Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Move to Minecraft Realms

The server move was on.

As I mentioned in the last Minecraft post, our term with MC Pro Hosting was up this past weekend and I was looking for a new home.  Performance on our server there was poor, especially at peak hours, and the only solution they had to offer was to upgrade our service.  However, given that only eight people have ever logged on to our server, and having even four of us on at once was a rare occasion, I felt that our server plan (we ended up with the Iron Plan), advertised as good to host up 40 players, should have been sufficient, especially given we were using the vanilla server with no mods.

But where to go?

Back when I was first looking at hosting plans, people had nice things to say about Minecraft Realms, which is Mojang’s own hosting service.  It was stable, safe, and easy.  It was just expensive relative to what else was out there.  However, late last year Mojang decided to fix the pricing part, dropping the rates to as low as $7.99 a month for a six month run, $8.99 a month for a three month commitment, and $9.99 for a month to month billing cycle.

And, they also offer a free two week trial.

I setup a trial server a few weeks back, and then life got in the way and I never quite got back to it until last week, after the trial had expired.  Still, I had gotten a peek and decided to commit.  That was on Thursday last week, and I had until Sunday to wrap things up with MC Pro Hosting.

Dealing with Minecraft Realms though, that is a little different than other hosting services.  Netherbyte and MC Pro Hosting were similar, if not in pricing and service, then in how you managed your server.  They both used the same third party admin tool, both gave me FTP access to our partition, and allowed me to basically tinker with all the bits and settings directly.

You don’t get any of that with Minecraft Realms.  Or the bits that you do get are not like that at all.  You do all of your server work in the Minecraft client.

Everything is under the Minecraft Realms button

Everything is under the Minecraft Realms button

For me, having used various other tools up to this point, it was a bit confusing at first.  However, if you are coming from playing on local, single player worlds, it is clearly an attempt to make a hosted world as much like a local world as possible.

So the control panel won’t overwhelm you with options.

Controlling our world

Controls for our world

You can have three different worlds on your realm, though only one may be running at a time.  You can generate them from scratch as with a local game, but to use a current world you have to have it available locally as a single player world first.

That meant making a backup of our current world, downloading it, and then converting it into something that could be accessed locally.  That generally just means putting the “world” folder in the “Saves” directory for Minecraft, but since we tried running a couple different server types over the last nine months… in search of better performance… our directory had a some extras in it, including two extra copies of the nether in their own folders, as opposed to the DIM1 (or is is the DIM-1?) directory.

I managed to get that sorted and a right items in the right place so the world appeared as a local realm that I could successfully log into.  Then I clicked on my one remaining empty world slot (the first two were test runs) where it let me select our world to upload.  Weighing in at more than 800mb, the upload took a bit of time, but it went through successfully.

(At some point I will do a post about how Minecraft was in part a success due to the fact that it was created in a world where it resources like drive space were readily available.)

That was a success.  I was able to log into our world on Minecraft Realms and everything looked good.  Now I just had to get everybody else to follow me, which primarily meant getting Aaron to come along.

Of course, there were complications.

In order to use Minecraft Realms, you have to have a Mojang account.  All of us had old school Minecraft accounts.  There is a conversion process, where you start with a Minecraft account and end up with a Mojang account.  It isn’t even particularly difficult.  It was just, like so many things, documented by somebody who already knew how to do it, so it makes assumptions that you might not at a couple of points.

I went through the process with my daughter’s, just to see how it worked.  You have to log onto the Minecraft site, go to your settings, click the link to convert your account, give it an email address (which will be your new login), click a verification link that is emailed to that address, then log in to the Mojang site using your email address, your old account name, and your password, which remains the same.

At that point you are converted and, as a side benefit, you can now change your Minecraft in-game name once every 30 days, since it is no longer your account login.

I then logged into Minecraft Realms, clicked on the Players button, and invited my daughter’s account, using her in-game name (which she can now change, so I am not sure how that will work out if she does), so that she could join the server.  Minecraft Realms servers are all by invite only, so it clearly isn’t the service for you if you want to run a public server.

When my daughter logged back in to Minecraft, she had a notification on the main screen.

you've got mail or something...

you’ve got mail or something…

Clicking on the Minecraft Realms button revealed a pending invite for her.

Also, would you like to rent a server?

Also, would you like to rent a server?

That was the invite to join the server.  Clicking on and accepting that put our server on her list and she was able to log in.  Op success!

So I put that together in an email and sent it out to the rest of the team on our server.

And then Aaron had a problem.  He converted his account but wasn’t seeing the invite to the server.  I verified his user name on the invite list, which was suspiciously gray on a list of otherwise white shaded names.  Then Xyd chimed in that he had converted his account and had logged in just fine.

Invite success...

Invite success…

Of course, the mocking tone that might have accompanied that note might have spurred Aaron to double check his end of things, as he came back a while later and reported success as well.  Skronk followed up after that, though he reported problems with 1.8 client mods not working with 1.9, but at least a quorum seemed to have migrated to the new location.

I ran around the world, rolling down minecart rails, which is one place that performance lag was very apparent and things seemed okay.  Aaron tinkered for a bit and said things were at least as good as before.  So I cancelled the MC Pro Hosting server and that was that.  We had a new home.  I don’t have as fine a control for the moment… we’ll see what happens when the Mineserver finally ships… but that is okay for now.  I do get an activity chart for people now.

Some of us have been playing more than others...

Some of us have been playing more than others…

While I was still rolling around and finding some new things with 1.9, such as a couple of the new zombie models…

Coming to get me...

Coming to get me…

… Aaron got stuck right into the new server and spawned the Ender Dragon again, something new for 1.9.  After more than a few deaths… I was on but elsewhere for some of the fight… he brought down the beast, which spawned a new type of portal in The End.

The New Portal

The New Portal

Throwing an Ender Pearl into it… something in rich supply due to the Enderman farm pumping them out just down the path… brings you to one of the new cities in The End.

End City

End City

There he found some new treasures, new materials, a new light source (the end rod), the dragon’s head (for his collection), and more Ender men.

They are just hanging out all over

They are just hanging out all over

So there we are for now.  On a new server, exploring some of the Minecraft 1.9 features, and dealing with some of the Minecraft 1.9 bugs.

Looking for Nostalgia in The Commonlands

In a turn of events which should surprise nobody who reads this blog regularly, having spent a chunk of the past week or so writing posts about the demise of EverQuest Next, the seventeenth anniversary of EverQuest, a new feature in EverQuest II, and related… or somewhat related… Daybreak topics, I had the urge to spend some time in Norrath over the weekend.

I am, if nothing else, predictable.  Even I could see this coming part way into those posts.

Encapsulated Norrathian Nostalgia Trigger Warning

Encapsulated Norrathian Nostalgia Trigger Warning

The question was where to go.

I am setup with Daybreak Access at the moment, so all servers are available to me.

EverQuest, the ancestral home of Norrathian nostalgia for me would seem to be the natural choice.  But EverQuest is also difficult for me to get into on a whim.  Basically, the live servers are out as everything past Luclin is “that new crap,” which doesn’t hold much interest for me.  An insta-85 character holds no fascination for me.  I could start from scratch again and visit old haunts with a mercenary in tow, but all of that is off the main path of the game and I would end up with yet another barely equipped and impoverished character.

I have a few characters on Fippy Darkpaw, but that server has probably run its course at this point.  And there aren’t even any mercenaries so I would have to wander about solo.

The Phinigel server, Daybreak’s “true box” attempt to fix one of the loudest complaints about past progression servers, was a possibility.  It has only been around since early December and is still in Kunark.  I might actually be able to find a group, though that was far from a sure thing.

Still, I wasn’t really feeling it for classic Norrath, which meant looking at EverQuest II.

I have a lot more investing in post-cataclysm Norrath, with characters between level 20-75 spread over three of the live servers (even after the server merges) as a start, plus a few characters on the Stormhold progression server.

I decided to go with Stormhold.  While it is down the path and into the Kingdom of Sky expansion, with the unlock vote in progress for Echoes of Faydwer expansion, EQII is also solo friendly enough that not being with the pack of current players won’t automatically make the whole thing a bust as it would in EQ.

And I made a few characters on the server back when it went live.  They are all past the Isle of Refuge, the initial nostalgia point for the server.

Nostalgia on Wayne!

Nostalgia on Wayne!

Past that and into the game though… well… with an eye to trying something different AND experiencing nostalgia, I decided to roll on the Freeport side of Norrath, and I am not sure how well that is working out, and whether or not that speaks to nostalgia or just the way the server was configured on that first pass.

The thing is that the quest path after the Isle of Refuge, through the Freeport sub-zones, into The Commonlands, and so forth feels a bit rough.  The pacing of quest chains often seems to assume you have gained a level with each quest turn-in, and unlikely scenario with the reduced experience gain on the nostalgia server.  And then I have the occasional quest giver suddenly present you with a quest five levels or so above the last one they gave you.  Meanwhile, the quests lines themselves also are not very good at sending you on to the next quest or the next zone or whatever.  This is not helped by the fact that my knowledge of Freeport was largely formed by a single character I rolled there about eight years back.

Of course, I am sure that the old quest chains on the Qeynos side of things feel equally awkward at this late date.  However, on that side of the world you still have the ability to opt into New Halas and vicinity, which is a very good and well structured solo-to-20 experience, form which you can pick up and head to Nek Forest or the Thundering Steppes.  Not authentic nostalgia, but then what is?

On the Freeport side your alternate option is Darklight Woods and the starter quest chain there which, upon trying it, sent me scurrying back to Freeport and The Commonlands.  I can deal with the patently ludicrous “we’re the evil faction so we have to be total butts to everybody, even those on our own team” that pervades Neriak, the rightly named “City of Hate.”  Horrible role playing, but whatever.  However, the layout of Neriak seems more likely to make it “the City You Hate.”  I have complained in the past about finding Freeport overly complicated in layout, but it is the model of sanity compared to Neriak.

So I spent a good chunk of my weekend in The Commonlands, chasing down cooking ingredients for Mooshga just outside the Freeport gates and picking up what quests I managed to find along the way while trying to gauge just how “heroic” heroic encounters really are.  I’ve forgotten how to read the finery around a mob’s name plate that indicates just how tough of a fight they are… beyond “more and thicker and having an actual probably makes them a tougher fight.”  My Shadow Knight managed a few levels during that time, and sits at 17.  Not quite enough to head into Nektulos Forest yet, which is where Mooshga has me going next, so I need to find some more quests before I decide to leave The Commonlands behind.

Quote of the Day – The Optics of VR

The games with peripherals that do the best are highly social games that demo well at parties – think Rock Band or the Wii.  Both were compelling experiences that made observers immediately want to rush home and buy their own.  VR, on the other hand, makes you look like an idiot to observers.

Damion Schubert, I’m Still Skeptical of VR

GDC came and went last week up the road in SF and Virtual Reality was a major topic (and gimmick fest) at the event.  Mr. Schubert was there and came back with a few bullet points for one post and then a whole post about the harassment potential of VR in multiplayer experience that needs to be addressed.

Out of all of that, probably the most trivial bit, how VR looks to other people that tickled me.  It isn’t as bad as made out by that Time magazine cover…

Time Magazine

Time Magazine

…which became such a meme that my Google search to find a copy of the cover was almost nothing but parodies.

Feel the Bern... erm... Burn!

Feel the Bern… erm… Burn!

Nothing right now is going to get you up and running around and jumping in your living room with that tethered headset.  Not without some lawsuits.  VR right now is about your head being in the game, so to speak, with the player being able to orient their view in the way we do in the real world.  It will be a long time before it is something akin to bad interpretive dance.

But even then VR is something that you cannot really get a sense of until you are the person sitting there in the sensory deprivation mask and headphones actually experiencing it.  Watching somebody else don the equipment and begin to play is a bit eerie or comical or silly as you watch them move and react to things to which you are not privy.  Having the mask on, being the person in the gear, is a very solo experience.

Just Another Pig in the Wall

Aaron has been busy reworking some of the automated farms in our world.  He worked out the Blaze farm in fairly short order, but the zombie pigmen turned out to be a bigger challenge.

With the 1.9 update mobs don’t seem to spawn on mine cart tracks anymore and seem reluctant to even stand on them (good news for rail travel!), so a system that was based on scooping them up in carts to dump them to their death… and the dumping bit broke as well… seemed problematic.

And then there was a lack of spawns as well.

So Aaron undertook a major redesign and construction effort.

First he needed to go higher, so the spire in the are above the nether roof grew taller.

Then he changed the harvest model, going from a passive method to one based on zombie pigman aggro.  For this he constructed, at the top of the tower, a large multi-level platform on which pigmen could spawn, wide enough to allow for the full aggro radius range.

To start the harvesting, the player stands on a spot in the center of the platform and shoots an arrow at a nearby pigman, causing all of the pigmen in the area to go aggro.  As they try to reach the player, they are channeled into a single file path that leads them to fall to the death, fooled by the presence of a trap door.

Upon seeing it for the first time, I was struck by the image of the pigmen queued up to be fed into the harvester.  It was like a scene from the Minecraft version of The Wall.

An orderly queue... of death

An orderly queue… of death

As a further benefit of this new method, as the user stands there, experience globes from the slain pigmen float up the shaft and level you up.

Leveling up on murder... as usual...

Leveling up on murder… as usual…

As a method of farming gold, it was an astonishing upgrade from Aaron’s previous system.  And when you are done you just head down the ladder and out of aggro range and soon the pigmen forget out you.  Then you can pop up and collect the loot from Aaron’s sorting machine.

Output, plus some exp globes that leaked out

Output, plus some exp globes that leaked out

The whole thing works so well that… it crashed the server a couple of times.

It puts such a strain on MC Pro’s system that it falls behind, eventually exceeding the maximum tick count delay of 60,000ms.

We have been with MC Pro Hosting for about six months now and, while the customer service has been better than Netherbyte, the server performance has been much worse.  Getting errors about falling behind when running a very active zombie pigman farm is one thing, but I see those sorts of errors in the log when simply riding a mine cart or when traveling on foot somewhere.

These problems are especially noticeable during prime time hours, leading me to believe that we are sharing a CPU with one or more rather active Minecraft servers.

So, as well as adapting to the 1.9, I have been looking into a new hosting solution.  My initial plan was to go with the Mineserver hardware I backed as part of their Kickstarter, however they have been having technical issues, so it isn’t ready yet.

Barring that, I am looking into Mojang’s Minecraft Realms hosting service.  Back when I was first looking for a host, they were noted for being safe and stable, but expensive.  They have since gotten serious about being competitive, so their prices are way down from before.

So that is where we stand, rich in gold thanks to Aaron, but looking for a more stable host.

Skill Injectors, Meet Experience Injectors

I believe that whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes youstranger

-The Joker, The Dark Knight

Daybreak Week continues here at TAGN as the company continues to cough up good news to counteract last Friday’s announcement.  (Though not all of the news this week is good.) This time it is on the EverQuest II front, though there is a bit of an EVE Online theme mixed in, as the title suggests.

There was a live stream earlier this week by the legacy Norrath team that listed out all the things they have planned for Game Update 100.  Feldon at EQ2 Wire has it all summed up nicely, and I will say that it is a ton of stuff.  As Bhagpuss noted, there was enough stuff on the list that it would count as an expansion for some other MMORPGs… though since you have to be a Daybreak All Access subscriber to get some of the new stuff, maybe the line between updates and expansions isn’t colored in as thickly as you might imagine.

Of course, some bits are making people cranky.  The fact that the team is re-using some old zones to host new content is being unfairly dismissed by a few in the comment thread.  Personally, I am a huge fan of that idea.  For example, they are using one of my favorite mid-level zones from the original release, Zek, the Orcish Wastes, to host a new story in what will be called Zek — the Scourged Wastes.

The Outpost?

The Outpost where Zek starts

I love this.  It is a great zone, but it is a level 30 zone in a game where the cap is level 100 now and the rate at which players level is so fast now that you’ve level out of the zone long before you’ve finished the main quest line.  So it seems right to re-use this landscape for another story line, complete with new orc models, while the old version remains in place.

Again, I am a big fan of the idea, and this isn’t the only zone they are going to use.  The landscape artists are no doubt busying working on new zones for this year’s expansion, so this gives the team a way to deliver some new content without an impact on that time line.

There are a number of other items listed out for the update, but aside from the content based on reusing zones, there was just one that leaped out at me.  This one:

XP Vials

Adding a new system called an XP Vial where you can Siphon your excess XP into an XP Vial which you can sell to other players on the broker or transfer to alts. You can claim a bunch at a time. It is a tradeable item. Empty XP Vials must be purchased from the Marketplace. Combat XP only.

Where have I heard about this sort of thing before?

Oh yeah, back in February, with what I called the Madi Gras release, CCP introduced its skill point trading system, wherein players could remove skill points from one character via a skill extractor and sell them on the market, allowing other players to buy and inject the skill points into their own character.

For lore reasons this may hurt a bit...

For lore reasons this may hurt a bit…

This set the market aflame in New Eden, with skill related transactions making a lot of people pretty wealthy.  The traditional method of advancement, basically time, was unglued from reality and the character bazaar was suddenly a place to harvest skill points as opposed to buying a character with the skills you needed.  A skill point from Fleet Commander V is the same as a skill point from Caldari Frigate I when it is in a skill injector.

In fleets people were talking for weeks about injecting skills to fly new ships.  I know people in-game who have a million skill points injected and unallocated, set aside in case they need to learn a new skill quickly.  And, of course, there was the character that was boosted up to have all the skills, using up 1.8 trillion ISK in injectors.

Also showing off with that wallet balance

Also showing off with that wallet balance

This idea is coming to EverQuest II.

Not that this is the first time SOE/Daybreak has taken an idea from EVE Online.  PLEX was without a doubt the inspiration for Krono, which plays a similar role in the markets of EverQuest and EverQuest II.

All About Krono

All About Krono back in 2012

But, while Krono sort of works in Norrath… the market isn’t as brisk as in New Eden, it is divided up across multiple servers, and in a game you can play much of for free there isn’t as much incentive to use them… I do wonder how Experience Vials are going to work out.

To start with, there is the stark difference between skill points in EVE Online and Experience Points in traditional MMORPGs, mostly because EVE doesn’t have something as straightforward as levels..  People often conflate the two, mistaking skill points for a form of experience.  Aside from the fact that you earn skill points even when logged off, skill points have always stuck me as more of a skill tree/specialization system of sorts, where you choose the shape of your character’s knowledge, rather than something as linear as simple level advancement.  There are a lot of parallel paths for skill points.

And those paths are deep.  Iron Bank up there with his 474 million SP represents more than 20 years of continuous training, at a decent 2,500 SP/hr rate, in order to get all the skills full trained.

Compare that to the effort required to get a character in your standard MMORPG up to the current level cap.  Barring the sort of meandering efforts I have been prone to at times, that is a time frame where years don’t really enter into it.  We are talking about efforts best measured in days or weeks for most of us, or maybe hours when talking about those intent on the goal.

So the potential market doesn’t seem to be nearly as vast, while the ability to generate experience to be extracted into vials seems ripe for optimization.

Then add in the fact that you can simply buy a level 90 character for Daybreak Bucks, or whatever the micro-currency is called these days, and it doesn’t seem like there would be sufficient demand.

And to top that off, it is just combat experience, at least initially.  If you could extract for AA experience or, even better, crafting experience, I could see at least a somewhat expanded market.  I would be tempted to buy some crafting experience at times.

All in all, the Experience Vial thing feels like one of those classic SOE, “Don’t think about it, just do it!” moments we’ve all grown used to over the years.  I will be interested to see how this turns out and who will end up being the market for these vials.

If you are interesting in seeing the EQII GU100 live stream, it is now up on YouTube.

EverQuest at the Edge of Seventeen

Today is the day, the anniversary date that I note every year, the day that EverQuest launched back in 1999.  Seventeen years have gone past since I first stepped into Norrath.  And the amazing thing is that we are not talking about the game in the past tense seventeen years later.

EverQuest

That is kind of amazing, the way that some MMORPGs hang on for so long, the way they attract a dedicated core audience that sticks with them for years on end.  Back in 1999 EverQuest was getting released along side such games as Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, Homeworld, and Pokemon Yellow.

Those three games were all very popular and have all been remastered in the last couple of years.  But there was a gap along the way where very little was said about them, during EverQuest kept on going.

Yes, the whole expansion plan, and EverQuest was churning out two a year at one point… you hear that Blizzard… meant that new content was always arriving in the game.

A splash screen of all the expansion splash screens

A splash screen of all the expansion splash screens

But great swathes of Norrath still look pretty much like they did back in 1999.  And enough people have remained opted-in to their monthly subscription to keep the game going.

And how are things looking at seventeen?

Last year, after the sixteenth anniversary passed, I would have been tempted to say that things were not looking so good, that the end of MMO middle-age was coming and retirement was at hand.  Daybreak was talking about not doing any more expansions for the game.  They were talking up another progression server, but in the past SOE had done those then pretty much ignored them afterwards, letting any community enthusiasm fade in the neglect.  It was going to be bites of DLC and cash shop items for the looming golden years.

But now, a year later, things look good.  Daybreak hasn’t fumbled the progression server idea the way SOE used to, embracing it and keeping people up to date on things like unlock votes.  Expansions are back, because how can you pass up something that allows these sorts of price points.

The Broken Mirror? Try the broken gaming budget!

The Broken Mirror? Try the broken gaming budget!

And even now, this month, Daybreak is already talking about the NEXT expansion.

That NEVER happens.

SOE had, in the later years of its life, often left their Norrath fans wondering if they were going to get an expansion at all until late summer or early fall before finally admitting they had something for a November release.  But here it is only March and Holly mentions the expansion explicitly in her recent Producer’s Letter.

The expansion for this year is well under way and looking incredible on the art front as well as design. We are really jazzed about where our new adventures will take you, and we’re excited to see what you think when we are ready to share more!

EverQuest, which looked like it was headed for a walker, a First Alert pendant (“The server’s fallen, and it won’t come back up!”),  and a spot at the old age home suddenly looks like it is driving around in a bitchin’ new convertible with a fresh set of hair plugs.

Life is Good

Life is Good

(Life is Good guy is the property of Life is Good.)

And, of course, there are anniversary events in Norrath as well, including a drunken gnome race this afternoon.

Who knows where the game will be in a year, but it looks to be in a good place right now.  It is just the cynical bit within me that wonders if the good news we’re getting this week is to compensate for the EverQuest Next news we got last Friday.  Then again, it might be fitting.  The fact that a game like EverQuest can thrive for seventeen years is part of the reason EverQuest Next was in peril in the first place.

SOE and Its MMORPGs

This started as just me attempting to see if I could list out all the MMORPGs that spent time under the SOE banner.  Then I started adding in some details and soon I had wasted my usual allotted writing time working on this, so it became a blog post.  Perhaps it will be something of historical interest at some point.  Anyway, I guess I am carrying on with Daybreak week here, because you know I’ll have another related post tomorrow.

For this list I have stayed with what I would consider “worldly” MMORPGs that SOE developed or published, not venturing into some of the other online games they did early on, such as Tanarus, Infantry, or Cosmic Rift, any of the collectible card games, or other games that were just published under their name without any real involvement, such as Payday.

That left me with the following list of titles in something like chronological order.

EverQuest

EverQuest

  • Launch Date: March 16, 1999
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The original SOE MMORPG, the crown jewels, the foundation upon which everything else was built.  John Smedley gets Brad McQuaid, Jeff Butler, and a few other people to make a graphical version of Toril MUD.  Most popular of the “big three” early MMORPGs, which also included Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call.   Gave SOE the impetus to try to make more such games and Edward Castronova something to study for a few years.  Slated to get its 22nd expansion this fall.

Sovereign

  • Launch Date: Announced July 28, 1999
  • Current Status: Cancelled February 11, 2003
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info
Sovereign on display

Sovereign on display

Jenks brought this up in the comments after the post went live, so I am adding it after the fact.  Before The Agency and EverQuest Next, there was Sovereign, the MMORTS that never was. (Screen shot borrowed from Matthew Cox.  More screen shots are available on his site.)  There are bits and pieces about the game still bobbing about amongst the flotsam and jetsam of the internet, but I’ll let Chairmen Smed set the expectations:

We pushed the envelope of massively multiplayer gaming with 989 Studios’ EverQuest and created an entirely new set of expectations for the fantasy role player. Building on what we’ve learned and applying it to a strategy game will result in an incredible new product. Sovereign is this product, ”

-John Smedley, President and CEO of Verant Interactive.

EverQuest Online Adventures

  • Launch Date: February 11, 2003
  • Current Status: Closed March 29, 2012
  • Platform: PlayStation 2
  • Info

EverQuest moved to the PlayStation 2. (“Sony’s Cash Machine” according to CNN.)  The fact that it lasted through until 2012 speaks to the longevity of the PlayStation 2 platform and the one-time tendency for MMORPG players to settle down in a game for a long stay.

PlanetSide

  • Launch Date: May 20, 2003
  • Current Status: Still going… sort of…
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

SOE attempts to make a first person shooter MMO and mostly succeeds.  Blighted over the years by hacks, aim bots, and company neglect, it lives on today in something of an undead state, shambling around but largely ignored, because Smed was sentimental about the game and refused to close it.  I expect it will get shut down when somebody figures out where Smed hid the last server.

Star Wars Galaxies

  • Launch Date: June 26, 2003
  • Current Status: Closed December 15, 2011
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

A controversial game.  Some people loved it and swear to this day that it had the best crafting or housing or classes or whatever.  Others look at it and saw only the problems that plagued it, which included overly complex crafting, ugly trailer park stretches of indistinguishable player housing, and the whole Jedi issue.  Famously the focus of the New Game Enhancements in November 2005 (ordered directly by Lucas Arts or Smed depending on who you listen to) which either made the game more manageable or destroyed everything that was good about it.  It is the subject of thousands of reflective editorials.  Closed down (again, on the orders of Lucas Arts at the request of EA or by Smed) so as not to compete with Star Wars: The Old Republic.

EverQuest Macintosh Edition

  • Launch Date: July 2003
  • Current Status: Closed November 18, 2013
  • Platform: Mac OS
  • Info

EverQuest on the Mac, called out on its own because it had its own client, its own server, and had a very different trajectory than the game from which it was spawned.  Launched with the expansions through The Planes of Power, it never got another expansion.  Long ignored by SOE, it became the home of the “classic” EverQuest experience, with home brew instructions available on how to make the Windows client run on the Mac server.  When EverQuest went free to play, the Mac version was simply made free, since SOE still did not want to invest any time or effort into the game.  That lasted from early 2012 until late 2013, when the game was finally shut down.

EverQuest II

  • Launch Date: November 8, 2004
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The Prince Charles to EverQuest’s Queen Elizabeth II, often better informed or more progressive yet still doomed to live forever in the shadow of its parent on a small island that used to rule half the known world.  EQII has always had a funny path to walk, needing to keep some affinity for old Norrath while trying to distinguish itself at the same time.  After a decade, 12 expansions, and 4 adventure packs, I think it is safe to call it a success or sorts, with its own dedicated following.  It has also had to live long in the shadow of WoW, which is probably the ascendant new world in that initial analogy.   Was two games for a while, when the EverQuest II Extended free to play trial was going, but that was merged back into the main game line.

The Matrix Online

  • Launch Date: March 22, 2005
  • Current Status: Closed July 31, 2009
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The first of the misfit MMOs for SOE, and another in the long line of troubled titles.  Launched by Sega, the game had problems, but SOE took it over in August 2005 and revamped it.  A strange game, and one I found dissatisfying when I tried it.  Perhaps best summed up by Ben Kuchera when he wrote, “The Matrix Online offered a weirdly meta experience, as real people created virtual players to go online in a virtual world pretending to be a virtual world.”

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

  • Launch Date: January 30, 2007
  • Current Status: Closed July 31, 2014
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The next on the island of misfit MMOs, the way, way over ambitious brain child of Brad McQuaid was supposed to be launched by Microsoft.  That agreement fell through, so Brad cut a deal with his old pals at SOE to publish the game.  The launch was so bad… the game was essentially broken, while going live within a week of World of Warcraft’s Burning Crusade expansion helped bury any news about it… that in something of an anti-Victor Kiam move, SOE ended up buying the company.  A hero for saving the game for its few fans, SOE spent a lot of time simply fixing it.  After running hot and cold on the game for years, SOE finally converted it to a free to play title in August 2012… and then closed it when it still didn’t make any money after the initial conversion enthusiasm died.

The Agency

  • Launch Date: Never launched, originally announced July 11, 2007
  • Current Status: Still a legend told around the campfire, but died on March 31, 2011
  • Platform: Imagination
  • Info

In something of a foreshadowing event for EverQuest Next, SOE showed demos of The Agency at a couple of Fanfests and even sounded like they had a launch date in mind at one point. (Brenlo nearly slipped and said it on one of the SOE podcasts.)  Then there was a horrible Facebook game launched as The Agency: Covert Ops. to tide us over while development continues.  But the spy shooter MMORPG never made an appearance, finally being laid to rest on March 31, 2011.

Pirates of the Burning Sea

  • Launch Date: January 22, 2008
  • Current Status: Left SOE January 31, 2013
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

SOE using its expertise to go into the MMORPG publishing business.  In this case, the Flying Labs Caribbean ships and pirates game.  Ship to ship combat was pretty neat, but everything else was poor by comparison.  Eventually the game left SOE and is now run by Portalus Games.

Free Realms

  • Launch Date: April 28, 2009
  • Current Status: Closed March 31, 2014
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 3, Mac OS
  • Info

SOE was going to burst onto the free to play scene with a dedicated free title… a free title for the whole family.  Amusing to me was the fact that it took a year longer to get it out on PlayStation 3 than Mac OS.  Like most online games, it garnered a small but dedicated following.  However Smed seemed to think it was more trouble than it was worth.  After the shut down announcement Smed said, “No more kids games.  Kids don’t spend well and it’s very difficult to run a kids game.  Turns out Kids do mean stuff to each other a lot.”

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures

  • Launch Date: September 15, 2010
  • Current Status: Closed March 31, 2014
  • Platform: Web launched Windows and Mac OS client
  • Info

Considered by me to be the bone that Lucas Arts threw SOE when they were told they would have to close down Star Wars Galaxies, this mini-game focused online encounter is getting to the far edge of what I might consider an MMORPG.  There was a lobby as opposed to a world, but you could still interact with other people.  It was from a period when every show on Cartoon Network got a web launched MMO like this.  Still, it got 10 million registered accounts.  Thrown out with the bloodbath of 2014.

EverQuest Next

  • Launch Date: Announced August 2010
  • Current Status: The dream was over on March 11, 2016
  • Platform: Windows and PlayStation 4
  • Info

I, and a bunch of other people, just wrote a lot of words about this.  (Words and links here)  Years after saying that MMORPG sequels were a bad idea, SOE decided it needed to carry on the world of Norrath in a new way.  Every fan of EverQuest then proceeded to project their dreams on this title.  It was The Agency all over again, only on steroid enhanced expectations.  I still think the name was a bad idea.

DC Universe Online

  • Launch Date: January 11, 2011
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, coming to XBox One
  • Info

SOE’s entry into the super hero market.  Started as a subscription game, which got Smed to make statement about regarding what subscribers should expect from such a business model, expectations which were not met.  Later converted to free to play.  Alleged to be an economically viable title on PlayStation, causing Daybreak to want to move this five year old title over to XBox.  Not my cup of tea, but super heroes never were… and the console focused control scheme on the Windows client made it even less enjoyable for me.

PlanetSide 2

  • Launch Date: November 20, 2012
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

Smed’s pet project, PlanetSide redone.  Has, at times, suffered from the same neglect and hacking issues as the original.  A troublesome title when it comes to revenue (“really struggling” was the quote, also “China“), since you can shoot people for free, and the pay to win options that people might spend money on don’t grant enough advantage.  Not sure that this will be on the train to an XBox One port.

Wizardry Online

  • Launch Date: January 30, 2013
  • Current Status: Closed July 31, 2014
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

SOE decides to see if it can make any headway with an Asian import game.  Wizardry Online at least had some name recognition in the West because of its roots in the old game on the Apple II.  However, the game’s lineage changed a lot since the early 80s, having turned decidedly… well… Asian in flavor since then.  Fails to grab a big enough audience to survive.

Landmark

  • Launch Date: Announced August 2013, set to launch Spring 2016
  • Current Status: Early Access
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

Originally a tool that was to be used to create EverQuest Next, it was weaponized and made into its own product.  Something of Minecraft with higher resolution graphics, I am still not sure what niche it will really fill.  More on that here.  Will not be free to play.

Dragon’s Prophet

  • Launch Date: September 23, 2013
  • Current Status: Closed November 16, 2015 (US only)
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

After grabbing Wizardry Online, somebody at SOE apparently felt they needed for another title from Asia, only this time without any name recognition to carry it along.  Its main claim to fame was being from the same developer who made Runes of Magic.  I completely missed its launch and barely noticed when it closed down.  Still available in Europe where a different company published it.

H1Z1

  • Launch Date: Announced April 2014
  • Current Status: Split into two games
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

The original… and I use that word a bit ironically… zombie genre game idea from SOE.   Built off of the PlanetSide 2 platform, sold a million copies in Early Access.  Was slated to be a free to play game… until it sold well in Early Access.  No longer a single title.

H1Z1 – Just Survive

  • Launch Date: Announced February 8, 2016
  • Current Status: Early Access
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

The spirit of the original, the small world co-op MMORPG (despite what Smed said) vision of the game.  Has its moments.  Currently no launch date has been announced, is clearly in the back seat relative to its sibling King of the Kill.

H1Z1 – King of the Kill

  • Launch Date: Announced February 8, 2016, slated to launch Summer 2016
  • Current Status: Early Access
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

The arena death match vision of H1Z1, with clear esports aspirations.  This is Daybreak looking for something they can grab a headline with.  Also, no longer free to play.  Daybreak will continue to collect $20 if you care to give it a try.

So that is the list, 22 games of various sorts.  I decided that the title of this post had to be SOE and not Daybreak because everything here was started before the Daybreak era began a little over a year ago.

From that list, Daybreak has the following to work with:

  1. EverQuest
  2. EverQuest II
  3. PlanetSide
  4. DC Universe Online
  5. PlanetSide 2
  6. Landmark
  7. H1Z1: Just Survive
  8. H1Z1: King of the Kill

And of those, only half are on the Daybreak All Access plan… though the other half are either in Early Access or free.

Daybreak All Access - March 2016

Daybreak All Access – March 2016

So that is the Daybreak lineup.  I suppose the real test of what Columbus Nova Prime has planned for the company will be if we ever see another new title.  A new title would mean plans for the future, while none would seem to indicate that the plan is just to milk the old SOE cow until it is dry.

Landmark Decision

The other bit of news from Daybreak last week, largely overshadowed by the EverQuest Next cancellation, was that EverQuest Next: Landmark… erm, Landmark… was going to launch soon.

LandmarkSteam

Landmark was, of course, the tool set that was going to be used to help create the world of EverQuest Next which grew into a product in and of itself.  It was a bit of a line item for me in the original announcement, an adjunct to the main focus, which was EverQuest Next.

Then Landmark sort of grew and morphed and became a product on its own, shedding the EverQuest Next prefix after a bit.

LandmarkChange

Now though, there is no EverQuest Next, only Landmark.  And Landmark is coming this spring… spring being defined as March 20th through June 19th on calendars in San Diego:

To Our Loyal Landmark Community,

You read the title right: Landmark is LAUNCHING this spring and I’m thrilled to be on this adventure with you!

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Holly “Windstalker” Longdale. I’m the executive producer of both EverQuest and EverQuest II. I care passionately about the EverQuest franchise and have been involved with it for much of my career now, starting out as a player and game designer. Why am I here? I’m now the executive producer for Landmark and have been working with the amazing team for a few months!

As the community has grown and designs have flourished, we no longer view Landmark as just a building tool. We’ve been toiling away making Landmark into a wonder unto itself. While the look of our world was inspired by what was intended to be the voxel world of EverQuest Next, Landmark has evolved into its own game with its own unique identity and purpose. If you missed the news on EverQuest Next there’s a letter from Russell Shanks, Daybreak Games president, here.

The creativity of the Landmark community and the potential for telling stories in this digital world is beyond what we imagined. Our vision for Landmark is to provide a place where you can create ANYTHING, tell your own stories, and share your creativity with other players. We are wrapping up a HUGE game update for Landmark with LOTS of new additions and improvements, some of which you’ve already seen in sneak preview posts from Emily “Domino” Taylor on the forums. We are excited about what’s to come for Landmark and we can’t wait to see what you think.

The Landmark team has a lot to do before launch this spring and we’ll continue to keep you informed! For starters, here’s an FAQ if you have any questions after reading this letter.

We’re grateful for your continued support and are looking forward to the coming weeks as we prepare to launch Landmark!

Holly Longdale
Executive Producer

So there is that.

As a personal opener, I am a little bit miffed that Holly Longdale is now the executive producer of Landmark.  It isn’t that I want to deny her any career growth she might desire, but she has been the executive producer of the legacy Norrath group over the last year at Daybreak and I hate to see her attention split away from EverQuest and EverQuest II.  Those two titles had a good year and, while I know Holly isn’t literally responsible for everything, she has been the public face of that team since the Daybreak acquisition.  During that time she has done a lot more to promote those games than the community team ever did.  Half the time it seems that the official accounts are just retweeting Holly.

So while it is Landmark’s gain to get her on the team, I do hope it isn’t Norrath’s loss.

Then there is the FAQ mentioned in that update.  I think we can declare “Free to Play, Your Way” dead at this point.  As was announced with the H1Z1 split, nobody is getting anything for free these days.

If you bought a Founders Pack, then you are set.

Ars Technica Reports...

For specific definitions of “best value”

However, if you were in Landmark on a Founder’s buddy key or some other free intro, it is going to cost you $10 to get back in the game once it goes live.  That isn’t a huge toll… it is half the price of getting in early… but it is a bit of a change-o-rama from past tales when “free” was still a thing.  You might imagine that if you gave SOE a hundred bucks for the game back in 2014 that your buddy keys would be covered.  The forum thread is full of people irked about that.

Also noted is that being a Station Access… erm… Daybreak All Access member gets you nothing as far as Landmark goes.  You have to pay the $10 toll as well.

And then there was a bit about wipes.  The worlds will be wiped at least two more times between now and launch.  There are new features to be put in, including that pioneer landscapes plan to make flat claims available.

Finally, there is the appeal of the game itself.

I am not sure what to think of the pitch about Landmark giving you a way to “tell your own stories,” aside from meaning that you had best not expect Daybreak to be providing any in game narrative.

But as a “better” Minecraft, the game has potential.  Being able to build in a better drawn world where everything isn’t scaled off cube shaped blocks that are one meter on a side is a pretty big deal.  People have made some incredible things in Landmark.

However, I am still a bit dubious about the whole “social MMO” aspect they are pushing when it comes to Landmark.

One of the charms of Minecraft is that you can have a world of your own, or you can run your own server and keep the population down to just friends.  And, of course, you can build anywhere in Minecraft.

When it comes to Landmark though, you are not necessarily going to be able to pick your neighbors.  While I am sure that Daybreak will have some guidelines they will enforce, you may find your exquisitely fashioned crusader castle sharing a valley with a McDonald’s or other such things.

Freedom's just another name for...

Freedom’s just another name for…

As I pointed out in a past post, freedom to make what you want in a shared world means having to put up with what other people want as well.  And making a fuss about what your neighbors are up to can often end up making things worse, something I’ve heard happened more than once in the primordial sandbox world of Second Life.

So while I am interested in what I guess one could call the “Hi Def Minecraft” aspect of Landmark, the shared world, the claim limitations, and the idea of neighbors close at hand isn’t thrilling me.  Then again, it is only $10, and I’ll bet it will be $7.50 or $5.00 when the Steam Summer sale hits… should Daybreak be able to keep to their Spring launch plans.

I will also be interested to see how much buzz the game gets at launch.  One of the possible problems I see with early access… and Landmark will be well past the two year mark in that state when it goes live… is the potential story for the core audience before the game ships.

Addendum: Daybreak announced that they are adding what sounds like the dungeon creation system from EverQuest II into Landmark as part of the pre-launch updates.  That gives the title something else, but I am still not sure how that will fit in with the limited claim size aspect of the game.

Me and the Medium Higgs Anchor Rig

1,100 words because Asher said he wanted to see the blog post about this.

I was keen to get into a fleet yesterday.  I had been away last weekend then fairly busy over the week, so hadn’t done much more than log into EVE to update the client so far this month.  All I had been able to do is watch Jabber, which has been full of news about fights I missed.   So with my wife and daughter were out of the house, I had some time for a fleet op, and there was even one scheduled for 19:00.

I was logged in early and ready to go.  It was Yacht Fleet doctrine, so I decided to fly logi since I already had a Guardian in my hangar in Saranen.

As were sitting around in the station waiting for things to get setup, I noticed people in logi channel chatting about fits and making sure people had the right fits.  That got me to look at my own fit.  Sure enough, my Guardian, which I bought back when Beard Fleet was new, before we were flying Machariels ourselves… hell, my insurance on it had expired, so it had been a while… had an old fit.  All the modules in my high slots were wrong.

At this point things were starting to sound like we would be undocking shortly, so rather than trying to fiddle with my current ship, I just opened up the contracts window and found a fresh Guardian to purchase.

I did look at the contract… I looked at what was important to me at that moment, the high slots, which the contract had correct.  I did not check anything else.

In my experience, that has been a safe thing to do.  In sovereign null sec stations, only friends and allies can list contracts.  That doesn’t mean that they are always correct, but anybody trying to screw with people via doctrine contacts gets in trouble.

However, basing out of Saranen in low sec means that stations are NPC owned and anybody can dock up and put things on the market or list contracts.

Anyway, that will become important in a moment, but at the time I bought the new ship, we got the order to undock and align, and off we went to defend a LAWN tower down in the Vale of the Silent.

Yacht Fleet on the move in low sec

Yacht Fleet on the move in low sec

That meant taking a titan bridge and a long series of gates, so it was jump and align, jump and align, jump and align with much in the way of interruption.  We jumped into somebody’s 10 ship gate camp at one point, which must have been a shock for them, what with a 200 person Machariel fleet showing up to blap them.  Nothing really happened that made me think about my fitting.

Then we hit a gate covered by drag bubbles.  We were all stopped well short of the gate and the order when out to burn for the gate with prop mods on.

Burning for the gate

Burning for the gate

However, I quickly noticed that everybody seemed to be moving much faster than I was, leaving me behind.  For some reason my ship was only moving at about 74 meters a second with the afterburner on.  I noted this in the logi channel, as I couldn’t tell what was up.

A very slow burn

A very slow burn

By that point people were mentioning me by name on coms as falling behind and telling me to turn on my prop mod.  I mentioned in fleet what I had said in the logi channel, that I seemed to be capped at 74 m/s.  Somebody asked me to link my fit, which I did, at which point I became “that guy” in fleet; the fool with the bad fit or who had done something wrong.

Not the first time I’ve been in this role.

Not only had I missed the fact that there was a bad prop mod in my fit, but one of the rigs was a Medium Higgs Anchor Rig I, which is not at all what you want on a combat ship.  I would totally link to some information about it, but EVElopedia is gone, the Brave Newbies Wiki doesn’t have an entry, and the EVE University Wiki only mentions it in passing.  Bleh.

The rig description

The rig description

The upshot of that description is that it reduces the maximum velocity by 75%.  It is useful for mining barges as it allows them to stay aligned and up to speed so they can warp off quickly if a hostile shows up without the barge constantly moving out of range of the asteroids being mined.

In addition, I also saw that had a 100mm steel plate in my low slots as opposed to the 1600mm steel plate required for the fit.

Well, we were far from home, close to a potential fight, and there wasn’t much I could really do.  The ship couldn’t keep up, could anchor up properly, even after I removed the offending rig, and couldn’t tank if I got targeted.  My ship was a liability to the fleet.  So I told the logi channel that I was leaving fleet and dropped out of the op.

Of course, now I was in the middle of the Vale of the Silent with a problematic fit and many jumps from base.  So I started looking at the market and found a station about five jumps off that had the replacement modules I needed.  I warped along, docked up, bought the modules, fitted the ship, and was set.

It went fast enough that I thought I might be able to rejoin the fleet.

So I joined the fleet and got back on coms, at which point somebody noted that “the Higgs Anchor guy was back”  Yeah, that was me.

While I was away the situation seemed to have changed.  No fight had materialized for the tower and the fleet had a destination back in the direction from which I had come.  Fortunately, the main fleet had enough slow battleships along that I was able to catch up and rejoin for our run back to the titan, which would bridge us past some of the gates.

Our titan off in a POS bubble

Our titan, bridge up, off in a POS bubble

The ride home was even less eventful than the ride out, and I only had to listen to a couple dozen people remind me to check the fittings in contracts before I accept them.

Look for that module for sure!

Look for that module for sure!

On the bright side of things, I did end up back at our station in a correctly fit ship.  And the bogus contract had been cheap enough… so it would be at the top of the list… that I paid only a small premium over a correctly fit Guardian.  A correctly fit one was ~230 million when I checked on our return, I paid 200 million for the bad one and it cost me  just shy of 32 million to bring it up to scratch, mostly because of a tech II rig, so a 2 million ISK penalty for not paying attention.

At least I will be ready for the next fleet.

The WildStar Headshot

Yesterday was one of those days.  I started writing about cash shop behavior being a symptom of the over-saturated MMORPG market and a couple of stories pop up that seem tailor made to illustrate that assertion.

The first, and closest to my interest, was the cancellation of EverQuest Next.  No new Norrath for us as Daybreak continues to sort itself out of its SOE history.

And then there was the death of WildStar.

Wildstar_logo

Okay, no closure was actually announced.  What was announced was:

Hi Folks,

Earlier this morning, Carbine Studios completed a reorganization of its operating structure. Moving forward, the studio will focus on operating and updating WildStar as a live game in the US and Europe. As part of this change, the studio has canceled its plans to bring WildStar to China.

Unfortunately, as a result of these changes, we’ve had to reduce staff. These cuts are directly tied to WildStar’s evolution from a product in development to a live title, to the cancellation of work to bring WildStar to China, and to the overall performance of WildStar since launch in 2014.

These kinds of decisions are exceptionally difficult. The talented and passionate professionals who are impacted by these cuts have been valuable team members and respected colleagues. We wish everyone well for the future and will be providing severance and employment search assistance.

As for WildStar, we remain committed to the game. Over the next few weeks and months we will deliver a significant update to the game, kick off a variety of community events, and continue our work on new content that we will talk more about in the near future.

-Omeed, NCSOFT Director of Community and Social

Summing up:

  • Cancellation of plans to bring the game to China
  • 40% of the current staff, 70 people, laid off (per Polygon)
  • Cheerful outlook about carrying on and delivering new content

That is sad for those affected by the layoff.  I hope they are able to bounce back with new positions soon.

If you are a fan of the game it is easy to spin this into something positive.  The game is still going.  Most of the staff is still there.  New content is coming.  And look, the NCsoft 2015 financial report says that WildStar revenues are up since the free to play conversion!

WildStar is up!

WildStar is up!

Unfortunately, I am not sure how well grounded that view really is.  Even without that Polygon article and its rumors of more layoffs and a sunset plan, or that analyst’s gloomy outlook, this seems like more of a last chance, and a daunting one at that.

Yes, revenue was up with the conversion to free in Q4.  However, that up is really only relative to how far down it was before.  The boost is nowhere near the previous peak and it barely gets the game within spitting distance of the revenue level for City of Heroes, $2.9 million, when NCsoft shut them down.  And look how its revenue stacks up against the other NCsoft titles.  GuildWars 2’s cash shop in any quarter you care to choose looks to have had more revenue that WildStar’s total revenue on that chart.

The game simply needs more people playing and buying things in the cash shop, but in this market that seems extremely unlikely to happen, especially with no new market to help.

Every game gets a bump when it goes free to play, but once that fades, and it always fades, what is left to make it a choice in a market crowded with very similar alternatives?

The thing is, there isn’t really anything wrong with WildStar so far as I can tell.  I haven’t played it myself, but my reading about it seems to indicate that It is well put together and has its high points.  It just didn’t really bring anything new to the table that would make it stand out, that would make it feel different from all the other WoW derivative MMORPGs out there.

Which is somewhat ironic, considering that Carbine Studios was founded by 17 former members of the original World of Warcraft development team back in 2005 with the stated intention to, “…do anything but WoW.”

Is there anything out there that might save WildStar?