Monthly Archives: December 2013

Quote of the Day – He Knows ALL the Cheat Codes, But Doesn’t Need Them!

If God played video games, what do you think would be his top three games and why?

Liel Leibovitz, author of God in the Machine: Video Games as Spiritual Pursuit

That quote was from a press release that dropped into my in-box promoting the author and his availability for interviews, centered around the exploration of video games and morality.  The serious side of the press release included things like the following:

By placing players in closed environments where every action has far-reaching consequences, where the rules are all-important but, never entirely understood, and where notions of free will and reincarnation are seminal, video games have created a system of thought and feeling closely resembling religion.

That seems like meat for a serious theological discussion, arguing the spiritual benefits of video game and such.  The press release closed with what it listed as “sample questions,” though it wasn’t clear to me from the context if those were questions he was prepared to explore during an interview or questions that people might bring to the table when approaching the topic in a more general sense.  And the questions were mostly what you might expect, looking at concepts of evil, exploring the spiritual, and considering the differences between games like Pac Mac and Grand Theft Auto.

But then there was the last question, which I have quoted at the top of the post.  I don’t know how you even consider such a question, argue for any sort of legitimate answer.

That said, if pressed, I would go with Tetris being on the top three.  How about you?

Those Famous Tetrominoes

How can you not see perfection in this?

Meanwhile, Liel Leibovitz is available for interviews through his PR agency, Goldman McCormick PR.  It might be nice to see him being interviewed next time something is blamed on video games.  It won’t happen, as his views do not fit the pre-planned media narrative about video games, but it would be interesting.

Dreadnought of Choice – A Real Nail Biter

Back in August, as the war in Fountain and Delve was winding down, the Alliance update at the time was pushing us to get into dreadnoughts.  A force of dreads was seen as the coming thing.  About then I began my training for capital ships, targeting an Archon carrier first while pondering which dreadnought would be best.  At the time, the Moros and the Naglfar seemed to be the best of the bunch.  The Moros was heavily favored in the forums, but there was a vocal minority extolling the virtues of the Naglfar.

Well, that minority seemed to be on the right path.  While their arguments seemed to flow mostly around the fact that, with their vertical orientation, they are “different,” the subject or armament did come up now and again.

Armament and range seems to be the key, as the Alliance update that got posted yesterday makes the Naglfar the keystone of our next fleet doctrine, OmegaFleet.

OmegaFleet is being put together to counter the Slowcats doctrine, which used to mean a fleet of carriers cross-repping each other and coordinating drones, but which now apparently means ~250 Archons, the carrier of choice for all sides these days, cross-repping and assigning all drones to the FC via the “seemed broken back in Fountain and still seems broken now” drone assist option, which allows the FC to then one-shot all sub-caps off the field while remaining pretty much invulnerable.  Such is the tale being spun about Slowcats.

Not to be confused with lazy cats

Not to be confused with lazy cats

Anyway, if you want the official line on the doctrine, read the Alliance update.  I can say that I have seen with my own eyes the ascension of the Archon Slowcat fleet, which has become a staple on-grid in the war in the East.

Domis and Carriers

Domis and an Archon fleet at E-YJ8G

Responses to the update have been both the unexpected and the expected.  Jester seems to think it is odd to use such updates to announce a change in fleet doctrines or that such updates should follow a consistent pattern or something.  I am not quite sure.  It does seem like a similar template could be written about weekly CSM updates.  Hell, the CSM meeting minutes update template is a one liner: [insert latest excuse here].

Meanwhile the EVE News 24 editorial about the update might be summed up as “CFC = whiny biatches,” which is pretty much the stock standard response anybody gives to their foes updates.  Alliance updates from all sides are often used to point out what horrible things the foe is doing, exploiting this mechanic or that or otherwise taking advantage of their superiority.  Certainly the CFC has been called out on many a past occasion for blobbing because of its numerical advantage.  And there certainly is a good deal of “Grrr… Slowcats” in the update, such as:

Slowcats combine spider tanking, capital power projection, sentry drone assist and elite pvp player entitlement into one noxious, disgusting package of imbalance.

But there is also that whole, “And here is how we’re going to counter them” bit, that sort of sets the update apart from the run-of-the-mill complaining about ones foe thing.  And the solution:  Naglfars!

The name Naglfar comes from a boat in Norse mythology made entirely from the finger and toe nails of the dead.  Eeew.  I am sure there is an apt metaphor in that somewhere.  The dreadnought itself, less disgusting.

Naglfar

Naglfar

Anyway, all that talk of doctrines and updates and the official party line and such is way above my pay grade.  I am just a soldier of the line in the CFC.  For me, it is more a matter of “Can I fly it and where can I buy it?”  Well, that and, “If I buy it, will we use the damn thing?”  I still have a Ferox in my hanger in G-0Q86.  What happened to the non-ironic Ferox doctrine?

Assuming that OmegaFleet will be a thing, I can actually fly the Naglfar today, thanks to mostly to the training I did to get into the Archon.  And to get to the skill level required to fly with CapSwarm, I have ~20 days of training, mostly around getting Minmatar Dreadnought to level IV.  So can I fly it? Yes I can!

Can I buy it though?  Well, I have the ISK, provided that the market for Naglfars doesn’t spike into the stratosphere.  As a coalition we’re pretty good at gouging each other on essentials until the command staff cracks down on it.  I assume there will be some sort of coalition effort to get pilots in reasonably priced Naglfars and to get them to the war front in Curse.

So we shall see.  I am training for it.  I have the ISK to buy one.  Will I be able to get blown up in my most expensive combat ship yet?

And while I was writing this, I started to go through my screen shots to see if I could find a picture of just a Naglfar.  No such luck.  I had to go for the stock picture above.  But I do have some shots of Naglfars mixed in with dreadnought fleets, see the gallery below.  You can spot their vertical silhouette in the mix.

Four Space Operas and a Funeral

Another in my series of Sunday posts to clear out my backlog of started (but not finished… not even close in most cases) posts about books I have read.

This one follows from a grand idea I had for a post which I have been kicking around for a couple of years now.  I was going to do a mighty compare and contrast post about four space opera science fiction series that I had read over the years.

SpaceOperaSelection

The problem turned out to be in the final word of that previous paragraph, “years.”  As in, it has been many years since I have read some of these books.  My idea just wasn’t viable without my going back and re-reading a whole pile of books.

So my back-up plan is to lay out a very basic summary of each series in the order in which I read them, so oldest (and most vague) memories first.  Then I will hang a poll at the end to let people vote on which series they might recommend and call it a day.  So let’s get started.

The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Summary: Follows (mostly) the life of Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, the physically handicapped son of a powerful noble in a down-on-its luck empire.  Think Tyrion Lannister in space.  In fact, aside from a better relationship with his father, that analogy is surprisingly apt, and since the series kicked off in 1986, it pre-dates Tyrion.  Call Tyrion Lannister a medieval Miles Vorkosigan.

Highs:  I read it so long ago… this is where my comparison idea really fell down… it is hard to remember.  I have a positive mental image of the books.

Lows: I didn’t keep the books for very long, so I clearly felt, at some point, they were not worth re-reading.  Maybe they felt too contrived?

Honor Harrington Saga by David Weber

Summary: Honor Harrington, a female officer in the Royal Manticore Navy, rises through the ranks via brains and skill.

Highs: Early stories are good, tight space sagas.  Technology and politics are believable.  She has a cat.  I actually re-read On Basilisk Station recently, and it was still good.

Lows: Series evolves from external foes to internal politics and gets dull.  I didn’t make it through the fifth book, which was the latest in the series when I read it.

The RCN/Lt. Leary Series by David Drake

Summary: Follows the careers of, and the friendship between, Lt. Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy, in a series of adventures inspired by Patrick O’Brein’s Aubrey/Maturin series. (Which I have also read from end to end.) 18th century attitudes and politics in the era of space travel.

Highs:  Fun books, interesting approach to FTL space travel in order to give it a feel of the age of sail.

Lows: Series doesn’t shake out and settle down until the third book.  We spend, in my opinion, far too much time with Adele reflecting on her past and her relationships with the other characters in the book.

The Lost Fleet Series by Jack Campbell

Summary: John “Black Jack” Geary is awakened after 100 years in stasis sleep in an escape pod to find the war that was just starting when his ship was destroyed is still going on.  Picked up on the way to what was supposed to be a war winning attack, he is there to see it turn into a trap.  The commanding admiral puts Geary in charge as he goes to his death.  Afterwards, Geary keeps command of the fleet, being the most senior captain by many decades, and tries to get everybody home safely while most of the other captains try to call bullshit on his right to the command position.

Highs: Well thought out and consistent space travel and combat.  Political and personal entanglements, as well as feelings of doubt, guilt, and anger, that Geary gets into feel real.

Lows: Carboard cut-out bad guys and seemingly endless passages about honor and responsibility and sacrifice in the name of the cause plague the series.  But far and away the biggest negative for me is the idea that a commander with pre-war ideas and tactics can show up, apply those ideas and tactics (which everybody has forgotten), and win.  That is pretty much war in reverse of reality, where pre-war tactics go out the door after the first few bloody engagements and new tactics and counter-tactics are constantly developed.  Armies and Navies evolve in war or they lose.  They don’t regress to “run straight at them” blood baths.  Even WWI, well known for such “run straight at them” tactics was full of attempts to get around that.

Legacy of the Aldenata by John Ringo

Summary: A long running, galaxy spanning war is headed towards Earth, and the alien alliance on the defensive sees the human race as a good chance to pull their irons out of the fire.  Our military prowess and their technology and production abilities, its a match made in the heavens.  Literally.  All these races were genetic creations of the Aldenata, a very advance race that has since buggered off to nobody-knows-where, leaving their toys to run amok.

Highs: Excellent depth into the military, technological, political, and social aspects of this sort of upheaval, doubly so when the aliens hit Earth.  There are few simple answers, and Earth’s allies clearly do not have their best interests at heart.  And Bun-bun.

Lows: John Ringo hates city dwellers and will murder them wholesale given half a chance, a theme which recurs through his works. (That is why this book is “The Funeral.”)  But anybody who lives in the country or on a farm possesses the wisdom of the ages and an illegal arms cache that would put many third world countries to shame.  Civilians in general aren’t worth fighting for, but the military does it because honor, duty, country and so on.  Series goes on forever.  Easy to lose track of who belongs to which secret underground organization.

You Rate Them

Those are my basic recollections.  As expected, the more recent my reading, the more detail I recall.  You should not read anything into the fact that I have more lows than highs for these books.  Things that work tend to just flow into the mix, while things that do not tend to fester and thus become more memorable.  I would recommend them all, at least for those in search of an escapist space opera.

Now for the poll.  Which of these series would you recommend?

As usual, there is the comments section below to add in what you might think of any of these or to call me out on the low quality or inaccuracy of any of my brief summaries.

Shroud of the Avatar… It’s a Thing

It seems like that whole Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues I Want My Kingdom Back Kickstarter thing was quite a while back.  It was a success, raising just over 2 million dollars.  I had to go make a forum account of some sort shortly after it was over.  And then a bunch of updates flowed by in email that I felt content to ignore.

I am interested in the project, but not that interested.  I was content to wait until it was actually a thing before I started paying attention.

Well, this week I got an update… and then another update… which said, basically, “It’s a thing.”

So I headed on over to the site, which I could only manage because it was linked in the email update.  There I managed to remember my account and password, which was nothing short of miraculous.  I downloaded the installer, glanced at the instructions, ran the patcher.

Who is taking my bandwidth?

Who is taking my bandwidth?

When it wrapped up, I was able log in and was in… um… is it Britannia still, or something else?  I’ve forgotten already.

The background on the launcher changes...

The background on the launcher changes…

Anyway, I was there.

I am there

I am there

And then I actually started reading the instructions, which indicated that this whole early pre-alpha “stop judging me!” thing was only for “First Responders” and other special persons.  The last time I checked my rank was something like Second Tier Probationary Cheapskate or some such.  But it let me in, so I went.

I am not even sure if there is an NDA.  I gave the forums a cursory glance for that sort of thing, but came up dry.  They are still trolling for more donations… they have brought in an additional $800K since way back when, no exactly a Chris Roberts level achievement, but that will probably cover hiring Lum the Mad…  so I suspect/hope that they want publicity.  I half expect somebody to come yell at me about this post or the screen shots or something… but I half expect that response from most things in life at this point.

The game is rough, but not as rough as one might expect.  Once I cranked up the graphic it looked pretty decent.  I did have to turn down, then off, the “Ye Olde Chariots of Fyre” sound track that kept looping.  And then there were the locals, who were not too friendly.

Hey, I'm a supporter!

Hey, I’m a supporter!

When I tried to pass myself off as one of the locals, the guard wasn’t buying it.

HE thinks it is Britannia

*HE* thinks it is Britannia

Interaction is in the old school “you type it and the NPC responds” style.  Keywords are highlighted, the way they were back in EverQuest.  No hardcore “you must guess the keyword!” TorilMUD action, which is probably a good thing.

I ran around a bit more.  It went from day to night.

Hartsman has a bandana just like this

Scott Hartsman has a bandana just like this

So Shroud of the Avatar is truly a thing.  I am not sure it is yet a thing that I want to spend a lot of time tinkering with.  I have dailies to run in Azeroth and I am sitting around waiting for somebody to please form up a fleet in EVE Online while I have a block of free time.  But I gave some strangers on the internet some money and half a year later I can walk around in a little imaginary land.  Tell me that wouldn’t have seemed like a miracle 30 years ago.

Quote of the Day – Whiny Old Timers are the Real Problem

The truth is, in any community, the veterans, the old hands, are the ones that are the biggest reason why the community doesn’t grow.

Harbinger Zero, post Adventures in Missing the Point (since removed)

And we have the case for insta-levels, spurred by various posts about the Lord of the Rings Online “Gift of the Valar” level 50 offer,  in which Harbinger Zero hurls anything not nailed down at people complaining about the idea.  He manages to complain about the use of loaded terms… he doesn’t like the word “scheme” for example… while raining down a torrent of abuse littered with similarly loaded terms… pot, I’d like to introduce you to the kettle.  His basic conclusion is that the current player base is the root problem.

LOTRO and the Latest Insta-Level Scheme

As level focused MMORPGs age and expand and boost the level cap again and again, the gulf between the new player starting out and the old hands clustered at the level cap begins to seem like an insurmountable barrier.  The levels problem.  Many a new player has no doubt been lost, never to be seen again, in the attempt to cross the often lonely mid-game, which can be something like levels 20 through 80 and beyond these days, in order to reach an oasis of friends.

Various methods have been tried in order to… well, not to “fix” it, because that there is something wrong with most of the game when often some of the best bits are along the way to the level cap… but to alleviate the pain of somebody trying to catch up.

Companies have eased up on the experience slope so that you level up faster.  They have tinkered with various sorts of mentoring, which generally bestows some sort of experience boost on the lower level player.  Free to play games nearly always stock their cash shop with experience accelerators of various sorts in order to let those in search of higher levels move right along.  Refer-a-friend programs can include some sort of leveling boost.  EverQuest has featured that, as has World of Warcraft.  Blizzard even added in the ability for the higher level player to “gift” levels to the person they referred… with some limitations… as part of their referral program.

And, after years of tinkering around with all that and more, several companies have finally come around and decided just to sell you a high level character.

This is, of course, controversial, and the game companies know it.

First out of the gate in the games I watch was EverQuest II, with its offer to sell you a boost to level 85.  I thought that this was the most interesting case of moving to this sort of thing because you could argue that SOE has done as much as, if not more than, any other MMORPG in trying to bridge the gap between the pool of vets and new players.  That was not enough though, and now you can buy a token in the cash shop for approximately $35… the general rate is a penny per Station Cash point, but if you bought some during one of the now departed 3x sales, your real world expenditure will be less… that will put you within 10 levels of the level 95 cap, which is close enough to group with anybody above you in level and still gain experience.

This actually sort-of works out okay with EQII.  There is still the “too many damn skills” problem with going straight to 85, which isn’t handled very well in my opinion.  And anybody who joins up and jumps to level 85 will, again in my opinion, miss a lot of the best content (biased as I am towards some of the original locations) while being dumped into one of the most awful, boring looking adventure areas in the game.  Snow zones just don’t work for me in EQII.  But overall, with mentoring and the chrono-whatcha-call-it thing that lets you play older content at level, the vast sea of content is still yours to explore if you so desire.  In the end, it gives players an option and gives SOE something new to sell in the cash shop.

Then at BlizzCon Blizzard announced that, with the purchase of the Warlords of Draenor expansion, players would be given the option to boost one character up to level 90.  Oddly, most of the enthusiasm I have heard for this has been from people who already have multiple level 90 characters.  The idea of one more level 90 alt for somebody who has run the content multiple times seems to be a winner.  And while this got a frosty response from some, it does solve a problem for Blizzard.  We are now at a point where there are certainly far more former WoW players than there are current WoW player, probably several fold more.

Those former players represent a pretty big market opportunity.  But how do you get them to come back when your lure is shiny new content that might be many levels above them?  “Come back and play the stuff that made you quit, you’ll eventually get to some new stuff!” isn’t a very good approach.  So now anybody who purchases Warlords of Draenor can play that content right away.

The solution is, as I said, not without detractors, but you can at least see the logic and how it solves a problem for Blizzard.  I am not sure how they solve the “I don’t own Mists of Pandaria or some other expansion” issue.  I suspect everybody who buys Draenor will end up getting all of that.  But it puts a mass of potential players right on the starting line for next year’s expansion. (No sign of this being an item in the new cash shop yet, but you never know.)

Finally, this week, Turbine, after kicking the idea around for months, finally bit the bullet and announced their insta-level plan for Lord of the Rings Online.  It is a limited time offer at the moment as Turbine tests the waters on this.

The Valar aren't what they used to be...

The Valar aren’t what they used to be…

And time is not the only aspect of this that is limited.  For 4,995 Turbine Points… which could be anywhere from $38 to $70 depending on how you purchased your points… gives you the following:

  • Character boosted to level 50
  • A set of level 50 gear
  • 1 Gold piece
  • An LIXP rune, worth enough XP to bring one LI to level 10
  • 4 ranks of each virtue
  • The Riding skill
  • A Dusky Nimblefoot Goat
  • A 25-stack of food that scales with your level
  • A 25-stack of Morale and Power potions that scale with your level
  • 5 +100% XP Boosts
  • A single-use map to Rivendell
  • 25 Mithril Coins

That is not an insubstantial pile of stuff.  The issue for me, when I look at this, is I am not sure what problem it solves.  Leaving aside my bias about some of the 1 to 50 content… I could (and have) run the Lone Lands and Evendim over and over again and be a happy person… the level cap with the latest expansion, Helm’s Deep, is 95.  So, basically, this level boost puts you where?

Well, right into the first expansion, Mines of Moria, which you will note is NOT part of the insta-level package.  So, aside from the troubles of figuring out how to play a character that has been boosted deep into its skill arc… now with archaic skill trees (my opinion of them anyway) to figure out as well… you have to put down more money just to continue advancing your character towards the latest content, which is still 40 levels away.

So SOE put you within reach of the latest content, Blizzard will put you on the doorstep of the latest content, and Turbine is planning to leave you adrift in the mid-game in what seems like the combination of all the complaints about level based character progression.  Players will be too far in to learn their character class skill by skill yet still many levels (and several expansions to buy) away from any friends in the latest content.

What problem does this solve?  I won’t trivialize the 1-50 game, it will take some work to get through it, but the work doesn’t stop when you pass into Moria.  And who is the target audience for this boost?  People who hate the first 300 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring?

And I realize that Turbine’s business model, which includes selling content like Mines of Moria, stands in the way here.  I am just not sure that Moria is the optimal destination.  If you were going to drop a friend into the middle of the game, is that were you would put them?

Anyway, this looks to be a test run for Turbine, with the limited duration.  And I am sure they will sell a few to people who want an alt and who have, perhaps, seen too much of the Lone Lands… as if that were possible.  Pengail escort quest forever!

Pengail Attacks!

He just HATES goblins

There have been other reactions to this around the blogesphere, none of which have been particularly positive on the plan.  Further reading if you are interested:

What do you think about Turbine’s plan, or the idea of insta-levels in general?

The EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition

A couple weeks back Jeff of Lewis PR dropped me a note asking me if I wanted a free copy of the EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition.

I naturally assumed that this was some sort of scam because, EVE Online.  Right?  I ignored it.

Trooper that he is, Jeff persisted in trying to give me something for free, and around the third note from him I finally responded with my suspicion that this was a scam.  By that point I had looked up the company, which turned out to be up the freeway in SF and did, according to its web site, represent CCP.

He said that suspicion was not an uncommon reaction.  Once we got on the same wavelength he got my address and the very next day a big box dropped on my doorstep containing the whole big thing.  It is heavy.

All the stuff

All the stuff

And it is heavy because it has a ton of stuff in it.  The first things you see are the big things, all nicely tucked into the box.  There is the model of the Rifter, probably the most recognizable ship in the New Eden, which is also a USB hub.  I am not sure how many people will actually use their Rifter model as a hub… just having the Rifter model itself seemed like enough for me… but you have that option.  Me, I am leaving my free of cables so I can run around the house with it and strafe the cats when the situation calls for it.  (I like that the official YouTube video about the USB Rifter got about a third as many views as the video of somebody “flying” their Rifter through the CCP offices.)

There is also a copy The Danger Game, which was the first product that CCP created.  I am not sure what I can really say about this, except that this was the first product CCP shipped, and it brought in the money to bankroll EVE Online.  So it has that going for it.  There is a fuller story narrated by CCP Guard on YouTube.

And then there is the the book, EVE – Into the Second Decade.

This is the meat of the “big” items in the box.  Coming in at just over 190 pages, it describes the birth and evolution of the game EVE Online.  While heavier on illustrations than details, it does take a pretty extensive look at the first decade of EVE Online.  It is coffee table book comparable to the 10 year celebration tome that SOE put out to celebrate 10 years of EverQuest.

The Books Compared

The Books Compared

The books are quite similar as the both describe the foundations, the launch, and the arc and developments of the respective games, leading looks forward to the future, with EverQuest Next figuring in one and DUST 514 in the other.  Where the EVE volume differs is how much more focused it on the players.  There are little tidbits that mention things like Hulkageddon, Burn Jita, and the boot.ini episode.  That is sort of like SOE bringing up Planes of Power bugs, the Mystere incident, and Fansy the famous bard as part of their memories of EverQuest, something that just wouldn’t happen.

And when the chapter about the Incarna expansion hits… entitled The Long Walk… CCP is pretty clear that the player base was in revolt.  The follow on chapter that picks up the story… after a detour into DUST 514, is Redemption Arc.

Add in the guest essays from various people in and around the game and this is something to have, not a detailed history but a trail of images, impressions, and emotions that really evoke a sense of connection to the game.  Good stuff.  The best of the big items and something I really wanted.

And then there is the little box within the big box.

The first thing in the little box is the music from the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra’s performance of some of the music from EVE Online from Fanfest back in April.  I missed this performance because, like so many CCP events, it happened while I was at work, but I have been dying to hear it.  So now I have a new twist on a series of tracks that are among the most played on my iPod.  The songs on the CD are:

  • Stellar Shadows
  • Below the Asteroids
  • Shifting the Balance of Power
  • Rose of Victory
  • I Saw Your Ship
  • All Which Was Lost
  • A Surplus of Rare Artifacts
  • It Ends Here
  • The Jovian Front
  • Smoke from Down Below
  • Merchants and Looters

Tucked in around the the music CD are the game code cards.  There is one for EVE Online, the contents of which CCP has detailed on their site.  Implants, cosmetics, a special ship and some blueprints come with the code.

The Nefantar Thrasher was pre-order only, sorry

Then there is a code for DUST 514, which is part of the EVE Online universe… though not a part in which I participate.

There is a 60 Day new account code that you can give to a friend… or use to create another alt.

And then there is the Collector’s Edition Mystery Code which was… for a while… a mystery.  Then they announced some of the items, which included a PLEX, more in-game cosmetics, a special ship in the upcoming EVE Valkyrie (which looks a lot like one of the EVE Online drones), and some of what they call in-game collectables.

Templar Fighter

Templar Fighter

I think that, like some of the entries in the collector’s edition book, the in-game collectables give some insight to how CCP views the game and the players.  They could have dropped in a bunch of things that celebrated game milestones like expansions and such.  Instead, they are focused on player achievements.  There is a set of tokens for each of the alliance tournaments celebrating the winner.  And there are a bunch of one-off items, like ticket stubs for the premier of Clear Skies.

Premier of "Clear Skies"

Premier of “Clear Skies”

Others include notable events from the history of the game as created by the players.

These are actual in-game items.  They do not do anything within the game, but you can sell them, trade them, or store them away for another day.  Like the implants and other in-game items you get with the collector’s edition, they are not locked down to your account.  You are free to do with them as you please.  I have seen the “golden pod” implant, which goes in a special socket and survives clone jumps and being podded, on the market for several billion ISK.

So what to make of all of this stuff.

If you are a hard core EVE Online player… well… you probably already own a copy of this.  But if you somehow missed it, you can still get one via the EVE Store or Amazon.com.  The list price is $150, but Amazon has had it available as a flash sale for as low as $99 at some points.

Is it worth the price?  Hard to say.  For me, yes.  I wanted the book and the CD, which are probably worth at least $45 right there.  Add in the PLEX and a substantial bit of the cost is covered by tangible items of value.  I am not sure what I would have paid for a Rifter model… I would have paid quite a bit for the LEGO Rifter, which gets a mention in the book… and The Danger Game isn’t much of a draw for me.  And the rest is digital, stuff made of ones and zeroes and accessible to me only as pixels on a screen.

It was worth it to me.

At this point you are probably thinking, “Well of course it was worth it to you, you got the damn collector’s edition for free!”

Well, I did get a copy for free.  But I had already pre-ordered the whole thing before it came out.  So I speak from the perspective of somebody justifying their expense, not as somebody who got something expensive for free.  Or something.  I paid for a copy and am content with that.

Collector’s editions always carry some controversy.  If you don’t like them, they can seem a naked cash grab.  If you do like them, they can be a way to own something extra, something special, from a game you enjoy.  I can go either way on the topic, depending on the game and what is being offered.

Now I have to figure out what to do with this other copy of the collector’s edition.  I promised I wouldn’t turn around and sell it on eBay.  No fun in that anyway.  I think bits of it might serve as prizes for a contest.  Maybe something after the holidays, when things settle down a bit.

I already know somebody who is interested in the USB Rifter.  I owe him for some home made salsa.

Quote of the Day – CCP Layoffs and World of Darkness

CCP today made strategic adjustments to the staffing on the team working on the World of Darkness project in Atlanta that resulted in the elimination of approximately 15 positions at the company.  The change was due to our evaluation of the game’s design and ongoing development needs.  While this was a difficult decision, CCP remains committed to the franchise and our promise to make a compelling, rich, and deep World of Darkness experience.

Ned Coker of CCP, following rumors of layoffs

Not much to be said except that there is no “good” time to be laid off.  I have been down that path a couple of times myself, though never right in the teeth of the holidays.

The move was focused on the World of Darkness team, which also faced a cut back in October of 2011.  The 2011 cut reportedly reduced the team working on the project to 60, and now 25% of that group has been cut.  No matter what mollifying phrases are used, this cannot be seen as a positive spin for the future of a game based on the franchise.

World of Darkness

World of Darkness

CCP bought White Wolf, the creators of World of Darkness, back in 2006, and have been working on an MMO version seriously since 2009.

Diversion to Mount Hyjal

It looked like we might get a third straight week of the whole group on together, but Ula was not feeling well and had to bow out.

That left four of us looking for something to do.  The group, as it stood on Saturday night:

  • Earlthecat – Level 82 Human Warrior Tank
  • Skronk – Level 82 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 82 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 82 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 82 Gnome Mage DPS (Out, not feeling well)

All of us had managed to make it to level 82, which was our max level target.  So the first thing we did was head off to find the NPC who turns off experience so that we would not inadvertently rise too far in levels before we finished off the Cataclysm instances.  Skronk had scouted this out previously so we all met up in Stormwind keep where the XP guy resides.  I actually couldn’t find him at first, and needed to go stand by Skronk before I saw him.  You see, the NPC is a rogue who is in stealth mode… so you cannot really see him until you are close to him.

So, you're hiding from who now?

So, you’re hiding from who now?

I am not sure what message Blizzard is trying to send with that NPC.  Are they saying they put this feature in but are not really happy about it?  Or that you just need to work/suffer a bit if you want to turn off their highly tuned vertical character advancement system?

Anyway, we found him and all paid the 10g fee to turn off experience and saw our XP bars vanish.  Now the question was, how important is such advancement when playing as a group?  We decided to test that out by taking a trip to the other early Cataclysm zone, Mount Hyjal.

We chose Mount Hyjal for two reasons.  The obvious first one was that we were all in sync in Vashj’ir after last week, so we didn’t really want to mess that up.  The second reason was that there was not a lot of enthusiasm to head back to Vashj’ir.  There were some complaints of disorientation and a touch of motion sickness after last week.  The idea of going back under the sea was one of the reasons Ula decided to sit out, as she felt that another run at the zone would just make her feel worse.

Fortunately, the Throne of Tides instance appears to be dry land under the sea as opposed to a 3D swim-a-thon, so I think we’ll be okay doing that.  But we might otherwise be done with Vashj’ir.  A couple of us can, if need be, swim out there and bring the rest out using the summoning stone.  Dry land for us.

First we had to get ourselves lined up and out to Mount Hyjal.  As it turned out, each of us was at a different stage in relation to the zone.  Bung hadn’t started the quest chain to get there yet. Earl had started it but then moved on after arriving in Moonglade.  I had brought Alioto out there to harvest herbs and had done the first couple of quests.  And Skronk had started on the Mount Hyjal quest line a while back and was a ways down the line.

So Bung and Earl started off getting to the zone, which didn’t take long, while Skronk and I took the portal out.  Then the group started doing quests, with people joining in as it hit where they stood.  All in all, it went pretty well.  The quests seemed to work when run as a group, with almost no cases of updates not being shared when it might have been appropriate to do so. (I can only think of one point when that happened.)

There were even some nice touches, such as an escort quest that three of us were working on, along with a couple of other players players, where each of us could only see the NPC that was specific to our version of the quest.  Games have often enforced this in the past by simply allowing only a single version of the NPC to exist in the game.  The Pengail quest in the Lone Lands springs to mind.  While you could get the quest as a group, if somebody else was shepherding him through (or directly into) the goblins, you had to wait your turn.

Pengail Attacks!

Pengail HATES Goblins

So that went really well, with a pile of people able to do the quest in parallel without the obvious hitch of multiple versions of the NPC in question wandering about. (Though there is always that awkward moment where “your” version of the NPC spawns while the original is still visible, so for a short bit there are two of them.)

That was also the only point during our evening when phasing split the group.  Everybody on the escort quest was phased into a different version of the underground area until the NPC was delivered.  Skonk, who had done the quest, remained in the original version of the area.  However, once the quest was completed, we were moved back into the same version of the zone as Skronk.  It seems like they went for a lighter touch with phasing, at least with what I have seen so far.  Nobody has been stuck on the wrong side of a phase wall so far.

I had also forgotten how much being able to fly in Mount Hyjal affects the zone.  Since it, along with Twilight Highlands and Uldum, are just adjuncts to the current world, as opposed to being new continents, if you can fly in old Azeroth you can fly there.  So it is easy to just skirt danger and set down close to where you need to be.  We just fly off here and there, dropping in only where we had to.

That is the flip side of flying, as it really cuts back the bite any zone has unless the zone is designed well.  It is always a double edged sword.  Flying is wonderful and really sets you free while at the same time trivializing and ground obstacles.  I was happy enough when I couldn’t fly in Pandaria until 90 and I hope we won’t be able to fly until level 100 when Warlords of Draenor comes out.

I was also a bit surprised at how crowded the zone was.  Sure, it was a Saturday night and there has been the whole soft server merge thing going on.  But still, this is one of the starter zones for Cataclysm, which is now three years old and hasn’t been the new thing since Mists of Pandaria rolled out a year back.  But I have seen some of the same thing in The Burning Crusade; overland content isn’t that well populated, but you can get into a Dungeon Finder group… even as DPS… pretty quickly even on a weeknight.  So Blizz seems to be doing okay on making the world seem alive, at least in the server group where our server,  Eldre’Thalas, resides.

And, as it turned out, we were fine moving along through the zone with experience turned off.  Gold was made from quests, equipment upgrades showed up now and again, and there was some resource harvesting on the side.  Plus, there was still advancement of some sort.  While our experience was turned off, we still were generating experience for the guild.  The guild had just hit level 10 earlier in the day… up from level 3 when we rolled back into the game about a month ago… and our evening worth of work put it about half way to 11.

I find the guild experience mechanism mildly interesting as a design choice.  Essentially, the prime way the average guild member earns experience for the guild is by completing quests.  But quest completion gives a flat rate return of 60K guild experience.  So if I do a level 90 quest in Pandaria, the guild gets 60K.  If I roll a new character, getting him in the guild, and do the first “Hi, hello!” quest, it also earns the guild 60K.  So if you are not doing other things as a guild… raids, challenges, scenarios, or whatever… everybody can contribute at the same rate via quests.  It is very egalitarian, and certainly makes it more likely that we will have a level 25 guild some day.  Was it always this way, or was that a change that came in after we left for greener pastures?

Anyway, we ran through maybe a third of the zone living… or reliving… the content.  Eventually we hit a boss-like mob on one quest chain that seemed like a good end point.

He is an elite... and looks like a boss

He is an elite… and looks like a boss

After that we did our semi-traditional group shot just to commemorate the evening.

Four of us under Mount Hyjal

Four of us under Mount Hyjal

So that was our Saturday night run.  Hopefully everybody will be in good health and ready to tackle our first instance next time around.

We’re Having a Sale on Pets and Mounts! (and we put a cash shop in the game)

Well, that is a corner turned.  Blizzard has followed the rest of the industry and put a cash shop directly in the game.

While they have sold special mounts and pets for World of Warcraft for some time, there was always an out-of-game aspect to them.  You might see them advertised on the launcher, but if you wanted to buy one you had to wander over to the Blizzard store.  You certainly didn’t see ads or pricing or a store front actually in the game.

It is there now.

Sure, it is just a tiny little button down there between the dungeon journal and the game menu/connection status buttons.

WoWCashShopButton

But it opens up a store front.

Mounts for Sale

Mounts for Sale

And there it is, real world money in Azeroth.

I suppose it is something that they did not also introduce an RMT currency as well.  Baby steps down that path I guess, because I hardly think they are done on the in-store shopping front.  I doubt Blizzard would intend for the store only to sell pets and mounts and then leave a line item like “consumables” in the screen shots for the official store announcement.

Coming soon?

Coming soon?

Now, the sky isn’t falling, the end of the world is not at hand, and World of Warcraft isn’t going to go free-to-play with the next patch.  But you can hardly see something like this happen without wondering where it is going.  So I am marking the date when the boundary was crossed, when you could buy things in World of Warcraft for real world cash.

And where do you think this will end up?

Addendum: After a bit of experimentation, I will add the following:

You can turn off the store interface if your account has parental controls applied to it.  By default the store appears to be off with parental controls.  I happened to have parental controls turned on with my account to ensure that RealID was, and remained, off.  When off, the button (which is tiny to start with) is grayed out and informs you that it has been turned off via parental controls.

The store check-out interface makes you enter your password, but then uses what it considers to be the default credit card for your account.  For my account, that happened to be an expired card that I probably ought to remove, but never got around to killing off.  The transaction stopped there, as there is no way to select an alternate payment method.

The store failing to check out seems capable of messing up the game client.  A friend of mine was also trying out the store and reported that she had to eventually exit the client and log back in after a failed transaction.  In-game assets… NPCs, critters, and her own mount… started disappearing from the game.