Monthly Archives: May 2016

Elves Unchained in TorilMUD

I have not written about TorilMUD in ages.  Honestly, I haven’t even logged in to check up on the place in a long time.


But the old world of text that I started playing in more than 22 years ago lives on and gets updated from time to time.  The last time I mentioned it was when they announced the end of their harsh death penalty, which was the model that EverQuest used back in the good/bad old days.  That was about a year back.

That have had a couple of other updates posted to their Tumblr news site since then, but last night one showed up that I had to mention.

The main topic of the update was the introduction of a new class of spells called “cantrips,” which my brain immediately parsed as “can trip.”  Hrmmm…

But what caught my eye about the update was this item listed under “other changes”

Elves can now start in Baldurs Gate and Silverymoon. They can also use the Leuthilspar elfgate as early as level 1. Free the elves!

Free the elves indeed.

For those unfamiliar with the game… which is probably everybody reading this… one of the quirks of TorilMUD up until this change was that elves had a single home town in which they could start.  That was Leuthilspar, on the island of Evermeet, a location those familiar with the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms campaign setting might recall.

But elves were not just required to start in Leuthilspar, they were required to stay on the island of Evermeet until they hit level 20… because… well… level 20 was a special level back in the day.  It was the “coming of age” level.   You could petition for a last name.  You were finally allowed to see your stats as numbers rather than possible ranges.

Do I take Heroic strength?

Do I take Heroic strength?

And, if you were an elf… or a half-elf that chose to start in Leuthilspar out of some sense of masochism… you were finally allowed to use the elf gate at the east end of town and leave Evermeet for the big city, Waterdeep.

This was a significant moment in the life of any elven character because, back in the day, Evermeet was a bit of a dump.  There was the town itself, where the guards would slaughter you if they caught you fighting… and remember that whole harsh death penalty thing.  So, for adventures you had to head out to Kobold Village, which was fun but contained its own perils, the Faerie Forest, a place to get lost in, and the Elemental Glades, which had its own issues.

Short of starting in one of the evil race home towns, which were designed to be a challenge for experienced players, Evermeet was the worst of the home towns.  This wasn’t because its local area was bad.  Starting as a gnome, a halfling, a dwarf, or a barbarian meant having absolute crap content to hand.  But they could all head to Waterdeep, around which there was ample content for leveling up, content with plenty of drops that groups could tackle from levels 1 through to about 40.

Leuthilspar Locations

Leuthilspar Locations

Elves had to make do with what they had, and while the zones were not bad, they lacked in equipment drops.  You could always spot a newly arrived elf in Waterdeep because of the paucity of their gear.  They might have a bronze sword, a pearl earring, a bit of string tied around their finger, and the inevitable cloak of forest shadows.  And, of course, these elves would be gawking a the locals, amazed at all the gear they had.  Good gear.  With actual bonus stats and such.

Of course, the newly arrived elf couldn’t afford to buy any of that gear, because they had likely left Evermeet with only a few coins in their pocket and not much of value to sell or trade.  And it was always some work to get into groups because you couldn’t compete with the well geared locals.  But if you persevered, you could close the gear gap and catch up with the rest of the world.

And you were a member of a special club.  You had made it through the privations of the elf homeland.  You would, of course, help any new elf you saw standing at the gates of Waterdeep, trying to unlock them after they had closed for the night saying the word “peace” over and over. (That unlocked the gates of Leuthilspar at night, but for Waterdeep you needed the key that Lord Piergeiron carried on his person or a rogue with a high lockpick skill.)

And, as an elf, you might never go back home.  If you were a cleric or a druid, so your word of recall spell would bring you back to Leuthilspar, you might frequent the place after level 20.  But other classes had to take a ship to the Moonshaes and travel quite a ways in order to find the elf gate that would return them to their original home.  It generally wasn’t worth the effort.

Because I started most of my main characters on Evermeet, getting through those first 20 levels is very much a part of my memories of the game, much more so than any of the early zones in the main world.  I even wrote a series of posts about them under the tag Leuthilspar tales.

Over the years the lot of the elves was improved.  One of the players Xyd and I started playing with way, way back in the day, Rylandir, went on to become one of the game admins for a while and created a number of zones for Evermeet.  The first in, the Eldar Forest, was especially helpful, had some good quests, and dropped some gear.  Level 20 elves eventually stopped showing up in Waterdeep looking like beggars.

And now… well, elves can run straight to Waterdeep… which is probably a good thing.  The population of TorilMUD has dwindled over the years.  No longer can you log in on a Friday night and find more than 100 players online.  But there does seem to be 20 or more around whenever I take a moment to check in.

But there was a time, long ago, when the life of an elf of Evermeet was desperate and poor.  Somehow we survived.

Now that I look at my list of Leuthilspar Tales, I think I need to go back and finish it up by writing something about the Elemental Glades, the third… and strangest… zone of Evermeet from back in the day.

And, if all of this talk about the old days of TorilMUD has you in a nostalgia reverie, here are a few other choice posts about the good old days:

Or you can just look at the whole TorilMUD category.  There are only 56 posts total.

Some of those posts are old enough at this point that I am even feeling a bit of nostalgia for the point of time when I was able to remember that much about the game.  Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

And, of course, if you are interesting in the game… because it is still up and running… you can find out more about it at their web site.

There is no 85%

In which I had a simple point, then buried it somewhere in a wall of words.

Last week… or so… Neville Smit put up a post under the heading of Occupy New Eden wherein he made the claim that CCP was spending too much time focused on null sec.

The root of his claim is that only 15% of population of New Eden operates in null security space and that they are getting a lions share of features which are dedicated solely to their benefit. This is followed on by what feels to me like a rather spurious assessment as to what counts as a null sec feature.  Citadels are grudgingly admitted to affect more than null sec, though he attempts to shove them back in the “null only” in the same sentence along with capital ships, and industry and drilling structures.

Left off of his list is… well… everything of interest beyond null sec.  If you read his post, CCP has literally done nothing for anybody besides null sec in however long.  Yes, it would be too much to ask him to list out everything ever, but this sort of “we got nuttin'” approach is belied by the patch notes over the last year, when CCP was alleged to be focused solely on null sec.

He then goes on to conflate the CSM 11 election results with CCP neglecting the 85%, with an extra helping of “the sky is falling” because of all those null sec players on the galactic student council.  That manages, in a single blow, to sell CCP short, misinterpret the power (or lack there of) of the CSM, and misunderstand the election results.

For the first two, if you believe CCP’s course is somehow charted by the CSM, you might as well give up right now and start weaving conspiracy theories.  On the third, the election results are the ongoing reflection of who is most engaged with the game… engaged and concerned with their well being.  Null sec, as noted, just went through a whole series of changes, some of which are not universally loved by some of the residents, and some of which were not well thought through by CCP before being thrust upon us, despite the fact that the CSM and players in the forums pointed out, in advance, the very flaws that CCP had to go back and correct.  Null sec players are rightly concerned, and concern (plus organization) turns into votes.  Meanwhile, the rest of New Eden didn’t seem exactly worked up about the election.  What burning issue did the rest of New Eden have that stacked up again, “CCP has completely changed our part of the game?”

This all gets pulled together in the false dichotomy that is “I am the 85%!”

CCP can apparently only work on null sec or everything else.  They can make null sec happy, or they can make the 85% happy.  Null sec has had their turn, it is time to leave them alone for another five years and concentrate on what is important.

The whole thing has me a bit irked, an emotion that might have come through up to this point.

There is no 85%

Almost every facet of WoW is an activity that caters to a minority of the playerbase … [WoW] is not a narrow game, but rather one that can be enjoyed in numerous different ways, by people with hugely diverse playstyles … We are [listening] – just to many, many different voices. And it may be that a given change, feature, or reward is simply aimed at a different portion of the playerbase. Or we could be wrong and we haven’t realized it yet.

Ion Hazzikostas, WoW lead designer, in a Forum Post

The fallacy of the whole concept of there even being an 85% was the first thing that sprang to mind when I read Neville’s article, and I immediately put up a placeholder post with that as the title… and then let it sit for a week.

I think we might all agree that EVE Online, with its sandbox nature, is a more complex game than World of Warcraft.  Yet there is a WoW designer holding forth about how nearly every feature in Azeroth is for a minority of their player base.  So how do you think that translates into New Eden?

I could go on for ages about the various groups that make up the alleged 85% and how they can actually be divided up into their own little minorities factions.  Instead, I’ll just whip out this chart again.

What to do in EVE Online - A Chart

What to do in EVE Online – A Chart

Have you seen this chart?  I put it up as part of a post about four years ago, and the chart itself is about five years old at this point, so is probably incomplete.  And yet it conveys the complexity that is our New Eden sandbox.

Edit: There is actually a spiritual successor to that chart available if you are interested.

So go ahead and put an X through any of the boxes that are exclusively null sec features.  If you have knocked out more than five boxes on that chart I would be very much surprised.  Remember, if it is wormhole space AND 0.0, it doesn’t count.

That leaves a lot of boxes.

And you can jump straight to “Well, that’s the point, look at all those neglected features!” but you’re going to have to leave off any of those boxes that got some attention over the last year.  Did your favorite box get a new feature or two?  Does that box represent a small minority of players as well?  Because where this line of reasoning leads is down a path to exclude other small, and thus undeserving, groups.

You know who gets less regular players than null sec according to the year old chart used to prop up this argument?  Low sec.  How do you justify working on something that has less players than null?

And what about wormhole space?  That has less players than low sec!  How do you even justify working on such a small sub-section of the game?  How can you think about that when 75% of the game is in high sec?

Oh, right… Neville Smit is in Signal Cartel and lives in wormhole space.  Funny how that 3% of players got their agenda mixed in with the majority.  I’m going to guess if CCP spent many months dedicated to his part of space, which represents one fifth of the player base of null sec, we would not see a “We are the 97%” campaign spring up on his site.

EVE Online is large and complex and the various parts of the game are interconnected.  Making a demand that CCP focus on this alleged 85% is a hollow shell, because there is no such group as a single, unified entity.  CCP literally cannot focus on 85% of the player.

If we were going to go for truth in advertising on this campaign, it should simply be renamed “Screw Null Sec,” because it comes across as thinly disguised petulance about somebody else getting the attention.

There is Common Ground

There are a whole range of features that I would say crosses groups.  Particularly bothersome for me was Neville putting the new player experience on his list of demands for the 85%, as though null sec doesn’t care about new players.

And, to double down on my annoyance, CCP had just dedicated a chunk of the keynote at Fanfest to talking about how they want to improve the new player experience.  That seemed to me to be a pretty strong indicator that this is clearly marked with double underlines on the CCP development agenda.

But CCP didn’t have a solution, a new proposal, right then and there, so out come the pitchforks and demands.

We know the new player experience is bad.  CCP, which is on its fourth iteration since I showed up in New Eden, has given us depressing numbers to illustrate this.  A failure here is literally money out of their pockets and I am pretty sure if they had an answer as to HOW to introduce people to New Eden that made them stick with the game, that would have been front and center.  But they didn’t.  EVE Online is a busy yet subtle experience and they are still searching for the mix that will get the depth of the game across..

Null sec alliances are keenly aware of this.  For years Goonswarm has had their own introduction and training program to bring new players from Something Awful into the game.  I have seen day one Goons in fleets in null on many occasions.  Then along came Brave Newbies, which showed the power of harnessing new players, an idea which was stolen by the other groups.  So today somebody with no null sec experience can get into a corp like KarmaFleet and get the help they need to get going.

But that is all for naught if CCP consistently drives people away in the tutorial, or whatever passes for a tutorial these day.  This is a 100% issue, not an 85% issue.

Okay, that might have been an overly specific item.  But one of the magic things about EVE Online is its interconnectivity.  You cannot draw a circle around a group of players and say that they don’t matter to you.

Jita is probably the best example of the confluence between the various parts of New Eden.  For as long as I have been in a null sec alliance the one thing you could depend on was a jump freighter service that would deliver things to and from Jita.  We buy our stuff from the main high sec trade hub.  When we have a fleet doctrine and are losing ships, manufacturers benefit.  The economy is the web that binds us all together in New Eden, and when null sec is neglected and stagnates, it is reflected in the market, because we blow up more shit than anybody else and ships exploding drives the economy.

Maybe Null Sec IS a Bit Special

This isn’t my first time reading this sort of divisive demand on a developer in which a player claims that the devs are focusing on something that doesn’t represent the majority of their customer base.  I think I have seen that in literally every fantasy MMORPG ever that has had raiding or dedicated PvP or arena combat.

And EVE Online has all three!  Holy balls!  Incursions are raids, PvP is pretty much everywhere, and then there is the alliance cheating tournament for your arena fix.  And I haven’t even put null sec specifically in the picture yet.

These sorts of features, what I would call “aspirational content,” has been a pretty solid part of the MMORPG landscape in the 21st century, and I have long been on the other side of the fence.  No raider I.  And yet I have seen the point of having such features and have come to their defense on the very rare occasions when companies have decided to trim such features.

I think it is important that MMORPGs have options that may seem narrowly focused when viewed against the whole of the game’s population.  In the last 17 years of what I will call the “post-EverQuest age” of MMORPGs most of my time has been spent in solo or small group content, but I have generally not begrudged a disproportionate amount of resources going to such content, because it gives people something to aim for, a goal to achieve, and something special for those willing to put in the effort.

And this has especially been the case in EVE Online.  From 2006 through to the end of 2011 I spent my time in high sec pursuing various careers.  During that time titans, wormhole space, factional warfare, and Dominion sovereignty all showed up and were all hugely interesting to me despite them not really touching my play time directly.  But they were all there and made the game a more interesting and complex place.  Tales from other play styles are fun to read.

But null sec has a special place in that regard.  There have been some headline grabbing events in EVE Online that haven’t been about null sec… the great bank scam and tales of the Guiding Hand Social Club spring to mind… but for bringing attention to New Eden and driving people to try the game, nothing beats null sec alliances blowing each other up.  How many articles on gaming sites that don’t focus on just EVE Online (or even just MMOs, like Massively OP) has the game gotten this year?  And how many of those were about something other than null sec wars or a certain book written about a null sec war?

Like it or not, you have to admit that null sec grabs attention, making it a marketing engine for the game.  So to spin this whole thing on its head, the 15% is doing most of the work to get people to come try the game.  Maybe that has earned null sec a bit more developer attention.

So What?

Okay, I have probably been riding Neville a bit hard in this post.  He is a good person and an asset to the game and the community and probably doesn’t deserve as much push back as I have given.  And I get that part of his whole shtick is to get people to simply consider whether or not there is an issue here to be resolved by being provocative.  But when you go that route, you have to expect return fire in kind, as I have done above.  Consider this counter-provocation I suppose.

That said, I tend to agree with the actual list of things he has on his site.  CCP does have a large garden to tend in New Eden and barely enough resources to even keep the weeds in check.  I just don’t think we need to call for the company to ignore one part or another.

In the end, I think what primarily sticks in my craw… though I’ve been all over the map here, so I don’t blame you if you are confused at this point, because I certainly am… is this public and unnecessary divisiveness.  It is a call for the community to war with itself.

EVE Online already has a bad reputation.  Go read the comments on just about any related post over at Massively OP.  You will read about how it is a horrible game, maybe the most boring game ever, spreadsheets in space, populated by horrible people who do horrible things and you had better not bother playing because you will be scammed, ganked, and podded within five minutes of staring the practically non-existent tutorial.

We are already under siege.  And we, as a community, already fight amongst ourselves pretty viciously.  We hardly need a movement to encourage it.

So, in summary, I think we should give up the 85% idea and simply join together, link arms, and shout down anybody who suggests walking in stations as a feature, because I am not sure we can handle any more boxes on that “what to do” chart.

I look forward to your adoring agreement in the comments below.

Spaceships über alles!

Blizzard and the MAU Reality


-Bobby Kotick, leaked internal communication

Last week Activision Blizzard had their quarterly earnings announcement.


At one point this sort of announcement used to be a headline generating event in the MMO world, because among the numbers announced would be the total World of Warcraft subscribers.

It was kind of a big deal.  In a world where other MMO companies had pretty much given up on the idea, choosing to play up other, often dubious metrics, like registered users of beta applications, Blizzard actually coming out and straight up giving us a subscriber number was pretty cool.

That number wasn’t perfect.  There was always the question about how many of those subscribers were in China, plus the usual conspiracy theories about how Blizzard was padding those numbers by including something that should actually count… despite the fact that the statement regarding numbers was pretty clear about what constituted a subscriber.  But it was a number, a solid metric that carried over quarter after quarter and charted the financial fate of Azeroth.

And then those subscription reports dropped down to numbers not seen since late 2005 and suddenly the joke wasn’t funny any more.  Blizzard gave us one more set of numbers then declared that they would no longer be publishing subscription numbers.

The quarterly report done in February, which summed up the year 2015, lacked, as promised, any mention of subscription numbers for World of Warcraft.  I speculated that even poor subscription numbers were better than none at all, but it was going to be the dubious metric, divorced as it was from any revenue number when compared to subscribers, of “monthly average users” or MAUs.   Nobody is going to write a headline about MAUs.

But still, aside from the lack of subscription numbers, things looked to be following the pattern it had for the last few years, with the team in Anaheim an independent unit with its own slide in the presentation that focused on just the Blizzard properties.

And then there was last weeks announcement… and the pattern of the presentation set over the last few years changed.  Here are slides 4 through 8 of the presentation deck available at the investor relations site:

Blizzard got lumped into the mix this time around.

I don’t want to read too much into that.  Part of it was no doubt because King is now part of the club, having been purchased for $5.9 billion back in 2015.  There are now three distinct players in the mix and the company has to both make sure everybody knows King is on the team and justify spending that much money on a horrible company that stole every good idea it ever saw… um… by which I still mean King.

But to get there the emphasis is very much on how much time players spend with the company’s games, which gets us back to MAUs.

And when it comes to MAUs, King is… well… King, with 463 million.  Activision comes in a distant second, with 55 million, while Blizzard can’t even get halfway to that number, bringing up the rear with 26 million.

Not that hours played is the worst metric, and the company seems very proud that, in the last year, people spent nearly as much time playing its games as they spent watching Netflix.

But it is a measure that only has a correlation with revenue, as opposed to subscriptions, which have direct relationship with revenue.  To illustrate, there are the numbers from the financial statement:

Q1 2016 non-GAAP revenue – Total $908 million

  • Activision – $360 million (40%)
  • Blizzard – $294 million (32%)
  • King – $207 million (23%)
  • Other – $47 million (5%)

So the “King” of the MAUs at the company isn’t the actual king when it comes to bringing in cash.

King does a bit better when it comes to income.

Q1 2016 non-GAAP Operating Income – Total $252 million

  • Activision – $99 million (39%)
  • Blizzard – $86 million (34%)
  • King – $67 million ( 27%)

Which means that when it comes to operating margin, King is actually out in front.

Q1 2016 non-GAAP Operating Margin

  • Activision – 27.5%
  • Blizzard – 29.3%
  • King – 32.4%

But Blizzard is no slouch, bringing in more money than King and operates at a better margin than Activision despite being at the bottom of the MAU list.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell how much World of Warcraft is contributing to that mix.  There used to be a “Subscriptions” line item in the financial statement that was pretty much just WoW.  However, that has now been lumped into the “Digital online channels” line item, which includes subscriptions plus any other online purchases.  So if you buy the latest Hearthstone expansion, or something to help you beat a hard level in Candy Crush Saga, it goes there as well.

So, while I do not doubt that WoW contributes a decent chunk of the revenue to that $797 million line item, we cannot know exactly how much because that category is 88% of the revenue for the quarter.  WoW has been effectively disappeared.

Sure, there is a mention of it on one slide.  The upcoming expansion is still a thing.  But if you were gauging simply by the amount of attention a title got, you might easily assume that Hearthstone is the leading product out of Anaheim.

And such is the way of thing today.

Chasing Asher’s Phantasm

The same thing we do every night, Boat – try to take over Fade!

-Asher Elias, Asher and the Boat

Things happened to fall into place last night in just the right order so that I found myself sitting down at my desk with some free time in the evening just as Asher put up a ping for a Cerberus fleet.  I hate it when I get to my computer and there are pings for fleets, but they are all stale and the fleets have long since undocked.  And, having done the Clownshoe fleet earlier in the week, I was up for a combat fleet looking sail into harm’s way.

I even opted to join in my Cerberus rather than flying logi.  I wanted to shoot something… and I like to get a couple kills on the board every month just to prove to my corp that I am still alive.

We would, of course, be heading to Fade, the focus of the war for the last couple of weeks.  Despite the persistent Reddit propaganda about The Imperium not undocking, not fighting, and not contesting sovereignty, DOTLAN and zKillboard paint a different story.

zKillboard Top Alliances and Corps - May 6, 2016

zKillboard Top Alliances and Corps – May 6, 2016

(How the kills are counted and ranked is explained here.)

I think the biggest surprise there is finding my own alliance, TNT, on the list… that has to be ITAI, to corp CO2 wanted to kick and blacklist, doing some heavy lifting there… though I am bad and almost never fly specifically with my alliance, preferring to just take whatever fleet is leaving out of Saranen when I have the time.  Anyway, back to the fleet.

It had been a while since I had been in an Asher fleet… no Reavers ops of late, just the war… and was surprised when he noted my absence of late. [Insert “Senpai noticed me joke here.] It has actually been difficult to find time for a fleet during the week of late, and next week will continue that trend.

Several fleets were going up, but the Cerberus doctrine probably fits me best as I have almost all the related skills for it trained up to level 5.  Asher himself would be leading us in a new FC ship he was trying out which we were able to see once we got ourselves settled and undocked.

Phantastic Fantasm

Phantastic Fantasm

That is the Sansha’s Nation Phantasm, a pirate faction ship, wearing the Sansha Victory skin, making it a pretty rare site.  I took an excessive number of screen shots of it while we were lolling around in various places.  It is a pretty, and very pointy, ship.

Undocked, we headed to our ride north, stopping along the way just long enough to pop a MOA Drake that was acting as a bait for a gate camp and clearly wasn’t expecting a 100 ship Cerberus fleet to land on it.  At that point I was “Op success!” because I was on the kill boards for May and could go back to flying logi next time.

We moved to our bridging titan and got ourselves in range before it sent us on our way.

Cerbs waiting for the bridge

Cerbs waiting for the bridge

Once dropped into the north end of Pure Blind, we headed for the usual location in Fade, the system of O1Y-ED.  Along the way we got some instructions on how the fleet was going to work and what to do during certain circumstances.  Key items on the list were to keep anchored up with your prop mod running and to align immediately to broadcasts when told.

Once at the destination we warped to a point off the station and let the festivities commence.  As usual, numbers were against us, but the doctrine was designed to kite and keep foes at a distance until an opportunity presented itself.  This meant quite a bit of aligning, warping, aligning again, warping again, anchoring up, maybe shooting a target or two, then aligning once more for another warp.

The fleet was an illustration of a number of things Asher has spoken about before, both on coms and on his podcast, about the nature of fleet ops and, especially, having the critical mass of firepower and being able to apply it correctly to a target to break its tank and kill it before it can start receiving enough repair reps to save it.

That last bit was key to our fleet last night, and we didn’t do very well.

In one of the first encounters we got within range of PL’s logi and were given a primary and a secondary to target and shoot.  The idea is that you lock both, shoot the primary until it is dead, then shoot the secondary, which is then the primary.

We locked both up and as the missiles flew… it is always a bit unnerving with missile doctrines as you have to sit and wait until the missiles travel to the target and do their work before you can tell how things are going… it looked like we were going to drop the first logi.  It was down to under a quarter armor… and then reps caught and its armor stabilized and started pushing back up.

We almost had it… and would have had it, except that it was clear that somebody had decided to shoot the secondary.  So our damage, which looked to put kills within the realm of possibility, was split and neither target was destroyed.  There was enough damage on our side… for the moment.

In addition to splitting fire we were, as a fleet, having some problems aligning.

Aligning is easy enough.  It an align point is broadcast, you just right-click on the broadcast in the fleet window and select “Align to…” from the contextual menu.  It the align point is a station or a gate or something else that might be in your overview… I have something of a lazy, probably shows too much standard overview I rely on… you can right click there or, if I remember right, just highlight it on the overview or in space as press the “A” key.

Cerbs aligning for another warp

Cerbs aligning for another warp

But, in combat, with lots of things going on, people were not keeping up.  In a situation where you are kiting the enemy, being aligned can be a matter of survival.  If you are aligned when the FC warps the fleet, you are on your way pretty much instantly.  If you aren’t aligned you may find yourself hanging about in the face of a hostile fleet hungry for a kill after the rest of their prey just slipped off.

So it went, we would warp off as hostiles landed only to find that one or two people were not aligned, and the fleet would be a couple ships lighter.  There was some talk of Darwin in action and survival of the fittest on coms, but with less ships, the amount of damage we could put out decreased, making kills harder to get.  And so we kept bouncing around the system, or burning along at speed, kiting the enemy around while looking for an opening.

Running with our bubble coverage

Running with our bubble coverage

After a a stretch of this where we managed to knock off a couple of hostile Cerberuses that strayed away from their cover… but not enough to match our own losses… Asher took us to a gate and jumped us into K4YZ-Y to look for and advantage.

There we continued kiting, getting a few more kills… my favorite being the PH Noctis looking to scoop up loot… until the enemy managed to pop Asher’s pointy new FC ship.

That actually took me by surprise.  I usually keep a bounty on FCs I fly with regularly so that I immediately get a pop-up notification when they are blown up so I know that things might be going to hell shortly.

Fortunately we had a couple of alternate FCs along for the ride.  Thomas Lear took over and began bouncing us around to shake off the enemy until they got bored and left, though rumor had it that the enemy was convinced that Oxygen was driving the fleet now.

We eventually ended up in a POS in system… somebody said it isn’t really an Asher fleet unless we spend some time hiding in a POS… waiting for things to die down so we could find a way back to Saranen.  By this point, in addition to losing Asher, enough other ships had been peeled off that we lacked any hope of tank breaking critical mass when engaging the enemy fleet roaming the area.  It was time to head home.

There was a bit more waiting, and then some dodging about to get away, but Thomas Lear got us through and to low sec and then back home to Saranen.

Landing back at the Quafe Company Warehouse

Landing back at the Quafe Company Warehouse

Not our most glorious fleet op.  I couldn’t get a decent battle report for what we did, in part because other fleets were operating in the area, including a White Legion Muninn fleet.  But it was another day in the war where we formed up to oppose our enemies and show that we will continue to resist.

One of the more interesting aspects of this op was a look at the kills we got.  Less that two weeks ago, when I was out with Boat on that Cormorant fleet, we were really only seeing Pandemic Horde.  Nobody else was showing up in Fade.  Last night we saw fleets from Pandemic Legion and NCDot as well as a few other members of the Moneybadger Coalition.  Fade is where the fights are happening for now.

Collecting Tears…

Ghast tears, that is.  What did you think I meant?

Ghast tears drop, naturally enough, from Ghasts in Minecraft.

Ghast tear in inventory...

Ghast tear in inventory…

And Ghasts… well, you find them in the nether, where can loom out of the distance or spawn suddenly in your vicinity and as soon as you hear their special sound they are launching fireballs at you.

I went looking for some Ghast screen shots, just to illustrate what they look like, and I only found a few and most of them were mid-action panic screen shots.

Ghasts are a bit of a terror in the nether.  The float up out of reach, so you can only hit them with a bow and arrow, shoot those fireballs that eat up the netherrack and set things on fire, while their behavior is such that they tend to pull back to maximum range so they are harder to hit. (Though that doesn’t seem to hinder their ability to hit you.)

They aren’t a constant threat, and so long as you keep moving you likely won’t take a fireball hit.  I’ve been running through the nether between portals on a few occasions with the sound off, noticed nothing amiss, only to come back for the return trip to find that the terrain is torn up and on fire because a Ghast had been taking shots at me as I ran previously.

Another divot to be filled in

Another divot to be filled in

I always try to carry a stack of cobblestone with me to fill in the holes along regular routes.  The fireballs won’t destroy the cobble, so the path is that much more sturdy, though it can still be set on fire temporarily, so you don’t want to stand still all the same.

Anyway, they are a threat and they will encourage you to learn how to use a bow and arrow effectively.  Just don’t miss too often, lest you hit the zombie pigmen and start a new sort of terror.  That has killed me more often than Ghasts.

And, as noted a couple hundred words back, they drop Ghast tears.

Before Minecraft 1.9 the tears were of no particular value.  They could be used to create mundane potions, which weren’t really useful, or regeneration potions, which were actually useful.  But not being a huge user of potions so far, I wasn’t seeking them out. (Brewing chart for potions, if you are interested.)

After the update hit however, the tears became one of the ingredients in creating an End Crystal, four of which may be used to re-summon the End Dragon after it has been slain for the first time.  Aaron, who drove our initial effort to slay the End Dragon, was keen to be able to respawn it (and kill it) on demand.  So he wanted to collect more tears, but the randomness of the open nether… half the time I kill a Ghast it is over a pool of lava, so no tears and no exp… wasn’t working for him.

A couple weeks back I logged in and saw him on.  I happened to be passing through what is the central area of the nether for us and, just as he was telling me in chat that he had built something new, I saw that very new thing.  It didn’t look like much, just a tall wall of nether brick and an area of cobblestone with a door.

Spotting the new building...

Spotting the new building…

The cobblstone structure was a room with a door on the opposite side.  I went through that and found Aaron with his new plan… an indoor Ghast killing arena.

Into the arena

Into the arena

It was tall enough to allow ghasts to spawn in it, floored with cobblestone to keep the floor from getting chewed up by fireballs, and illuminated by a pattern of recessed lighting featuring the end rods that came in with the big update as well.  I had to admit I was impressed.

The space does tend to fill up with zombie pigmen which, as I noted previously, can be an issue if you do not take care where your arrows fall.  And I would still recommend arrows for fighting ghasts in an enclosed space.  While we were there a ghast spawned and I tried to go after it with my sword and found it tough going.  You have to close with a fireball spewing mob and then stay within arms reach, hacking away at it, while you are probably on fire and dying.

After a bit of that I opted to fall back and use the superior firepower of the box.

When a Ghast spawns it is tough to miss in that confined space.

There he is, shooting at me already!

There he is, shooting at me already!

But once you kill them, it is easy enough to pick up the drops… just avoid the temporarily burning cobblestone while you do so.

I think there is a tear in that lot

I think there is a tear in that lot

The spawn rate is a little uneven.  In trying it out on my own I have sat for a stretch with no spawns at all… and then had two Ghasts pop up at once.

Now they are both shooting at me

Now they are both shooting at me

Two Ghasts at once pretty much guarantees that you will be on fire for a while.  As soon as you take aim to shoot at one, the other will hit you.  So I hope you were at full health and fully fed when they both showed up.  I had a pair pop in when I was still recovering from having stood in the fire too long on the last one and had to flee the room.

However, if things get too crowded in the room… I had a LOT of zombie pigmen in there acting like they were trying to block my shots at one point, Aaron put together a handy little arena reset option.

The reset rail ride

The reset rail ride

Just get in the mine cart, press the button, and go on a round trip that takes you far enough away to unload the chunks the arena occupies, and then back again to a fresh new start.

Those pigmen will be back soon, you just wait

Those pigmen will be back soon, you just wait

Anyway, that is one of the new features in our world, a Ghast hunting arena in which we can collect their tears.  Actually, I think the recessed lighting might be the best part.  It does look pretty cool and the light coming off the end rods is just about perfect.

EVE Online Free on Steam this Weekend

In order to celebrate EVE Online’s 13th birthday tomorrow and its becoming an unruly teenager… like it hasn’t been behaving that way all this time already… you will be able to download and play the game for free on Steam.

A 1pm cut off on Sunday seems a bit chintzy...

A 1pm cut off on Sunday seems a bit chintzy…

That means, if you start today… and the whole things starts today… at some point… maybe 1pm Pacific time… you could potentially get in as much as three days in New Eden to experience the furtive, achievement based tutorial, learn about skill queues and how long it will take to fly a battleship, see all the scams in Jita, and at least experience how cool the sensation of flying in space can be.

I think starting as Gallente gets you the prettiest nebulae.

Gallente rookie ship zipping about...

Gallente rookie ship zipping about…

Of course, if you REALLY wanted to try out the game… and maybe not have your account totally locked into Steam for no real good reason… you could always just go to the EVE Online web site and get a 14 Day free trial.

Or, if you were feeling especially interested and a bit generous, you could get a 21 Day free trial by clicking on my buddy link.  Exactly one person has done that in the last three years, though I admit I don’t flash it around either, keeping it hidden on the side bar of my other blog.

Okay, the three day Steam offer does say “no restrictions,” while the trial offer has some walls around it, there being some skills and such that you cannot train on trial accounts.  But you’re not going to have the ISK or a reason to train those skills in just three days, now are you?

Anyway, my cynicism aside, happy birthday to EVE Online.  Come fly around in space for a bit.  Goons won’t scam you, I promise.  You won’t have enough ISK to be worth the effort.

The Pokemon 20th Anniversary Continues with a Darkrai Event and More

The celebration of the 20th anniversary of Pokemon continues.  This month’s legendary Pokemon is Darkrai, the nightmarish legendary Pokemon that first showed up as a special download during the Pokemon Diamond & Pearl era.

Darkrai brings nightmares

Darkrai brings nightmares

This month though the Pokemon 20th Anniversary event requires another visit to GameStop to pick up a card with a code to claim Darkrai.  I went by GameStop already with my daughter and a friend in tow to grab a couple cards.

Darkrai GameStop Card

Darkrai GameStop Card

While there were three of us standing there when I asked about the cards, the clerk only handed me two.  I suspect he thought I was asking for the kids rather than for myself primarily.

As before, the code is only good for Pokemon X & Y or Pokemon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire on the Nintendo 3DS or 3DS XL.  Other Darkrai related items are also available in May.

That is the main event for May, but it is not the only Pokemon available.

There will also be three, one week only direct download events this month featuring Pokemon from Pokemon X & Y.  The Pokemon available are:

  • May 2–8: Zygarde
May 2-8 level 100 download

May 2-8 Level 100 Download

  • May 11–17: Shiny Xerneas
May 11-17 Level 100 Download

May 11-17 Level 100 Download

  • May 20–26: Shiny Yveltal
May 20-26 Level 100 Download

May 20-26 Level 100 Download

Xerneas and Yveltal are the X and Y styled Pokemon from which the Pokemon X & Y entries in the franchise derive their name.  Zydarde is the Z, who might have gotten his own follow up title if Nintendo and GameFreak had been on their old plan of putting out an interim title between (e.g. Pokemon Emerald or Pokemon Platinum) major releases in the series.

And, to wrap up the month, if you signed up for the Pokemon Trainer Club newsletter, as I mentioned in last month’s update, you would have three codes in your email inbox by now to download the legendary trio of Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres.

May is for rare flying Pokemon

May is for “Many” Pokemon

So if you are on the ball and serious about this sort of thing, you could be adding up to seven legendary Pokemon to your collection this month.  And the events will carry on through the remainder of 2016:

  • June – Manaphy (Nintendo Network)
  • July – Shaymin (Nintendo Network)
  • August – Arceus (GameStop)
  • September – Victini (Nintendo Network)
  • October – Keldeo (Nintendo Network)
  • November – Genesect (GameStop)
  • December – Meloetta (Nintendo Network)

The events will culminate in the release of the next entry in the Pokemon RPG series, Pokemon Sun & Moon.


Minecraft Rail Plans

Quite a while back I had a post about my Great Northern Road project on our Minecraft server.  I wanted to lay down a horse compatible path… meaning any tunnel had to be at least two blocks wide and three blocks tall… from our populated area around the spawn point for our world up to the Mesa biome that had been discovered quite a ways north of us.

The whole thing involved digging tunnels, burning forests, leveling terrain, and building three bridges to cross some wide stretches of water along the way.

Mesa Biome Channel Bridge

Mesa Biome Channel Bridge

They “why” of it all can only be answered with “because,” as we already had a nether portal up in the Mesa biome which provided a considerably shorter path for those wanting to collect hardened clay of various colors for construction projects.  The “why” of Minecraft itself only has the answer “because” when it comes down to it.

Having built it, I decided to create some attractions along the road.  One of them developed into a base that I started living out of most of the time, with a town nearby.  Of course, traveling up and down the road to build things became a chore, so I started laying rails.  Then I linked those rails up to my base at the southern end of the road.  With that done, I started pushing the rails north to the Mesa biome.

That ended up being quite a stretch of rails, which used up a lot of my stored up iron.  Of all the things we have automated, iron collection turns out to be the one I use the least and is the one I need the most.  I have gold in excess, enough redstone to build a castle out of redstone blocks, and I use diamond tools to avoid wasting iron.  Still, I had enough to finish that and then start building south.

Riding the rails on one of my bridges

Riding the rails on one of my bridges

South was a bit easier.  I put up a rail line from my base at the south end of the road to hook up to my previous base.  That base already had a rail line that ran out to the spawn point, so I was able to hook those up.  And, at the south side of the spawn point was another rail line that ran down to Skronk and Enaldi’s Firenze, which I also hooked into the line.

Once complete, you could get in a minecart at the Mesa biome terminus…

Mesa biome

Mesa biome

…travel south down the line past my then current base…

Where I build up my supplies

Where I build up my supplies

…down the line past Aaron and Xydd’s bases…

You can see Aaron's charged creeper grid...

You can see Aaron’s charged creeper grid

…past the spawn point and down south through Skronkholm and into the station under Firenze.

Firenze continues to grow

Firenze continues to grow

The run ended up being just about 10km in game and takes a full day/night cycle to complete.

In order to accommodate travel between points along the line, I decided I needed to build stations along the way.  I looked into a few different designs, but opted for simplicity.  If somebody wants a more complicated station at their stop, they can build it.  Mine just stops the minecart at each point and sends you on your way with the push of a button.

Simple station

Simple station

I also put an override switch on most of the stations so that they could be flagged to simply pass people through.  That became useful when moving between distant stations regularly.

So there we had it, the Great Northern Road turned into the Great Northern Railroad.  I finished that up a couple of months back, at which point I was out of iron and most other supplies and ready for a bit of a break.  I meant to do a post about it back then, but never quite got around to it.

I didn’t stop playing Minecraft, but I spent a while pottering around, improving things, building small things, and moving the server to a new host.

As an aside, for general performance, Minecraft Realms has been a big improvement over MC Pro Hosting.  The downside is lack of ability to tweak some server settings I was able to previously and the idle timeout, which means no more over night automated harvesting for some of us.

As I did that, I also started building up my supplies again, especially iron.

Even with automation, I still mine a lot in Minecraft.  There is a certain peacefulness to it, a regularity in driving a shaft down to level 12, setting up a central open area, and then mining off of it at every third block, and digging to see what you will find.  I can do that and listen to podcasts or audio books and relax.

As my iron supplies built up again, I started building more track.  I also started seeking out abandoned mine shafts underground to strip them of all the track they contained.  I had found quite a few of them previously, but now went back to strip them bare.  I decided that I was not yet done with my rail project.

I had noticed on the map… as I mentioned in a previous post, I occasionally create a map of our world using a utility called Minecraft Overviewer, which takes the world data and renders it into Google Maps format… that on the western side of our explored world there were a few nether portals hanging about on their own.  They were left over from some early explorations done by Xydd, where he would go to some point in the nether and build a portal just to see where it came up.

I decided that those portals would be good anchor points for an expansion of the rail line.  I wanted to bring the line around through the unsettled and largely unexplored western reaches of the map and then turn right at some point and link back up at the Mesa biome to create a large loop.  So I moved a bunch of supplies to Firenze and started building a roadbed and laying track west from there.

Supply is probably the biggest challenge.  Inventory management comes into play, as it always does, in that you can only carry so much stuff with you.  That means you either have to go back to your supply depot when you run out or setup a new base and start building up supplies there.  The further you get from your current supply base, the more time you spend moving back and forth between that base and where you are working.

This is exacerbated by day night cycle, which can seem both cruelly short and extremely long depending on what you are up to.  With the Minecraft 1.9 combat changes, it has become much more difficult for me to deal with the spawns at night, in part because you can no longer just swing wildly and chop all those zombies and skeletons to pieces and also because the spawn rates at night seem to have been notched up noticeably.  Creepers especially seem to boom in abundance now and have blown up a lot of my track.

While finally getting the infinity arrow enchant on a bow has been a boon… I spent a lot of time trying for that… because I can hand back and murder stuff at range, I still have to get to shelter at night to sleep and start the day fresh.  The distance between the work site at the supply base makes that take up time.  And even if I build little overnight shelters, I still end up having to travel back and forth for more supplies.  So, even if I had infinite resources, there is a bunch of work to be done.

And I did not have infinite resources.  And it isn’t just rail I run out of in the field.  If I have to bridge some gap I need cobblestone.  It my tools wear out I need fresh ones… or I need to go back and repair the ones I have.  I need torches to light the way.  And I need food.  A stack of 64 baked potatoes seems like it should last a long time, and then you get caught out at night and have to fight, then eat to keep your healing up, and then fight some more.

So at some point I get far enough down the line that I have to build a base with all the amenities.  In my quest to finish the western run of the rail line, I am on my third base.

The world map currently

The world map currently

As with most of the screen shots in this post, this one is from Minecraft Overviewer, though zoomed out to give a sense of where the rail line has run so far.  You probably need to click on it and view it full size to be able to see any of the detail.

Mesa to Firenze was the original 10km rail line.  Supply Base A was chosen because of its proximity to one of Xydd’s portals.

Supply Base A

Supply Base A

I built a mine there, sent up a bit of farming, got an auto-furnace setup to smelt, and put in a bunch of chests to hold things.  That base didn’t end up too big because it wasn’t all that far from Firenze and I was still pretty flush with supplies when I got there.  I barely mined at all, though I did find two abandoned mines in the area, which helped build up my track supply.

Supply Base B ended up being more complete.  By the time I got there I was having supply problems, not to mention being far from home.  It was also the location of another Xydd nether portal, but not one he had built a road to in the nether, so I had to mine some to get some cobblestone in order to pave a path down in the nether so I could find my way there and back if I needed to.

At this point supplies were dwindling, but both Aaron and Skronk donated to the cause and I was able to drive north to what is my current supply base.  Supply Base C is where I have sat for over a week now.

Supply Base C

Supply Base C

I stopped here because it was a town, so there was already shelter and a food supply.  I used some of my cobblestone stockpile to wall it off, built a mine, and started hording supplies.

I also went down to the nether, to our transport hub in the roof of the nether, and dug a tunnel from there to a point where I could build a portal that would come up in the town.  I miscalculated by a bit and the portal ended up on the roof of the town well.  At least it wasn’t deep under ground I suppose.

One of the advantages of this town was that a whole family of horses had spawned in the area, so I was able to tame one to use for exploration.  And I needed to explore, because the other reason I stopped here was I was beginning to reach the point where I couldn’t just head north.  I have to find a path to route the rail line to get back to the Mesa biome.

So that is where I sit, at the far end of a long rail line, scouting for a way forward and building up my supplies for my push to close the circle.

I will say that without rendered maps of the world, this would be a lot more difficult.  I could plot a route with the F3 option open so I could see coordinates to note down a possible path, but it is a lot easier to head out and explore for a while, then download the world, render it, and see what the lay of the land really is.

It just takes a bit to do that some time.  Our world is now over 1GB in size in its raw form, it takes about 45 minutes to render, and the output is about 12GB in size.

Industrial Revolution

Yesterday afternoon The Mittani held another of his fireside chats which, along with The Meta show on Saturday’s, is part of his weekly one-two propaganda punch.  Both are streamed live on Twitch and our foes log in to watch and rage in chat.  It seems to make them angry.

Among the announcements during the chat (which you can replay here) were some new doctrine fits for entosis work.  They were the Cysknife, the FiestaCat, the Clownshoe, and the Max Tank Maller… the latter seeming to indicate that somebody ran out of cute names.

Of those, the Clownshoe was going to go directly into service after the chat, with a limited number of free ships being handed out by Jay Amazingness for this first official fleet.

Free ships!  Who could say no to that?  And so I was literally the first person in after Jay had formed the fleet.  Not that I was going to get a very valuable ship for me effort.

The Clownshoe, named after a term used by Sapporo Jones, the leader of TEST, in an angry rant about Imperium doctrines (available somewhere on YouTube), is a tanked Nereus, the T1 Gallente hauler that used to be at the wee end of the Iteron line of ships; the former shortest sausage in the pack, if you will.

The tank itself isn’t exceptional, though the fact that the shield regenerates 800 hit points a second helps a lot.  That means anybody hitting one needs to be doing at least 800 DPS, plus the resists, to start breaking the tank.  And then the Nereus also has a drone bay, so can carry some ECM drones to launch and break lock on any attacker, giving it some survivability in the wild.  So it might get away, or at least survive until help can show up.  The fit also has a cloak, so the idea is to be able to hack, fight off any small stuff that might come get you, then run off and cloak up if you need.

So we got into fleet and Jay started handing them out to the first 50 people who joined the fleet.  I got mine and bought a skin for it with some Aurum I had sitting around, just because this seemed to be a comically special event.  Since it was a freebie fleet, there were people who joined up before checking if they had the skills, including one pilot who had to train Gallente industrial.

Then, once everybody had something to fly, we had to sit around and wait for the standing fleet to clear off the undock as CO2 has showed up with some Svipuls.  When we finally got the okay to undock, they were still on grid with us, though far out of range.  I do wonder what they must have thought seeing a pack of T1 industrials coming out of the station.

Confirmed! Goons evacuating Saranen!

Confirmed! Goons evacuating Saranen!

Jay warped us off to the Tartoken gate and the CO2 Svipuls followed us there, though didn’t come through with us.  It was announced on coms, “The first transport is away!”

Jay, however, was being a bad and told us all to jump while forgetting to do so himself, so got himself blown up, not once, but twice getting to us.  After lingering in Tatroken for a bit, he finally caught up to us and led us off to a waiting titan that was ready to bridge us into Fade.

Nerueus' in warp

Nerueus’ in warp

We got there and were bridged in.  Another benefit of going out in industrial ships is the 90% reduction in jump fatigue accrued.

Bridge up, industrials away!

Bridge up, industrials away!

Once into Fade we headed to the VNX-P0 constellation where a capture event was going on for the TCU in MPPA-A.

Along the way we came through a gate and found ourselves face with a 9 ship NCDot gang.  I expected that we were going to get mauled by the mix of Svipuls and Kirins.

A wild NCDot gang appears!

A wild NCDot gang appears!

They locked several of us up and pointed us.  I was on the list of those pointed.

I'm doomed!

I’m doomed!

So we launched our EC-3000 ECM drones, anchored up on Jay, and waited to see how things went.  The droned proceeded to break locks.  The Svipuls hit one Nereus for a bit and got it down to about 50% shield.  I took a few hits myself from one of the Svipuls, but my shield regen kept things happy for me. After about a minute of that, they gave up and warped off, deciding we were not worth the effort.  Industrial success!

From there we continued on to MPPA-A where we split up and succeeded in the capture event.

Hacking my node

Hacking my node

Somebody from my alliance ended up planting the new TCU, so TNT now holds one system for the moment.

Flag found in Fade

Flag found in Fade

We then carried on and reinforced whatever else we could find in the area.  As this was going on, Asher and Boat were taking on Pandemic Horde in O1Y-ED where, despite PH numbers, they managed to hack the station cloning services, which meant that anybody who got podded was sent back to their designated home system or their default system if O1Y-ED had been so set.

That kept PH busy so we kept on hacking whatever we could find.

A couple of us on an ihub

A couple of us on an ihub

After a while of that, PH finally convinced Pandemic Legion that they had to come out and save them, so a PL fleet showed up and we all cloaked up in safe spots and let them fly around trying to find a target.

Cloaked Nereus

Cloaked Nereus

After they wandered off, Jay took us up into Deklein.  Up until that point the Clownshoes has carried on without loss.  In Deklein we would be on our own without Boat and Asher keeping the locals busy.

Wandering into the space of The Blood Covenant, we began spreading out some to reinforce sovereignty objects and station services.

Entosis all the services

Entosis all the services

While that started off well enough, we did eventually provoke a reaction from the locals who can swarming out to chase us off.  Clownshoes began to get blown up.  Those of us who could cloaked up again in safe spots while a Sword fleet showed up to help us, only to get mauled in the process.

Safe and cloaked, the rest of us hung about waiting for things to cool down.  At that point it was getting towards dinner time at our house and, since we didn’t seem to be going anywhere soon, I told the fleet I needed to go AFK in order to fire up the BBQ and cook something for dinner.  Salmon patties for my daughter and some bockwurst for her friend, my wife, and myself.

That ended up taking longer than I thought, so by the time I got back the remains fleet had made its way back to Saranen and docked up.  Left out along in Deklein, I decided to try a bit of “solo yolo” hacking and picked a non-station system to try and hit.  With ADMs low, I only needed 10 minutes alone after the warm-up cycled to reinforce a TCU.

However, the locals were still stirred up and before my fist post-warm-up cycle had finished a small gang landed on me.  Unfortunately, they brought more DPS than my Clownshoe Nereus could tank, so it went pop.  Then I got podded and was back in Saranen.  Still, a free ship, a quick trip home, and a new adventure, I don’t have anything to complain about.

So that is our new thing for now, Clownshoes.  It might be a good time to ramp up a bit of Nereus production, because losses of this T1 industrial are probably going to go up dramatically for now.