Monthly Archives: April 2017

April in Review

The Site

It has been a bonus moth for blog, with page view seeing a 50% boost over the previous month.  It still isn’t back to 2012 numbers… and never will be… but it was interesting to see the numbers jump up a bit.  Of course, I know why the number jumped up.  It was for the same reason the blog gets something of a bump every April.

I posted about April Fools at Blizzard.

A look at the list of most viewed posts this month tells the tale… sort of.  I generally don’t list the main page for the blog on that list, because it would simply be the top entry most months.  But this month it would be in second place, pulling in about 40% of the page views of the April Fools post.  Google was very nice to me for April Fools.

Still, it wasn’t as good as last April.  I did not get nearly as big of a bump from Google last year for April Fools… like 15% of the page views… but I was writing about the Casino War in EVE Online last April, something that stirred passions in a few.  And then there was the drama about WoW, nostalgia, and the Nostalrius, which was enough to carry the month to 40% more page views than this year.  Life in the page view lane.

Also I hit another meaningless milestone, crossing the 700 follower mark on Twitter.

I first started on Twitter back in 2010, so at this rate I will hit 1,000 followers at some point in 2020… provided Twitter doesn’t purge inactive accounts, as that would probably reduce my followers by half.

My Twitter feed combines the output from this blog and my EVE Online Pictures blog, along with occasional direct comments by myself.  The screen shots from the other blog are far and away the most likely to get liked or retweeted.  Even CCP Seagull has been known to retweet some of those screen shots.  There is probably a lesson in that.

One Year Ago

I wondered about the concept of the last good day in the context of MMOs.

The whole Blizzard versus Nostalrius issue blew up when the company sent the private/pirate server a take down notice.  Blizzard actually responded to things, but those hoping that they might actually get an official nostalgia server remain disappointed.

We did get a ship date for WoW Legion.  And, for once, nobody complained about Blizzard targeting a competitor with their chosen date.  At least not that I heard.

The Casino War was going badly for the Imperium.  I mean, sure, Dinsdale Pirannah was predicting a Goon victory, but he was in a small minority.

The Mittani held a state of the Goonion and logs documenting CO2’s betrayal were released, but that didn’t stave off black Thursday in Tribute as TNT’s holdings got steamrolled.  The war was getting serious.  First SMA and then FCON left the Imperium.  FCON showed up in Immensea soon afterwards while Darius Johnson tried to take advantage of the war by attempting to restart the original GoonSwarm.

There was a short Russian complication in the northeast that threatened to widen the war, but which eventually blew over.  No relief for the Imperium was to be found on that front.

There was to be no last stand at VFK-IV.  We pulled back to the Quafe Factory Warehouse in Saranen and attempted to fight back against the tide while I wondered what would constitute a victory.

There was some talk of names for the war.  I did not like the names coming from either side and stuck with Casino War, the name which Nosy Gamer coined and which went straight to the heart of the conflict.

Outside of the Casino War, I took a look at two books about EVE Online.  There was a Rooks & Kings video from the Serenity server. The Citadel expansion was released, bringing Upwell Consortium structures to New Eden.  There was a Blog Banter about what the most important announcement out of Fan Fest was.  And Xenuria made it onto the CSM at last.

Outside of New Eden, I gave Pokemon Blue a try and was surprised to see how fully formed the first versions of Pokemon really were.

Google was telling me that pretty much every game was dead.

And there was, as always, April Fools at Blizzard.

Five Years Ago

April 2012 set a daily page view record.  What is it about April?  I know you are going to say “April Fools,” but the record was actually set because of the Burn Jita event.

Yeah, the Burn Jita event.  It made for my most popular YouTube video ever.  And it lead right into Hulkageddon V and its OTEC connection.

Elsewhere in EVE Online, the LEGO Rifter got 10K votes, the War in the North seemed to be winding down with RAZOR back in Tenal and six fleets stalking Venal. Raiden managed to lose a bunch of sovereignty, by accident, which finished that up.  All that was left was to say we didn’t want that region anyways.  We also made conga lines, experience time dilation, and followed DBRB through high sec to kill some super caps.  And Seleene became the chairman of the Galactic Student Council.

I was also syndicated occasionally on EVE News 24.  I don’t think I got paid for all of that.

I made a list of small features I wanted other MMOs to copy.

Lord of the Rings Online hit the five year mark.

Potshot and I were wandering around EverQuest again, looking for lost dungeons.  We were not buying any $25 bags though.

In Rift, the instance group was driven out of King’s Breach.  But Trion added in fishing, so we could do that instead.

And it was April Fools at Blizzard.

Ten Years Ago

Back in April 2007 we were wondering what was going to happen with Sigil Games Online after their less than stellar Vanguard launch. (*snort*) I threw out a few paths that the game might follow going forward, one of which proved to be correct.  Soon we would be free from the rambling posts of Aradune.  There was a failure of vision to be corrected.  But I bought a copy all the same.  It was marked down.

Meanwhile, Microsoft Windows Vista, which launched the same day as Vanguard, was facing failures of its own, with Dell having to reintroduce Windows XP as an option for customers.  I know my own company was buying XP systems until Windows 7 came out… and became the new Windows XP.

In EverQuest II Gaff and I visited Emperor Fyst, I ran around in Nektropos Castle with the Everling clan, and complained about experience in Splitpaw.

While our WoW group was winding down for the summer, with Earl off to Broadway, the remaining four of us went off to Middle-earth with the launch of Lord of the Rings Online.  We had been playing in the beta, but eventually it came time to buy the game and sort out the founder’s options.  I had my first impressions. Titles were a thing!

I answered the musical meme question, “Five Reasons Why I Blog.”  Remember when those were “memes?”  Also, that seems awfully early in my career to be answering that sort of question.

I was also on about the pros and cons of player wipes, the requirement that one be able to solo in MMORPGs, and the problem of translating mechanics between games.

Van Hemlock was leet.

Nintendo launched Pokemon Diamond & Pearl in North America at last.  The EU would have to wait until July to get their copies.

Our Wii finally came out of the box.

And, finally, I had a problem with a video card that eventually had to be RMA’d, which sounds a lot like this April. I hope this won’t turn into a yearly thing.

Most Viewed Posts in April

  1. April Fools at Blizzard 2017 – Not Much to Talk About
  2. April Fools at Blizzard – 2016
  3. EVE Online CSM 12 Winners Announced
  4. WoW Dance Battle System!
  5. A Barrier to My Eventual Return to Azeroth
  6. Corpses in New Eden
  7. Null Sec Outpost Conversions and the Great Asset Recovery
  8. The Fall of Club Penguin
  9. A Decade on the Road to Mordor
  10. The Ongoing Tension Between Solo and Grouping
  11. Null Sec – We Rat and We Mine Things
  12. Nintendo and the NES Classic Edition

Search Terms of the Month

lord of the rings rambling large
[I ramble larger than most!]

eve online dying 2017
[EVE Online has always been dying. So have I.]

terry pratchett was more successful than rowling
[Only for very specific definitions of “success”]

how many hours does a heroic character save everquest
[In my case, all of them]

EVE Online

After Reavers came back from camping in Impass at the start of the month I haven’t done too much in game.  TNT and Space Violence are deployed to Catch, and I have a pilot out there, but the ops are almost exclusively EUTZ, so I have been on exactly one.  So I have taken my ops where I could find them and ratted a bit.  Even Ishtar ratting adds to the might total of null sec bounties.

EVE Fan Fest was the main focus of the month, with people happy or disappointed about what CCP did or did not say.  The usual story, everybody feels their part of the game is the most important and if only CCP would focus on the right thing then New Eden would flourish and time would roll backwards and the PCU would skyrocket.

Minecraft

I finished the road to the north Mansion, which covers 26km as it winds its way northward from the rail loop.  That done, I stated fishing about for the next project.  I began work on some upgrades around the north Mansion and even laid the ground work for the horse speed tester I wanted to build, but haven’t really done much when it comes down to it.

Pokemon

The Pokemon binge continued this month as I picked up a copy of Pokemon Omega Ruby from the online shop and ran through that.  I finished the main story, caught Groudon, and am working on other legendary Pokemon.

Pokemon Go

I have been somewhat low key with Pokemon Go over the last month.  The high the level, the bigger the gap to the next one, and I have only made about half way to the 250K exp needed to get to 28.  And that progress has been primarily due to the first catch of the day, first Pokestop of the day, and seven day streak bonuses.

My basic stats this month:

  • Level: 27 (+0)
  • Pokedex status: 154 (+5) caught, 179 (+7) seen
  • Pokemon I want: Final evolution of any of the starter Pokemon
  • Current buddy: Noctowl, who earns a candy every kilometer.

Coming Up

It is May tomorrow, which means May Day/Loyalty Day (the latter is causing people to freak out because they think Trump is somehow responsible for that nearly 100 year old non-event of a day), Memorial Day (which will mean a B-17 flying around the neighborhood), Mother’s Day, the start of the summer movie season, and FanimeCon here in Silicon Valley.  My daughter wants to go to that with some friends, while I will people watch and get street passes observing on the periphery.

On the video gaming front, this month’s patch for EVE Online has a couple of big changes, including the PLEX revamp… and… is anything else happening?  Hrmm…

I have been looking about for some new game to hold my attention, even going back to World of Tanks just to see how that has been faring, and to remind myself how bad I am.  I think I might have found something to occupy me for a bit, but we’ll get to that in May.

Honest Trailers – Rogue One

Just because UltrViolet’s post about Rogue One at End Game Viable reminded me how great this Honest Trailer was.  I supposed I could have just put this in the comments at his site, but whatever. Both his post and this video contain spoilers.

I still enjoyed the movie… I actually just got my BluRay copy of it… but as with all Star Wars movies, there are issues you just have to deal with.

Also, the How It Should Have Ended video about Rogue One is pretty spiff too.

SuperData Shows Blizzard Still Slipping in March

As the end of one month approaches, SuperData Research posts their top ten revenue list for the previous month.  I’ve now come to expect this pattern.  Anyway, here are the usual categories.

SuperData Research Top 10 – March 2017

We shall see if they come up with a revision like they did last month.  However, no revision can keep the unified World of Warcraft from sliding as it dropped to sixth place, falling behind World of Tanks and a resurgent New Westward Journey Online II, the latter a Chinese title that hasn’t been on the list since December.

Pokemon Go has also slipped, dropping from fourth to eighth place on the mobile list, while Lineage 2 Revolution, a mobile MMORPG using the Lineage II lore licensed from NCsoft, dropped from first to tenth place over the course of a month.

Items that SuperData noted as part of their post:

  • In March, Overwatch generated less total revenue than Counter Strike: Global Offensive on PC for the first time since its launch.
  • Ubisoft continues their string of successful post-holiday releases with Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, finding surprising success with both the western and eastern audiences.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda disappoints, as digital revenues only increased by mid-single-digit percentages against 2012’s Mass Effect 3, despite the growing shift towards digital purchases.
  • Hearthstone shows signs of recovery. Hearthstone’s mobile March revenue doubled what it was in February, but is still significantly less than its recent peak in December. Growth came on the back of pre-sales for an upcoming expansion.

As I usually add, SuperData’s perspective is limited, they watch only the digital market and likely only that of companies that agree to share data with them directly, but I do find some value in seeing how the results of their specific measurement change over time.

Your Space Wealth Revised

Or how I lost almost 5 billion ISK in virtual assets.

A while back CCP put in a new feature that would give you an estimate of your total worth, liquid ISK and assets combined.  I was a bit dubious of my result, as it showed I had nearly 22 billion ISK in assets squirreled away somewhere.

Wilhelm… back in March

CCP was apparently a bit dubious about the results as well as today’s quick patch includes some changes for the asset calculation.

Post patch valuation

Happy days, my ISK has increased over the last month.  I am still not rich by any measure, but I have enough to do what I want to do.  Fortunately, what I want generally involves sub-caps.  I am mostly up due to skill injector sales.  The price of injectors has been going up, making that a profitable sideline.

Assets, on the other hand, are down almost 5 billion, dropping from nearly 22 billion ISK to just over 17 billion.  17,108,645,956 ISK to be exact.

And still that number seems high to me.  It could be over-valuation of collectables as was suggested in the comments of the last post.  I have hung on to all of those over the years.  Among the items I pulled out of Deklein a year back was my commemorative piece of Steve.

In the comments of the last post it was suggested that I check out jEveAssets, a utility that will value you holdings. (Find it here.)  Unlike other things I have tried, jEveAssets has been updated to count assets you have in citadels.  Running that today I get the following output:

jEveAsset calculation

That also puts my assets at about 17 billion, off by about 68 million ISK compared to CCP’s calculation, with CCP being the lower of the two. (Also, Prototype Hyperspatial Accelerators seem to have dropped by about 90 million ISK in price since I last checked.)

That asset count still seems like a lot.  Certainly more than I can account for, though it may still be collectable inflation.  But at least I have two data points that are close this time around.

Quote of the Day – The PCU Will Crater

As you can see, going free-to-play and increased botting activity could only stabilize them for one year, the concurrent logins are exactly where they were a year ago and the summer dip is just coming. Unless they have one more “free to play” level stunt in their sleeves, a year from now they’ll be under 20K concurrent players.

Gevlon, Seems I was right about New Jita

More proof that EVE Online is a special game, Gevlon cannot stop writing about it.  And not just derisive comments in the flow of a narrative about another game, as he does with World of Warcraft, but full on posts about New Eden.

Anyway, he is on the “EVE is dying” path, ever popular with those who dislike the game, with what can be construed as a very specific claim.  He is saying that the average concurrent player logins will be 20k in a year.  (Data source: EVE Offline)

PCU for the last 12 months with avg at 35K

In a post rife with abductive reasoning, unsupported declarations about RMT and botting, and an ongoing tendency to strip facts of their context in order to give them new meaning, he has foreseen the death of EVE Online.  Or, if not death, then a state of decline well beyond anything witnessed previously.

But you cannot argue with him, because he won’t admit any possibility beyond his own conclusions.  His world view is set in stone.  So I’ll just put this post up and we’ll come back to it in a year and see how things have played out.  It is very easy to apply your own narrative to things that have already happened, to claim that CCP “knew” things.  It is altogether a different beast to be able to predict the future.

Finally, I borrowed the term “crater” in the title from Dinsdale.  He likes to say that the PCU has already cratered, while Gevlon is saying that is a coming event. It amuses me that two people who are so angry about the game differ on that front.

Scanning Skills

With over 170 million skill points on my main character in EVE Online, I have mostly gotten used to be able to just do what I want to do without worrying about training something.

Not that there isn’t always something to train.  And my skills are sub-cap focused.  I still can’t run out and fly a super carrier or a titan.  But then I don’t have the ISK to play in that league anyway.  But these days when a new doctrine comes up or Asher has some new fit to try out on us, I am generally good to go.  The joy of having 185 skills at level V.

My alt, on the other hand, is about 50 million skill points behind and it feels like he needs to train something new every time a new doctrine comes up.  He is perennially a skill short… which is the way I felt with my main 50 million or so skill points back as well.

But my alt is ahead in a few categories, one being scanning.  At some point I put him on track to train up all the skills under scanning to V.

Going all the way to V isn’t always a good use of your time.  Sometimes you need it to unlock tech II modules or ships.  You have to have the racial frigate to V to fly the racial cov ops frigate and you need the racial battleship skill to V to fly the racial black ops variant.  But going to level V for the actual cov ops or black ops skill, maybe not so useful.

Anyway, since he was all the way to V I sent him out on the last deployment, the camping trip to Impass, in a Buzzard with a fit I borrowed and changed a bit.

[Buzzard, Combat Scanner w/ cov cyno]
Co-Processor II
Micro Auxiliary Power Core II

5MN Y-T8 Compact Microwarpdrive
Scan Acquisition Array II
Scan Pinpointing Array II
Scan Rangefinding Array II
Scan Rangefinding Array II

Covert Ops Cloaking Device II
Sisters Expanded Probe Launcher
Covert Cynosural Field Generator I

Small Gravity Capacitor Upgrade I
Small Processor Overclocking Unit I

Liquid Ozone x400
Nanite Repair Paste x100
Sisters Combat Scanner Probe x16
Sisters Core Scanner Probe x8

Not brilliant, but it worked.  The idea was just to scan and be a warp-in or a cyno target.  I chose the Buzzard mostly because I had a couple of the hulls on hand (so of which I have had since probing looked like this), but the extra mid-slots didn’t hurt.

The Buzzard in space

I am a bit bummed he never got to light the covert cyno, but combat scanning turned out to be fun.  While the sight of combat probes on directional scan caused most solo ratters to warp for safety (mission accomplished), I was able to scan down mobile depots, mobile tractor units, and even abandoned drones to shoot.  I became the bane of MTUs in Impass, with my alt scanning them down quite easily and my main warping in for the kill.

MTU whore

I was pretty pleased with the whole combat scanning thing when we returned home from the deployment.

A few days later back in what I consider my home system we had a few trespassers.  I was on my main and had another Buzzard to hand.  It was a similar fit, but tech I, since Wilhelm isn’t all trained up on scanning.  So I undocked, launched combat probes, and set about to see if I could find the bad guys.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t see them.  They were cloaked up somewhere.  But I wondered if I could find something they might gravitate to, so I fished about some more until I found a deployable.  As I tightened the scan in I saw it was a mobile depot.  So I honed in on that, getting the probes tighter and tighter around it, until they were on top of it in with the tightest setting possible… and I couldn’t get the result to 100%, so I couldn’t warp to it.

That was disappointing.

Later I flew my alt over just to give it a try in his Buzzard, fit as above, and he scanned it down without a problem.

See, it’s right there

All of which made me decide that I needed to get Wilhelm trained up in scanning, just in case, something that illustrates the ongoing problem with my alt plans.

Back in the day when I created my alt, it was to train up complementary skills.  At the time he was the hauler for my mining main.  As time has gone on however I have come to use him for parallel tasks, handing ships back and forth so if I cannot get my main to the right location for whatever reason my alt can take over.  My alt, for example, is now trained up to fly my Apostle for capital ops, should the need arise.

But with a 50 million skill point differential, there are still quite a few gaps.  And, as noted here, the gaps aren’t always in the direction one would expect.

Null Sec – We Rat and We Mine Things

Null bears are everywhere!

CCP released their monthly economic report for March 2017 on Friday with some new charts added and at least one old standard omitted.  There had been some discussion in the CSM as to what data might compromise op sec or otherwise signal other parties what was going on, which led to the mining output chart going missing.  But even with the last round of Rorqual nerfs, mining with them seems to still be running apace judging by the Rorqual kill mails alone.

But by far the most outrageous chart in the report has to be the one for bounty payments, the largest ISK faucet in New Eden.  Guess who rats a lot?

Bounty Payments – March 2017

Of the 66.65 trillion ISK in bounty payments paid out for killing hostile NPCs over the course of the month, the largest ISK input into the game representing nearly half of all of the total faucets, 92.2% of them were collected in null sec.

Looking back six months for a comparison (I was going to look back a year, but there was a war going on which was likely depressing bounty payments) that represents about a 50% boost in bounty payments.  (Though six months back bounty payments represented an even larger part of the ISK faucet pie.)

Looking at that chart, you are likely reacting in one of two ways:

  • That’s not fair!  Null sec shouldn’t get all the ISK.  CCP should make ISK available to me where I play!
  • If I want ISK I had better move to null sec!

Which one do you think is more likely to improve your bottom line?

This is all a result of how things have been evolving in null sec over time.  Five years ago, when I was finally settling into the null sec routine, ratting wasn’t what it is today.  Yes, it was still popular, but anomalies were sparse, a lot of null sec systems weren’t even worth ratting in, and shooting NPCs didn’t do much for your corp or alliance aside from provide a little tax income.  It was viewed as a bit selfish, an act of fattening your own wallet.  My old corp used to set the tax rate to 100% during operations or deployments to punish those who wanted to rat when they were needed elsewhere.

And then things changed.

There was Fozzie Sov, which introduce the activity defense multiplier.  That index was influenced, in part, by how many NPCs were destroyed in a given system.  Ratting suddenly became a patriotic way to support your corp/alliance/coalition.  This was accompanied by a boost in anomaly frequency to help make previously worthless systems worth ratting in.

Then there was the expansion of forces in null sec.  Brave Newbies started the trend, but now if you want to get into null sec there are multiple opportunities.  Once it was a wry comment that it was easier to get a home loan than to get into a null sec corporation.  Now just about anybody who wants to can find a slot in one of the newbie friendly corps in null sec.  The various coalitions need players both to form up to defend their space (or attack others) and to rat and mine and do the things that keeps the home front more defensible.  And so the doors opened.  If you’re not in null sec, it is because you do not wish to be, not because anybody is keeping you out.

However, given the trend in the top faucets/sinks chart, I wonder if CCP is going to let this continue on as is.

March 2017 – Top sinks and faucets over time

While most of those lines are fairly stable, the bounty payout line has been going up for a while.  If that trend continues unabated, they might have to change something.

Looking at the rest of the report though, it appears that while null sec is making the ISK, much of it ends up in high sec in general, and in Jita in particular.

A Decade on the Road to Mordor

Ten years ago today Lord of the Rings Online officially went live.

Happy Anniversary

LOTRO was one of the first MMORPGs to go through beta and launch while I was blogging, and certainly the first one I jumped into at launch during the reign of the blog. (I was watching Vanguard during beta as well, but was dissuaded by my experiences there.)  One of my earliest posts was a response to the idea of such a game trying to tell the story of the books.

Yahoo Headline 2007, before Yahoo became malware

The path for LOTRO from beta through launch and to today has been somewhat symbolic of the post-World of Warcraft era for MMORPGs.  It was driven along initially on the wave of WoW-subscription number induced euphoria, where the sky seemed to be the limit.

Then there was launch and the rush to play and the problem of the game simultaneously being too much and not enough like WoW.  There were some fun little quirky features, like titles you could earn for actions… though the fact that those were secret (or at least not documented or traceable anywhere in the UI) meant most players never knew about them.  It is hard to sell yourself as different when you hide things I suppose, and a decade later I don’t think I have a single one of those special titles yet.

Meanwhile, for those who rushed ahead, there was bemusement as content fell off a good ten levels before the cap.  Subscriptions fell off, complaints mounted, changes and updates went in, and Turbine went forward with plans for an expansion; The Mines of Moria.  That was an amazing and ambitious expansion.  I pre-ordered that as well back in 2008, though I did not actually get into the content for a few years and it was several years after that before I was out of the far side of those caverns.

LOTRO was also a leader in the conversion to a free to play model citing a huge boost in players and revenue to accompany the change.  They were also ahead of the curve when it came to the grim reality of such conversions.  Player expectations as to what “free” really means can be harsh, that initial surge of new players never lasts, and once you start down the cash shop path, forever will it dominate your destiny and development time.

More expansions came and again Turbine was in the lead with pre-orders and special editions with cosmetic fluff thrown in to entice more money out of players.  But eventually expansions stopped and all revenue focus went into the cash shop and new items and new currencies showed up.

Then they began to fall behind the curve of the industry.  They were not too late to the game with insta-level boosts, but they failed to grasp that people want such boost to get to the latest content, the NEW stuff.  Turbine thought boosting people to the first expansion and level 50 was enough.  That was a worst of all possibilities idea for me.  Moria was nowhere near the current content and the first 50 levels that get you there are some of the best, most charming, most memorable content in the game.  Skipping The Shire and Bree and the Forsaken Inn and Weathertop and Rivendell and the beautiful scenery of Middle-earth to head down into a cave for ten levels seems like insanity.

Eventually they figured that out and now you get jumped to Rohan with your insta-level boost, but I remain dubious about the idea as a general plan.  A seasoned player advancing an alt might take full advantage of the jump, but a new player is likely to be out of their depth.

And then there was the spin-off, where LOTRO and its sister, Dungeons & Dragons Online were folded into their own company by Warner.  Spinning of MMORPG divisions has been a thing, from Daybreak Games and its Norrathian legacy to Broadsword Games which keeps Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot going.

It has been a strange trip these last ten years.

But all of that was in the future back in April of 2007.  Ten years ago today I was in Middle-earth playing the game, having pre-ordered it.  That was back when pre-ordering could be done by buying a pre-order box off the shelf at Fry’s.  I still had to follow up and buy a retail box, but the pre-order box got me a head start and kept my account active for a while until I got the real game key.

And then, of course, there was the choice to be made as to which founder’s bonus to take.

Founders Choices

I went with the $199 lifetime subscription over the $9.99 reduced monthly subscription price which, looking back over a decade and more of MMORPG time, was probably the most sound investment I have ever made.  I have received more value for that money than I ever expected.

At the eight year anniversary I mocked the game a bit, pointing out that even by the longest measure… Frodo is warned by Gandalf to leave the Shire through to Bilbo and Frodo departing from the Grey Havens… the events of end of the Third Age in Middle-earth being reproduced in the game only took three and a half years.

At that point Minis Tirith was on the horizon still.  Two years later… again, more time than it took Frodo to get from the Shire to Mount Doom… and Mordor is in sight.  Update 20 brings players to the battle of the Black Gate.

Gandalf blazing in bleached white

I read about that and the tenth anniversary events and such and I feel like I should log in and take a look.  But then I read about the mix of joy and frustration with the anniversary events and remember that I am, as always, stuck behind several layers of content and I pass on to something else.

Look, could you just point me towards Mordor? I’m a bit behind.

This is ever the problem with MMORPGs that evolve through expansions and updates and levels and rigid layers of content.  I think I have patched up a few times since I opted for the Blessing of the Valar level boost, but every time I log in I look in my bags and cannot figure out what half the stuff in there is (the icons haven’t gotten any clearer in ten years while my eyesight has gotten worse) and the legendary weapon that the boost handed me… which isn’t ready to use, you have to find a vendor and go through some gyrations to make it work… and I wonder if I might just be better off rolling up yet another new character and playing through the first 30-40 levels yet again.  I think I must be close to 20 characters past level 30 at this point.

But Middle-earth yet abides, waiting for my return.  Some day that ring will be tossed into Mount Doom.  Of course, then we will have to get back to the Shire.  The tale isn’t done until the Shire has been scoured.

The EverQuest Agnarr Progression Server to Remain Locked in Time

Daybreak is no stranger to special servers.  On the EverQuest side of the house they have had quite a few over the years.  The nostalgia progression server idea itself is a decade old, having first come to pass with The Sleeper and The Combine way back when.

Those were followed by Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak about six years ago, then Ragefire and Lockjaw a couple of years back, and then Phinigel which went live about a year and a half back.

Each has been a refinement on the attempt to capture “the good old days” of early EverQuest, when graphics were raw, groups were required, and spawns were camped.

Back in March, the Producer’s Letter at the game’s 18th anniversary mentioned a new progression server would be on its way this year, and Daybreak has now announced the timing and some details.

The server name will be Angarr, as previously mentioned, named for Angarr the Stormlord, a raid boss from back in the day.

Agnarr the Stormlord approves… I think…

This fifth generation progression server will carry on with the improvements from the past, including being a “true box” server, which is Daybreak’s way of saying that the are going to try to keep you from multi-boxing your way through the game, an innovation brought in with the Phinigel server.

But the key new feature for Agnarr is how it will progress… or, rather, how it will NOT progress.

The Agnarr server will, as always, kick off in the original March 1999 EverQuest content, such that it is.  Then every 12 weeks Daybreak will unlock an expansion, following the usual path forward with Ruins of Kunark then Scars of Velious and so on.  However, the unlocks will stop with the Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion and no further expansions will come to the server, leaving the server to run on with content introduced in late 2003.

The Agnarr server is set to launch on May 24th, and given the “every 12 weeks” plan, the server cycle should look something like this.

  • May 24, 2017 – Agnarr server opens with original EverQuest content
  • August 16, 2017 – Ruins of Kunark expansion unlocked
  • November 8, 2017 – Scars of Velious expansion unlocked
  • January 31, 2018 – Shadows of Luclin expansion unlocked
  • April 25, 2018 – Planes of Power expansion unlocked
  • July 18, 2018 – Legacy of Ykesha expansion unlocked
  • October 10, 2018 – Lost Dungeons of Norrath unlocked

Unlike past progression servers the last two expansions, Legacy of Ykesha and Lost Dungeons of Norrath, will not unlock semi-concurrently with the Planes of Power expansion.  There will be full 12 week gaps between each.

And then the server will stay like that, at least as long as there is sufficient population to warrant keeping it around.

This will/should/may satisfy the long standing calls that come with the launch of every progression server that Daybreak create a permanent “classic” server which sits still in time and never advances.  These calls have grown all the more common since the closure of EverQuest Macintosh Edition back in late 2013.

I am mildly skeptical about the prospects for the server.  EverQuest Mac was a magical place locked in time, but it was also made up of a community that evolved naturally over a decade, forged by a shared feeling of isolation and neglect, and started at a point when it was running current content.  Can Daybreak recreate that by just rolling a new server?  While they can restrain the march of expansions the servers will, by necessity, be tainted by changes made over the years like revamped zone graphics and updated user interface.

Meanwhile, progression servers themselves have been shown in the past to be very content unlock oriented, with populations rising with each new expansion and the dwindling off as time with that content ages.

And then there is the “what is classic EverQuest?” question.  The expansion after Lost Dungeons of Norrath, the aptly named Gates of Discord, is pretty much accepted as being “post-classic,” if you will.  So no point in going there.  But is Lost Dungeons of Norrath, where the game becomes focused on instanced content, really classic?

Of course, like anybody from the old school, I have my own view.  For me, everything after Ruins of Kunark is “that new shit,” but I might be more conservative than most and I have said in the past that I think Kunark is the only truly good expansion ever released for an MMORPG.

And where does Project 1999 stand in all of this?  It was blessed by Daybreak as a legitimate place to go explore your retro EverQuest nostalgia, and it is an attempt to create a real “classic” experience, untainted by many of the updates that have gone into the game over the years.  The problem is that Project 1999 requires you to have a specific, out-of-date, no longer available at retail version of EverQuest and can’t tell you how to find it otherwise.

Anyway, the launch is coming on May 24th.  As always, access to the Agnarr server will require a Daybreak All Access subscription.  We shall see how it progresses.

StarCraft Goes Free to Play

And, as usual, the term “free to play” has certain restrictions.

StaCraft II is not free and neither will the upcoming 4K remaster of StarCraft, which Blizzard confirmed a while back, be free.

Coming some time this summer we’re told

But the original StarCraft, along with the essential StarCraft: Brood War expansion, those are now available to play without giving Blizzard any money at all.  You too can play the 19 year old classic game that pretty much became the national sport of South Korea and which pretty much made esports a thing in all of its 1998 technical glory.

Build order? What is a build order?

That screen shot is a full size grab of the actual resolution supported by the game; 640×480. In 2017 the full StarCraft screen fits in a window within a window on your monitor.

Yes, the game will scale up to your monitor, but even back in 1998 I had a 19″ multi-sync CRT monitor that supported double that resolution and remained crisp and readable (at least to my 1998 eyes), so jumping to the smaller resolution made everything… big.  Likewise, playing it on my now twelve year old 20″ LCD monitor, which supports 1600×1200 as its native resolution, makes everything seem very big as the game scales up to 2.5x to fill the screen.

And I have an archaic old monitor with a 4:3 aspect ratio.  I am not sure what happens if you try it at the now more common 16:9 ratio.

But at least it was fast.  It is all sprites, with no 3D rendering required, and doesn’t need to move that many pixels around, which is one of the reasons it became an after hours game of choice at the office back when most of us still had 200MHz Pentium Pro processor based machines with basic Matrox or S3 graphics cards.  The game ran like a champ with those specs, even with a mass of units on screen.

Blizzard even threw in a few fixes and updates according to the 1.1.8 patch notes.  Links to download the game are in the patch notes as well.

I don’t really need to download the game as I have the CDs sitting around somewhere… probably two sets… but it is likely easier.  The installer is tiny.

In the mean time, Blizzard has been showing off what the art for the upcoming 4K remastered version… which, again, you will have to buy separately… will look like.  It is sort of like everything is coming into focus.  I am still waiting to see what the price will be for the remastered version and whether or not it will be accepted by the still thriving StarCraft community and whether or not having the classic units and game play in high definition… along with LAN support… will scavenge players from StarCraft II.

Of course, some minor irony clings to this remaster effort.  While the World of Warcraft team says they can’t do a classic server and that it would be bad and that nobody would want one anyway, other parts of Blizzard are actively mining the power of nostalgia.