Monthly Archives: January 2015

January in Review

The Site

Well, there is usual load of things to complain about when it comes to  Their new “upgraded” stats and writing interfaces remain sluggish and feature poor compared to the originals.  Then there was the momentary stats debacle around the middle of the month, where suddenly they fumbled and misplaced a bunch of data.  I was checked my stats and saw page views actually going down.  And while they seem to have mostly fixed things, there are still a couple of days where things numbers do not add up.

I am plugged into just about every notification system of theirs I can find and they NEVER use any of them to mention problems or warn in advance of upgrades.  They prefer to keep everything locked down, rarely responding to any inquiry with anything besides clearly copied and pasted phrases.  There is a certain irony in that, with them running what is essentially a communications platform.

Still, better than dealing with Google… or Yahoo… or AOL.

Anyway, aside from my usual bitching and moaning about mishandled technology, I seem to have added a bunch of new followers to the blog over the last month and a half.  Back at the start of December the number was ~200.

People who “follow” the blog, as I am using the term here, have to have accounts and then opt-in to view posts in the rather mediocre reader interface that offers.  More complaining, I know, but really you are better off using RSS and something like Feedly or FlipBoard.

But by the middle of January I had gotten this little achievement from

500Followers500 isn’t a huge number, but adding 300 in six weeks after a couple years getting to 200 seems… odd.  All the more so when many of those clicking the “follow” button seem to be not at all game, or even entertainment, related.

I suspect that there is some SEO related “secret” that has caused this surge in followers.  Or maybe it is a Twitter-like thing, as I notice that some of those who follow then unfollow rather quickly… though that may be because WP tied following and email notifications together at some point, meaning you cannot just sign up to see things in their reader, you also have to get email updates.  Or, at least you get an email about getting automatic email updates.  The actual email updates never arrive.  So dumb.

Anyway, welcome new followers!  I suspect that most of you will never read this!

One Year Ago

Do I need to say more than B-R5RB?  That was the biggest single battle in the history of EVE Online when it came to total ISK destroys, most of it in the form of 75 titans blowing up.  Lots of big numbers in that fight.  It made it to lots of non-gaming news sites.  And I was there.  I am on six titan kill mails to prove it.  The whole thing was a hell of an event after the crash at HED-GP earlier in the month.

That about spelled the end of N3 in the southeast as the Russians rolled in with CFC support.  My joke about the power blocs seemed to be true.  What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, Blog Banter 52 was focused on the EVE Online community.  All sunshine and lollipops there, right?  Otherwise it was a pretty slow month in New Eden for me.

Speaking of bloodbaths, SOE announced they were going to close four titles, Free Realms, Wizardry Online, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, and Vanguard: Rise of the Saga.  Meanwhile, deadbeat Planet Side, which hadn’t netted a nickel of profit in years went 100% free to play.  Way to show favorites Smed!

Then there was how Hearthstone was going to inspire SOE to update Legends of Norrath, because SOE has been cast in the role of follower for a while now.  Also, never going to happen.

Then there was the question of when “Next” was, specifically EverQuest Next.  Things had gotten quiet already.

At least SOE made subscriptions cheaper, though not before pissing off their subscribers first.  SOE being SOE.

And then there was Lord of the Rings Online, which announced there would be no expansion in 2014… or raids or dungeons… which left people kind of wondering what was going to happen.  You want to know when people started to doubt the future of the game? It was with this.  I did point out that Turbine was not the only entity that tried to tackle Tolkien’s work, only to be brought up short at Helm’s Deep.

There was the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen kickstarter.  Brad McQuaid was back, asking for too much money and promising too many features.  We know how that works out.  Even SOE closing his last title couldn’t push his pledge totals up to what he wanted.

Then there was World of Warcraft.  People were wondering what classes to boost to level 90. and what the so-called stat squish was really going to mean.  They also, in hindsight, pretty clearly broadcasted the Warlords of Draenor ship date, only few believed it.

Our own group was still running through the Cataclysm expansion, catching up from our year or so away from the game in places like Deepholm and the Vortex Pinnacle.  I was also lusting for living steel and making friends with the Netherwing at last.

What else?  Oh yeah, EA decided that maybe SimCity should be a SimCity game.  I was wondering if level cap upgrades were an aberration.  There was some naming policy shenanigans.  And there was my yearly MMO outlook for the year as well as the usual prediction.

Five Years Ago

Well, there was the usual set of ill-considered predictions.

Oh, and that Battlestar Galactia/Bohemian Rhapsody video on YouTube.  I liked that.

The first issue of The Official World of Warcraft Magazine shipped.

I was wondering how many people remapped they keys for games.

There was Hulkageddon II, from which I tried to draw lessons.  Always good for some gamer angst… and anger.

There was a certain amount of excitement on my part for Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver.  January was the ramp up time for Pokemon hype.

The instance group was still warming up on the Horde side, making it as far as Razorfen Downs.

And the whole forever argument around Tanks and Healers vs. DPS?  We were going on about that back in January 2010 as well.  The Dungeon Finder brought this all into sharp relief.

But the month was primarily about Star Trek Online.  I was obsessed.

I was making making up polls and contests around that Del Taco shuttle tie-in and silly lists of things to do while waiting for open beta.

And when it finally arrived, I spent a lot of time with the character creator, some of it to make my first character and some of it just in the name of science.  I customized my ship and wondered how I could get rid of the shields in my combat screen shots.  Did they ever change that? And I pondered whether or not it was a good idea to get a lifetime subscription.  The poll results said it wasn’t, but I did it anyway.  The majority was correct it would seem.

Oh, I did do one other thing in January 2010.

New Linking Blogs

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 January

A surprise link from Crossing Zebra’s vaulted a four year old post to the top of the chart this month.  And the rest of the list was made up of mostly recent posts, which is a rarity some months.

  1. Some People REALLY Want to be Goons…
  2. And What of Another Middle-earth?
  3. The Mighty Insta-90 Question – Which Class to Boost?
  4. And What of Another Middle-earth?
  5. Last Minute Molten Core
  6. A Warning to My Fellow Dummies
  7. Have Basilisk, Will Travel
  8. Level 85 in EverQuest… Now What?
  9. Tech 3 Destroyers and Other Tidbits from EVE Vegas Keynote
  10. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  11. Making Friends and Influencing Capsuleers the Gevlon Goblin Way!
  12. The State of the Garrison Address

Search Terms of the Month

planetside 2 memes
[I don’t think PS2 is there yet]

( a$.32;?
[This actually brings people to a World of Tanks screen shot here]

where in the world map are the halls of montezuma
[Well, for a start, they’re pretty far from the shores of Tripoli]

prince of persia 4 pc game under 40mb
[Size isn’t everything]

sunny sex noob photos in 2015
[Really, you don’t want to go there]

EVE Online

It has been a semi-quiet month for me in New Eden.  I am with the deployment down in Immensea, but I keep missing fleets.  Timers seem to require us to form up just as we are sitting down to dinner at our house.  Still, I got on the kill board a few times and hopefully clicked on enough participation links to keep my CEO happy.

I did pull my second account out of the corp and let the subscription lapse.  Aside from the very rare need for a cyno beacon, I hadn’t really been using him.  So I am back down to one account.

EverQuest II

After some fun in Norrath, getting a couple of characters into the Rise of Kunark expansion I decided my vacation from Azeroth was over and let things settle.  I will likely return at some future date to continue my better-late-than-never journey through some of the EQII content.

World of Warcraft

I am all about the garrisons.  Or that is what it feels like some days with five characters in Draenor.  Every day I log in there is some garrison maintenance waiting for me.  I have to keep those followers active and those work order queues filled because… because… otherwise the won’t be active or filled!  Doing that has left me with a single level 100 character.  I still have three level 94s and a level 95 to work up to cap, plus I have this absurd dream about getting one of my long disused Horde characters up to level cap.  I am going to need another 13 month content drought.

Coming Up

The final days of Massively and WoW Insider are upon us.  On February 3rd they will go away, though the nature of their disappearance has yet to be announced.  Where will all of those URLs resolve to on the 4th, if anywhere?  We are rapidly approaching the last minute, though I doubt there will be any last minute reprieve from Vice-President for Being AOL Zorg.

I do have to look into replacements for both sites in my reader.

In EVE Online we have another expansion looming, while in World of Warcraft 6.1 patch is on the horizon.  I suppose I will stop fretting about how it is changing from day to day since WoW Insider won’t be keeping me up to date on that.

And by Grabthar’s hammer, I will get my ship undocked and fly around in Elite: Dangerous.  Also, Pokemon.  I must get back to Pokemon at some point.


On Departures from Our Corner of the Web

MMOs are a strange sub-genre of video games.  As noted this month… and just about every month… it is tough to even define what an MMO is.  People claim some things are MMOs that meet almost none of what I would consider the baseline requirements, while Smed was trying to tell us that H1Z1 wasn’t an MMO despite the fact that it seems to meet nearly all the criteria I would use to make that determination.

And how many video game sub-genres get this much focus?

If you want to find video game news sites, they are plentiful, as are sites that narrow that down to games on a specific platform.

Or, if you want to find a site that focuses on a specific title or series of games, that seems pretty doable.

But when you start talking about video-game subgenres… action RPGs or text adventures or turn-based strategy or simulations… the sites start to get a little niche.

MMOs though… MMOs are a little different.  We have had sites and magazines and columns in major publications dedicated to just our own favorite genre.

Michael Zenke's old column at

Michael Zenke’s old column at

I started this site at the height of what I would call the golden age of MMO blogging.  It was the VirginWorlds podcast era, a show that brought a lot of people together and was, in a way, emblematic of the time.  Brent could climb into the converted sauna that served as his recording studio and bang out about an hour of content once a week that would really cover all the important news we wanted to hear.

MMOs were all about success back then, they made lots of money, and the few oddball titles that got closed were clearly going down because of bad design or bad execution.  World of Warcraft, while already wildly distorting the measure of success in the genre, seemed to herald continued growth and endless possibilities.  People wanted to talk about them, argue over them, and most of all, hear about the next great thing that was sure to come.

And I think that all of this came about because MMOs are such a social video game genre.

A lot more people played FarmVille than any MMO, and a lot more probably play Candy Crush Saga.  But if you meet somebody else who plays one of those games, there generally isn’t a ton of excitement over it.

But if I meet somebody who plays an MMO that I play, it has to become “what server, what class, what level, do you know so-and-so, how about the next update/expansion they are talking about” and so on.  (And if I meet somebody who plays EVE Online, just go away for an hour or two, because we have to figure out how we are linked… and we always are in some odd way… in New Eden.)

And the social nature of our hobby has led us to have almost an over abundance of site covering MMOs.  We have, Ten Ton Hammer, MMO Champion and Massively all trying to cover all aspects of the genre as well as a host of sites that drill down and concentrate of smaller aspects.  There is such an array of choices that I cut back the MMO news site feeds to what I considered the bare essentials.  The MMO news sites in my reader today are:

  • Massively – Nearly all things MMO
  • MMO Fallout – Filled in the corners for NCsoft and Jagex and a few other topics
  • WoW Insider – Everything I needed to know about WoW
  • EQ2 Wire – Everything anybody sane needs to know about EverQuest II
  • The Mittani and EVE News 24 – All EVE Online, with comedic juxtaposition

However, as we learned today, that list is getting the chopped by two very soon.

Rumors had already been floating around about how AOL was going to shut down Joystiq and all sites under the Joystiq domain, a domain that includes both Massively and WoW Insider.  (WoW Insider was for a brief moment in time before AOL thought the domain was better off hosting a half-assed Groupon clone… which they later closed.)

MassivelyWoWInsiderLogosAnd so it goes.  Massively came on the scene towards the end of 2007 and was staffed by a lot of names familiar to me, like Michael Zenke and Mike Schramm… and other people not named “Mike.”

If you go back to the first snapshot of the site over at the Internet Archieve, it is fun to see what they opened up with; Tabula Rasa, Echoes of Faydwer for EQ2, EVE Online, whether or not there was going to be a Knights of the Old Republic based MMO, and, of course, Second Life!  I remember people complaining about there being too damn much Second Life coverage on Massively for the first year or so.  And, of course, the Welcome to Massively post, which laid out the intentions for the site.  The first paragraph:

This is it. The design is in place, our bloggers are trained and at the ready, and the password has been lifted from the site. Our brand new blog, Massively, is now live and ready for your perusal, your comments, your tips, and your eyeballs. Here, you’ll find breaking news about MMO games both upcoming and established, insightful and wisecracking commentary about your favorite worlds, tips on how to get all your characters in all those universes the best they can be, and the high level of quality you’ve come to expect from WoW Insider, Second Life Insider, Joystiq and the Fanboy network. This is Massively, and welcome to it.

That was still in the heyday of MMO blogs and for a couple of GDCs up in San Francisco, meeting up with Brent and a couple people from Massively and other members of our blogging circle would be something of a tradition. (pictures from 2008, 2009, 2010)

So it is a sad moment as we bid farewell to both Massively and WoW Insider.  But that is the nature of life and the web and blogging.  People show up for a season, we interact, and maybe they stay longer or maybe they move on… but we all move on eventually.  And so we remember two sites about to depart.  They will both go away on February 3rd… Tuesday… Patch day.

  • WoW Insider – November 2005 to February 2015
  • Massively – November 2007 to February 2015

Others in our little corner… and outside of it as well… are also writing about Massively and WoW Insider.

Now who is going to fix all my links to both sites so they hit the Internet Archive instead of whatever doubtless horrible site will end up in their place?

And who should be in my feed now?

And, finally, the only thing I am sure AOL will be remembered for.

Addendum: The farewell posts for Massively and WoW Insider are up.

A Test Run Beyond Earth

The holidays and the flu and various other real life issues have kept both of my regular gaming groups from getting together to play very much over the last couple of months.  The instance group is just one instance into Warlords of Draenor and the strategy group managed to play a game of Age of Kings while talking about what we should dive into next.

Picking a game is a wide open discussion.  We tend towards strategy games, but more out of habit than a burning desire to remain pure to a given genre.  We could go anywhere, and even if we stuck with strategy the field is wide open.

But even as Potshot was bringing up Crusader Kings II (another on the list of games that have made me feel dumb) Steam stepped up and offered us an out.  There was a special demo/sale weekend a couple weeks back for Civilization: Beyond Earth.

Sid Meier strikes again

Sid Meier strikes again

The download was quick enough and the price was right, so while Loghound and I each gave it a quick try, we both ended up just buying it.  The following weekend it was just him and I online, so we decided to test drive it multiplayer.

That quick game, on a small map with options set pretty conservatively, pretty much all I had heard about the game was born out.

Setting up our game

Setting up our game

The Civilization: Beyond Earth feels more like an expansion to Civilization V than a whole new game, certainly when compared to the way Alpha Centauri felt after Civilization II.  When I first played Alpha Centauri way back when, I immediately wanted some of its new features ported back to Civ II.  I still do.  I still dream of a Civ 2.5.

Beyond Earth though, it pretty much feels like Civ VCiv V in space, as noted elsewhere.  It is like a stand-alone expansion.  And, given that Sid Meier is headed towards Civilization: Starships next, it might be the last hurrah of the Civ V era.

But being tied to Civ V is not necessarily bad I suppose.

Civ V is my second favorite flavor of Civilization, so it is hard to fault them making more of it.  While they have rearranged the UI some, there are no mystery buttons.  Just playing through a quick trial game settled everything for me.  The options for multiplayer pretty much map directly back to Civ V.  And it does look like Civ V… in space… which means it looks pretty darn good, even if it starts taxing all four cores of my processor pretty quickly.

A ways into a game...

A ways into a game…

There are some small differences that spice things up a bit.  There, for example, little “quest like” decision points that determine how resources will be handled or what production or units your cities will favor.  And then there are the alien life forms.  They are sort of barbarians, sort of not. (You cannot turn them off in the settings as in Civ V, as they are somewhat essential to the plot, such that it is.)

The downside for Beyond Earth is that while it did not carry the impact of Alpha Centauri when it launched, it is still saddled with some of the baggage that keeps Alpha Centauri down at the third position on my list of favorite Civilization games.

The game sticks to the conventions of the series, even when they do not make a lot of sense.  The map is blacked out despite the fact that I just landed from space?  I flew in a spaceship, but I need to do research on how to make a space buggy to ride around in… or allow certain agreements to be made with other factions?  And I care about these caricatures of factions and their inflexible philosophies why?

Then there is the tech web itself.

remember, webs are traps!

remember, webs are traps!

I realize that we are in the future for Beyond Earth, so we have to deal with future tech and rather than a tree forming at a single root it is more realistic to have a lot of choices to make.  The problem is that, as choices, they are only mildly interesting.

Part of what makes the historical Civilization games compelling is that journey from spearmen to modern mechanized infantry.  That is an epic journey through time that involves technologies that we know and understand.  High tech space soldier to slightly improved high tech space soldier can never capture that same sense of progress.

I will temper this by saying that, at this point, I have not played a lot of Beyond Earth.  Those are initial impressions.  Since it looks like Beyond Earth will be our next weekly game, we shall see if my opinion changes over that time.

And, if nothing else, it keeps us the hell away from a comical quagmire in Crusader Kings II for a few more weeks.

Too Late for Torchlight II?

Back to the wars of 2012, when Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile were vying for the mantle of heir to the mighty Diablo II.

Each game, in my opinion, managed to score well on very specific fronts.  What individuals found most important about the Diablo II legacy dictated which game they preferred.  If you wanted a dark, gritty atmosphere, Path of Exile was the winner.  If you wanted the continuation of the Diablo story line along with the Blizzard logo and all of its attendant polish, you had Diablo III.  And if you wanted something lighter on its feet that supported offline play and modding, there was Torchlight II.

Each did the “click things to death” thing well enough, you just needed to choose what toppings you wanted on your Action RPG sundae.  None were, however, quite as good as Diablo II was back in the day, though that is more likely a context of the times than any fault of the newer games.

That is, was, and probably will remain my synopsis of the way things played out.  You can argue about the details, but we ended up with three good but different attempts to remake what was great about Diablo II.  In the end however, as interested as I was in all three games, I have other things I would rather play these days.  It just isn’t 1999 anymore.

PoElogoThe games have not stood still though.  Or, at least two of them have not.  Path of Exile has continued to refine its game and has released new content.  There have been some rough spots for the game, with the always online aspect making for some annoying latency issues, but the developers carry on.

DiabloIIIBlizzard, slow but persistent, finally cleaned up their auction house and itemization issues in Diablo III, launched console versions of the game, and then came out with an expansion, all of which seem to have gone over quite well.  I enjoyed the revamped version of the original game, and friends I know who went with the expansion really liked it as well.

Torchlight2LogoAnd then there is Torchlight II.

In the last year before it went live, there was all sorts of wild talk about what Runic games would do after they launched Torchlight II.  There had been talk of the game being a stepping stone to a Torchlight MMO.  Also possible seemed to be official mods, user mods being picked up and sold as DLC with some sort of profit sharing, expansions to the game itself, and all of the usual sorts of rumors and nonsense that seem to catch fire from the spark of optimistic interpretations and wishful thinking when parsing every word the company and its devs utter in public or private.

And there was going to be a Macintosh OS version of the game available shortly after launch.  Based on that alone I bought a copy of Torchlight II for my daughter, who has to play her games on an iMac.

After the initial flurry of the Torchlight II launch though, the tone from Runic games changed.  The tone from the company seemed to indicate that they were burnt out after the big push to get the game out the door.  I’ve been there, once having gone through a five month crunch time stretch of 12 to 16 hour days seven days a week, when only our copy of NBA Jam kept us sane at times, after which the team was pretty much dead for months.

Runic was tired of the whole Torchlight thing.  There would be no MMO.  There would be no further Torchlight games.  There would be no expansions.  And due to some problems, it seemed unlikely that there would be any Macintosh OS version of the game.

I don’t miss the $20 so much as the opportunity to play the game with my daughter.

Some founders left the company after about a year to work on a new game (the premise of which sounds vaguely familiar), while Runic Games itself fell into an SOE-like silent mode, coming up for air only to note when the game was on sale at Steam for the most part.  And with Runic’s corporate masters complaining about US operations being a drag on earnings, the future for a studio with apparently nothing in play seems a bit grim.

And so it goes.

Of the three games, Torchlight II ended up being the one I played the least.  Play time is the only real measure of my preferences.  I often SAY I intend to play this or that, but what I actually play is the reflection of the deep truth.  You can my choice that how you like, but I guess in the end I wanted polish and story most, atmosphere second, and offline play and mods third.  Though, as noted above, none of the games became long term staples and I haven’t bothered to reinstall any of them since the great Thanksgiving computer blow out.

So the news that showed up last night indicating that Runic games would at last be releasing the Macintosh OS version of Torchlight II on February 2nd got something of a bemused look from me.

Steam only I guess?

Steam only I guess?

It is too late for me to care much.  My daughter is a couple years older, is interested in different things now, and doesn’t even have Steam installed on her system anymore.  The time has passed at our house.  Runic has a cute little video up making fun of the delay, but they have otherwise been so quiet that I wonder who will notice.  I am sure it will sell a few more copies of the game, and the Macintosh world is used to there being a delay on some game launches, but I wonder if this was more of a contractually obligated action as opposed to a push to sell more units.

Is this the last hurrah for Runic Games, or do they really something else for us?

A Warning to My Fellow Dummies

Greetings!  A great big idiot’s welcome to my fellow simpletons.  I stumble out here before you today, shoes untied, to warn you. I need to steer you away from the great peril of having your diminished mental capacity not only exposed, but rubbed in your face.

I am here to implore you not to buy Elite: Dangerous.


I have had games make me feel stupid before.  The EVE Online tutorial back in 2006 left me dazed and confused at times.  I could not master the controls for World of Warplanes sufficiently to defeat the tutorial missions.  I have crashed repeatedly  in IL-2 Strumovik while attempting to find the correct key combo for a specific, required action.  I have blown up on the launch pad in Kerbal Space Program countless times, or had the damn parachute deploy unexpectedly in flight.  I have sat like a deer in the headlights, frozen by information overload, as Europa Universalis IV patiently attempted to explain to me the variations and precedences of my royal line of succession and the state of relations with my vassals while I was still stuck ten minutes back on how to join two military formations I raised into a single operational unit.  And I cannot seem to remember even the simplest recipe in Minecraft to save my life, leading my daughter to grab the controls in frustration and say, “No dad, do THIS!”

In short, I am not stranger to attempting to operate without a clue.

But Elite: Dangerous has set the bar for making me feel the ass.  I sit here even now wondering why I bought the game.  I never played any of its predecessors, so why would I feel the need to jump on board now.

Oh, that’s right.  Yahtzee lulled me into it.

Last week’s Zero Punctuation was about Elite: Dangerous.

And, in an uncharacteristic state of affairs, Yahtzee actually liked the game, describing it in ways that reminded me of any number of “making your way from humble beginnings” space exploration, combat, and trading games that I played in the 80s and 90s, like Starflight or Escape Velocity or Battlecruiser 3000AD or even Stellar Emperor in its way.  Hell, it was a sense of space that got me pointed at EVE Online.

So that is what did it, the Yahtzee approved vision of happy space faring nostalgia.

And so off I went to Frontier’s site where I successfully managed to purchase the game and where I was further enticed by some of the descriptions of the game, like:

Take control of your own starship in a cut-throat galaxy.

Start with a small starship and a few credits, and do whatever it takes to get the skill, knowledge, wealth and power to stand among the ranks of the Elite.

400 Billion Star Systems. Infinite Freedom. Blaze Your Own Trail

In the year 3300, across the vast expanse of an epic, full-scale recreation of our Milky Way, interstellar rivalries flare as galactic superpowers fight proxy wars.

Some may know you as an ally; others will call you a pirate, a bounty hunter, a smuggler, an explorer, an assassin, a hero… Fly alone or with friends, fight for a cause or go it alone; your actions change the galaxy around you in an ever unfolding story.

Sounds great!

I even managed to get through the install process, getting everything on my drive even through the process has a few not obvious, can’t believe they’re still doing this in 2015 steps.

And then I tried to play.

I would like to point out that, as far as I could tell, there was nothing wrong with the game itself.  It operated well, looked good, did not crash, and generally kept its metaphorical nose clean and its figurative hands to itself.

I just missed somewhere along the way the flashing red warning message about this being a hardcore space flight simulator first, and everything else second.  Space trading and exploration of those 400 billion star systems would first require me to control my ship.

And I quickly demonstrated my complete inability to control my ship.

I made it through the first tutorial mission, though to call this a success would be distorting the meaning of the word.  The mission simply requires you to shoot and blow up several stationary objects.  My flailing around would have been amusing to watch if another ship had been present to see them.  There was a lot of “okay, it will probably just be easier to keep rotating on this axis and try to acquire the target again on its next pass” sort of things.

Still, I finished it and, in doing so, decided to try the second tutorial.  However, that one required me to actually move the ship around to shoot another ship.  And that other ship gets impatient and eventually shoots back.

I don’t think I ever hit the other ship.

At this point, I was starting to figure that my usual input device problems might be holding me back.  A trackball is not the best was to control a flight sim.

Kensington Expert Mouse

Kensington Expert Mouse

However, I did have that gamepad still sitting around from that Rusty Hearts offer a few years back, a Logitech Dual Action.

The Gamepad in Question

Something like the Gamepad in Question

I had used it for the Windows version of a couple of the Travelers Tales LEGO games I picked up on Steam and found it good enough, even though the overall experience convinced me that those games are better left to consoles.

Anyway, Yahtzee had said something about using a gamepad to play and he had gotten me into this mess, so I felt I had better just go whole hog in emulating him.

This improved things… slightly.  I chose the only setting that seemed to fit, generic joystick, and then went back to the first tutorial.  I was then able to figure out how to move, though having to move the right analog stick back towards me controls thrust was immediately causing me coordination problems.  My brain did not like that.  Throttles move forward to increase power, except in pre-1950 French aviation.

I managed to work out how to move about, rolling the ship to be perpendicular to a given target then pulling back to drop it into the firing reticule to be locked and destroyed.  That makes the process sound a lot more smooth than it actually was.  I was fumbling around… a lot… but at least I felt like I had some sort of active control over what I was doing.

Eventually I had enough of shooting stationary objects, but I was nowhere near ready to shoot something in motion.  I decided that I would have to adopt a strategy of “running away” for now and went on to the travel tutorial.  There I was put in a station where I was supposed to undock, but wasn’t sure what to do.  There was a timer counting down, but I wasn’t going to wait four minutes, so I started poking buttons to see if I could hurry things along.  I managed to fire my guns in the station.  That set off the station internal defenses which promptly blew up my ship.  Tutorial not successfully completed.

But it did illustrate the problems I was having, which largely involved not knowing what the fuck was going on.

I kept feeling like I was missing some critical bit of information.  Where is the list of controls?  How can I tell what controls mapped to which buttons on my gamepad?  Is there anything special I need to do with my gamepad to make it work right?  What controls still need the keyboard?  It looks like I need to activate controls on the screen, but how to do this is beyond my comprehension.

My Raptr profile will tell you I have spent 7 hours playing Elite: Dangerous, but that is a lie.  I have spent most of my time tabbed out the game going through the forums or watching videos… some of which are linked directly in the game… trying to figure out what I am missing.

To no avail.

Unlike the other games I listed above, where I at least felt that if I applied myself or spent more time figuring out what was going on I might succeed, I cannot see a path forward.  There are just too many bits of data I am struggling to find.

So I have yet to do anything I would feel I could be described as actually playing the game.

I am beginning to wonder if, in addition to the warning about the whole hardcore flight simulator idea that I missed, I perhaps missed some mention of the game still being in early access or something.  I know this was a Kickstarter project, but I thought it had gone live and was ready for public consumption.

But people are out there playing Elite: Dangerous.  So it must be possible.  I am wondering if I just haven’t found the key repository of information necessary to get things going or if the game is simply beyond my rather limited capabilities.

By The Fifth Garrison I Totally Had It Down…

Over the weekend in World of Warcraft, after wrapping up garrison maintenance for four characters, running the garrison daily, doing a pet battle for tokens, and fishing a bit, I started thinking about actually… well… playing the game.

I know, I know, all that other stuff is part of the game.  But each feels like its own little thing and apart from what I think of as playing WoW, which is leveling out in the field and running instances.

With three level 94 characters in Draenor, I had my choice of classes to play and level up.  Alioto was high on my list as, having the inscription trade skill, I wanted to unlock the garrison herb garden for him.

So what did I do?

I logged in my rogue, Trianis, star of my doomed attempt at the Loremaster achievement over the summer, to see where he stood.

He was level 88 and just a ways into the Valley of the Four Winds.  He had been a possible contender for “who goes to Draenor first” back before the expansion hit, but I had ended up leaving him behind with Pandaria unfinished.

I did a few quests there with him, rode out to Halfhill Market and boosted his cooking skill from ~280 to 525 with the set of “catch up” recipes available, generating a cooking achievement every couple minutes.  Then I flew him back to the road into Kun-Lai Summit and picked up the starter quest for the zone.  My goal was to see if I could get him to level 90 and to do the quest for the Grummelpack, the 24 slot bag that is a quest reward about half way across the zone.

As it turned out, that was about the perfect set of goals as he literally popped to level 90 when I turned in the quest for the Grummelpack.  #winning

I swapped in the new big back, recalled to Stormwind, and headed straight to Khadgar and into the Warlords of Draenor starter zone.  It was just after I committed to that path that I realized I had not done much about my gear.  I was actually still wearing several pieces of the 1-85 heirloom gear that had allowed Trianis to speed through the Cataclysm expansion.  I never got around to replacing them while in Pandaria.  The drops I got there all had a better item level, but the heirloom gear stats remained competitive.  Side effect of the great stat squish I guess.

But now I was going into Draenor wearing that stuff, while back in my bank I had a full set of Timeless Isle leather gear to open up and wear.  Those purples, at item level 496, would have clearly been better than what I was wearing.  But it was too late, so I pressed on through the expansion intro.

Come on Khadgar, move your ass

Come on Khadgar, move your ass

The fifth time through… well… I was at the point of being optimized for the experience.  And doubly so as a rogue, where you can stealth through things.  I still have to resolve the dichotomy of the full on rogue play style and the feral druid pseudo-rogue play style, as they are not identical.  The feral druid just does not have the damage capabilities of the rogue, but can cast heals… and since I got the random druid specialization that lets Alioto cast a heal while in cat form, he is even more survivable… while the rogue has to vanish and run away if he gets in too far over his head.  That, or die a lot.  Dying a lot reminds you to vanish eventually.

Anyway, I made it through, took the ride to Shadowmoon Valley and launched into garrison creation.  Again, having been through Shadowmoon Valley four times before, I know which quests to run to get followers and what I need to do to unlock the level 2 on the garrison.  In pretty much “zip zam boom” fashion Trianis was sitting in his level 2 garrison with 9 followers.

Another town hall

Another town hall

I did have a couple of new quests to run.  For trade skills Trianis does enchanting and tailoring, the “no need to harvest” combo.  That meant he had to go find the quests for both trade skills and run them down before laying down the Enchanter’s Study and the Tailoring Emporium.  No extra space for a Storehouse, so he’ll have to travel to do his banking.

On the bright side, the raws he needs to run his crafting material production orders had been accumulating on a couple of characters, so he was set to kick those off.

I had to decide what to do with my medium slot.  I wish that the Dwarven Bunker was a medium building, as I have gotten a huge amount of benefit from it with Vikund and his garrison.  Hi followers are bringing back item level 645 gear at this point due to all of the follower upgrades.  Absent that, I decided to go with a Lumber Mill, if only because it was a building I haven’t played with as yet, and Trianis is behind in his garrison resource accumulation.

So now I have another character in Draenor and another garrison to tend.  And all of the candidate characters I had listed for Draenor back before the expansion launch are into the thick of things.

The Draenor Contestants

The Draenor Contestants – all now in Draenor

So now I should work on leveling them up.

Of course, I say that, but then I saw this on the WoW 6.1 PTR release notes:

Alchemists can now transmute for Savage Blood

And what trade skill do I NOT have in Draenor yet?  And how badly do I want/need savage blood for crafting?

But, you know, I do have an alchemist.  He is a level 83 druid, so he isn’t THAT far from the level cap.  And how much more work would six garrisons be compared to five?

This is how I get mired in side tasks.

Quote of the Day – I Got Your Massive Universe Right Here!

“This amazing achievement shows not only how truly massive the PlanetSide 2 universe is, but also how inclusive its online community is,” said Annie Nguyen, Video Games Records Manager at Guinness World Records. “This title truly embodies the international, record-breaking spirit of Guinness World Records.”

Statement at Guinness World Records site

PlanetSide2 got an achievement in that they set the world record for most players in a single FPS battle, managing a peak of 1,158 in their “truly massive universe,” allowing them to join other distinguished record holders at the Guinness World Records site.

That is NOT Blawrf McTaggart!

That is NOT Blawrf McTaggart!

Now maybe they can work their way up to 4,070 players, like the battle at 6VDT-H, or even 2,670 players, the peak number participating at one time at B-R5RB, because 1,158 is something like the population of Jita on a Saturday afternoon.

Okay, I know, this isn’t and apples to apples comparison.  Those EVE Online events weren’t hyped up attempts to set a record by getting people on a server.  They were just fights that happened because of player interaction.

Erm… that wasn’t what I meant.

I mean, having 1,158 players spread out over a whole world map is clearly more taxing than having at least double that number on the station grid in 6VDT-H… plus drones… hrmm…

Battles spread out over the map

Battles spread out over the map

Well, it is certainly easier to render spaceships than… wait, what are those?

Drop ships are not spaceships

Drop ships are not spaceships

Well, at least this record makes more sense than that time World of Tanks got awarded the record for the most concurrent players on a server for a game where you play 15 vs. 15 matches.

Anyway, congratulations to the PlanetSide 2 team!  They showed those other FPS games who was the boss.  Now back to MMOs.

And What of Another Middle-earth?

Turbine hasn’t been much of a standard bearer for the hopes of the future in MMOs over the last few years, or even for the hopes of their own long term success.  Their next game is a MOBA, being launched into a market where there is already a very dominate leader in League of Legends, and which doesn’t even seem likely to beat Blizzard’s MOBA to release.

Can’t even beat Blizzard?  Asheron wept!

In what looked like a sign of something happening, they brought back Asheron’s Call 2 back at the end of 2012, only to have both it and the original Asheron’s Call dropped into the MMO hospice care that is the free zone.  How many other free, can’t pay money even if you wanted to, MMOs are there out in the world?  There is Planet Side.  There WAS EverQuest: Macintosh Edition, but then the plug got pulled on that.  And what else is there?  And how long can we expect that situation to last?

I mean, Asheron’s Call had several competitors from back during its launch, and some of those are still around and making some money.  Ultima Online is being supported by Broadsword (along with Dark Age of Camelot), so it must be a producing asset for EA, since they shut stuff down as soon as the money dries up.  EverQuest is still getting new expansions and being milked by SOE.  And did you see where Lineage was on NCsoft’s revenue chart?

But AC and AC2… they are free and unsupported and, call me a pessimist, I think they will probably go away as soon as something breaks the client or somebody finds a vulnerability in their server code that requires an expensive update.

Which leaves the two money makers, Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeon’s & Dragons Online.

I would have called LOTRO the company flagship product up until the 2015 producer’s letters went out.  The DDO letter was full of exciting, new, and somewhat specific things, while the LOTRO version was much more vague and included bullet points about fixing bugs and closing servers.

Paralyzed with dread

How I felt about the Producer’s Letter at first read

Yes, those are things that need to be done.  But bugs are something they should be working on in any case.  And, while closing servers will doubtless benefit the remaining population of the game, it is a pretty clear reminder that the remaining population is running well below the peak they hit at the free to play conversion, when they put some new servers online.  I will be interested to see if the soon-to-be closed servers are made up mostly of those “new” servers or not.

Then there is Turbine itself, which generally opts to say nothing until it absolutely has to, and then comes out with something vague or ambiguous that only gets people riled up.  I mean, how many clarifications have there been to the LOTRO producer’s letter at this point?  And, in all of that, it took them more than a week to come out and say that transfers off of closed servers would be free.

That seemed like a key bit of information, and its absence from the producer’s letter felt like a huge oversight, while failing to respond to the immediate questions on that front was almost baffling, given how many other things got clarifications before Vyvyanne finally got around to that.  And yet, to judge by the reactions of those close to the game, this is better communication than they are used to.

I could go on.  There are plenty of other missteps I could catalog.  We haven’t even gotten into the game itself!

But I am sure the fans of the game are already starting to steam and consider me a hater.

Take a deep breath.

This is more of a Jeremy Clarkson piece.  If you watch Top Gear regularly, you may have noticed his style when he wants to praise a vehicle.  First he has to tear it down, listing out all the things going against it before getting to the “but,” where he tosses that aside and talks about the good things, the bits that ignite his passion.  Let’s head for that.

With all of those negatives, you might be wondering what the end game, so to speak, for LOTRO really is?  We are two years away from the expiration of the contract with Tolkien Enterprises that was announced back in 2008.  The original was good through 2014 with a pre-set extension to 2017.  Turbine announced in 2014, at the very last minute and only after many questions on the topic, that things were good until 2017.

But as we sit here today, you might reasonably ask if 2017 will be it, the end of the road for the game.  Doubly so as we have seen what happens to MMOs based around licensed IPs in the past.  That additional overhead, along with the plans and pretenses of the license holders, shut down The Matrix Online, Warhammer Online, and Star Wars Galaxies.

However, I think Lord of the Rings Online is going to make it past 2017 and be around for a while longer.  I don’t know if we will ever make it to Mordor, or if the game mechanics will become more of a mess, or if the cash shop will grow to consume all within its shadow, but there are two reason I think it won’t be done in 2017.  Well, three actually.

The first is that Turbine doesn’t have a lot of options, so they pretty much have to stick with LOTRO, which means that they will want to renew the contract.  Not much of an endorsement of the game itself, but that looks like the reality of the situation.  Turbine will be motivated to keep things going.

The second isn’t much of an endorsement either.

We are in something of a “post MMO” age.  MMOs were once a thing that, when you used that term, you knew what somebody meant.  The term has evolved in usage to the point that MMO means any online multiplayer game that can group together a few players.  Look at what gets lumped into the term these days.

SuperData 2014 YTD Numbers

SuperData names some MMOs…

I see World of Warcraft there.  That is what I would call an MMO.  But League of Legends?  World of Tanks?  Counter-Strike?  Freakin’ Hearthstone?

Anyway, in this post MMO age, where even the term has lost meaning, where the market is saturated, where there has been a couple of big winners and a host of followers scrambling for crumbs, the idea that Tolkien Enterprises is going to have a better offer from somebody who wants to make a Middle-earth MMO seems unlikely.

Yahoo Headlines

Back when MMOs were a thing…

Sure, there are people out there who would want to do it, developers and designers who would love to sink their teeth into Tolkien’s world and “do it right” or at least “do it better” than Turbine has managed.  And I am sure you could find a small crowd of fans who would cheer for such a game being announced.

But is anybody going to invest in such a venture?  Who is going to lay down the cash to fund a new MMO version of Middle-earth for 2018 or beyond?  And what would such a game even be like?  Sprawling, open world MMOs are not on an uptick currently.

Somebody will suggest that at least a new version of Middle-earth would “do free to play right.”

The problem is that LOTRO is doing free to play right.  There is no version of free to play that succeeds without a cash shop stocked with things players will actually buy and in your face reminders to buy those things.

It is like Ikea!

It is like Ikea!

So I do not think anybody is going to show up on the doorstep of Tolkien Enterprises with a wheelbarrow of cash and a desire to make the next Middle-earth MMO any time soon.  Certainly not in 2017.  The investment in such a project is too high, the returns too uncertain.  So Turbine, with the WB lawyers at the table, has a pretty strong case in the “Hey, at least we’re giving you some money on a regular basis!”  That is something.

Estimated Top Subscription MMO Revenue 2013

Estimated Top Subscription MMO Revenue 2013… see, money!

Also, Turbine has been pretty good to the lore… though with Tolkien Enterprises licensing LEGO Lord of the Rings, you have to ask where lore ranks in the grand scheme of things… so I do not think there is any strong desire on the part of the heirs of Dr. Tolkien to get the license out of Turbine’s hands.

Basically, LOTRO wins by default.  Not a huge endorsement, but it is something.

And LOTRO does have something else going for it.

For all of its foibles and missteps and questionable game mechanics and awkward character models and cash shop transgressions, Turbine has created a beautiful and unlikely to be duplicated any time soon vision of Middle-earth in the late third age.

This is Turbine’s ace when it comes to the Middle-earth license.  This is the big win, the payoff for playing the game, being able to travel through the places that made the story, being able to see The Shire, climb Weathertop, explore Moria, see Rivendell, cross the Midgewater Marsh, travel across the Lone Lands and the Trollshaws.

In fact, once of my many annoyances with the game is that their insta-level option only boosts you to level 50 and into Moria (2008 content), rather than putting you closer to the latest content and the bulk of the dedicate player base.  If I were going to buy a boost, I’d do it to see parts of the world I haven’t been to yet.  But I’ve already been to, and through, Moria.  It is great, but why would I pay to get yet another character there?

Anybody who comes after Turbine will have to compete with the world that was created for LOTRO.  Who is going to invest in such a landscape with so many off-the-beaten-track locations to explore in the age of the lobby MMO?  That we got such a world was an artifact at the time, when MMOs were seen as never-miss money machines that had to have virtual world aspects to them.  Who is going to want to have that hanging over their heads as they try to launch a new Middle-earth based MMO?

The Annuminas waterfront

The Annuminas waterfront

You cannot launch a new game without a constant stream of comparisons to World of Warcraft, how are people going to react to anything less than the vision of Middle-earth that Turbine has provided?

Then again, somebody tried to remake The Manchurian Candidate, so who knows what goes through people’s minds at times.

But I do not think, the way the industry stands right now, that anybody can get together both financing and a desire to remake (and be compared to) Turbine’s vision of Middle-earth.

Barring Turbine making some colossal blunder that wrecks the game and drives away its loyal following, I think it will find a way past the contract talks around 2017 and into at least a few more years online.  Or such was my view over the weekend.

You adventure in the Middle-earth you have, not the Middle-earth you may want.

Surprise! GuildWars 2 Announced an Expansion!

While the GuildWars 2: Heart of Thorns expansion announcement today at PAX Whatever didn’t feel as nearly per-ordained as the one about BioWare making a Star Wars MMO a few years back, the surprise factor on the whole thing was pretty limited.  You only had to look at the NCsoft financials to come up with the idea that more boxes for sale was in the cards.  (Also, analyst hints.)


(Financials image borrowed from MMO Fallout.  I added the captions.)

Still, if I were invested in GuildWars 2, I would be excited.


Expansion are a time of change and anticipation and speculation and worry and excitement.  I expect that this will drive a flurry of blogging from now through the expansion launch.

Did we get a date on the launch?  More speculation!

ArenaNet has a whole page on their site about the expansion and has, if I read some other posts correctly, promised not to make every single item currently available in the game completely worthless through the usual mechanic of expansion gear inflation.

There is even a trailer up on YouTube.

Anyway, that will be an item checked off my list of 2015 predictions… if they ship it this year.

First round of blog posts about the expansion:

The State of the Garrison Address

You came from Draenor? How does that even work?!

Nate Pagle, in Pandaria

As I sat last night thinking about what to write for today’s post, I looked back at the week and realized I had written nothing but posts that were attempting to be meaningful, relevant, or topical.  And while those are great for the looking back sections of my monthly review, I don’t want anybody to think I am putting on airs.  So rather than yet another “thinking about games” piece… and I still have a few of those on my “to do” list right now, including a look at the “OMG we have some already?!” CSM meeting minutes and some mildly optimistic thoughts I have had on LOTRO’s future… I’m going to go back to dull old writing about stuff I’ve done.

I am going to write about my garrison.  Again.

We are now past the two months marker for Warlords of Draenor and I am still not sure how I feel about my garrison (or the way trade skills have been changed).

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Also, I don’t run into these guys like I used to

Actually, I have four garrisons now.  Working from the idea that garrison resources might be a scarce commodity and the fact that you can just earn them over time by simply having a garrison and logging on every other day to collect them, I ran one alt, then another, and then a third into Draenor.

Then, of course, I got a follower for each, but thought I should push on and get a couple more.  And if I just got another level then I could have another building or upgrade the mine or whatever, when suddenly I found myself with my main at level 100 and three alts in the mid 90s and, if I sent my followers on shorter missions, a seemingly infinite loop of logging a character in, checking followers, sending them on new missions, collecting some resources, topping up work orders, to the point that there have been a couple of evenings where I have done little else in Azeroth.

So I am really not sure if I want to get another alt in the mix, as five garrisons might represent a breaking point.  As it is, I am mostly playing with my garrison or doing minor garrison related tasks.  But when it comes to the whole Garrison Campaign, I am clearly still in the “Wait, What?” category.  I am not yet sure if I have advanced my garrison to the point where I would get into the campaign… or how I would know if I was there.  And am I supposed to be getting garrison invasions or something?

Anyway, I am going to stop and review where things stand… building by building.  Now is the time to click on a link to elsewhere if you have no interest in this. (EJECT!)

Vikund's Alliance Garrison

Vikund’s Alliance Garrison

Building roll call after the cut as I just go on and on.

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