, The Cynic Dialogs, and Away From Game.  And now at Inventory Full.

Rather than going about this by describing what I think guilds should be about and such, I thought I would do a bit of research to see what guilds I am still in (or which still influence me since I have left) and try, from that, to derive some indication as to what a guild appears to actually mean to me.

Because this is just a list of guilds with a few comments, I will hide this after a cut so as not to make the front page a mile long.

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War Thunder Weekend

I had been looking forward to World of Warplanes.

I liked what had done with their previous title, World of Tanks, and so was looking forward to seeing what they would do what it came to planes.

Unfortunately, as WoWp entered open beta and I started trying it out, my enthusiasm was cooled.

This was no doubt in large part my fault.

While I have grand memories of past games like Air Warrior, I haven’t actually done the flight sim thing with any level of dedication since some point in the mid 1990s.  I think my last real go at something akin to a flight sim was trying to fly aircraft in the Battlefield 1942 mod Desert Combat, and that was mostly a series of spectacular crashes until I was asked to let somebody else fly.

We speak a lot about MMOs and their three dimensionally rendered worlds.

But it is one thing to move over three dimensional terrain and another thing altogether to move and fight and keep situational awareness in three dimensions in the sky while people are trying to shoot you down.  We have flying mounts in various games, but they pretty much just move in a two dimensional plane that is higher than the ground.  Yes, you can change altitudes and otherwise move in three dimensions, but it isn’t quite the same thing, mostly because you can generally just stop and look around it you get disoriented.  And, of course, nobody in a Polikarpov I-15 is trying fill your hippogryph full of lead.

Even in EVE Online, in which you play in a huge volume of space, battles tend to be oriented to the equatorial plane of the star system, while range and speed tend to be the only aspect of positioning that matters in most engagements.

So it was a bit naive of me to imagine that I would return immediately to my late 80s state of Air Warrior glory.  I am totally out of practice and have lost the deft touch necessary to move and shoot at a couple hundred miles per hour.

This loss of edge was not helped by my choice of controller.

Kensington Expert Mouse

Kensington Expert Mouse

That picture is almost seven years old at this point and shows but one of a long line of Kensington trackballs I have owned over the years.  For somebody with junk all over his desk and a propensity towards knocking over drinks while making sweeping motions with a mouse it is a handy input device and works as well or better than a standard mouse for about 80% of things I do.  Unfortunately, that 20% of situations where it isn’t as handy mostly involves games.

The trackball is crap for first person shooters.  It does well enough in games like World of Tanks, where the physics of the turret are your biggest limiting factor (and it rocks for arty) but you don’t get the same second nature aiming ability when bunny hopping and circle strafing as you do with a mouse.  I literally could not play Chivalry: Medieval Warfare with the trackball.  The the click and move attack combos were just too awkward.

And, of course, there is a reason that combat aircraft are generally controlled with a stick and not a Missile Command trackball interface.

But I knew that part going in and expected to struggle a bit on that front.

What I was not expecting was to be completely unable to get through the World of Warplanes tutorial.  That should be easy part, the introduction for new players, the bit that makes you feel like maybe you can conquer the game.  But it just wasn’t happening.  After a few tries I gave up and uninstalled the game.  I expected the trackball to be awkward, but it made the game unplayable for me.  So I was back to pursuits more compatible with my input device.

But this seems to be the season of flight sim-like online combat games.

In addition to World of Warplanes being out, a friend was going on about a space sim called Star Conflict.  It is another game in the World of Tanks mold, a free to play online game with multiple currencies where you upgrade your ship and train into new ones.  I am pretty bad with the trackball in Star Conflict as well, but at least I got through the tutorial.  Then there is SWTOR going on about their epic (their word) new Galactic Starfighter expansion plan which, while not exactly Jump to Lightspeed, might at least hearken back to some of the better Star Wars games of old.  Or such is the hope.  And then there is Star Citizen somewhere on the periphery.  If you give Chris Roberts some money, he might let you roam around a hangar module and maybe beta test combat some day.

Finally, there was War Thunder, which Potshot has been playing of late.  He had been poking me to give it a try, but after my WoWp woes, I was a bit reluctant to invest the time to download it.

But the past weekend was a quiet one.  Our deployment to Curse was wrapping up in EVE Online and my daughter had a cold so we were hanging around the house.  This, combined with our recent internet upgrade gave me the option to try a few new games.  After a few “bought it at the Steam Summer Sale but then never played it” runs, which were of mixed success, I decided to grab War Thunder and give it a try.

Things worked out pretty well in that regard.

I was able to get through War Thunder’s tutorial without much fuss.  In part this was because it was not nearly as involved as the WoWp tutorial, which might not be a good thing.  But it was also because of War Thunder’s approach to controls.  The game starts you off in mouse mode, where your plane follows your cursor around the sky.  In this mode the trackball is at no real disadvantage.  You are quite limited in how you can fly… this is pretty much “I’m a target” mode as well for battles against other players… but you can actually do something.  Or I could once I inverted the Y axis.  As out of practice as I am, pushing forward on the control still means “nose down” to me.

Through the first couple of tutorials I grabbed the British starter biplanes… you get three and unlike World of Tanks, where once you are dead you are done, you get to fly each one in a match until you have lost them all… and proceeded to get slaughtered. (I did see reader/commentor UFTimmy on my first flight!)

I quickly moved from mouse mode controls to what is called “instructor mode.”  This gives you more control over the plane but still limits what you can do and keeps you from spinning out of control right away.  This, along with a bit of common sense, made things a better.  I got my first kill.  I shot up some ground targets, which are actually the deciding factor in the matches I was in.  And I started coming up against the limitations of my control scheme.  I wasn’t going to be an ace with a trackball.

I also discovered the test flight mode that lets you fly your plane around to get used to it.  That helped a great deal.

Considering my limitations I started looking into bombers.  That lead me to the Fairey Swordfish as my first upgrade, it being on the path to some bombers.  Unfortunately, a torpedo bomber, complete with torpedo on the rack, seemed a bit less than useful in what seemed to be an endless series of battles over land.  I had that, but not enough currency to move beyond to a real bomber, so I started looking at the other nations.

I had unlocked the US tree and, in giving that a try, found a plane that actually worked with my limited control abilities; the stubby old P-26 Peashooter.

P-26 in flight

P-26 in flight

The plane isn’t that great, but it put me in the right state of mind.  In a point in the game where almost all your competitors are in biplanes, which are much more maneuverable, knowing that you cannot compete in the regard right up front (even ignoring the trackball issue) meant not bothering with turning battles.  Instead I went for the old tried and true speed and altitude advantages.  Zoom and boom.

I did not get a lot of kills, though I did get a lot of hits, and more than a few head on collisions.  Ramming and impacts are clearly part of the game.

I played enough to start upgrading my initial trio of P-26s in the World of Tanks style of an upgrade here and a new part there, each unlocked with more experience with each individual plane.

I ended up on Sunday with enough earned experience/currency to unlock the P-36 Hawk upgrade on the US tree and the Blenheim bomber on the British tree.  I will have to experiment with bombing soon.

All in all, War Thunder allowed me to get far enough into the game that I actually started looking into what joysticks people recommend for the game, which was a lot further than WoWp got me.  So I am very likely to carry on playing for now.

And, in a bonus, once you have lost all of your planes in a match, you can cycle through the other players on your team and watch them play.  This is, again, akin to World of Tanks.  However, unlike WoT, you are not limited to a washed out “you’re dead, suffer!” level of gray.  You get to watch in full color, which I found almost as entertaining as playing at times.

After the cut, some screen shots I took over the weekend, most of which were in observation mode.  I tend to be too busy when flying to remember to take screen shots.

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