Monthly Archives: December 2014

December in Review

The Site

Welcome to the 100th month in review as well as my 377th, and final, post of 2014!  At least I am consistent in getting these posted on the last day of every month.

I actually changed the theme for the site… again… but this time I have actually stuck with it for a while… mostly because nobody has screamed bloody murder yet, like when I went to that dark theme.  There are still things I do not like about it (like the fact that it feels it can break/hyphenate words at the end of a line when it damn well pleases… it isn’t me doing that, I swear), but it has some advantages over the old theme, including being on WordPress.com’s actively supported list.  That should mean that new features should not break this theme the way the old theme used to get hosed now and again.

And, speaking of new features, WordPress.com has decided that, in addition to their brain dead “new and improved” post editing interface they need a new stats page as well.  I am not happy with it.

To be charitable, it does allow at least one more way to view traffic data.  But otherwise it is a muddle, a confused attempt redo something that already worked pretty well.  And worst of all, it isn’t hooked up right.  While it seems to know that the blog has been around since 2006, it shows now traffic until 2009.

The first few years don't count

The first few years don’t count… also, 2014 stats with 10 hours left in the year

There also does not appear to be a way to see total stats for the life of the blog, and those nice tables that I include at the end of every anniversary post (see the 8 year post for an example) are missing completely.

I am at a loss to see what WordPress.com is thinking, that somehow people are going to be happy with less functionality.  But that might just be me.  Anyway, I hope they don’t kill off the “classic” stats and dashboard in favor of this new bilge.

WordPress.com has their own year in review report for this blog (and my other blog).

One Year Ago

It was the final shut down for Warhammer Online.

It was also the end of the road for World of Darkness at CCP, which shut down the project and laid off much of the staff.

CCP did give me a copy of the EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition.

Actually in EVE, I was looking at flying a dreadnought, looking at my hull tanking certificate, and actually went on a couple of ops, blowing things up in NS2L-4 and BW-WJ2.

Shroud of the Avatar was an actual thing.  You could log in and see stuff.  Granted, a year later it is still in alpha and has a long way to go, but at least progress is being made I guess.

Turbine threw their hat in the ring with their own insta-level scheme for Lord of the Rings Online.  It got you all the way to the doors of Moria.  I was not impressed.

Blizzard put a cash shop in World of Warcraft.  But don’t call those microtransactions, because they are not.

The instance group in World of Warcraft ventured under the sea and into the Mount Hyjal region, then ran through the Throne of Tides and Blackrock Caverns instances.  Meanwhile, I had an alt finish up The Burning Crusade for me.  And then there was my character a level cap, swamped with options including Timeless Isle.

I reviewed my goals and tried to sum up 2013.

I did some book reviews of a sort, looking at The Kindly Ones, The Circle, and some space operas.

Finally, we were very sad at our house last year when our cat Fred died.  We still miss him dearly.

Five Years Ago

Let’s see… a random reader wrote in to tell me that the social aspects of MMOs are insignificant.  I don’t think he understood what he was talking about.

People seemed to be getting worked up as to how you define content in an MMO.  Can you compare sandbox and amusement park content fairly?  Taking some of this to its logical extreme, I demonstrated something that trumped all MMO content.

Also getting people worked up was the catch in the whole free to play model, brought up by changes to the store in Battlefield Heroes.  That actually got responses all over the place.

The US release date for Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver was announced.

People were warming up for Star Trek Online.  There was a confusing array of pre-order options.  But it was missing some items I really wanted. (I think the awful early movie uniforms eventually appeared recently in the C-Store.)

In WoW we were busy wrapping up the holiday achievements, including wrapping up Pilgrim’s Bounty.

We were also playing with this new Dungeon Finder thing that showed up with WoW patch 3.3.  Automated cross-server instance group matching with random strangers?  It will never work.

The instance group, in its horde RP-PvP server form was hitting Gnomeregan and Shadowfang Keep, both of which seemed… much easier.

And I was officially epic… proven by the achievement.  Of course by that time, somebody already had all the possible WoW achievements.  Too epic to be believed.

Meanwhile, this horrible image was keeping me up at nights.  You just cannot unsee things once you have seen them.

Finally, there was an actual podcast interview with Erik “WoW isn’t easy enough” Estavillo.  He was a surprisingly good sport about being the subject of mockery.

New Linking Sites

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogrolls, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in December

  1. The Mighty Insta-90 Question – Which Class to Boost?
  2. Three Science Fiction Series Starters
  3. Preparing for Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby
  4. This is EVE and EVE is Different
  5. Blizzard Isn’t Giving You a Free Copy of Warlords of Draenor
  6. Tech 3 Destroyers and Other Tidbits from EVE Vegas Keynote
  7. Does PLEX Work Anywhere Besides EVE Online?
  8. Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk!
  9. The Insta-90 Choice is… Death Knight
  10. Level 85 in EverQuest… Now What?
  11. Rhea Ushers in a New Era of Clones, Wormholes, and Graphics to EVE Online
  12. Reviewing my Predictions for 2014

Search Terms of the Month

money talk porno
[Enough money and porno will talk any way you want baby]

eq best plat farming location paladin
[Is plat still a thing of value in EQ? When I got that insta-85, I got 15K plat.]

when will wod price go down
[January is my guess.]

pokemon named by noob
[How about a Skitty I named “Kargath?”]

i skipped the starting quests in everquest, how do i go back
[I’ve been trying to go back for years. It is a futile quest.]

EVE Online

After wrapping up our deployment to Querious, I have been on a mild break from New Eden.  Deployments are bursts of high activity and lots of hours playing, so the pattern for me has been to take a break in-between, and doubly so during the holidays when things can be a bit busy.  However, a new year will bring a new deployment and new things to shoot.

EverQuest II

A burst of 10 year anniversary nostalgia hit and for a couple weeks in December EverQuest II was my main game.  I now have a level 74 berserker (previous high was a 62 swashbuckler) and am into the 2007 game content of the Rise of Kunark expansion.  It is a fine solo experience, with a mercenary to heal and a main that can tank.

Pokemon

While I am enjoying the latest outing, Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, I have been playing through at a rather slow pace.  A month in and I am only at the 5th gym battle.  But I have also been playing through in a very systematic way, trying to check every side path and talk to every person I meet along the way.  Since the end game doesn’t do much for me, making the most of the story is my current plan.

World of Warcraft

After a burst of activity with the launch of the Warlords of Draenor expansion, where my first character hit level 100 and I started two more into the expansion, I got hit with a bit of garrison fatigue and took a bit of a break as I headed of to a vacation in EQII.  I have been back and playing more in the last week, but I fear I won’t get into a Molten Core group before the anniversary content is withdrawn.  I hit item level 614 last night.  Still have to get one more point and then actually find a group at a time when most people are done with the raid.

Coming Up

Holy crap, it is going to be 2015.  I spent so much of my life measuring the distance to the year 2000, which was going to be a big deal right (and not just some arbitrary number on a timeline) that I still have trouble grasping that the whole thing happened 15 years ago.

In EVE Online there will the Proteus expansion dropping soon.  Proteus stole fire from the gods, so that is a pretty big name to live up to. [Or maybe that was some other Greek deity.]

The final day of the Steam holiday sale is coming.  Will there be something to tempting to resist on the last day?

I am warming back up to my garrison in WoW, but I need more followers.  I am going to have to work on that in 2015.

Then there is the question of how long my vacation in EQII will last.  My basic goal of getting into the Rise of Kunark expansion was met.

And, finally, I have a goal to get some sort of forward looking predictions post for tomorrow.  Only I haven’t really started yet.  I have one written down.  Time to think outrageous thoughts.

Cross Country to Frostfire Ridge and the Bloodmaul Slag Mines

Last Saturday night we managed to get four of us online for one last go at Warlords of Draenor.  The line up was:

  • Skronk – Level 92 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bigbut – Level 92 Draenei Monk DPS
  • Tokarev – Level 92 Draenei Death Knight DPS
  • Earlthecat – Level 93 Human Warrior Tank

It was not a full group.  Ula was not feeling well.  But we thought we ought to scout the path to the first instance, in keeping with our standing policy of not using the Dungeon Finder to enter them.

The first five person dungeon instance in Warlords of Draenor is the Bloodmaul Slag Mines, which is all the way over in the Frostfire Ridge zone, where the horde starts out after exiting Tanaan Jungle.

Frostfire Ridge is quite a ways away from the comfort of garrisons in Shadowmoon Valley.

Fortunately, on hitting 92, we all got the starter quest for the Gorgrond, which includes a flight out to the zone from your garrison.  That at least put us in a zone adjacent to Frostfire Ridge.  Earl had already been deep into Frostfire with other characters, while Skronk and I had gone at least far enough in with other characters to get the first flight point in order to be able to do the fishing daily for the zone.  So we had an idea of how we were going to get there, a general route.

The planned route

The planned route

Just take the flight to Gorgrond and then follow the road to its closest point to Frostfire, then cut across, making our way through a pass and into the snows.  We met up at the flight point in Gorgrond and off we went.  We have been on cross-continental travel adventures before.

On the road to Frostfire

On the road to Frostfire

Earl had actually gone into Gorgrond already, following the quest line up to the point of building his lumber camp outpost in the zone.  The rest of us were setting foot in the zone for the first time, so I was curious to see if we would have any phasing issues as we went.

When we reached the point just before the outpost location, we could still see Earl, but it was clear that he saw different terrain than we did.  For him there was a clear path up to the plateau where his outpost lay.  For us, there was a series of large boulders blocking the path.  You could go around the boulders easy enough or, if you like a jumping puzzle, you could actually climb up through them.

So phasing seems to have been upgraded a bit.  Unlike the days back in Wrath of the Lich King, people didn’t just disappear from the world as you entered an area that was different for each, though there is still the potential for comedy in “Go up the path!” “What path, it is just boulders!” I suppose.

We carried on past the outpost location, heading for Frostfire, stopping to kill the occasional silver border mob and, once, getting ourselves splattered all over the scenery by an open world heroic mob.

Okay, maybe level 100 was our reach exceeding our grasp...

Okay, maybe level 100 was our reach exceeding our grasp…

We rode across the zone, zig-zagging and trying to find a gap into Frostfire.  I was pretty sure I knew a route that would work, but there were a couple of potential paths along the way that we had to check in on.  They were dead ends, but did lead to at least one more silver border mob kill.

We pressed on, eventually finding the way through to Frostfire, dashing through a hostile village, and emerging near the Iron Siegeworks, where there are lakes to fish in and an alliance friendly flight point.

Draenei in Frostfire

Draenei in Frostfire

From there it was a ramble out of the mountains and into the Cracking Plains.

The Cracking Plains... not so cracked actually

The Cracking Plains… not so cracked actually

We did stop to pick up a couple more special mobs along the way.

I forget who this guy was, but we had to feed him ogres

I forget who this guy was, but we had to feed him ogres

We eventually found the flight point, summoning stone, and entrance to the Bloodmaul Slag Mines and were soon inside.  As for what we found… it wasn’t a completely linear dungeon.  We chose to turn right at the first intersection and cleared as we went around the circle.

Bloodmaul Slag Mines

Bloodmaul Slag Mines

Given that this is a five person instance and we were not exactly beyond the level gap and only a four person group, the whole thing seemed pretty… easy I guess.

Granted, Earl is superman, and he has that Garrosh heirloom sword that ensures he not only tanks, but also tops the DPS list.  However Skronk was coming into to healing for real for the first time since the 6.0 changes, so I thought we might have a hiccup or two.  But we seemed to plow on without fuss until we hit the final boss.

Gur'gokk reclines

Gur’gokk reclines

Gur’gokk did give us a little trouble, though it was less about him being tough and more about us learning the mechanics of the fight and simply stepping out of the fire at the right time.  He lays down all sorts of molten harm you have to avoid, and we failed on that front the first time through.

We're going to wipe on this one...

We’re going to wipe on this one…

However, we regrouped and ran back.  Armed with what we learned… which was we needed to kite Gur’gokk around a bit so we could stay out of the molten gunk… we were able to defeat him handily on the second try.

Gur'gokk down, Santa hat is ours

Gur’gokk down, Santa hat is ours

That got us the achievement and earned us some gold for the guild bank.

BSMachiWe took out usual post-instance group picture.

Standing in Gur'gokk's chair

Standing in Gur’gokk’s chair

Then there was a question about what to do next.  Travel and the instance took up a decent chunk of time, but we still had a bit more in us, so we decided to run to the next instance just to scout it out.

So off we went to the Iron Docks, which was back on the upper west coast of Gorgrond.  We had to ride, because we did not have a connecting flight point between the Iron Siegeworks and Gorgrond.  So off we went on another set of minor adventures.  At one point I got completely separated from the group, but manged to rejoin them.

Along to Gorgond coast

Along to Gorgond coast

Then we tried to sneak up along the cliff, only to fall in the ocean.  At that point the Death Knight skill frost path became pretty handy.  We were a bit worried about how we were going to get back up to the land, as the coast was mostly cliffs.  However Blizzard left us a path up from the beach just south or the Iron Docks.  We got in, got the flight point… which also connect the flight paths from Frostfire Ridge to the rest of the world for us… poked our noses around, got chased by a pile of mobs we accidentally aggroed, ran into the instance to shake them, then called it a night.

And so ended the last adventure of the instance group in 2014.

We will have to get Ula on when she feels better and go back to the Bloodmaul Slag Mines so she gets the achievement as well.

I am also considering trading out my Death Knight.  I have a hunter in the right level range, I wouldn’t mind a change from melee DPS, and if I brought him we would have somebody who wore mail armor, thus covering all of the bases, cloth, leather, mail, and plate.

We will see how I feel in 2015.

Looking Back at 2014 – Highs and Lows

As the month of December bleeds out before our very eyes and the new year looms, it becomes time for certain standard posts to appear.  Looking back at the year gone by, revision 5.

Past entries, should you be bored and looking for something else to read, are here:

Payment Model Wars

Not much new to add since last year, so you can go back and read that.  I still don’t like where free to play inevitably leads games, but in a market where free is now the norm, you have to be extra special to warrant a subscription.

Turbine

Highs

  • They still seem to be a going concern.
  • They have had updates out for Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online.
  • Lord of the Rings Online is still a great way to get a feel for Middle-earth.  I like to go back and just visit places.
  • They aren’t actually killing off Asheron’s Call or Asheron’s Call 2. There is a promise to keep the servers up and running and some effort to allow players to run their own servers.  And, hey, it’s free.
  • They have a new game waiting in the wings… somewhere.
  • WB Games management exhales carbon dioxide, which helps plants grow.

Lows

  • More layoffs.
  • No expansion for LOTRO.
  • All I do is visit and look.  The last big change to classes pretty much made me give up on going back to play.
  • How is that “PvP and Raiders make up less than 10%…” stance working out?
  • Asheron’s Call series is in some state that is probably less than maintenance mode.  No income generally means no attention unless something is literally on fire.
  • The “run your own server” option sounds like a hollow promise at best.  How much effort do you think they will expend on this while struggling with other projects and laying people off?
  • Is Infinite Crisis a thing yet or not?  It isn’t going to save the company sitting in closed beta or whatever.
  • Management’s main function at this point might merely be contributing to global warming.

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs

  • Leaner, more focused organization
  • A new game, H1Z1 in the pipe
  • Fixed a bit of confusion by splitting out Landmark as its own title without the EverQuest name attached.
  • Ongoing support and new expansions for both EverQuest and EverQuest II
  • EverQuest II ten year anniversary!  Isle of Refuge prestige house!
  • Closed the exp loophole in Dungeon Maker in EQII.
  • Station Cash is strong enough again that they could actually sell a bit at a discount for a holiday sale.  People actually complained because they couldn’t buy Station Cash up to the set limit of 30K per day during the sale.
  • Didn’t get brought down by the latest Sony hacking incidents… well, except for the PlayStation titles.
  • I think people have finally stopped accosting Smed in the street about the NGE.

Lows

  • The organization got leaner and more focused by killing off four titles, Clone Wars Adventures, Free Realms, Vanguard, and Wizardry Online.  As many as three of those will be missed, and all four will get Smed accosted where ever he goes.  Okay, maybe not Wizardry Online.
  • Apparent revolving door, flavor of the whatever, Asian import MMO plan.  Out with Wizardry Online, in with Dragon’s Prophet.
  • Landmark is still a work in progress with no real end in sight.  Worked for Notch and Minecraft because he got some good, tangible stuff in early.  Not so much with Landmark even with the latest code drop.
  • EverQuest Next is still a blur on the horizon.  Is it getting closer or not?  My gut is starting to feel like another EverQuest title might be too much to hang on that lore in any case.
  • SOE now has two titles, EverQuest and EverQuest II, with level caps that started at 50 and now are into triple digits.  Not sure if that is bad, but it makes you go “whoa!”
  • SOE’s History of EverQuest II – 10th Anniversary Documentary was completely lacking in substance.
  • So what is the Dungeon Maker good for now?  Can I go in there and play with SOEmote?
  • Never got my promo code for Station Cash, despite signing up well in advance of the date, a problem a lot of people had.
  • With people buying up gobs of Station Cash with up to a 3x bonus, will that flood the market again?
  • Still no idea what people could possibly spend 30K of Station Cash on, much less the 90K somebody must have tried to buy over the three days of the sale.  Seriously, is there some special tab that is not visible in my version of the Station Cash store?

CCP

Highs

  • The change in development strategy for EVE Online has really invigorated the game for the installed base.  Fixing shit and making the game better is a win.
  • Some good PR moments have brought a lot of new players to the game.
  • CCP is focusing more on their core competencies.
  • EVE Valkyrie gets people excited whenever they see it.
  • DUST 514 is still a thing… right?

Lows

  • A lot of the cool things CCP is doing for EVE Online are good, short term wins, but are they the kind of things that keep people invested and subscribed?
  • What happens when the low hanging fruit is consumed?
  • CCP admits that bringing new players to the game isn’t even the battle, as 90% of those who subscribe cancel before their subscription period runs out, and that doesn’t even get to the number of people who don’t subscribe.  The conversion rate for the trial accounts was what then? 1%?  Less?
  • Better not mess up on any of these changes to EVE Online, because it is all that is paying the bills right now.  One slip up and SOE will buy them and… do I even want to think about that?  I mean sure, Smed was in the CFC… but in SMA.
  • For all the changes to the game this past year, we just need AAA to take some sov again and all the usual suspects will be back on the map again.
  • Not enough hats in New Eden.  We need some decent hats.
  • Yeah, EVE Valkyrie sounds cool, and looks cool, but will VR headsets make us vomit after 30 minutes or go insane after extended use?  There are some doubts on that front.
  • I barely know if DUST 514 is still a thing.  I have yet to bomb anybody from orbit, and I feel poorer for it.

Blizzard

Highs

  • As usual, laughing all the way to the bank pushing wheel barrows full of cash.
  • WoW subscriptions way up with Warlords of Draenor and a solid change of focus.  Orcs make the best bad guys.
  • New plan for global domination means having one winning product in each important gaming genre.
  • Glad they fixed Diablo III by removing the auction house and fixing itemization.  The “real money” aspect was a side issue, the auction house itself and the original itemization, which felt like it was designed to push you to the auction house, were the problems with the game.  I went back and played through the game again.
  • Some rumbling that Heroes of the Storm is actually good and might do to MOBAs what Hearthstone did for collectible card games.
  • Overwatch looks like money in the bank at this point.
  • StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void might actually see the light of day in 2015.

Lows

  • The balance sheet might as well read “WoW and the five dwarves,” because Azeroth is the big breadwinner.  Blizzard without WoW is just a very successful studio, not an obscenely successful one.  They have to keep WoW going or change their lifestyle.
  • Some moon-eyed dreamers out there are going to hang on to the idea of the now-cancelled Titan project and moan about how it could have changed things despite it never having been a thing.
  • Rough start going into Warlords of Draenor.  Everybody says being too popular is the problem to have, but it is still a problem.
  • WoW subscriptions still below the 12 million peak going into Cataclysm.  No new class or race means no real drive to create new alts while insta-90 means those alts that get made are quickly at the level cap.
  • The low water mark for WoW subscribers was this summer, during the great content drought of 2014, and it isn’t clear that Blizz learned a lesson from that.  They say they did, but will they live up to that.
  • Five expansions in, occasionally hit by the realization that this is two years of busy work that will be washed away by the next $50 box.
  • And after playing through Diablo III again I didn’t buy the expansion and pretty much put it away.  It is still there if we get a group together, but soloing through a couple times was enough.
  • Is Heroes of the Storm live-ish yet?  I’m not sure you can change the world in closed beta.
  • Really not sure what Hearthstone did for collectible cards games, now that I think about it.
  • Anybody who thinks Blizz has learned any lessons about timeliness is kidding themselves.  They ship when they are good and ready… which is a luxury they enjoy… but if you think another WoW expansion is coming in less than two years, think again.  I think the best we can hope for is that they won’t dole out the add-on content for the game as quickly.

Other MMO Devs

Highs

  • Trion rolls out an expansion for Rift and brought out ArcheAge which boasts a feature set that gets a lot of people very excited.
  • Two big titles came out in 2014, The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic got an expansion and a level cap increase.
  • ArenaNet plays its living story hand to the fullest in GuildWars 2.
  • Jagex is trying hard to not be just the RuneScape studio.
  • Funcom gets a property that looks like a potential gold mine, LEGO Minifigures Online.  They surely learned from the failure of LEGO Universe.
  • Chris Roberts continued to bring in the cash for Star Citizen.  They are past the $66 million dollar mark at this point.  Op success!
  • Some other Kickstarters I backed made some progress.  Camelot Unchained’s promise date is still a year out, and while Shroud of the Avatar is behind their original schedule, you can get in the game and do things.
  • Project: Gorgon, despite a name that really isn’t helping things, and despite failing the second Kickstarter, is still progressing and could very well be one of the prime examples of what a niche MMO title can be.

Lows

  • Trion botches the ArcheAge launch to the point of alienating some of their most ardent fans.  The game went from being worth a four hour queue to not being worth logging on at all for a lot of people I follow.
  • The Elder Scrolls Online has spent months working on bugs and will likely be at least a year late in shipping the console version, while WildStar is facing an uncertain future after subs dropped off a cliff, since they were published by NCsoft, whose motto is “kill the weak.”
  • Despite claims that SW:TOR is a cash cow, EA is officially saying it isn’t meeting expectations.  Not sure that bodes well for the future.
  • GuildWars 2 may have lots of fans, but the revenue chart seems to indicate that they will need another box to sell to keep NCsoft happy.
  • Jagex stumbles again with Transformers Universe shutting down before leaving open beta.  So they’re still just the RuneScape company, at least when it comes to revenue.
  • LEGO Minifigures Online is not meeting revenue expectations according to Funcom.  But then, I barely knew that it launched and I thought I was paying attention.
  • The original Star Citizen promised launch date has come and gone and we have a hangar module and a mini space sim module.  Meanwhile, the new go date for the real game is out in 2016.  More space bonsai needed to raise money.
  • Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  Awkward name, asked for too much money, the follow-on plan was just “give me money, no strings attached!” all while having too many goals.  I have doubts we’ll ever see a finished project.  It is sort of the anti-Project: Gorgon.

Non-MMO Gaming Things

Highs

  • Nintendo scores a big win with Maro Kart 8, a game that actually moved some Wii U units.
  • The 3DS line continues to be a bright spot on the Nintendo balance sheet.  It is still selling well, updated units are coming, and it is getting some decent titles.  I am very happy with my 3DS XL, it is a quality unit and worthy of the high standard set by the DS Lite.
  • Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire keep the Pokemon tradition going.
  • Sony still releasing PlayStation 3 titles.
  • Steam is still a good platform, and Steam sales keep me looking for things to add to my wishlist.
  • I finally hit level 8 on Steam.
  • My iPad 2 is still rolling along, I still use it daily.  The iOS 8 update didn’t kill it completely.
  • Really looking forward my copy of A History of the Great Empires of EVE Online next year.  Andrew Groen has been making regular updates and things seem to be on track.

Lows

  • Nintendo still hasn’t sold enough Wii U units to make the whole thing worth the effort.  It remains their worst selling mainstream console, a bitter pill to swallow after the Wii.
  • While Nintendo’s handheld rules the portable roost, it’s success is mainly reliant on remakes and the same small cast of characters.  How much longer can Mario and Pikachu carry this show?
  • Part of the Pokemon tradition includes cool features that only appear in one game, then are gone for the next release.
  • Have to suppress the realization that, despite all the updates and tweaks, Pokemon has not changed in any fundamental way since it was on the original GameBoy.
  • I only bought one PlayStation 3 title in 2014… and it was Assassin’s Creed III, which came out in 2012.  And I had to wait to buy it (for my daughter) because the PlayStation Network was down due to hackers… again.  All we use the PS3 for is streaming video most days.  It is great at that, but frankly a $100 Roku box would give us more options.
  • I literally won’t buy anything that isn’t at least 50% off on Steam at this point.  And even then I let my wishlist pass.
  • Steam competitors?  How many software sales platforms do you think I am going to invest in?  So far, the answer is one.
  • Steam blocked me one point shy of level 8, where you get a serious boost in cards and stuff, until I bought something.  I bought the original Wasteland for $1.49.  I’ll have to see if it plays like it did back on my Apple //e way back when.
  • I really just use my iPad 2 to browse the web, read news, and text my wife.  The only games I play regularly at this point are Ticket to Ride, DragonVale, and Candy Crush Saga.  The same three titles I was playing 2 years ago.  And I am only to level 301 in Candy Crush Saga, because I won’t give King a dime.
  • Where the hell is my copy of Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls?  The Kickstarter date was a “pessimistic” August 2013, back in February of that year.  2014 is about done and there is no ship date in sight.

The Blog and the Internet in General

Highs

  • Hey, I kept blogging for another year.  Gotta love the force of habit!  375 posts so far in 2014.
  • Still feel like I am connected in some minor way to a lot of the other bloggers out there in our little corner of the net.  You all write great stuff and I don’t link out to you all nearly enough.
  • The blog continues to live up to its name, as the games I played the most this year are all pretty old in internet terms.  World of Warcraft and EverQuest II both just turned 10, EVE Online is 11, and the Pokemon franchise is 18 years old at this point.
  • Turns out what I said last year about it being nice having a blog because so many of my screen shots are there came to pass when my power supply blew out and fried my motherboard, video card, and both drives… which actually sounds like a low, but I got a replacement board for one of the drives and it spun up and I was able to recover data.

Lows

  • WordPress.com seems determined to force horrible design choices on their users.  Most of their 2014 updates have offered less functionality, worse layout, and slower performance.  Seriously, WTF WordPress?
  • The randomness of Google and the internet means my most read post this year is the one I wrote about considering which class on which to use my WoW insta-90.
  • I remain at a loss as to what gamer social networking ought to be.  I keep getting invites to sites, and spent some time with Anook, but I dropped off after a while.  I already have a blog and too many ways to interact with people, why do I need a site that appears to be primarily looking to me to provide free content?
  • When did Yahoo’s motto become, “Well, we’re not the best, so let’s just be complete shit?”  Their site, their mail interface, their mobile app for mail, all have gone to utter shit.  I am pretty sure if I install Ad Block, Yahoo would simply disappear.
  • Also, Apple, WTF is it with iTunes?  Why must it get worse and worse?
  • GamerGate: Failed to learn the lesson of Occupy Wall Street (no leadership or unified platform or goals), so now any reasonable message under that hash tag is forever tainted by death threats, doxing, and revenge porn.  You cannot disavow something if nobody/everybody speaks for you movement.  You just managed to reinforce all the negative gamer stereotypes.

That is what came to mind for 2014 when I sat down to write this.  I am sure somebody will point out some big things I missed… which is the purpose of the comments section, so have at it.

And other people in the blogesphere have been looking at 2014 for good or ill, so you can see what they had to say as well.

Does PLEX Work Anywhere Besides EVE Online?

CCP introduced PLEX, the Pilot License EXtension item that could be bought for real world cash and sold on the in-game market of EVE Online or consumed to extended your EVE subscription by 30 days a little over five years ago.

Current prices are around 800 million ISK in Jita

Current prices are around 800 million ISK in Jita

It was very much an experimental move by CCP who proceeded with caution.  As you can see from the five year old screen shot above, when introduced, PLEX was stuck in the station in which you claimed it.  CCP didn’t want it becoming a loss mail item on day one.  Later, when it became clear that players were going to accept PLEX as a thing, CCP loosened up its restrictions on PLEX… and hilarity ensued, with the first major loss being 74 PLEX in a Kestrel.

PLEX has had quite an impact on EVE Online. It has been a major tool in the war against illicit RMT for the in-game currency, ISK, by giving players a legitimate way to effectively buy ISK.

It has become a major indicator of the health of the in-game market.  I think people mostly track Catalyst hulls, tritanium, and PLEX these days. (just kidding)

It has been opened up so that you can use it to enable other services or currencies.  You can use PLEX to enable the training queue for a second character on your account or convert it to Aurum to buy clothes at the New Eden Exchange. (Need more/better hats!)

It has allowed some players to play for “free,” where “free” means exchanging time for ISK and then ISK for PLEX. (If you think anybody is actually playing for free, please go read up on the time value of money.)

Through the simple math conversion (Real World Money to PLEX, PLEX to ISK) it has given people a dubious way to assign real world value to losses sustained in EVE Online, so now every huge battle report that makes the headlines at the BBC must include an obligatory dollar amount which gives people the false impression that you buy ships in the game for real world money or some similar nonsense.

(I am kind of disappointed that Edward Castronova, who spent so much time writing about the EverQuest economy, never spent much time writing about EVE Online where things have gotten at least a little closer to his virtual economy vision.)

And, of course, PLEX loss is a staple of loss mail porn as people unwittingly, to be charitable, try to transport billions of ISK in PLEX in ships that cost a million ISK or less.  Of course, every PLEX destroyed during such a loss is a win for CCP as that is a promise for 30 days of game time they do no longer have to honor.

I think we can safely declare PLEX a success.  Certainly, CCP has not suffered from having it, and the game has continued to grow since its introduction.

Success, of course, attracts imitation.  Since then a number of PLEX-like items have popped up in other MMOs.  We have:

  • KronoEverQuest & EverQuest I and maybe other titles.
  • CREDDWildStar
  • GRACEAnarchy Online
  • DUELDarkfall
  • REX – Rift
  • APEX – ArcheAge

Did I miss any?

The thing is, I have no real sens of how well the various PLEX-like currencies have worked in these other games which, even if they have a comparable player base to EVE Online… and you would need a lot of smoke and mirrors to make Darkfall or Anarchy Online appear to have a tenth of the subscriptions… they do not have the single, unified market of EVE, being chopped up into distinct servers, each with their own economy.

I have been peeking at the Krono market as I have been playing EverQuest II lately.  There seem to be about two dozen on the market at any given time, with the low end hovering around 3,000 platinum coins for one Krono.

I currently have 300 platinum coins, and feel quite well off for having that much.  But I am also playing a level 70 character and remember the days when earning your first platinum coin was a big deal and having 300 gold coins made me feel quite well off.

At 3,000 plat, the market seems somewhat static.  The number of Krono for sale does not fluctuate much from day to day, so I have to wonder how much traffic there really is. (Though, granted, the trade channel is where you go if you want to sell something RIGHT NOW, but it is also so spammy that I tend to keep it off.)  And I am on the Freeport server, which is one of the high population servers, somewhere behind Antonia Bayle, where all the cool kids used to hang out, and Splitpaw in activity, so what I see on my server might not reflect what is happening on other servers.

But my gut is that Krono hasn’t had the impact on Norrath that PLEX has had on New Eden.  And with WildStar having problems keeping people subscribed, I am not sure there is a comparable case to EVE Online when it comes to PLEX… yet.

Because suddenly World of Warcraft hove onto the scene.  Last week Baishok put up a post about things coming to Azeroth in the new year which included this entry half way down the post, between garrison improvements and heirloom storage, under the innocuous heading of “New Ways to Play.”

We’re exploring the possibility of giving players a way to buy tradable game-time tokens for the purpose of exchanging them in-game with other players for gold. Our current thought on this is that it would give players a way to use their surplus gold to cover some of their subscription cost, while giving players who might have less play time an option for acquiring gold from other players through a legit and secure system. A few other online games offer a similar option, and players have suggested that they’d be interested in seeing something along those lines in WoW. We agree it could be a good fit for the game, and we look forward to any feedback you have as we continue to look into this feature.

Everybody paying attention immediately saw this for what it was, PLEX comes to World of Warcraft.  This was met by various levels of excitement of despair, depending on various rational or irrational points of view and analogies.

Ages ago I wrote a post wondering if the World of Warcraft in-game economy could support something like PLEX in the way that the EVE Online economy has shown in can.

On the plus side, World of Warcraft does have a more vibrant economy than most of its peers.  There is a lot of gold floating around looking for places to be spent, given the number of alliance choppers I have seen running around since they went up for sale.  With the unification of economies across Horde and Alliance on servers, there are no more economic ghettos where one faction hugely outweighs the other.

Finally, here is a game that has an illicit RMT problem of epic proportions and which really needs a legitimate way for people to buy gold since it has become crystal clear over the years that people are going to buy gold no matter how many horror stories you tell them about account hacking and credit card fraud.

Plus, once you’re selling level 90 characters, what other taboo is there left to transgress?

On the down side, even with economies unified on servers, and across servers when it comes to the co-joined, merged in all but name servers, there are still a hundred or more individual economies to look at.  Servers that had 8 hour queues when Warlords of Draenor dropped might fare differently than servers that never even got to a medium population load on opening night.

And then there is Blizzard’s tentative nature.  World of Warcraft is the goose that lays golden eggs, quarter after quarter, and they are justifiably nervous about screwing that up.  So, even after having had five years to look at how PLEX has worked out in EVE Online, two years to observe Krono over at SOE, and having run their own “cash to item to gold” experiment with the guardian cub three years back, Blizzard is still “exploring the possibility” of the whole idea.

I know I mock SOE from time to time for jumping into ideas with both feet before they have thought things through… and then being forced to adapt and change in front of a live studio audience.  But here we are at the other end of the spectrum, where Blizz probably has all the data they are ever really going to get and they are out there being coy about the whole thing.

Yes, this could just be a trial balloon to see if the people who actually pay attention to these things explode at the idea.  And yes, the whole real money auction house plan in Diablo III, which worked out so badly in the end, does loom over this, a point many people in the forum thread are quick to compare this to.  However, I would argue that the RMAH in Diablo III, which allowed people to buy in-game gear directly for real world money and, more importantly I think, allowed people to cash out and walk away with real money profits, was a different and beast altogether and lead to problems people were calling out during beta.  Furthermore, even the in-game gold auction house was a serious problem, leaving real money aside,  Blizzard didn’t just close of the RMAH, they closed down both sides because both sides were killing the game.  The auction house as a whole was the problem, not just the real money aspect.

World of Warcraft, on the other hand, has existed with an auction house for a decade at this point.

None of which gets around to answering the question in the title.  I really have no concrete feel for how something like PLEX does affect a game aside from EVE, which remains unique in many ways in the MMORPG ecosystem.

I don’t think a PLEX-like item is a done deal for WoW either.  Blizzard is very cautious about its main source of revenue and, as we saw over the last year, would rather sit and do nothing than do something that might go wrong.  Add in the stink left over from Diablo III and my gut says it is only even odds that Blizzard will adopt something like this in 2015.  We certainly won’t see it until the summer if they do.  But that timing might make it a good hedge against another content drought.  People might stay subscribed longer if they could just pay for their subscription out of the giant pile of gold they have accumulated in their garrison.

Do you think PLEX-like items in other games are working out?  Do you think something like that will work in WoW?

Others on the idea of a PLEX-like item in WoW:

Riding in the Kylong Plains

I managed to finish up the cloud mount quest line in Kingdom of Sky fairly early on over the weekend.  As a tour of the expansion, that worked out pretty well.  You end up seeing most of the various sky islands and some of the key locations in the expansion.  Some of them, like the Sanctum of the Scaleborn, are heroic level, but with a healing mercenary in tow, following Sigwerd around, that worked out well enough.  Heroic mobs were manageable, even if I got an add.

I skipped every other quest I ran across, and sold all of the collectibles I picked up on the market, fearing I wouldn’t be there long enough to complete any of those collections.  That meant, in addition to hitting heroic mobs, I was also a bit behind in levels.  Again, a healing mercenary solved that problem and I was able to run the whole thing down, even the couple of rather awkward jumping segments.

And at the end of the quest chain there was a huge pile of loot.

Here lies treasure...

Here lies treasure…

That pile of treasure has no relation to what you actually end up with, but it certainly helped mark the spot.  What you do get is a small amount of gold (at least relative to that pile), experience, a decorative dish with some gems on it for your home, and the cloud mount itself.

Cloud mount away!

Cloud mount away!

The cloud mount doesn’t actually fly, except when the quest delivers you back to your start point.  It is just a ground mount that happens to look like you’re riding on a cloud.  Certainly better looking than some mounts in Norrath.

The setup to a "frog in a blender" joke

The setup to a “frog in a blender” joke

And you can turn it into a house item, which was my immediate plan. (Though wait until you get back to your house to do so. If you convert it to a house item when the quest gives it to you, you end up stuck on a branch sticking out of the side of a floating island with no way back.)

Then I discovered that the cloud mount had one attribute that distinguished it from other ground mounts.  It applies the feather fall effect to you, which means that when you ride off a cliff you glide gently down to ground level, in a way reminiscent of the Fae glide trait back when Echoes of Faydwer launch, before it got reworked, normalized, or otherwise nerfed.

So I decided to keep the cloud mount and make it my default, though because even mounts have appearance slots in EverQuest II, I was able to keep my horse as my mount look.  It just so happens to be a magic, gliding horse now.

Glide, horse, glide!

Glide, horse, glide!

All of which left me at level 66 and ready to head into the Rise of Kunark expansion, which kicks off in the Kylong Plains.

Landing in Kunark

Landing in Kunark

I am pretty sure I landed at the dock with another character way back in the day just to see it, but with RoK mostly being a level 70 to 80 expansion, I had not gone any further.

More after the cut.

Continue reading

Three Science Fiction Series Starters

I do love me a good science fiction series… or even a not-so-good one as long as it knows how to keep my attentions… as I have written in the past.

I tend to try them out in audio book form as they are especially good for passing the time in the car during the commute to and from work.  Because of my ancient, grandfathered, pre-Amazon acquisition Audible.com subscription, I get two audiobook titles a month as part of a “use it or lose it” plan.  Sometimes I have my purchases planned out months in advance, sometimes I just grab something that looks shiny.

Over the summer I decided to try out a few new series from authors I did not know.  So I picked out the starter book from three different science fiction series that were available.

ThreeSciFiSeriesStartersThis is my report on what I found.

Steel World by B.V. Larson (2013)

Summary: Earth is small part of a giant galactic empire.  The empire expects planets to provide something and grants each one a franchise on what they do best, and woe be to those who don’t have something worthwhile or who impinge on the franchise of another planet.

Earth, being backward and savage, provides mercenaries for use in conflicts within the empire, which the empire allows because… I don’t know, maybe they think it keeps people busy.  These mercenaries, which are organized as Roman legions… because… Romans are cool I guess… make Earth a respectable part of the empire and earns Earth credits so they can buy fancy space technology.

One of the technologies Earth buys lets them backup and restore dead mercenaries, within certain parameters. (Very EVE Online)  You have to be confirmed dead before you are restored, which becomes a plot point the way transporter malfunctions do in Star Trek.

Anyway, this means that Earth’s legions have an practically endless supply of soldiers.  Meanwhile, Earth is overcrowded and if something bad happens and you lose your job, you are in bad shape.

Such is the case of James McGill, who due to family issues loses his ability to pay for college.  He was a huge gamer, so he sells his elaborate console and goes off to join one of Earth’s legions, something akin to somebody today selling their XBox One and running off to join the army because they were really good at Call of Duty.  Hilarity ensues.

Highs: The tech, the galactic situation, and the way the legions operate were enough to keep me engaged throughout the story.

Lows: Owes a lot to 50’s Heinlein, very “Johnnie Rico” at times.  Too cute by half McGill escapes from impossible situations.  Plot complications telegraphed well in advance.  Galactic situation, and the situation on Earth not very well fleshed out.  Only available on Kindle or through Audible.

Follow on Books: Dust World, Tech World.

Into the Black by Evan Currie (2012)

Summary: In the not-so-distant future, after a conflict that divided the world into two armed camps and pushed the US and Canada to form the North American Confederation, various technological breakthroughs have put mankind into space.  We follow Captain Eric Weston, former commander of the elite Archagels squadron and now captain of the newly launched NACS Odyssey as he takes Earth’s first faster than light capable ship on its shakedown cruise to likely nearby stars.

And, at their very first stop at another star, they detect tachyon emission that leads them to the site of a space battle where they rescue and alien from a life support pod.  From there, difficult questions ensue and the Odyssey ends up involved in the war, taking sides without really checking back to see if this is okay with Earth.

Highs: The tech is not the easy standards of the genre.  Book attempts to, if not fully explain, at least explain well the parameters of the tech.  That is some FTL drive!  Asymmetrical tech ideas work.

Lows: Owes a bit to David Webber.  Considering how much time is spent on how cool and elite the Archangels are, they really do not add that much to the whole story.  The early plot depends on a lot of really low probability events.  Would we just let our first FTL capable ship just go swanning about where the solar winds blow like this?  Boy, them friendly aliens sure put all their eggs in one basket.  Another “lost tribe” story.  Tachyon emissions.

Follow on Books:  The Heart of the Matter, Homeworld, Out of the Black

Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos (2014)

Summary: In the not-so-distant future the world is divided into two armed camps with the US and Canada forming the North American Commonwealth, and various technological breakthroughs have put mankind into space.  Hrmm… that sounds familiar.

Earth is a mess, over populated, with the greater underclass confined to crowded, walled off cities.  If you don’t have a job, or lose yours, well you are stuck subsisting off of government handouts in a dirty, crime plagued corner of what passes for life for most people.  This too, sounds familiar.

The only way out is to win a lottery to a life on a colony world or join the military.  The story’s protagonist, Andrew Grayson, opts for the latter.  Insert somewhat standard boot camp scenario.  He has dreams of getting into space, but when he makes it through training but ends up in the Territorial Army, whose job it is to keep the peace here on Earth rather than head to space or garrison colony worlds.  He ends up back in cities again, this time fighting the masses of which he was once a part.

Still, where there is a will, there is a way, and Andrew really wants to get into space.  Meanwhile, aliens are on the move.

Highs:  Well paced, author knows when to skip the story ahead without feeling like you’ve missed something.  Doesn’t dwell on the tech beyond what is necessary for the plot. Really alien aliens.

Lows: Owes something to Heinlein, Haldeman, Harrison, and probably John Ringo as well, and it is hard not to draw the comparisons as you read.  Why is our future always a dystopian, over crowded, welfare state?  Detroit cannot catch a break.

Follow on Books: Lines of Departure, Angles of Attack (Due April 21, 2015)

What to Pick?

None of these titles were bad. I listened to all three to the very end, even putting the headphones on at home to continue listening to the stories outside of commute time.  Mentioning that a given story owes something to a past author’s work means that the desire to compare the two became a distraction, but that may be just a product of my own mind and having read far too much science fiction over the years.  Do not read too much into that.

l listed the titles in the order in which I listened to them, so Terms of Enlistment gets a couple of unfair “sounds familiar” mentions in its summery because it was the third in the queue.

But when I got to the end of the three books, I immediately went back to Audible.com and put Lines of Departure on my wish list.  I’ve already finished that, too, and am now impatient for Angles of Attack.

That said, at least it gives me time to pick up The Heart of the Matter.  While Into the Black didn’t thrill me as much as Terms of Enlistment, it still sunk a hook in me and I want to find out what happens next.  Maybe the Archangels will live up to their hype.

Which leaves me with Steel World.  As I said, it wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t leave me looking for a sequel either.  On the other hand, if you look at B.V. Larson’s Wikipedia page (the only one of the three authors apparently notable enough to have one), he has a whole slew of other titles, so there are some avenues worth exploring.

Anybody else on board with these authors?