Monthly Archives: July 2014

July in Review

The Site

No major upsets on the site this month, just the usual measure of gripes about little things.

In a behind-the-scenes change, WordPress.com updated the editor so that it is no longer a window the a scroll bar within a page with a scroll bar.  I can appreciate trying to get away from the embedded scroll bars thing.  I think the SAP time reporting module at my last job could get five deep in nested scroll bars if you were not careful.

Unfortunately, while the tool bar stays nicely at the top of the infinitely long edit window, the “save” button on the sidebar scrolls off into the distance as your post gets longer… 500 words isn’t a big issue, but when I get 2,000 words into something, it is a long trip back up to the top to save, and a long life using computers has made “save early and often” a mantra.  So I now spend a lot more time scrolling with the new layout than I did with the old.

Then there is the MMO Bloggers RSS feed on the side bar.  It seems to be a bit more reliable of late, being up often enough for me to notice that some blogs it claims should be in the feed don’t show up.  Sugar Kyle, who posts daily at her Low Sec Lifestyle blog, never appears on the list.  Others show up every time.  And it does not appear to be order related.  Bio Break is at the end of the feed list, but every post from there appears.  And it doesn’t seem to follow any particular blogging platform, while the feed itself appears to have all the data.  So WordPress.com is not handling something correctly in its RSS feed widget.

I found that annoying enough that I seriously contemplated moving the whole thing over to Blogger, just so I could have the wonderful blogroll sidebar available to blogs there. (Which, on a side topic, seems to hate my blog currently, links to my feed seem to sit for days without updates in sidebars of late, even when I have new posts.)  There are some tools to modify the XML you can export from WordPress.com so you can import it into Blogger.  However, my site has grown large enough that I am no longer able to export it.  WordPress.com just times out and throws an error.  So I am stuck here, which is probably okay.  I didn’t really want to move.

Meanwhile, I have been messing around with blog themes again.  Go take the poll if the site is still some color other than white.

One Year Ago

I was looking for gold in the MMO blogging community, which became the topic of the moment.

It was summer, so there was a Steam Summer Sale.

Activision-Blizzard was moving away from Vivendi… and WoW dropped 600K subscribers.

There was a promise of some news about EverQuest Next, so I started speculating about what we might hear.  Sandbox gets mentioned a lot.

The battle at 6VDT-H ended any hope left for TEST and heralded the end of the war in Fountain.  I have since complied a full list of posts about the war in Fountain.  The war made up most of my posts for the month.

On the iPad, DragonVale and Candy Crush Saga were my current games of choice.

My summer vacation in Middle-earth got me to Moria.

The instance group got together just long enough to defeat the Storm Queen… and that was about it for us and Rift.

The Civilization V expansion Brave New World changed up the game again.

I starting musing about the inventory management aspect of games.

And we said goodbye to Google Reader.

Five Years Ago

I won a contest.  Granted, all I got was a T-shirt.  But that was probably more than you got.

Mythic announced a version of Warhammer Online for the Mac.  Not sure that helped anything at all.

I was, as usual, asking silly questions like why does Tetris gets faster.  Okay, it was an analogy, but it was still silly.

Oh, and then there was the horse.  Remember the $10 horse?  I did a poll about it and everything.  Boy, that seems like small potatoes these days.  I mean, that was a cash shop game selling a horse for $10.  Now WoW and EQ2 will sell you mounts that run much more.

Gary Gannon announced that GAX Online was going to close in August, bringing to an end that experiment in gamer community building.

I asked what people considered cheating in an MMO.  It included another poll.  I was doing polls that July.

I did a parody of Tipa’s Daily Blog Roll feature.  That is some pretty rich stuff in hindsight.

In EVE Online I got another step closer to mining perfection.  I was also fiddling around with a fit for a Dominix.

The instance group hit Violet Hold and Gundrak, but couldn’t get the team together for Halls of Stone, so went back and did some Burning Crusade heroics just for kicks.

Then the instance group took a run at Onyxia.  The old school Onyxia.  She’s since been remade into a level 80 raid.

And even as we were doing all that, we were starting to mull over what we should do once we were level 80 with no new expansion in sight.  It only took us a year to try another game.  At about that time, my hunter alt hit level 80.

I also dredged up the old Alamo Teechs U 2 Play Druid post from the WoW forums.  Philisophical question:  Would Alamo have posted that if RealID had forced him to use his real name?

And, finally, my daughter was trying to get me to help her make WoW videos to post on YouTube.

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 July

  1. In Which We Feel Smug Relative to Raiders for Just a Moment…
  2. You Get to Decorate the House You Have, Not the House You Might Want
  3. The Mighty Insta-90 Question – Which Class to Boost?
  4. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  5. Level 85 in EverQuest… Now What?
  6. Blizzard Isn’t Giving You a Free Copy of Warlords of Draenor
  7. Brave Newbies Leave the Key to the Station Under the Mat
  8. Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk!
  9. If It Can Go Wrong, It Will Go Wrong… At SOE
  10. Civilization – Obama, Autocracy, and Expansion
  11. What Does It Mean to be a “Subscription MMO?”
  12. A New Player in Azeroth!

Search Terms of the Month

wow why i cant chosse monk class
[Because you haven’t bought Mists of Pandaria]

ned for saped gem fare donlowd
[Alrighty then…]

are the galaxies emulators alive?
[Let’s not get all SkyNet here…]

star wars player housing source code
[Making a trailer park simulator?]

eve online awful
[How am I on the first page for that, but the Massively comment section isn’t?]

Civilization V

After a month’s hiatus, we finally returned to Civ V and our grudge match game that we started back in May.  Not quite the forever war, but we are still stringing this out for a stretch.  We have reached the 21st century, but nobody really has a definitive upper hand as yet.  And remember what happened last time when the nukes came out.

EVE Online

The war in Delve… which isn’t so much a war as a mass “looking for fights” venture… continues.  And fights have happened.  I have been able to get into fleets and, now and again, they actually undock, fly off, and shoot people.  We said hello and good-bye to the Gamma Fleet doctrine, which served mostly to drive up the price of Rupture cruiser hulls.  Meanwhile, the quest to “fix” null sec continues, with just about everybody sounding off except CCP.

World of Warcraft

Summer in Azeroth is still humming along.  The instance group has been on the expected hiatus, but I have been pursuing my Loremaster achievement goal.  My daughter set her own goal of getting a new character up to level 90 before school starts again.  However, she also spends a bunch of time with a role play group in-game, which hasn’t exactly sped her along.  She would much prefer to get in the Warlords of Draenor beta and get pre-made level 100.

Coming Up

It will be August, the driest news month of the year.

We will have Blaugust going for us, which will distract us for a bit, but which won’t bring Warlords of Draenor much closer.

Civilization V, World of Warcraft, and EVE Online will be there for me one way or another.  And I have an game obituary half written for tomorrow.  Two, actually.

But other than it being the one month when I start to wish we had air conditioning, what else will August bring?

Hot Blaugust Nights

August is in the wings, waiting to bring with it the usual end of summer ennui on the gaming front.

Nothing new ships.  Very little gets announced.  The releases we are looking forward to are generally somewhere off in autumn.  At times it feels like you should join half of France and just take August off.

Over at Tales of the Aggronaut, Belgahst has proposed something to help bloggers get through August.

He calls it Blaugust.

Blagust_No_BR

The basic idea is simple: Put up a post a day on your blog during the month of August.

There are of course rules as to what counts, but to sweeten the deal there is also a community cross-linking thing going on, some potential prizes, and some topic suggestions that you can use or ignore at your pleasure.

Belghast explains it all in The Gospel of Blaugust, including the whole Anook aspect of things, which I am still pondering.  Go check it out.

Now, I suspect the immediate reaction from some will be that more posts are not necessarily better.

True enough.

But over the long term… just about eight years at this point… I have often found that longer “thinking” posts sometimes get overtaken by events and look horribly naive or just uninformed even a year later.  (Granted, that might just be me or just the things I write.)

On the other hand, some things that I have hesitated even to post, things like a game launched, an expansion shipped, some numbers were announced, or the ever amusing quote of the day, turn out to be nuggets of information I fall back on later.  Nothing like having a library of past Smed quotes when he is off on his latest bout of enthusiasm.

Basically, never stop posting.

Anyway, we shall see.  I come pretty close to posting once a day as it is, and Belghast looks like he’ll give us a pass if we get in 31 posts during the month, so I might actually be able to play video games on the weekends still rather than writing about them!

Wrapping Up the Eastern Kingdoms

With the Cape of Stranglethorn out of the way, I had just four more zones left for the Eastern Kingdoms Loremaster achievement.  They were:

  • Eastern Plaguelands    40-45 – 70 quests
  • Badlands    44-48 – 35 quests
  • Searing Gorge    47-51 – 35 quests
  • Burning Steppes    49-52 – 40 quests

And given that my shaman, who had just finished up the Cape of Stranglethorn, had just turned level 40, I was a bit tempted to just keep running with him.

The Eastern Kingdoms

The Eastern Kingdoms

However, I decided to switch characters once again.  So far I have used a rogue who ended up at level 61, a monk who now sits at level 57, and my shaman.  Now I brought out my warrior, Makarov, who sat at level 46.  That seemed to be a bit high level to launch into the Eastern Plaguelands, but I had a reason to fall back on him.

For starters, he laid the groundwork for this Loremaster achievement bid back before I had actually decided to make a go of it.  As I leveled him up, he managed to knock out a few of the zones I would have otherwise had to go back and complete, the most immediate of which was the Western Plaguelands.  That meant he had a flight point up there.  Plus he had a fair start already on the Eastern Plaguelands, having completed about half of the required 70 quests for the zone achievement.  That was enough of a head start to seal the deal.  It was off to the Eastern Plaguelands with Makarov.

More after the cut, as there are four zones worth of words and pictures.

Continue reading

Not Quite Calculating Gaming Return on Investment

There is a site and a chart going around that shows some games quantified in terms of return on investment.  The original source is the Video Game ROI site, hosted by Ebay of all things.

Of course, this is a list, and we love lists!  So I went to see the top ten value rated games, which are:

The Top Ten

The Top Ten

To me that was an interesting list, if a bit odd.  How did they come up with this?

Well, they are pretty up front with how they did.  How they calculated the value rating is there on the front page.

ROICalculation

Not bad so far.  Hours per dollars spent multiplied by the rating percentage.

So the original Animal Crossing currently costs $6… this is Ebay, I guess they know the used price, so we’ll give them that… and the hours to beat is rated at 69.5 hours, while the average rating for the game is 88%.

So 69.5 divided by $6 gives us 11.58, which multiplied by .88 ends up with a rating of 10.19, which is the best rating of the lot.

Now, you might ask if a game from 2001 qualitatively delivers an experience you would want to spend nearly 70 hours on here in 2014.  Fair point, and something not addressed as far as I can tell.  And the cost of the game certainly seems to favor used games, but this is Ebay and they want to sell you some used games, so go figure.

I was a little more interested in how they came up with the hours to beat a game.

As it turns out, there is a site called How Long To Beat that is just brimming with this sort of data.  I was curious as to how accurate it might be, but didn’t know how I could assess that.  I would have to actually beat a game to get that number, right?

Oh, wait, I did just beat a game!  I finished Pokemon Y, and all I really did was the main storyline as noted in my post.  So I went and looked that up on the site and, naturally, found Pokemon X and Y listed with lots of data.  But the essential bit, hours to beat for the main story was there.

 

PokemonXH2B

So they peg the main story at 33 hours of play time.  And I finished the main story in…

Pokemon Y Hall of Fame

Pokemon Y finish time

… 31.5 hours.  Pretty close.   Close enough that I am probably willing to accept the H2B numbers.  Meanwhile, the average rating is as close at MetaCritic, so I am good with that.

So it seems like we have some pretty solid numbers, even if they seem very biased towards older games, which are less expensive.  There is Civilization in second place, from 1991.  I am not sure, even if you could buy a copy for the $1 they show, that it would run on a modern operating system.  The ROI on unplayable games should be pretty low.

Of course, I am interested in MMOs, so I went digging to see what they had listed on that front.  Way down at 109th place I found World of Warcraft.  Current price, $20, hours to beat, 11.2, and overall review rating of 93%, giving it a value rating of 0.52.

WoWROI

Now, I expected the value rating to be low because I figured that they would account for the subscription model in some way.  But no, they figure you’ll be done with that free 30 days yet, since it only takes 11.2 hours to beat.

That seems sort of fast, 11.2 hours.  I mean, I am running through the 1-60 on the whole Loremaster achievement thing, so it seems like that number should be higher for somebody new who doesn’t have heirloom gear or what not.

So I started going further down the list and ran into Minecraft at 127th place.  The cost is $27 and the rating is 89%, but the hours to beat was 11.2, the same as World of Warcraft.

MinecraftROI

Now, if 11.2 hours seems very low for WoW, which sort of has a 1 to 60 main game, for Minecraft it seems very much off.

Reading through the site more carefully, I found that if a game is open ended or doesn’t have a well defined main game… which is to say the How Long To Beat site doesn’t show one… they went with the number 11.2 because that was the average of all the games measured.

Color me unimpressed.

Still, I suppose it is an interesting data point for discussing older games.  And, of course, it markets older games for Ebay.  But you’re not going to convince me that Pokemon Red and Blue, which ran on the GameBoy in 1996, provides a better return on investment than Pokemon X and Y for any qualitative measures.

 

Civilization – From the Halls of Montezuma

You don’t look like you’re having fun.

-My wife, watching me play Civilization V

As I said in a previous post, this is no longer about fun.  This is a grudge match now to prove that we can stick it out and finish our epic game of Civilization V in spite of some poor choices made early on.  Can we see this through until one of us achieves one of the possible victory conditions?

After nearly a month’s hiatus that had us on a variety of real world activities that kept even two of us, the minimum needed to advance this multiplayer match, from meeting up on a Friday night, it was time for a game.  We were back at last.

Or at least three of us were.  Myself, Potshot, and Mattman were able to get on last Friday to continue the struggle.  Loghound was otherwise occupied, so the AI took over for him as the leader of the Celts again.  However, this time around the AI seemed to keep to his past agenda of sticking it to the Russians.

R2Wk10CeltsCarryOn

So there was that going on.

Meanwhile, the rest of us spent quite a bit of the first couple of turns trying to remember what was going on nearly a month back.

Mattman was still trying to make his populace unhappy so that he could change ideologies.  Still smarting from rashly declaring war on Loghound early on in the game, the scientific victory seemed like his best bet.

And Potshot and I were assessing our foothold on the Aztec lands.

Springboard to Victory!

Springboard to Victory!

We got that in our smash and grab campaign last time, after which we got Montezuma to accept a peace proposal.  But it was a bloody fight and we both needed some time to build up forces for our next strike.

More after the cut

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Fight at the POS in A-ELE2

The battle had been raging for a while when I sat down at my computer and saw a list of pings from Blawrf McTaggart, CFC Skymarshall.  Most of them were old enough to discard, fleets long since off to the races, and trying to catch up by yourself is a mugs game.  But the last one was only six minutes old, a call to get into a reinforcement fleet and get on a titan for a bridge into the current fight.

Multiple doctrines were being called up; Harpies, Celestis, and Apocalypses were in demand.  I was in my high sec implant clone, still working away at my leadership training plan, but my timer had run down and I was clear to clone jump immediately.  So it was back to my clone in F2OY-X where I jumped into my Apoc, primarily because I had the power grid implant needed to fly the doctrine fit already installed in the clone, and if I was going to lose it I figured I might as well lose it in the ship I need it for.

I was on the bounce right away, into the fleet with the titan to get a bridge, undock, enter the POS password, warp to the titan at 10km so as not to bump it, into the bubble, and then a quick burst of speed with the microwarp drive to get in range because the bridge was already up and I didn’t want to have to wait around for the next group to form up and get bridged.

Passing into the POS

Passing into the POS

We landed in A-ELE2 and things slowed way, way down.  There were about 1,100 people in the system and TiDi had everything running at 10% of normal speed.

A-ELE2 is not that far away from our staging system in F2OY-X, but it is in the hot zone corner of Delve, the NPC null sec, where our foes are staged and where there are often camps and where a lot of the action happens.

Where things happen in Delve

Where things happen in Delve

I dropped the reinforcement fleet and changed com channels to find out what the Baltec fleet was doing.  Reagalan’s was the FC and he was calling targets already.  It was time to get out there, but servers were balking at doing anything.  It took half a dozen tries to get into fleet even though there was space available and then it was time for the long, slow warp to join the battle.

Landing on grid was agonizing.  My ship seemed to spend an eternity stopped at the battle but still in warp.  I could see the targets being broadcast, they were in my overview, but I could not lock them up because I was still flagged as being in warp.  Finally, the server relented and I was back in normal space and able to engage targets.  Despite TiDi, the enemy, a host of Black Legion Augoror Navy Issues were in a bubble and going down fast.  Locking a target took ages, and when you finally got somebody locked they would appear to be only lightly damaged before suddenly blinking out in the familiar destroyed sequence.  They cycle time of my lasers was the gating factor for kills.  I launched some drones and got those into action to give myself an additional way to deal damage… and to whore on kill mails.

Reagalan had the fleet orbiting the POS tower, which is at the very center of the defensive bubble/shield, at just enough range to be outside of the bubble and able to fire, but also able to duck back in and become immune should they get targeted.  After the action, Reagalan asked how many pilots managed to pull off this maneuver, and there was quite a show of hands.  That, and reports shared with us about Black Legion complaining about us constantly blowing up their anchor or target caller because we had a spy in their midst, seemed to be tiling things our way.

And then, as often is the case, Black Legion got free of the bubbles and warped off, leaving us alone in space orbiting the POS with no targets.  TiDi dropped from the heart crushing 10% to a bearable range as the server was no longer having to keep track of hundreds of ships moving and locking and firing and taking damage.

We sat there for a bit.  There was a report of a fight at the 1DH gate, but Reagalan warned us not to just jump in willy nilly thinking we would get a few more kills.  So we stayed in orbit of the POS for a bit until the time was ripe, then he warped us all off to the gate together where the Brave Newbies Moa fleet had been bubbled.  Then it was a race to lock up targets again before the exploded.  Reagalan was broadcasting targets, but they were popping so quickly I just took to sorting by range and locking up everything possible in hopes of getting in a shot or two.  That did not last long, the Moas melting like snow under a hot sun.

Then it was back to the POS and into orbit.  There was actually a very nice starburst pattern of ships as we landed in a ball on the tower and then turned on MWDs to get out of the shields and into orbit.  We waited there for a while to watch the POS for any further hostiles and cover the carriers that had been sitting in a happy, self-repping ball all this time.  My corp CEO was in the carrier ball, in one of two Chimeras in a sea of Archons.  He wanted me to get a good shot of him, which I figured I had better do because I haven’t done much with the corp in ages.  I go on strat ops and click on participation links.  I don’t play with our towers, mine, do planetary interaction, or even rat much these days.

After the carriers pulled out, we headed to the 1DH gate where there was a scramble to get through as the ISboxer bombers were out and about and waiting for us to land on the gate.  All those people piling on the gate caused a bunch of people to drop, so there was a long wait until people got back online, through the gate, and back with the fleet.  Then it was another gate back to F2OY-X and then to the station and done.

I never did get the story as to how this fight started, except that it was over the POS where the brawl took place.

According to the battle report, there were more than 1,200 players involved with over 1,500 ships on the field over the course of the fight, with losses of nearly 48 billion ISK for both sides combined.  The split in forces was 686 CFC to 528 hostiles on grid, so not excessively unbalanced.  Black Legion and their allies ended up with more kills, destroying 435 ships to the 251 we blew up.  On the ISK war, things tilted our way, with the hostiles losing some expensive ships.

CFC is Blue

CFC is Blue

That comes out to about 21 billion in losses for the CFC and a little over 26 billion for the hostiles.  And we ended up with the POS still intact.  So I guess we won.

One bit of intel that got passed along was about TEST, who apparently had 60+ Ishtars formed up at one point, but then did not join the battle.  That force might have changed the ISK war if not the overall result of the battle.

Addendum: There is now a write up about the battle over at TMC.

After a quiet week or so, where I mostly collected participation links for sitting on titans by never bridging into combat, or chasing around reluctant foes when we did, it was nice to get into a stand up fight that did not involve us getting blow up in Ruptures. (Rupture doctrine is now dead.)  It managed to push me over the 1,000 kill mail mark, though EVE Kill and Zkillboard cannot agree on exactly how many kill mails I have been on over the years. (And Battle Clinic says I have less than 700. No idea what the right number actually is.)

And, as usual, screen shots from the fight after the cut.

Continue reading

Pokemon Y and the Nintendo 3DS XL

Back in April I mentioned that I had picked up a Nintendo 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon Y with some Amazon gift cards and credits I had.

I haven’t really said much about it for a few reasons.  Mostly it my feeling that single player games don’t quite have the same “shared experience” potential as MMOs… and me being lazy.  But, this blog being something of a gaming diary… as much as it is anything… I setup a placeholder post to write about Pokemon Y once I was done.

And I am done!

Pokemon Y Hall of Fame

Pokemon Y Hall of Fame

You can see the laziness factor, in that I finished up  back at the start of the month.  And, of course, “done” in a Pokemon game is open to interpretation.  I completed the main story line, thwarted Team Flare, collected all of the gym badges by defeating each gym leader, and then went on the beat the elite four and Diantha, the regional champion.

PokemonXYlogo

That is, by about any measure, the minimum you need to do to say you “beat” or “completed” the game.  I spent about 32 hours just doing that without getting into trying to complete the National Pokedex, explore every nook and cranny (there is always a lot of stuff hidden in the game), run through the battle mansion/tower/subway, pick up the Lumiose City side quests, get involved in battling against other players, or probably half a dozen other things I am forgetting.

Pokemon games are deep and getting deeper with every turn of the franchise.

If Nintendo did not see its mission in life as selling hardware, putting Pokemon on Windows as is… not even talking about making it an MMO… would kill.  And the fact that Pokemon X and Y are 3D modeled, rather than being sprites as they have been in past generations, means that they could probably pull this off and end up with a game that looked pretty good on a big monitor.

But Nintendo sells hardware, something that is embedded in the culture of the company, and even disappointing Wii U sales won’t convince them to move off of the platforms they control ala Sega.  Besides which, Pokemon is on the GameBoy side of the business, and the Nintendo 3DS hardware is selling well.

Anyway, that aside, I finished up the game, as defined above, and naturally have some comments to make.

Let me start with the good.

The Good

First, of course, is that it is a Pokemon game and delivers all you would expect from the series.

It also looks great.  The update bringing Pokemon to a 3D rendering technology was a big move, but it paid off.  It was completely natural, not a shocking change, because they got the “feel” of the graphics just right in my opinion.  I had to go back and look at an older version of Pokemon to remind myself of the difference. (Comparisons with older version in a previous post.)

It let the game camera move, so that not every moment of game play was a top down view.

Pokemon X & Y

Not the top of my head!

And, since the it rendered rather than being sprites, it scales up to the bigger screen on the 3DS XL hardware.  This is a big deal for me.  I am now at the age where I need reading glasses to decipher any small text, such as that on the screen of my faithful old DS Lite.  But moving to the DSi XL meant I got bigger text, but the graphics just got blocky.  But with Pokemon X and Y and the 3DS XL hardware, it scales up nicely and looks good.

I will say that the 3DS XL is a very nice piece of hardware and, in my opinion, well worth the price over the standard size 3DS.  You get a bigger better screen and much better battery life, since they were able to fit a bigger battery in the unit.

But back to the game.

Connectivity to the internet seems to have been solved.  Back with Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, it was something of a chore to get yourself hooked into the Nintendo WiFi network.  That got better with Pokemon Black and White, but was still more complicated that it ought to have been.  Now, with the 3DS hardware and Nintendo’s latest revision of its online presence, it is much easier to get online.

Being online is also a bigger part of the game.  The 3DS hardware looks for other units in its area so you can see if somebody has their wifi on and is playing Pokemon in the vicinity. (I used this to catch my daughter playing Pokemon under the covers after lights out a few times!)  One of the new features I like is the “Wonder Trade” option in which you just pick a Pokemon from your collection and offer it up for a random trade with somebody else in the world.  I have gotten a few neat Pokemon that way and try to choose interesting ones to send out.  This feature is on top of the global trade center, which is the Pokemon trading auction house serving the world.

The story is good.  Team Flare and their leader are involved in a Bond villain conspiracy to protect the beauty of the world by destroying most of mankind.

The world looks great.  The new region, Kalos, is based on France and includes a few cultural stereotypes.  A new Pokemon that looks very much like a French poodle is conspicuous in the game, as is a high speed train that looks like the TGV and Lumiose City which is modeled on Paris.

The Kalos Region

The Kalos Region

The coveted experience share item, which was used to pass half of the experience gained by one Pokemon to another in your party, so you could boost up lower level Pokemon without having to go back to low level areas, now shares experience with your whole party.  My daughter, rather than ending up with one high level Pokemon doing all the work and five more way below level Pokemon hoping that the big one would not faint and expose the rest of them to almost sure defeat, actually ended up with a pretty well balanced party.  I know that it saved me from having to do a bunch of passing the item around to first level up one Pokemon and then another.  In fact, I did very little grinding experience just for levels.

And then there is your avatar which you can now customize.  There are clothes shops and items to pick up all over the game.  When I look at the avatars in the Wonder Trade, they all look very different, not just a few variations on the same theme.  It is actually quite impressive.

Finally, the game saves very quickly.  Past versions of the game took a long time to save.  But Pokemon X and Y save so quickly you might not notice it saved at all if you blink.

The Less Than Good

I don’t have anything hugely negative to say about the game, so don’t take these the wrong way.  But they are part of the whole package.

The camera gets out of control at times.  The thing with the 3D rendering and the camera being able to move can become a problem.  There were a couple of times in Lumiose City, where I was trying to get to a specific location and the camera would just not point in the direction of the building I needed to see.  To quote Yahtzee Croshaw, “The camera is like the working class: if you can’t control it, it will plot to destroy you.”  I ended up having to go away and come back again at a different angle to see the right doorway.  This feels like a rookie mistake, Pokemon never having been 3D before.  I suspect it will be better in the next game.

I am still disappointed I cannot take screen shots whenever I darn well please in the game.  Since the 3DS XL unit uses an SD card for memory, it seems like the hardware maker’s paranoia about memory usage ought to have dissipated.  I can just get a bigger card… and the approved method for upgrading cards is literally “copy the files to your PC, then copy them to the bigger card”… if I run out of room.  But having worked with the hardware team at various companies, I understand how deep seated that need to keep things in the smallest footprint possible is.  But I was hopeful in that the game allowed you to take pictures at certain photo spots and save them off.  Screen shots of a sort.  And then I copied some of those photos off of the system and… they are tiny.

I expected a little more.  And to take the pictures there is a whole convoluted camera interface where you have to focus and hold the 3DS just right and set the depth of field… all for a tiny screen shot.  It isn’t like they couldn’t render the pictures bigger, they just didn’t want to.  So 400×240 is all you get.  Such is life.  Better than nothing I suppose, but not close enough to my dreams.

Then there are 719 Pokemon.  At some point more just is not better.  But I do like the new ones with Pokemon X and Y better than some of the ones that game with Black and White.  And if you play the “Name the Pokemon” category on QuizUp, you’ll find that the names mostly reflect what they look like.  A friend who had never played Pokemon did surprisingly well just guessing.

The 3D effects work everywhere in the game, but you have to hold the 3DS unit just right for them to look good.  I turned the 3D slider to “off” unless there was something I really wanted to see mostly because I got tired of holding the 3DS XL in exactly the right position.  But the same goes for every other thing I have tried on the 3DS XL.  Everything is good enough in 2D, except Netflix, which looks like hell on the small screen with lots of pixelation and artifacts.  But that isn’t a 3D problem, that happens no matter where I have the slider. The hardware just isn’t up to decoding video.

But the biggest thing I can say against the game… which some will take as no insult at all… is that it is very much a Pokemon game and follows the set formula of all the games that went before it.  Each game has some new bits and pieces… Pokemon X & Y have aerial battles and Pokemon you use as vehicles in a few special sections of the game… but the core structure remains the same.  You are a young person in a land where everybody is obsessed about Pokemon.  Your mother is surprisingly accepting of you traveling around the region at the behest of some professor of Pokemon studies in order to capture Pokemon, battle strangers, defeat the various gym leaders, and take down some criminal syndicate by defeating them in Pokemon battles.  You then go on the challenge the elite four and the regional champion and enter into the hall of fame.  There are caves, both rocky and made of ice, puzzles to solve, a bicycle to ride, a power outage to fix, random strangers to battle, and a legendary Pokemon to catch.  Same as it ever was.

But that is not a necessarily a bad thing.  A Pokemon game will never feel as fresh as after your first pass through, but the conventions are comforting in their way.  You know, in a way, exactly what you are getting.

All in all, Pokemon X and Y reaffirmed my devotion to the series.  I am looking forward to Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire coming out this fall.  That will be just in time for my daughter and I to binge on over the break at Thanksgiving.  I actually like the remakes quite a bit.  Color me conservative.  At least the remakes do not feel the need to include another 150 Pokemon.

Landmark and the Price of a Badly Defined Beta

There has been an argument over what “beta” means when it comes to software for as long as I have been part of the industry, which is pushing on 25 years now.

The baseline definition for me has always been that your software is feature complete and you feel it is ready to ship, but now you are going to take some time to get people outside the development group to look at things.  This can be surprisingly important and an eye opening experience, as when you have worked with a piece of software for months at a stretch, your brain becomes adjusted to the way it works.  You stop seeing the flaws and you become invested in the project vision.

And then you hand it to some fresh eyes who will, often almost immediately, tell if what you have been slaving over makes a lick of sense.  It can be a sobering moment when somebody, after five minutes with your product, makes a suggestion for a fundamental change that, upon reflection, seems obvious.  Plus they tend to catch all those quirks that the team has simply learned to work around to the point of developing a blind spot, those bugs that “everybody” knows about yet somehow never quite made it to the bug tracking database.

That is the idea in my book.  I have fought for that ideal now and then.  But I have been through the wringer enough times to know that fight can be futile.  So I have been through internal betas (where we learn how little the rest of the company cares) schedule betas (the schedule says we’re beta as of today so we are) political betas (we’re going beta today because if we don’t, somebody in senior management will look bad) survival betas (we’re going beta because if we don’t they’ll cancel the project and lay us all off) and the occasional investor beta (I gave your company money so install your product on my son’s laptop… and put more RAM in there as well… I don’t care, strip your lab machines if you have to).

But in all of that there is still a certain level feature availability before we hand the software over to fresh eyes, if for no other reason that a fresh perspective is a perishable commodity and you don’t want to waste it on things you should have caught yourself.  Once people have been in your beta a bit they will become fixated on things that are important to them and tend to not notice anything else.  Long betas introduce beta fatigue, as I am going to guess SOE is finding out with Landmark.

Landmark was in alpha for a stretch and then went into “closed beta” a few months back, which meant “paid beta” so far as I could tell.  I was invited in for a couple of seven day runs at the product and, as the joke goes, there wasn’t much “there” there.  I suspect that SOE is feeling interest wain as the software goes on and on with small but important changes but no real end in sight.  So while they fleeced convinced some people to pay money to get into the software early, I am going to guess that even the most hard core fan has some limit and really need more people online and active to test.

Which is why I suspect we got this sale today over at Steam.

LandmarkSteamSale

Yes, Landmark has been marked down to Steam Summer Sale levels of discount.  That is the basic Settler Pack, but the other tiers are available too, including upgrades if you are already invested.

All packages marked down

All packages marked down

I was a tad miffed that people were getting Planetary Annihilation for three bucks less than my Kickstarter pledge back during the Steam Summer Sale.  How would I feel if I was in for a hundred for the top tier Trailblazer Pack and then, still during closed beta, they offered up the same deal for $33.99?  I wonder if any of those early adopters will pipe up?

And given the caveats, I am not sure that $33.99 is a good deal from where I sit.  The warning on Steam as part of their Early Access disclaimer:

ATTENTION: Landmark is in Closed Beta. That means we are still adding core feature sets and that updates are happening weekly. Everything in the game is currently subject to change, which includes the possibility of wipes.

Please make sure to read the Landmark Blueprint, which provides a list of planned feature updates and timing estimates.

We are using an Open Development process to create this game, which means that you are encouraged to interact directly with the development team via the Steam Community, Twitter, Reddit, Twitch and our Forums. If you are interested in helping to create a game from the ground up, Landmark offers that opportunity.

For more information on the Landmark development process, click here.

The Landmark blueprint forum thread shows a list of features and says that they will be unveiling some new things at SOE Live in a couple of weeks.  But there is a long list of features, including almost everything that might turn Landmark into a game as opposed to a wanna-be Minecraft prototype, waiting to be implemented. (But they got the Station Cash store running muy pronto!)  There is certainly no obvious “okay, it is worth my time” point on their blueprint as yet.

While I am sure that for the devs actually working on the project, these changes are coming as fast as they can manage them, from the outside the pace can feel very different.  If you’ve been playing around with Landmark for six months or more at this point there is probably a good chance that your interest has faded somewhat, or that your focus has narrowed to a few things.  There certainly haven’t been a lot of blog posts about Landmark lately, and bloggers as a group tend to be more enthusiastic about their games than the average play.  SOE has gotten a mention here and there due to handing out seven day passes, but people who were on fire early on have been pretty quiet these days.

So, while I am not ready to claim that Landmark is DOA, it could be easily inferred that SOE needs some more people actually coming in to play, to start from scratch, to get involved, and to be enthusiastic about the game.  And for just under seven bucks I am slightly tempted.  But there still doesn’t seem to be enough there yet, and the game is going to be free to play eventually anyway.  So I will probably pass.

SOE has a chance to revive interest at SOE Live, though that can be a double edged sword as well.  They got a lot of people interested in EverQuest Next at the last SOE Live but haven’t said much about it since, and SOE has something of a history of sporadically building up enthusiasm with their customer base only to go silent for long stretches.

Quote of the Day – In Space it is Still Location, Location, Location

To put it bluntly, if you want to catch instawarping interceptors, the most important part is living in London.

-Namamai, Understanding the EVE Online Server Tick

There is an interesting/informative article up over at TMC about how the processing loop of EVE Online dictates if you’ll be able to lock up and point that decloaking interceptor on a gate.

I actually had some experience with a similar scenario just recently.  In our expedition to Brave Newbies’ space our fleet, made up primarily of Harpies and interceptors and other small stuff, engaged quite a few bombers and destroyers and other easily destroyed ships.

Hanging on the station in V-3YG7

Hanging on the station in V-3YG7

It doesn’t take a ton of shots to kill a bomber, the glass cannon of New Eden, and destroyers are fragile compared to tech II frigates.  So when targets presented themselves it was a race to lock things up and get a shot off before they exploded.  Any number of times I would get something locked and have the guns going in the first firing cycle only to be informed that the target had already exploded.

I was not alone in experiencing this.  People were starting to get angry on coms at one point, raging against the interceptors in the fleet… because interceptors…  and wondering who amongst them were running extra sensor boosters to hog all the kills.

Of course, interceptor pilots were quick to point out that they too were getting aced out of kills in exactly the same way.  Somebody on coms started in trying to explain the whole tick thing, but it was neither the time nor the place for such a lesson.  We had a fleet op to fly and a jump bridge on which to get pipe bombed still.

So it was nice to have the article linked at the top show up to get back to the explanation of ticks and why you might be able to target someone and activate your guns and still get shut out of the kill mail.  As I said, interesting stuff, but the informative bit was the punchline, the fact that you can be the fastest guy in the fleet to hit the right button, but if your packets don’t arrive in London, where the main server cluster is housed, in time to be part of the current cycle, you’re not getting on that kill mail.

Latency is still a thing.