Monthly Archives: February 2014

February in Review

The Site

After a couple months I have decided that I really like the MMO Blogesphere feed that I put in the side bar.  I just wish it was a little more reliable.  I grow tired of seeing this half the time.

FeedDown

Life in the internet age.  I have tinkered around with a couple of things to replace it, including Yahoo Pipes, but haven’t really come up with something that work, works as I expect it to work, and works reliably.  So RSS Mix remains my sidebar feed of choice for the moment.

On a side topic, has Google Alerts become completely useless these days?  Back when I started to blog, I created one for the site URL to see if anybody was linking to me.  And it used to work.  A few years back I used to get the occasional notification.  Then it went quiet.  Then, a year or so later, it started telling me about ping-backs from my blog displayed on other blogs… essentially alerting me to the fact that I linked out to another blog.  Not very useful.  Then there was another long quiet stretch.  Now, in the last few weeks, Google Alerts has started sending me notification when I link to other posts on my own blog.  That is all I get.  Another Google mystery.

Finally, if you hit the blog last Sunday you might have been treated to things being displayed in a different theme… or several different themes.  WordPress.com allows you to preview all the premium templates for a two week period.  So I opted in for that to see if I could find something I liked.  As you can see, the template remains the same as it has been for over seven years now.  I have another weekend to go though.  We shall see.

One Year Ago

Raptr sent me a summary of my 2012 gaming.

Google changed how image search worked, causing a precipitous drop in page views.  Google giveth, and Google taketh away… though they have been heavy on the taketh front for the last couple of years.

I wrote of the problem with Bond villains.  And it wasn’t that they failed to drive Jags.  I also looked at the Netflix remake of House of Cards.

RuneScape joined the rare breed of MMOs with an old rules, nostalgia focused server.

I tinkered with Prose with Bros on the iPad.  That was amusing for about two weeks.

In something of a breath of fresh air in an argument dedicated to absolutes and bad analogies, with some game devs equating buying used games with piracy, EA admitted that the used game market wasn’t all bad and that the ability to trade in games might be propping up new game sales.  They still wanted to kill used games like everybody else in the industry, but at least they were attempting a moment of honesty about it.

The MOBA version of Warhammer Online was declared dead before it even left beta.  The good metacritic score for Warhammer Online remained of little value.

A group got together to create an Age of Empires II: Age of Kings expansion called Forgotten Empires.  This was before it was announced that Age of Kings would be updated and brought to Steam.

Blizzard and ArenaNet were both offering deep discounts on their MMOs.  I opted for Guild Wars 2, which has an awkward start for me.

The instance group was still without a quorum and a fantasy title to call its own.  We were playing a bit of World of Tanks, which gets awkward with four.  I also made some short videos about Crushing your VK and a cliff diving BDR GB1.  And I was working on my Soviet heavies as well as the French heavy tree.

In EVE Online we went back to EWN-2U, the scene of my first real epic null sec battle.  But null sec was pretty quiet, so we also spent time just flying in circles.  The Goons did produce a nice guide to EVE Online in the form of a .pdf called Thrilling Internet Spaceship Stories.

I was considering the REAL problem with levels and was wondering why nobody else did in-game music the way Lord of the Rings Online did.

And I answered the magic question, just how many times do you have to sign or initial things when closing escrow on a home refinance?

Five Years Ago

My 8800GT video card died.  That was the second one to go.

I had been looking at my dis-used GAX Online account and wondered what gamer social networking needed to be viable.  Since then, GAX Online has shut down.

PLEX showed up in EVE Online five years ago.  In game I got the mining foreman mindlink as a storyline mission drop, I upgraded to a Raven Navy Isssue, and finally bought the freighter for which I had been training, and got some ships blown up in the Worlds Collide mission… again. There was EVE Vegas.   And then there was the whole Goonswarm dismemberment of BOB, which made the BBC news.

I was still active in Middle-earth, playing characters on Nimrodel.  Looking for a class on which to affix the Reynaldo Fabulous name, I put up a poll on the subject.  While Minstrel won the poll, Reynaldo ended up being a hunter with a fabulous hat.  And when I wasn’t fooling around with alts, I was leveling up my captain who made it all the way to Rivendell at one point.

While over in Azeroth, it was revealed that my mom plays WoW.  I wondered at how active Westfall seems to be most of the time.  But the answer to that seems to be the Deadmines, which I ran my mom and daughter through. (No dungeon finder back then!)  There was a little pet drama with my daughter who wanted a raptor.  I also managed my first exalted status with a faction in WoW, the Kalu’ak in Northrend.  I wanted that fishing pole.

On the Wii, we had Wii Music, which was crap, and LEGO Batman, which suffered a bit from being yet another variation in the successful LEGO video game franchise.

And then there was the usual bog war shenanigans as somebody was still looking to blame WoW and WoW players for Warhammer Online’s failure to meets its subscriber goals.  I think we’re all over that now, right?  Warhammer did what it did on its own faults and merits in a market that was well known before they shipped.

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 February

  1. The Elder Scrolls Online – Mission Accomplished
  2. Warlords of Draenor to be a $60 Expansion? And Something About Insta-90s
  3. Raid Tourism – Being the 25th Man
  4. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  5. Echoes and Repercussions from the Battle at B-R5RB
  6. Grim Batol and Beyond in Cataclysm
  7. Return to the Heroic Deadmines
  8. Raptr Corrects My Perceptions – What I Played in 2013
  9. Is PvP a Requirement for All MMOs?
  10. Landmark and a Dire Vision of Things to Come…
  11. B-R5RB and the Death of Drone Assist
  12. The Downfall of Garrosh Hellscream

Search Terms of the Month

the coveted ccp “mystery code”
[And you could win one here, if you enter REAL soon!]

how to get to west karana from a lady merchant named analya
[When I say that, it rhymes. Does it rhyme for you?]

what happens when you mix root near with icecream
[They get closer?]

where is gm lirus now?
[Probably trying to forget.]

can you buy world of tank type59 g on ebay?
[Don’t you wish.]

dmca and mmo emulator
[You’re up to something totally legit I am sure.]

stone age man on raft
[How did that even get you here?]

Age of Kings

Potshot and I talk about going back and playing Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings now and again, but we haven’t really put much effort into the idea.  I was hoping at one point last year, when a reworked, HD version of the game was released on Steam, that it would be a golden opportunity.  Alas, the idea had to stew for a while.  Then a couple weeks back Potshot mentioned that a couple of old college pals (and at this point, all of our college pals are old) were interested in playing.  And so we have managed a few matches in the latter half of February.  I just haven’t gotten around to writing about them yet.

EVE Online

I have been a complete slacker when it comes to EVE Online.  I still have a Domi stuck in B-R5RB, left there since the big battle and another one hanging out in what was our staging system at least two move ago.  I suppose at least I didn’t put a lot of effort of moving things from Curse to staging systems in the middle of even-closer-to nowhere.  Ah well.  I did have an EVE Online contest.  It is still going as of this moment… unless you are reading this after March 1st, in which case it is over.

World of Warcraft

Things continue to move along in Azeroth.  I think we might be over the “so happy to be back” time of binging on the game.  The binge was part of the reason I was playing less EVE Online.  But it remains the game of choice for our group.  We still have a list of things to do in Cataclysm and then there is Mists of Pandaria.  That will take us out to the usual summer hiatus at least, if not all the way to Warlords of Draenor.

Coming Up

The great Diablo III revamp is upon us.  I expect to devote some time to the game to see if the 2.0 version can revive that Diablo feeling.  So far, so good.

I think that The Elder Scrolls Online is having another beta weekend, judging from the six messages in my inbox about it.  It is just about time for them to slip the launch date back a couple weeks to make changes based on feedback from the beta.  Or such is my gut feeling.

EverQuest will turn 15 in March.  What a long, strange something or other.

And, apparently, I will write some more stuff about RTS games.  I have at least one Age of Kings post to do and we shall see how far I make it in Warcraft III.  Optional blog name possibility: Talking About Game Nostalgia.

Warcraft III – In Search of the Pre-History of WoW

My relationship with Blizzard and its games is odd in that Warcraft has never been all that interesting to me.

Well, I suppose that, in and of itself isn’t odd.  Warcraft doesn’t interest a lot of people I am sure.

But that fact that World of Warcraft has ended up being my MMORPG of choice for most of the last decade is what makes it strange.  It means that I haven’t really felt as connected to the game through its lore as I have in other similar games.

I certainly care about the lore in Lord of the Rings Online.  As many interesting little features as Turbine has in LOTRO, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have played it a tenth as much as I have if it wasn’t grounded in the works of Tolkien.

I also came to care about the lore in EverQuest.  While it was something new, the games connection to TorilMUD (itself rooted in Forgotten Realms, which gives me a lore erection just saying the name), along with its newness and nature at launch, set my expectations and ideas about Norrath.  I have a pretty solid notion of what Norrath should be like based on that, something that has not always served me well.  Part of my problem with EverQuest II early on was the movement away from the lore of the original in the first couple of expansions.  And the whole crazy mounts thing irks to this day in EQII in a way that doesn’t bother me at all in WoW.

The setup to a "frog in a blender" joke

The setup to a “frog in a blender” joke

Hover disks in Norrath annoy me because that isn’t 1999.  In Azeroth they don’t even register because didn’t they always have stupid techno gadgets in their games?

Basically, in WoW, in Azeroth, my take on the lore is pretty much whatever has been handed to me piecemeal over the years, without me having ever managed to get invested in it.

Which brings us back to strange.

Strange because I have actually owned all of the Warcraft RTS games, the source of the lore for WoW.

I have just never gone through the single player campaigns on any of them.  Ever.

This was because I never had any enthusiasm for them other than as games to play with friends.  To my mind they were in the RTS genre to be played against other people, not single player games to be explored.  And even then, of Blizzard games, StarCraft and the Diablo games were far more popular in my group of friends.  I only picked up the Warcraft games over the years because they were the game of the moment for people at the office.  I think Warcraft II may have literally only been installed at the office and not at home.

So, before WoW, I played the Warcraft series for a few minor moments in between Total Annihilation, StarCraft, and Age of Empires (I and II, but not III).  Somehow that little bit inoculated me against caring about the lore.

Not that I haven’t had my moments with the lore in Azeroth now and again.  I was involved with the story surrounding Wrath of the Lich King, and have played through as much of Mists of Pandaria as I have in part to finish stories.  In fact, the return to the end of WotLK got me thinking about story and lore and what came before WoW, so I decided to dig out my Warcraft III CD.

Well, my Warcraft III CD case.  I have no idea where the actual CD is at this point.  But the case had the serial number on it, which was enough to activate it in Battle.net so I could download the game.  So I was set to get myself updated on some Warcraft lore.

Time to play the Warcraft III campaign!

How that played out after the cut where, if you played through and remember well the Warcraft III single player campaign, the punchline you are probably expecting, given what I have said above, does arrive.  We ask that you please hold your “Well, duh!” moments until the end of the performance.

Continue reading

$10 Gets Your Character’s Name on the EVE Online Monument

The cut-off date for character names to make it onto the EVE Online monument thing is fast approaching.  From the original announcement:

The monument will stand atop a half meter tall metal-plated concrete platform that will have the names of all the “main characters” of all active EVE Online players etched upon it. This list of active, paying players will be captured on March 1st, 2014—no exceptions. In addition, CCP will be honoring EVE Online players who have passed away by adding their names to the monument, as described in the following section.

Fortunately, if you are on the fence about coming back to have your semi-obscene or pop-culture based character name engraved in a tiny font on something which will be placed somewhere around Reykjavik harbor, CCP has a deal for you.  For just $10 (for those who pay in US currency) you can reactivate you account for 30 days.

For you, $9.99

For you, $9.99

Clicking on that screen shot will get you nowhere.  But if you go to the EVE Online site and go to the account management section (somewhere off the EVE Universe menu at the top right) you’ll see the offer.

While there is has been some controversy about CCP spending money on such a thing… shocking, I know… I have to wonder if there isn’t really some evil genius in this.  They haven’t said how they are paying for this monument, or even who is actually paying for it.   They are essentially putting it on public land, which I bet will get them a big tax break.  And I am sure that this will lead to at least some boost in subscriptions.  Are they essentially mixing crowd funding and tax breaks to cover any costs here?

Monument, pictured in a temperate marsh

Monument, pictured in a temperate marsh

Between this and the pop in new trial accounts after the battle at B-R5RB made the news, I suspect we’ll see a press release or some other announcement about subscriptions reaching a new peak.

If only CCP can hold on to them over the long term.

Diablo III Version 2.0

Blizzard dropped… after a fashion… the 2.0 patch for Diablo III yesterday.

That was the first of the three events planned for the next month or so for Diablo III.  There is the patch, the removal of the Auction House on March 18th, and the release of the (first?) expansion for the game, Reaper of Souls, on March 25th.

I am completely in favor of the removal of the auction house which, even by Blizzard’s own admission, hasn’t worked as planned.  I feel I know why they put the auction house in, but the way they coded loot drops for the game seemed designed specifically to drive people to it, so I remain a bit skeptical at their protestations that they were surprised by its popularity.

But it is going away, so water under the bridge.  It won’t be a problem soon.

And then there is the expansion.  More content and a new class, the crusader, that sounds interesting.  I am not willing to buy it quite yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out eventually.  It depends on the 2.0 patch.

Because the patch, the 2.0 version of Diablo III, is where the meat of the changes are coming.  This was the reason I wanted to patch Diablo III last night.  And once I was able to log in, Blizzard was keen to let me know what was new. (Patch notes here.)

Splash Screen of 2.0 Features

Splash Screen of 2.0 Features

Of all of that, I think Loot 2.0 is the most important.  If they are going to dump the Auction House, they need to make the loot you do get much more viable.  Some of it sounds like it came from the loot lessons they implemented in Mists of Pandaria and what they have planned for Warlords of Draenor.  “Smart Loot” includes more drops appropriate to your class and no class items with stats that are not important for that class any more.

Of course, they have also made higher quality items bound to your account.  No trading, because Blizzard still wants to keep the real money market down.  The whole point of the Auction House, to my view, was to eliminate that market by controlling it.  With the Auction House gone, other methods were required.

Diablo II Shop

It burns…

There are a host of other changes.  There were changes to classes, to monsters, to difficulty scaling, to bosses, to the paragon system, along with the addition of community items like guilds.  I am actually quite happy about that last bit.  While I am kind of past having to be in a guild in every game, we had to create our own ad hoc guilds back in Diablo and Diablo II.  Nice to see that Blizzard has finally acknowledged that this is a thing.

And, of course, Blizzard also had a splash screen in the game about the wonders of the new expansion as well.  Always be closing.

Reaper of Souls info

Reaper of Souls info

With all of this, I thought it might be time to return to the game and see how these changes feel.  I rolled up a new character… best to start from scratch I think, with all the changes… to try it out.  I did not actually get very far, but I want to try to find some time this weekend to at least get through the first act to see how it goes.

How about you?  Does the 2.0 version of the game have any appeal?

Warlords of Draenor to be a $60 Expansion? And Something About Insta-90s

A controversial bit of information slipped out last week when Blizzard accidentally let the “boost to level 90” option show up in the in-game store at one point during patch day.  The error was quickly fixed, but the word was out.  WoW Insider had a screen shot indicating that Blizzard was not only officially on-board with insta-levels as a paid character service, but that the price to get to level 90 appeared to be $60.

The alleged price of level 90

The alleged price of level 90

There were discussions on various sites as to whether that price was right or not and whether it was too much or not enough.  Lots of theories were put up that seemed most based on who the assumed audience was for such a service really was.

My gut feeling on the price previously was that it had to be more than any current individual character service… so greater than $25… but less than the cost of the Warlords of Draenor expansion.  After all, if you made it more than the price of the expansion, which comes with an insta-90 character boost, why wouldn’t I just buy multiple copies of the expansion to boost multiple characters if the expansion costs less?  Since I assumed that the expansion would be the usual $40, I pegged the level boost at $35.

Over in the comment thread at Herding Cats I added in two additional thoughts:

Conspiracy theory: It will be $60 for exactly that reason, to push more WoD boxes to set an expansion sales record.

Fear: This is actually a signal that the expansion will be $60.

Today however, Blizzard has been over talking to EuroGamer about the price point, defending $60 for the insta-level 90 in terms of maintaining the value of leveling up yourself, and one of the first items put out there in the article is that the expansion itself will be $60. [Addendum: As noted in the comments below, EuroGamer has since deleted that from the article without any notice of a correction.  Because EuroGamer.]

And my initial response was, “Really? We’re going $60… the defacto price of a new AAA game… for an expansion now?”

See you guys in the fall?

Orc Chieftains don’t work cheap

The sad part is that I will pay the price anyway.  Heck, I was already toying with the idea of the collector’s edition and I never buy the collector’s edition.  But with past CE’s being double the price of the standard ($40/$80) I have to wonder if Blizzard is now going to go all the way to $120 for the CE, or just cap it at $99.99 to stay within the realm of sanity. (Said the guy who bought the EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition.)

$60 for an expansion.

On the one hand, you can always argue that I will get at least as much entertainment value out of the expansion as I will from any new AAA game you care mention.  On the other hand, I am also paying that subscription fee every month to play, so it isn’t like I am not supporting Blizzard enough as it is.

You charge what you think the market will bear.  Of course, into the mix is the fact that expansions aren’t holding their price point nearly as long.  Burning Crusade was still $40 a year after it shipped.  Mists of Pandaria was on sale at half price a few months after it launched.  As I have been trained by Steam sales on this sort of thing, I now have to ask myself if I need the expansion on day one, or if I can wait… as I did with MoP… until the price comes down.

I don’t actually need a level 90.  I will easily have three by the time the expansion hits.  Maybe they will throw something else in with the pre-order to sweeten the deal a bit.  Or maybe I can just think of it as buying the expansion and getting two-thirds off of my first insta-90. ($40 + $20)

What do you think?  $60 for an expansion?  Even with a level 90 boost?

As for selling the insta-level 90 for $60, I am somewhat indifferent.  It isn’t a service I expect to use… I cannot even decide what to do with the one I will get with WoD… and I find any argument about it being too expensive to be more foot stomping than anything else.  How much should a level 90 character cost?  It is a luxury item after all.  And anybody returning to the game who wants a level 90 will likely buy WoD to get one along with the new content.

And what happens when the price of the expansion comes down, as it inevitably will?  Eventually Warlords of Draenor will be $40 or $20 on sale and then will end up as part of the World of Warcraft Battle Chest.  What happens to insta-90s then?  Will Blizz remove the option from the expansion at some point?

I suppose we shall see how this plays out.

Addendum: I like where Ars Technica says “Only 67 cents a level” in their Economic Reality post.

Show Me The Planets Contest Reminder

My contest to give away a Mystery Code from the EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition has just a few more days to run.  You can find the full rules and other details here, but in brief, you have until Saturday to enter.

The latest entry I have is from Kirith Kodachi, and it really puts the emphasis on showing me the planet.

State Protectorate station over Eha III

State Protectorate station over Eha III

So far I have entries from:

  • Alikchi
  • Ripard Teg/Jester
  • Robyn Aurilen
  • Jack Holt
  • Kirith Kodachi

Which means that the field of competition is not all that big.  If you enter now, the range of choices is still small enough that you could easily stand out and win… with the right screen shot.

I am still waiting to hear from Mark726 of the EVE Travel blog who, the last I heard, was paralyzed by choice in attempting to narrow his options down to just three entries.

Is PvP a Requirement for All MMOs?

One of my gripes about the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign was about PvP.

PvP was a stretch goal, but I was annoyed that it was on the list in any form at all.  The promise of Pantheon seemed, to me at least, to be getting back to a difficult and dangerous PvE world that required grouping to take on.  The early days of EverQuest were invoked in this regard.  For a game being made by a small team that declared it was not trying to be “all things to all people,” the mention of PvP seemed like a step in that very direction.

And you should not get me wrong on this.  I am not saying there shouldn’t be PvP.  I play EVE Online, right?  But does every PvE focused game need to spend time developing a PvP mechanism as well?

Going back to the dawn of the first massive successes on the MMO front, Ultima Online was PvP from day one.  But EverQuest was derived from TorilMUD which had no PvP at all.  In fact, the dev staff at TorilMUD split over the idea of PvP, which the PvP faction moving off to follow their dreams with Duris MUD.  But SOE eventually felt that EverQuest needed PvP and so the Rallos Zek server was born.

This moved was widely viewed as a way to concentrate all the griefers into a single thunderdome where they would leave the rest of the player base alone.  It was successful, in that the investment was low (as far as I can tell SOE did very little explicitly for PvP and was pretty hands off when it came to running the server) and it scratch that PvP itch for those who had to have it in a Norrathian context. (Roll stock footage of Fansy the Famous Bard.)  And this lives on today as the Zek server with its own PvP rule set.

Asheron’s Call also had a PvP flagging system and a PvP dedicated server as part of its mix.  So the big generation clearly bought into PvP, as did the next round of games.  Dark Age of Camelot was explicitly PvP and Star Wars Galaxies had a sandbox PvP aspect to it.

Then came World of Warcraft, which had PvP and PvP servers from day one.  Granted, day one was pretty ad hoc when it came to PvP, but Blizzard has a long history with RTS games, so players fighting other players must have seemed a natural to them.  And whether or not you like the various stages WoW PvP has progressed through, it has been pretty successful.  It would be hard to imagine WoW without it.

2 minutes 11 seconds into Wintergrasp

I played a lot of Wintergrasp when it was popular

Of course, WoW also ran into one of the problems with PvP in a heavily PvE game, that of gear and ability balance between the two.  It is really cool that the rogue in your dungeon group or raid can crowd control an off-mob with a stun lock, but I don’t know anybody who likes having that done to them by a rogue in a battleground.  And Dark Age of Camelot ran into similar issued from the other direction, by introducing powerful PvE acquired gear into a primarily PvP game.

So mixing PvE and PvP is rarely a matter of a flagging system or a separate server.  The eternal balance of equipment and abilities… which is already nettlesome in just the PvE environment… takes on an even bigger role when PvP is part of the mix.  It doesn’t come for free, it requires design and development time… unless you take the approach SOE did with EverQuest and just try to ignore the whole PvP aspect of the balance thing, or you take the Guild Wars approach and just keep the two as separate as possible.

And after WoW, things just got went down hill.  The success of the game meant other companies trying to copy WoW features in order to capture WoW numbers.  EverQuest II is probably the most tragi-comic example of this.  So much development and design time has been spent on PvP ideas in that game that it just about breaks your heart.  They have had PvP servers, PvP arenas where you fight with a special sub-avatar of your character, arenas where you fight with your actual character, and, more recently, WoW-like battlegrounds.  And the trend has always been that either the PvP is so bad that nobody uses it or that it is so affected by PvE stats and abilities that a whole array of special rules and exceptions have to be put in place to try to maintain at least some illusion of balance.  The last time I checked in, SOE had gotten to the point where every piece of equipment and every ability essentially had two sets of stats, one for PvE and one for PvP, leading to some of the largest tool tip windows known to man.

Then there was Lord of the Rings Online, which couldn’t bring itself to allow the elf-on-elf combat we all secretly desire (we need more kinslayings) but which felt it had to have PvP, so they gave us Monster Play, a feature convoluted enough that I couldn’t even tell you how it works because I have never once used it.  And I have tried the various PvP options on every MMO I have played.  I know somebody loves Monster Play out there… you can find somebody who loves and will defend any MMO feature ever… but was LOTRO as a whole made better by it?  Could the time spent on that have been better invested?

Warhammer Online at least never had the PvE vs. PvP balancing problem, because I don’t think most of us stuck around long enough for it to be a problem.  Instead, it was bit by the WoW battleground bug, which became the most efficient way to level up, so everybody did those while the open world content languished for want of the numbers needed to make it viable.

And so it goes.  Even today we are looking at The Elder Scrolls Online coming out in a little over a month.  This is an MMO based on an exclusively single player RPG franchise… PvE to its deepest roots… and they are busying pushing the Alliance War, the PvP aspect of the game.  Meanwhile, Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMO made in the BioWare mold… fourth pillar and all that… has its Galactic Starfighter battleground out and available to everybody now.

Which brings me around to the title of this post.  Is PvP a requirement for all MMOs?  Can you even launch a PvE MMORPG without an announced PvP plan?