Monthly Archives: March 2014

Picking My 15 Most Influential Games

Jackie at Kitty Kitty Boom Boom, prompted by lvling life, put up a list of her top 15 video games.

There was a methodology by which you were supposed to generate that list.  It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  You were not supposed to spend a lot of time with it.  And, of course, I tossed that aside.  Rather than a quick list of 15 special games, I ended up with my list of the 15 most influential video games in my gaming career so far.

And what do I mean by “influential?”

I mean that they opened up new idea, new genres, or new points of view for me when it came to video games.

Influential does not mean that they were my favorites, the games I played the most in a given genre, or even all that good in a few cases.  So, for example, I have played a LOT more World of Warcraft than EverQuest at this point in my life, and I am not really all that keen to go back to EverQuest.  But EverQuest is the more influential of the two.  Without it, there would be no WoW, and without me playing it in 1999, I might not have made it to WoW.

Anyway, on to the list.

1. Star Trek (1971) – many platforms

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

I have covered this as the first computer video game I ever played.  While incredibly simple, this game showed me the way, let me know that computers were going to be an entertainment device

2. Tank (1974) – Arcade

Tank!

Tank! In Black and white!

This was the game AFTER Pong.  Not that Pong was bad.  Pong was new and fresh when it came out, but I must admit that it did become a little dull after the first pass or two.  And then Tank showed us that man need not entertain himself with virtual paddles alone.  I wouldn’t touch Pong after a while, but Tank was always good.  You just needed somebody to play with.

3. Adventure (1979)  – Atari 2600

This Castle is Timeless!

This Castle is Timeless!

Yes, I got that Atari 2600 for Christmas way back when, but then there was a matter of what to play.  It came with the Combat cartridge, which included Tank.  And I also had Air-Sea Battle and a few others. But the problem was that these games were all unfulfilling unless played with two people.  And then came Adventure.  Not only wasn’t it the usual 27 minor variations on three two-player themes, it was specifically, unashamedly single player only.  Here, loner, good luck storming the castle!  And it had odd behaviors and minor flaws.  I tried putting that magic bridge everywhere and ended up in some strange places.  It also had a random mode, that might just set you up with an unwinnable scenario.  And there was an Easter egg in it.

It was both different and a harbinger of things to come.

4. Castle Wolfenstein (1981) – Apple II

Graphics - 1981

Graphics – 1981

This was the first game that I saw that indicated that I really, really needed to get a computer.  An Apple II specifically, because that was what Gary had.  And he also had Castle Wolfenstein.

It was not an easy game.  You lost.  A lot.  The control system left something to be desired.  You really needed a joystick to play.  And there were so many quirks and strange behaviors that somebody created a utility program a couple years after it came out that basically “fixed” a lot of the worst annoyances.  I bought it gladly.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

But this game was the prototype for many that followed.  You’re in a cell and you need to escape.  You need make your way through the castle, picking up guns, keys, ammunition, German uniforms, and grenades.   Oh, grenades were so much fun.  There were other, later games I considered for this list, but when I broke them down, I often found that Castle Wolfenstein had done it already, in its own primitive way.

5. Wizardry (1981) – Apple II

Apple ][+ The Upgrades Begin

Apple ][+ and Wizardry

Basically, the party based dungeon crawl in computer form.  Monsters, mazes, traps, treasure, combat, and death.  Oh, so much death.  NetHack was a potential for this list, but I realized that randomness and ASCII graphics aside, Wizardry had pretty much everything it did.

And I spent hours playing.  I mapped out the whole game on graph paper, including that one level with all the squares that would turn you around.  The one with the pits of insta-death.  It also taught me the word “apostate.”

6. Stellar Emperor (1985) – Apple II

The GEnie version of MegaWars III at its inception, it was my first foray into multiplayer online games.  I have written about the game, even about winning.

Emperor of the Galaxy

Emperor of the Galaxy

But it was the online, playing with other people, usually the same people, making friends and enemies and having ongoing relationships that sold the game.  Again, it was primitive, even in its day, with ASCII based terminal graphics.  But there was magic in the mixture.

7. Civilization (1991) – Mac/Windows

The flat world of original Civ

The flat world of original Civ

Sid Meier was already something of a star by the time Civilization came out, but this cemented things as far as I was concerned.  I was considering putting Civilization II on the list rather than this.  Once I got Civ II, I never went back and played the original.

But that wasn’t because the original was crap.  That was because the sequel built on what was great in the original.  It was purely an evolutionary move.  But it was the original that hooked me, so that has to get the nod for influential.

8. Marathon (1994) – Mac

Spooky

Spooky

For me, this was the defining first person shooter.  There was a single player campaign.  There was a multiplayer deathmatch mode.  There were a variety of weapons.  There was a map editor and some mods and an online community that built up around it.  Everything after Marathon was just an incremental improvement for me.

Marathon on my iPad

Marathon on my iPad

There have been better graphics, better rendering engines, different weapons, plenty of variety on arena options, all sorts of updates on match making and connectivity, but in the end those are just updates to what Marathon already did.  To this day, I still sometimes say “I’ll gather” when creating a game or match for other people to join.  That was the terminology from 1994.  I wonder what Bungie has done since this?

9. TacOps  (1994) – Mac/Windows

Before video games I played a lot of Avalon Hill war games.  Those sorts of games made the natural transition to the computer, which was ideal for handling much of the housekeeping chores.  However, in the transition, some old conventions got dragged along as well, like hexes.  And I hate hexes.  Yes, on a board game you need to use that hexgrid for movement.  I could accept that for Tobruk set up on the kitchen table.  But a computer was fully capable of handling movement without such an arbitrary overlay.  A couple of games tried it, but they tended to fall into the more arcade-ish vein, which wasn’t what I wanted.

And then I picked up a copy of TacOps.

Giving orders on an open map

Giving orders on an open map

I bought it on a complete whim, picking up the very rare initial boxed version off the shelf at ComputerWare before it went completely to online sales.  And it was a revelation.  Hey, terrain governs movement.  And cover.  And visibility.  That plus simultaneous movement phases rather than turn based combat meant wonderful chaos on the field.  The game was good enough that the military of several countries contracted for special versions of the game to use as a training tool.

I originally had Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin on my list.  That is where Battlefront.com really came into their own with the Combat Mission series.  But aside from 3D graphics, TacOps had done it all already.

10. TorilMUD (1993) – various platforms

Have I not written enough about the last 20 years of TorilMUDPrecursor to the MMORPG genre for me.  Without it I might not have understood that camping mobs for hours at a stretch was “fun.”

11. Diablo (1996) – Windows

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

I have written quite a bit about my fondness for Diablo II, while I haven’t gone back to play the original Diablo since the sequel came out.  But I wouldn’t be still talking about Diablo II or comparing the merits of Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile had the original not been something very, very special.

12. Total Annihilation (1997) – Windows

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation was not the first RTS game I played.  I am pretty sure I played Dune II and Warcraft before it.  It is not the RTS game I have played the most.  I am sure I have more hours in both StarCraft and Age of Kings.  But it was the first RTS game that showed me that the genre could be about something more than a very specific winning build order.  All the units, on ground, in the air, on the water, were amazing.  The player maps were amazing, and player created AIs were even better.  The 3D terrain and line of sight and all that was wonderful.  And new units kept getting released.  And you could nuke things.  I still find the game amazing.

13. EverQuest (1999) – Windows

Fifteen years later and nothing has made my mouth hang open like it did on the first day I logged into Norrath.  I can grouse about SOE and the decisions they have made and the state of the genre, but that day back in 1999 sunk the hook into me good and hard and it hasn’t worked itself loose since.  Pretty much what this whole blog is about.

Froon!

Froon!

14. Pokemon Diamond (2006) – Nintendo DS

Before we got my daughter a DS lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon was pretty much just a cartoon on TV and a card game somebody’s kid at work played.  Sure, I knew who Pikachu was, but I had no real clue about the video game.

And then in watching my daughter play, I had to have my own DS and copy of the game.  Make no mistake, despite its reputation as a kids game, Pokemon can be deep and satisfying.  It tickles any number of gamer needs.  My peak was in HeartGold/SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.

Back when 493 was all

Back when 493 was all

While I have stopped playing, that doesn’t mean I don’t think about buying a 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon X or Y and diving back into the game.  It is that good.

15. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006) – many platforms

Filling this last slot… tough to do.  There are lots of potential games out there.  For example, I like tower defense games, but which one sold me on the idea?  But for a game that launched me into a lot of play time over a series of titles, I have to go with LEGO Star Wars II.

LEGO Star Wars II

LEGO Star Wars II

That is where Travelers Tales really hit their stride.  The original LEGO Star Wars tried to hard to be a serious and difficult game.  With this second entry, they realized the power of simply being fun and irreverent.  That was the magic.

And I only have to look at the shelf of console games we have to see that LEGO games dominate as a result of this one title. They have evolved, and in some ways I think they have lost a bit of their charm by trying to do too much.  We got the LEGO Movie Game for the PS3 and it didn’t have the joy of LEGO Star Wars II.  Still, 8 years down the road, the influence of LEGO Star Wars II got us to try it.

Fools Errand?

Of course, putting limits like an arbitrary number on a list like this means it must ring false in some way.  And what does influential really mean?  I know what I said, but I can look back at that list and nitpick that, say, Castle Wolfenstein might not belong.  And what about genres I missed, like tower defense?  I could make the case that Defense Grid: The Awakening belongs on the list.  What about games like EVE Online?  Actually, I explained that one away to myself, seeing EVE as sort of the bastard child of Stellar Emperor and EverQuest or some such.  And while TorilMUD is so powerful in my consciousness, would I have played it had it not been for Gemstone? Where does NBA Jams fit?  And what other Apple II games did I miss?  Should Ultima III be on there?  Lode Runner Karateka?

And somehow this all ties into my post about platforms and connectivity options I have had over the years.

Anyway, there is my list, and I stand firm behind it today.  Tomorrow I might change my mind.  You are welcome to consider this a meme and take up the challenge of figuring out your 15 most influential games.

Others who have attempted to pick their 15, each with their own history:

Mere Knaves in an Age of Kings

I mentioned in February’s Month in Review post that Potshot and a couple of his old college pals had pick up Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings HD on Steam.

I had been interested in getting some games together with the new-ish HD version that became available on Steam about a year back.

AoK450

Potshot and I have brought up the idea now and again, but only in the last month or so has this become a thing.  Four of us now try to get together and play a match or two once a week.

All of us played the game back in the its heyday… which I guess would be back in the 20th century if we want to get technical… and remember it fondly.  however, in our first match it became clear that some of us (me) had been tinkering with it more recently than others.

Okay, and with a week’s warning of our first match, I put in some time to get warmed up by playing at least one game against the computer nightly.

So when it came to the first game, things played out badly for some.  And the fact that I suggested that we all start on different teams ( including a computer opponent to mix things up) and lock teams, it might have been influenced by a fear of everybody turning on me if I got too far out in front.  *cough*

Actually, I wanted to computer player in the mix as the CPU usually goes after the most advanced player.  I thought that might moderate any advantage I might bring to the game.  Only the computer started far from me and we left the setting on “easy,” which meant that, if left alone, it might make it to the Castle Age in a few hours.

So I managed to win the first outing by beating down everybody else and then building a wonder, because we’re the type of people who won’t resign even when we’re down to one villager.

Totally This

Totally This

I built a large cavalry to sweep the lands and purge and resurgent force seeking to take down my wonder, successfully holding of the remnants opposing me until the timer counted down to zero.

That outcome, pointing out the imbalance in skill/knowledge/memory/whatever put our head-to-head matches on hold for a bit as we tried to get everybody up to speed.  The game now records matches by default, so while I was free in sharing my own build order and what not, everybody could watch and see what I really did.

But we were otherwise impressed with how the game held up after close to 15 years, with the integration into Steam’s match making and game hosting mechanism basically filling a major gap that has existed since official Microsoft support of such faded years ago.

Yes, we managed to close that gap with Game Ranger at one point.  But while I appreciate Game Ranger and what they do, having the game and the match making all built into Steam is simply easier to deal with, especially since Hidden Path Entertainment, who did the HD revamp, build the hooks right into the game interface.  (The downside is that there is no multiplayer without Steam.  But we’re good with that for now.)

So we were good with the game and started playing matches against computer opponents in order to share ideas and to close the skill/memory level between us.  We play random civilizations and random map types just to keep things changing.  While some of the game was clearly as I remembered it, at times there were oddities.  There was at least one map where I seemed to run into a LOT more sheep than I recall ever seeing.

Sheep I found AFTER my local sheep

Sheep I found AFTER my local sheep

We warmed up slowly, finding that computer opponents set to “hardest” were indeed a challenge to us.  When you decide your only hope is to go for a wonder victory against the computer, things are not going your way.

Just keep the wonder alive a little longer

Just keep the wonder alive a little longer

And when the computer wins anyway… well…

The wonder, the wonder...

The wonder, the wonder…

But we kept on until we found that we could at least take down an equal, or even a greater number, of computer opponents set to “hard,” though “hardest” still bedeviled us.  At one point two computer opponents set to “hardest” managed to beat the four of us on the Black Forest map by building a wonder of their own.  We were pretty much defeated by the computer’s ability and willingness to sacrifice villages to rebuild wall breaches.   We would build up forces, force a breach, only to have one villager slip through and start enough of a wall to stop us part way though again.  We could never get enough of a concentration of force through the gap, and since Black Forest is a map all about fighting over tight roads through the forest, there wasn’t a way around. (The fact that fully upgraded onager siege weapons can tear down forests had been discussed right before the match, but by the time we could bring that idea to bear it was too late to get through.)

But we had started to hit a point where we were all feeling like we had come to grips with the game and that it was time to step it up a notch.  So, when game time came around last Friday… we always form up via a Google+ video hangout, where I am the odd man out since I haven’t had a webcam since the days of the Connectix QuickCam… there was a question of how we should proceed.  The idea was put out there that the three of us… Potshot was away for the weekend, happy birthday to him… should form up an open match, with us on one team taking on whatever three people happened to join our game as the opposing team.

Our first match against live opponents!

Which brings up one of the problems of the way I often play such games.  I tend to like to play with/against friends.  So, all told, in the last fifteen years, I might have played with as many as 20 different people, many of them repeatedly.  That is a pretty small competitive ecosystem in which you tend to learn to play against specific people.  If you get good, that level of good is only relative to a very small set of possible situations.

So, while my fifteen year old build order through the first 20 minutes of the game gave me a clear advantage against our little group in that first game, things went less well when exposed to people who had clearly faced a wider range of competitors.

Basically, we got slaughtered.

The timeline

The timeline

I am not sure if the random map helped us or hurt us.  We ended up with team islands, where each team has its own large island and you have to invade.  That protected us from early harassment, but it also kept at least me from doing any early harassing as well.  Basically, they divided up efforts, with one concentrating on a navy that swept us from the seas and harassed anything in range of the shore, while the other two slipped over and built a barracks, some towers, and eventually a castle just out of line of sight of my town.

You can see the bump in my troop levels as I had my “oh crap” moment upon discovering MoronHunter was massing for an assault on my town.  That did not go well and I had to relocate to the far end of our island to start again.  And since I was, at least economically, out in front on our side, the cascade fail began.

We did what we could to hold them off for as long as possible, but with the enemy on our island, the issue was never in doubt.

On the bright side, our foes seemed happy enough to simply destroy us without telling us how badly we were doing, though I have to admit being so trounced by somebody with the name “MoronHunter” might be rebuke enough.

After our defeat, the question came as to what to do next.  We usually play two games.  This time around though, we decided to replay our first game.  As I mentioned, matches are recorded by default, so we went back and ran through the match together, watching how our opponents started off the game and built up their economy.

My own ideas on that front are from about 2000, when a good plan was to build up 20 villagers before advancing to the feudal age.  That idea seems to have changed.  Our foes held off some, pushing for 30 to 35 villagers before starting the climb to feudal.

There was also a clear difference in gathering for that push.  Back in the day, the default plan for food was to harvest sheep, boars, deer, and then start on farms and berries.  Again, our foes debunked that idea, ignoring boars… and in the case of Lolus even sheep initially… going straight for farms after putting a lot of early villagers on wood.

As a team, we also suffered from the usual problem of limited scope.  We tend to build just ONE of each troop producing building.  There was an early fight for the sea lane between the islands which I ended up losing because I was producing ships out of a single dock while chip_xx was using three.

We can at least say we had an educational night, and I expect that our next round of play will include experimentation with the build orders we observed.  Maybe we can master the “hardest” setting now.  Potshot will probably come off the worse for wear, having missed the match.

And then there was the Forgotten Empires question.

A little over a year ago, a group of player finally finished up an unofficial expansion for Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings called Forgotten Empires.  The team that put it together adapted it to the updated HD version of Age of Kings on Steam, and it is now available for purchase as DLC under the name The Forgotten. (Though there is a question about who is getting the money from it, along with the usual community bitching about having to pay for something that was free at one point.)

The question is, “Should we buy it?”

I tinkered with it a bit back when it came out.  The new empires are not that big of a deal to my mind, nor are a couple of the enhancements, while the graphics were not so great.  But the new AIs that come with it might make it worthwhile, and the conversion to the new HD format might help.  Another item for the group to discuss.

CCP – Losing Money and Getting Closer to Sony

A couple of interesting/odd things around CCP this week.

CCPlogo

The first is that CCP released their 2013 financial report (you can view it here), in which indicate that they lost $21 million for the year.  It says so right there at the bottom line.

However, if your reaction is, “OMG, Tobold was right! CCP is doomed!” you should calm down.

As Jester covered in detail, the loss came from a capital asset… in this case, software which they no longer feel will generate revenue… being “derecognized.”

Bascially, they wrote some software that they felt had value  because of potential revenue it might generate and called it an asset at some point, adding to the total value of the company.  Now they have decided that the software in question does not have value, again revenue potential comes into play, so they have to take it off the books.  To the shareholders, the company effectively “lost” that much in its overall valuation, but no actual cash money disappeared or changed hands.  The operational aspects of the company were profitable and, as expected, completely dominated by EVE Online, which generated most of the $74 million in revenue from games. (Which is a $9 million boost over 2012.)

So the real question has become, “What software got ‘derecognized?'”

Contenders seem to be World of Darkness related development, “walking in stations” code from the Incarna era,  or maybe some aspect of DUST 514, though the latter, as a whole, did actually generate some revenue in 2013, if not as much as CCP hoped.

The whole thing is muddied up by the fact that CCP dropped the financials out there without any accompanying press release or explanation.  This is no doubt why certain gaming sites, who would likely jump on such a headline as sure-fire click bait, haven’t put up stories about it yet.  “CCP Loses 21 Million Dollars in 2013” is a winner on that front, right?  But nobody has told them what to think, so they have yet to act. (I, meanwhile, will act without thinking at all!)

Well played CCP.  More as that develops.

Meanwhile, David Reid tweeted last night CCPs virtual reality game, EVE Valkyrie, which has been shown with the Occulus Rift headset up to this point (and which is reportedly getting closer to an actual consumer model), would also be coming to the PlayStation 4 using Sony’s VR headset, currently flying under the code name Project Morpheus… because The Matrix (and not some NASA lander project).

Nifty stuff.  CCP was already close to Sony through DUST 514, which remains (much to the dismay of many EVE Online players) a PlayStation 3 exclusive title.  Now CCP is getting closer still, being in a position to help boost Sony’s new peripheral with software that is already generating “oohs” and “ahhs” from those who have had a chance to play with it.

Over at The Nosy Gamer, there is also speculation that this further tightening relationship between Sony and CCP might also aim to help Sony crack the China market with the PS4 by porting DUST 514 over so they would have a free to play, made in China FPS game to bring to the table.  Or something.

But, going back to the CCP financial statement, one other theory being bandied about is that the “derecognized” software isn’t anything in particular, at least not a whole project being terminated, but rather a collection of odds and ends bundled up to be removed from the books in order to clean things up for a potential financial move in the coming year.  If CCP was going to be involved in a merger or get a major new investor, it would certainly be prudent to have their valuations rock solid.

And, of course, here is Sony, back in the picture again, potentially in a big way, with new technologies and a chance for “firsties” on the VR front in the console wars.

Completely circumstantial… and barely that… but it is enough to make you go, “Hrmmm…”

Diablo III Auction House, Going Once, Going Twice…

Gone.

Today’s Diablo III patch is set to pull the auction house out of the game.  There is, of course, a FAQ for this.

Look out

Look out

Some are building this up as a really big deal.  And maybe it is.

The combination of the auction house and the questionable itemization of the game led to a situation where the auction house got out of hand, much to Blizzard’s surprise.  Or so they claim.  It seemed to me that the itemization was going to drive people to the auction house almost immediately after launch.  Others were saying it in beta.  But we all came with the outsider’s point of view, and I have been in enough organizations where the prism of focus has distorted our view of the world as to be unable to see the oncoming train.

And the quote in that link above points to what Blizzard’s goal, which was to control/eliminate third party sales of game items and currency.

Diablo II Shop

Maybe the last time I use this graphic

People who use “Legit” in their site names are clearly evil. *cough*

And a noble goal that was, given that such third parties often end up causing problems for the game.  It even appeared to work.  Pity about the hyper-inflation.  When your game is compared to Weimar Germany, it is never a good thing.  That wasn’t helped by a bug that let people create gold out of thin air.

So, after much consideration, Blizzard came up with a plan.  As part of their shipping Diablo III for consoles, they redid the itemization and did not include an auction house.   When that seemed to go well, they moved to roll those changes into the PC version of the game as part of their ramp up to the Reaper of Souls expansion.

At the end of February we got Diablo III version 2.0, which included a number of changes.

Splash Screen of 2.0 Features

2.0 Features

Itemization… or Loot 2.0…  was clearly the most important, and it looks good so far.  I have not been back to the auction house… nor have I felt any need to go there… since we got this.  I am also pleased with the change in difficulty levels.  Being able to go straight to Hard mode was good.

Today we say farewell to the auction house.  Whether you loved it or hated it, it is now in the past.

And in a week we get the Reaper of Souls expansion.  Sales figures on that will be the test for these changes.  When you just sell the box… and Diablo III sold very well… and are not worried about subscriptions of cash shop sales, your work is pretty much done.  You want to support the game, but as sales taper off, there is little financial motive to make big changes.  Unless, of course, you want to sell an expansion.

People have been coming back to Diablo III to check out the 2.0 changes.  And things have looked pretty good.  But sales of the Reaper of Souls expansion will be the referendum on the whole thing.  Diablo III sold 3.5 million copies in the first 24 hours (a number which I am guessing counts the million World of Warcraft subscribers who got the game for “free” by committing to a year long subscription) and 12 million copies in the first year. (Which also points out how important the PC platform is to this game.  XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions came out well after the 12 million mark, and the last quarterly report pegged Diablo III sales as reaching 15 million units.)

So this will be something of a referendum on the game and its changes.  If Blizzard cannot move a couple million copies next week… if they don’t have a press release out about sales… that won’t be a good thing.

I am still torn on the expansion.  I was leaning towards getting it, thinking that at my rate of progress I would be ready to jump right into a brand new Act V at about the time it went live.  And then my Diablo III play time got interrupted with one of those “always online” issues again.

Latency - Smaller is Better

Latency – Smaller is Better

Other online games were fine, including WoW.  But Diablo III was unplayable.  So I went and played WoW.

Now I am about a third of the way through Act III.  I could still catch up and be done and ready for Act V if I pressed hard, but that strays into making the game work, and I like to explore every corner of the map as I play.  So I will likely hold off on the expansion until I am ready for the content.  And I probably won’t be there next week.

In the mean time, according to the shut down FAQ, you have until June 24th to claim or clear out anything you have sitting in the auction house.  And it will remain a legend and cautionary tale, as well as proof once again that economic efficiency can transcend fantasy.  Or as Edward Castronova put it:

Being an elf doesn’t make you turn off the rational economic calculator part of your brain.

We are what we are.

Wally World Gives a Thumbs Up to Used Games

Walmart put out a press release to announce that they will soon be taking used video games in for store credit and refurbishing those games to make them “available for purchase in like-new condition at a great low price.”

WalMartLogo_450

This is no doubt a blow to those who like to frame the used game market as the moral equivalent to software piracy.  And it was always easy to vilify GameStop and its stereotyped raging gamer clientele in that argument, casting them as parasites and thieves respectively.

And while other companies, including Amazon, have dabbled in the use game market, when the largest retailer in the world steps up to the plate on used games… well… things get a bit ugly.

Not that it isn’t easy to vilify Walmart.  They were a customer at a past company I worked for, and they are every bit as difficult to deal with as they have been painted… though often in surprisingly stupid, shoot themselves in the foot sorts of ways.  But when their mind is set, they will get their way.  And if you think somebody is going to be able to pressure them to share a cut of used sales with game studios… something that was being suggested with GameStop… well, good luck with that.

Meanwhile, some companies, including EA, have grudgingly acknowledged in the past that the ability to trade in used games for store credit may, in fact, be propping up the sales of new games.

Using Used to sell New

Using Used to sell New

So one might wonder if this move by Walmart will prove a boon for the gaming companies, despite their grumbling.

Of course, this won’t be any sort of boon for GameStop, which lives in a tight little niche that depends heavily on being the only place close by to take your used games.  But now the big box on the edge of town, where your mom probably shops already, will take them as well.

Anyway, starting on March 26th you will be able to take used games to your local Walmart for store credit.  At some future, as yet unspecified date, Walmart will begin offering “Certified Pre-Owned” video games for sale, with the promise of them being refurbished to “like new” condition.

Level 85 in EverQuest… Now What?

these new boost 90s are ruining the game

-Search term of the day

Last week we got insta-level boosts in both EverQuest and World of Warcraft.

In WoW they are a $60 option, though you get one “free” with the purchase or pre-order of the Warlords of Draenor expansion.

In EQ they are a $35 option… or maybe less, depending on how you acquired your 3,500 Station Cash… and you can get one that is actually free for a limited time.  The offer for that ends on March 26.

So I had to go try these out.

I went for the WoW option, boosting up a Death Knight, which I covered in another post.  There were quirks.  Some of them have been addressed.  You no longer get dumped at Timeless Isle when starting out, which is probably good.  But there are still points where you wonder how a new player is going to handle an insta-90.

I had to go look up how to play my Death Knight now that he had all of his skills and access to all of his talents and would be expected to have glyphs in group content.  I went to Icy Veins this time around, which has a nice set of class guides.  A new player might do that as well.

However, I did have a serious advantage over a new player in that I knew what I wanted this character to do at level 90.  He is already out and exalted with the Tillers so I have another farm for trillium when I need it.  I have him on a couple of other faction hunts and running through some content that benefits me overall.  I never hit the “so what do I do now?” question.   Of course, he got through some of the things I wanted so fast that I’ve gone back to another low level alt that I am leveling up.  But that is more a matter of being boosted to level cap where there is only end But he is also my third 90, so things like LFR are no longer fresh and new.)

I did wonder how it would feel if I didn’t really have a goal, what the game would be like if I got that insta-level character and was facing a world in which I had no real plan.  I couldn’t do that in WoW.

But EverQuest looked like it might be a different story.  While I have played plenty of EQ over the years, I have never had a character past level 60, so most of the last decade of new content is completely unknown to me.  So I was curious to see how the EQ insta-level plan, which gives you a fully equipped level 85 character, would guide me.  Time to take advantage of that free boost.

Heroic for Free

Heroic for Free

More after the cut because verbosity.

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Firiona Vie’s Quinceañera – Happy Anniversary EverQuest

Fifteen years of EverQuest.

This is usually the day every year when I drag out the nostalgia, along with a few appropriate pictures, and reflect on my history with the game and whether it remains relevant to me or not. So why should this year be any different?

10 Years of EverQuest

Some EverQuest Stuff

SOE as well has seen fit to mark the anniversary of the launch of EverQuest at various times.  They have saved some key things for the anniversary.  Back on its 13th birthday the game became an annoying free to play teen (and continues to pop up “Have you gone gold yet?” alerts all the time).  Last year they used the anniversary to announce that they were removing some of the paid unlocks from the game on things like the quest journal.  This year we got free insta-85 characters and a couple other things mentioned in Thom Terrazas’ Happy Birthday Producer’s Letter.

And a 15 years later info-graphic.

How much has changes in 15 years?

How much has changes in 15 years?

Though they have done the info graphic thing a couple of time in the past.  At least one I linked to in past days has disappeared though, as SOE finally decided to delete the Station Blog at WordPress.com, destroying some more history in the process.

StationBlogGone

You can find bits of it at the Internet Archive, but you can’t really navigate it because all the links resolve to the site not the backup.  And ironic thing to happen during a celebration of history.

The EQ Dev blog, untouched since 2010, remains for the moment, so I was able to grab that Secrets of Faydwer timeline that then producer Clint Worley posted for the EverQuest Nine Year Anniversary.  (Expect that link to die as soon as SOE notices I guess.)

A Nine Year Timeline for EQ

A Nine Year Timeline for EQ

As for my reflections, I am still fond of the game in a happy memory sort of way.  I am still interested in seeing how it progresses as time moves on.  And I wonder at this point if it will make it to 20 years.  SOE, or its representatives, have spoken about keeping games going for small core audiences even after the age of expansions or frequent updates has passed.  But given more recent events, it is clear even SOE has a limit.

But for now, the world continues to turn and the fires in Norrath still burn.

The Insta-90 Choice is… Death Knight

I went out and pre-ordered Warlords of Draenor because… well… because I wanted to play with the whole insta-90 thing and I didn’t want to just lay out $60 for the pleasure with nothing else to show for it.  At least I have the expansion queued up for some time this year.  This is what you get with your insta-level:

  • Boost to level 90
  • 150 gold
  • 4 Embersilk (22-slot) bags
  • A stack of 20 food items
  • Full set of spec-appropriate Item Level 483 (blue-quality) gear
  • If a boosted character was already level 60 or above, their existing Primary Professions and First Aid are bumped up to level 600
  • A faction-specific flying mount—a traditional Wind Rider for Horde or Gryphon for Alliance
  • Artisan flying—that’s one rank below max flight speed
  • Northrend, Kalimdor/Eastern Kingdoms, and Pandaria regional flying skills trained

I chose my level 68 Death Knight so as to get the primary professions bump as well.  I pulled the trigger and ended up with a level 90, fully equipped DK.

Tokarev, Level 95

Tokarev, Level 90

Of course, that list of what you get is general.  The details can be… interesting.

I didn’t bother to read any descriptions about the process or watch the video, I just did it and found myself standing at the flight point on Timeless Isle all geared up and with 102 free bag slots.  The starting location was no doubt a prompt to go get some even better gear, which I promptly did along with finding a crystal of insanity. (The cave was full of people doing the same.  I’d love to know how many fresh 90s there were this week.)

But 102 free bags slots?  Out of 104 total?  Where did all my stuff go?

Oh, it was in the mail.  Blizzard unburdened me of all my past worldly possessions and set them aside in a locker for me.  I guess, of possible options, that was a decent choice.  At least once I figured it out.

And on the unexpected front, I did get my primary professions boosted to 600, giving me max skill mining and jewel crafting.  What I did not get was any of the recipes along the way.  And the price of getting them… just the Pandaria ones that you can train… is a lot more than the 150 gold then give you.  Fortunately, I already had a pile of gold on my DK, so I trained that up, though I still have to go out in the world and find a good portion of the top tier recipes as drops.

Not the worst thing in the world, but it does put the question of the target audience in mind.  If you were a brand new player enticed in by the insta-90 scheme and only had that 150 gold… well… I guess you wouldn’t get the profession boost so it wouldn’t matter.

Now I just have to figure out how to play my DK.  I had been leveling him up as a tank, so blood spec, which was easy enough in The Burning Crusade.  But for the boost I opted for frost DPS spec, since you have to know what you’re doing at level cap to tank.  The insta-90 process gave me the choice of spec.  Now I have a dual wielding DPS DK and have to figure out skills and glyphs and what not.  But at least I know where to go and what to do with him.  He is already stuck into faction with the Tillers and the Cloud Serpents.  We will see if I have the fortitude to bring another melee DPS into LFR.

So far, so good I guess.

I also plan to take advantage of the freebie insta-85 boost over in EverQuest this weekend.  We only have until the 26th for that.  I will be interested to see how the two compare.

MyDream is to do What to Minecraft?

First there was Minecraft, as it was good.

Minecraft

Or many people thought it was. It flourished and blossomed and jumped to different platforms and generally made Notch and his company quite a large pile of money.

It never really appealed to me, but I could still see the magic.  It was open and allowed you to do many, many things.  My daughter played it quite a bit, including on a PvP server.  I didn’t even know that was possible until she showed me.

Of course, where money flows, so do copy cats.  There were knock-offs like CastleMiner.  And, as time went by, bigger and more sophisticated players started into the market with their own spin on the Minecraft idea.  SOE’s Landmark is one and Trion’s Trove is another, both of which have a look and feel that sets them apart from mere clones of the original.

I know there are other examples out there, but since the genre really doesn’t do much for me, their names tend not to stick with me.  Fill in the blanks for me, because my writing things like, “And that one that people keep mentioning” doesn’t really work so well.

But even with all of that, there seemed to be room enough in the market.

Then, yesterday, I got a press release in my inbox… because PR people are a desperate sort and are happy when even when somebody so far down the food chain as myself mentions the product they are pushing… for a “Minecraft killer.”

Actually, it was (Minecraft killer), in parentheses, but it was right there in the subject line of the email.

And I actually groaned aloud upon reading that.

I groaned because I have lived through the age of the quest for the WoW killer.

Did I say “lived through?”  I meant “live in,” since if you Google “WoW killer” you will see that the quest is still alive and well and crushing souls.

Still, I had to wonder who would have the audacity to make such a claim.  So I went to the Kickstarter for MyDream (which I mentally read as “MyDream is to KILL Minecraft!!1”) to see who was standing up to slay the beast.

MyDream

To the company’s credit credit, the Kickstarter page doesn’t actually say “Minecraft killer” anywhere.  Neither does the actual press release.  I suspect that the injection of the phrase into the subject line came at the insistence of their PR person and does reflect the elevator pitch mentality of our society today, where you cannot describe something from the ground up, so you have to jump straight to associations like, “Think ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ meets ”Aliens!'” or some such.

And, reading through the Kickstarter, the whole thing sounds much more like SOE’s Landmark, which I would imagine is neither well known enough nor far enough along to have attracted a “killer” yet, than Minecraft, with a bit more emphasis on creating content.

Think Landmark meets Neverwinter’s Foundry… if you must.

A bit of it does seem a bit blue sky naive.  This in particular stuck out:

The MyDream team is currently working on a leveling system based on the novel idea helping others. We would like to eliminate hating, griefing and other forms of abuse that run rampant in other MMO’s. By creating a reputation system that promotes cooperative team play and honest rating of others, we assure a self-policing positive environment for all.

That sent my cynicism spiking off the meter… they assure this… while at the same time making me think, “Oh God, don’t put it like that, you’re practically daring people to prove that they can grief and otherwise behave badly!  You don’t know their power!  Don’t make eye contact!”

I suppose I am a product of my environment, which does include EVE Online.  But rare is the multiplayer game where I haven’t seen some amount of bad behavior exhibited simply because it could be done.

Anyway, I thought I would bring this up because… urm  uh… I’ve forgotten now.  I don’t plan on pledging or even playing.  Variety? Something about “Minecraft killer” possibly?  Or maybe because their office is just up the road in Palo Alto.  Go local devs.