Monthly Archives: March 2018

March in Review

The Site

Probably the most annoying thing for me has been the unreliability of the blog roll feed side bar widget.  It has been broken more often this past month than any previous time I can recall.  There are times when it just fails to get the RSS feed and shows an error, but this time around there were problems with Pinboard which had some internal issues that caused it to fail to generate the RSS feed at all and, then, when that was fixed, remained stubbornly resistant to tagging posts based on which Feedly feed they came from, which meant the RSS feeds were there but were not getting new items.

This is what I get for using a Rube Goldberg setup that requires at least four services to work correctly and consistently. (And it isn’t always clear which one is to blame.  Sometimes WP.com just times out getting the feed.)

It got to a point where I added a status widget to comment on what was up.  I don’t know if anybody actually noticed that.  The side bar of the blog isn’t a very often used feature.  I can see that some people click on items from the feed when it is working.  However, I suspect I am the biggest user of the feature. (My clicks don’t get counted in my own stats.)

Meanwhile, WP.com has given me a new metric so I am going to use it quarterly to give myself some new data point to post about.

TAGN – Q1 2018

Of course, because I took that screen shot for this post before it went live, this post isn’t counted.  Add one more post and another 2,300 words or so and you’ll be set. (That puts my average words per post back above 1,000.)  Or maybe I’ll update that screen shot after this goes live.  It takes a day for it to update though, and I’ll probably forget by then.

Anyway, I seem to be on track for 336 posts and 330K words this year.

One Year Ago

EverQuest turned eighteen.  Now an adult, it still lives in Daybreak’s basement and grumbles about how it used to be the center of attention before all these younger siblings showed up.

Blizzard officially announced that StarCraft, even older than EverQuest, was getting a remaster.  We suspected it was going to happen, but it was nice to get the official word.

Flying was unleashed in the Broken Isles with the Tomb of Sargeras update to WoW Legion.

The Nintendo Switch launched.  But I was still playing Pokemon Sun on my 3DS XL, binging on the Alola Pokedex.  Then I had to figure out where the National Pokedex was.  It turns out it is in Pokemon Bank.  I was hoping for a remake of Pokemon Diamond & Pearl.

Disney shut down Club Penguin, hoping to force players onto their new mobile app, Club Penguin Island.  Mobile is always better, right?

In Minecraft, the long road to the forest mansion I found was nearly done.

In EVE Online I took a trip out to Oasa and back.

We got the YC119.3 update that nerfed Rorqual mining a bit and gave us warp bubble decay among other things.  Music was included.  A follow on patch let us see our estimated space wealth.

Blog Banter #80 was on the topic of the CSM, something about which I has opinions!  It was a timely topic as the voting for CSM12 was just kicking off.  In the mean time Gevlon declared that CCP was picking winners… though not CSM winners I guess.

We had a dev blog about refineries coming to New Eden.  Moon mining was going to change and it seemed like the end of the POS was coming at last.  There was also an announcement about changing PLEX, breaking it up into 500 pieces and replacing Aurum with PLEX.  But not that free Aurum they gave you, though they relented on that after some outcry.

I was nostalgic for old ship models in New Eden and talking about the tension between grouping and solo again.

And, finally, we had to say good-bye to our cat Oscar after 17 years.

Five Years Ago

Dave Georgeson of SOE said MMOs should never die. A noble sentiment at the time, it rang a bit hollow just a year and five SOE MMO closure announcements later.  Business is business.

I got a seven day pass to Azeroth from Blizzard.  It was nice.  I had some fun, but I wasn’t ready to go back full time yet.

Meanwhile, Blizzard was saying they were blindsided by the popularity of the auction house in Diablo III.  They were nearly a year late on that revelation.

On a similar theme, EA launched a new version of SimCity, pretty much ignoring the obvious expectations the franchise came with.  I could only wonder if they learned anything from their efforts.

The instance group was doing some Rift content as a four player group.  This was the time of our long hiatus, though we got a full group now and again.  And when it was just the three of us, we ended up playing Neverwinter Nights 2 instead.

In EVE Online we were chasing around Deklein, flying the Tech Fleet doctrine, and bagging a carrier or two.

EON Magazine was closing its doors, marking the end of an era in EVE Online.

EverQuest hit its 14 year anniversary, and there was some talk about the camera view’s influence on the game’s popularity.

I was still playing World of Tanks and had hit the 2,000 battle mark.  I was out there with the KV-3 and the ARL 44.

I finished up all the things in Wayfaerer Foothills, which sort of ended my time in Guild Wars 2.

Then there was the Shroud of the Avatar Kickstarter campaign, which seemed more marketing tool than funding effort, and which hit its number in 11 days.  Still, Lord British felt the need to stir the pot by declaring most game designers suck… and are lazy… and are not as good as him.  Then he claimed he was taken out of context and not just saying things for cheap publicity.  As the month closed, his Kickstarter was wrapping up, but Camelot Unchained was coming.

It was announced that Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings was getting updated to run on modern machines with better graphics.  That set me on five other older games that I wished would get a similar revamp, which I think was more useful than just declaring that game developers need to innovate.

Finally, I was looking for input on some actual, real world things.

Ten Years Ago

I was again ruminating about the whole “Why So Much Fantasy in MMORPGs?” thing, this time on the shores of chaos.

We started to see the end of the “Brent hand picks the news” era over at VirginWorlds.  The reign of myself and CrazyKinux was near to an end.

I got a Nintendo DS Lite and my own copy of Pokemon Diamond for my birthday!  Then a copy of Pokemon Pearl showed up as well to complete the set.  On Friday’s I was looking for a balloon.

EverQuest celebrated its 9th anniversary.  A very nice time line print of the game was posted over at the EQ Dev blog to celebrate, along with a video.

In Lord of the Rings Online some sites were speculating about future expansions.  And then Turbine announced The Mines of Moria Meanwhile, I was trying to give out some founder’s referrals.  I never gave them all out and, at this point, I don’t think they are a thing anymore.

In World of Warcraftpatch 2.4 was the latest end-of-the-world panic.  I was trying out Alterac Valley trying to get a mount, not reading that I needed to get exalted reputation to buy it.  I was also racing against a boat.  Meanwhile the instance group made it to Shattrath and then hit the Blood Furnace while my wife and her friends were drinking apple-tinis.

In EVE Online I learned that there was a cap of fifty days on production lines.  I was also trying to break up with an R&D agent and fitting out a new Drake.  We got a “log off” button with the Trinity 1.1 patch.

Official forums were the talk again for a bit, as Marc Jacobs said he wasn’t going to have them for Warhammer Online.  No, the Warhammer Herald (to be created in the image of the Camelot Herald) was going to be enough.  Well, we know how that worked out.

It was announced that SOE would be moved in the Sony organization from reporting up through Sony Pictures to reporting in through the PlayStation organization.  There was also the EQ2Flames drama where the forum was uninvited from all future participation in SOE events, at which point the site went all out to burn any remaining bridges with SOE. (From VirginWorlds Podcast #109)

And, finally, ten years ago Gary Gygax left us.  We still miss him because we still feel his influence every day.

Twenty Years Ago

StarCraft hit the shelves 20 years ago today.  As I recall we all went to Fry’s at lunch to buy a copy the day it came out.  You can buy a remastered copy from Blizzard if you want, or download the original for free.

Most Viewed Posts in March

  1. Burn Jita Back for 2018
  2. From Alola Pokedex to National Pokedex in Pokemon Sun
  3. Burn Jita 2018 Aftermath
  4. Where the Hell is that EverQuest Successor Already?
  5. Alamo teechs u 2 play DURID!
  6. Do You Wear the Mask or does the Mask Wear You?
  7. Rift Prime Time
  8. The Road to CSM13
  9. SuperData and the Rise of Fortnite
  10. H1Z1 – Going Live in Time to be a Zombie
  11. Spring Movie League – Wrinkle in the Mix
  12. Extra Credits – Picking at the Lockbox Thing Some More

Search Terms of the Month

top subscription based mmo titles
[Pretty much WoW and FFXIV at this point]

bufn jita
[bufn it good]

portable hole wallpaper
[I have a problem visualizing that]

everquest next landmark emulator
[Oh dear no]

delta force 2 fps
[Maybe you need to upgrade your hardware?]

project gorgon meme
[I am not sure it is popular enough for that]

EVE Online

I was in for some of Burn Jita early in the month and went on ops when I could, however it has been a busy month around our house and the time slot for normal ops, which often require setting aside a couple of hours even for a “quick” op, has kept me from being online much during the back half of March.  Other than that there has been the somewhat tepid start of the run up to the CSM13 election.  I’m not sure CCP thought through the results of the changes they implemented.  It feels like they slowed everything down too much.  You can’t really cover a campaign very well until there is an official list of candidates.

Minecraft

I have logged in a bit now and again.  Minecraft remains excellent for times when I want to listen to a podcast or audio book that requires more mental attention that your typical MMORPG leaves free.  Mining and building in Minecraft leaves enough bandwidth for me to listen to Planet Money or the Arms Control Wonk podcast and not loose track of what is going on.  So work on the long overland rail line to the norther forest mansion continued.  In fact, it is almost done.

Pokemon Go

And, speaking of games that don’t take a lot of mental bandwidth, I managed to get to level 32 in Pokemon Go largely through my persistence in playing for at least enough every day to catch at least one Pokemon and visit at least one Pokestop, giving me the daily and weekly bonus xp.

My current state of affairs:

  • Level: 32 (+1)
  • Pokedex status: 294 (+10) caught, 335 (+12) seen
  • Pokemon I want: Lapras, but it remains elusive
  • Current buddy: Pupitar; needs four candies to evolve, but I only get one every 5km

Rift

With Rift Prime I was back into “not Azeroth” again.  And it has been pretty good.  It wasn’t the overwhelming nostalgia wave that hanging around in front of Qeynos killing snakes and kobolds with a mass of other people can bring on… though it is really in Blackburrow or West Karana that I start hitting nostalgia overload… but it was, and remains, good.  As I have said way too many times, the zone Freemarch zone design is very good.

Of course, there have been problems with the server.  And Freemarch is like the Deadmines in WoW, and early slice of good design after which the content can vary wildly in quality.  But for the moment I am on board with it for another month.

World of Warcraft

With the coming of Rift Prime and a busy month something had to give.  Play time in Azeroth was way down.  I did log in just enough to keep progress going on unlocking the last two allied races… I am very close on both… but otherwise I haven’t done much since Darkmoon Faire.  The next Darkmoon Faire will likely seal the deal for my allied race unlocks, at which point it might be time to set WoW aside to wait for the coming Battle for Azeroth pre-expansion events to kick off at some point this summer.

Other Games

I did load up Shroud of the Avatar now that it has officially released, and have been giving it a bit of a test drive.  It is kind of interesting in sort of a built-from-scratch new-yet-retro awkward sort of way.

Coming Up

Tomorrow is April Fools… but it is also Easter.  Will Blizz be up to its usual hi-jinks over a holiday weekend?

We will see if the new quest mechanics in Pokemon Go lead to more play… and more pay… for the game.

For EVE Online Fanfest is coming up on the 12th.  We will see if CCP has anything new to announce.  One thing we should get is the candidate list for the CSM13 election.  And maybe a date for that as well?  Am I asking too much?

At some point in the coming week my 30 days of Patron status is going to expire and I will have to decide if I carry on with Rift Prime or not.

I’ve put in an hour or so into Shroud of the Avatar, but I feel like I could spend more time with it, that it would be worth the effort.  We’ll see if I find the time and inclination.

I might also finish up that rail line in Minecraft.

Kickstarter – The World of Warcraft Diary

Note: See addendum at the bottom for campaign status.

I’ve been down on Kickstarter after my first blush of enthusiasm something like six years back.  Apparently just because you and a few hundred to a few thousand random people give some stranger money it doesn’t mean that they’ll do what they said they would and it almost assuredly doesn’t mean they’ll do it when they said they would.

Still, I have gotten a couple of Kickstarter deliveries this year, and on the MMO front no less, the least reliable projects from an unreliable source, so I am feeling a little more charitable towards the crowd funding idea I suppose.  Also, this involves MMO design and history, and I am all over that.

So I am going to put it out there and support The World of Warcraft Diary: A Journal of Computer Game Development Kicstarter campaign.

The quick summary is that this is an inside look at the development of World of Warcraft.  From the Kickstarter page itself

The WoW Diary provides a candid and detailed look at the twists and turns inside computer game development. Its author was WoW’s first 3D level designer and he writes about the people behind the game and the philosophy behind their work.

The WoW Diary will be a hardbound journal with over 95,000 words and 130 images across 336 varnished, full-color pages of high-quality paper stock printed in the U.S.A.

Sounds great.

The WoW Diary

So why am I suddenly keen to back another Kickstarter given the somewhat sordid history of my backing experiences?

  • The topic is one I quite enjoy. One of my favorite sessions from last year’s BlizzCon involved old hands telling stories from the early days of various projects.
  • Book projects are pretty reliable on Kickstarter.
  • The book itself is already done.  These are essentially pre-orders to get the publishing process in gear.
  • It is just $40

All good right?

Well, the downside is that I suspect that this Kickstarter will fail.

The groundwork to get this Kickstarter campaign into the public eye hasn’t gone very well.  I only heard about it due to a mention in a forum post on Icy Veins that I saw referenced on Twitter.

So Wilhelm’s rule of Kickstarter campaigns, that if you can’t line up your supports to get to 20% of your goal in the first 24 hours you aren’t going to make it, appears to apply here.  The campaign is three days in and, while the rate of backers is picking up, it still isn’t that much.

Project Status early this AM

Give that, Kicktraq has a rather glum trend line for the project.

I could not get both with the same dollar amount

And then there is the amount of money that is the ask; $400,000.

That isn’t the biggest dollar amount ever for a Kickstarter campaign, but for a literary project that is pretty damn big.  Back when The Fountain War fiasco was unfolding as a slow motion train wreck, one of my main objections was that $150,000 was way too big of an ask.

Not only that, but Andrew Groen went on to write and publish Empires of EVE after getting $95,729 (on a $12,000 initial ask), a project that still needed to be researched and written.  So the pitch for $400,000 to get an already finished book published has problems to my mind.

Finally, there is the pledge increments.  Since the author has eschewed any special bonus give away things, there is exactly one pledge level, $40.  You can give more.  Some people have, as dividing the amount pledged by the number of backers will indicate.  But the average is still just $46, so the campaign needs close to 10,000 backers to succeed.

Currently that number is below 200.

And there are 12 days left to go, because… I guess the author felt 15 days was all he would need.

Also, he can’t ship to Canada.  So yeah.

This feels a lot like somebody’s theory of Kickstarter that they haven’t bothered to test against the data available.

Anyway, lots of problems and not a lot of hope of success unless the online game media picks up the story.  Still, I am in for $40.  We’ll see if it happens this way or not.

If you want to check it out, the Kickstarter page is here.  It also has links to the author’s own site which includes further details.

Addendum:  This was posted by the author as a comment on the campaign a little while ago:

Yeah, this campaign isn’t going to happen. LOL. I had some really bad advice. I’ll reboot it with 1/10th of a target and give it 30 days to clear. Thanks for your support. If you sign up to to my email list, I’ll send a notice to you when it begins again. (And I promise not to spam you with constant updates).

So it looks like this will be starting over again with a better plan.

Addendum 2: An update to the project has been posted.  For some reason the author is going to let this campaign run out despite the fact that the campaign page will not go away if he cancels it. (You can, for example, still find the failed Project: Gorgon and Pantheon campaign pages on Kickstarter.)   Anyway, look for this project to return in the next 1-4 months.

Rift Prime Data Points

The dev update notes from Trion this week indicate that Rift Prime is pretty popular.

With Tiger mount his time is spent, lagging in that zone event

The update itself was to address concerns about lag people have been experiencing on the Rift Prime server during zone events.  In explaining the plan they dropped a few interesting facts that speak to the popularity of Rift Prime:

  • This may come as a surprise: Some of the zone events on Prime are bigger than even the biggest, record setting events RIFT had during its beta and original launch.
  • Since then, souls and abilities have gotten more numerous, more complicated, and more resource intensive, primarily in their use of server CPU.
  • Even with the newer hardware that the Prime cluster is running on (it’s a beast – the newest in the company), we’ve all experienced that at times it is not always able to keep up with the mass of data.
  • The reason this may affect you even when you’re personally not in a big zone event is because large numbers of people sharing your “player service” are.

So Rift Prime has seen the largest zone events ever during the life of the game.  I think this pretty much sells the idea that such servers are popular.  You can argue about whether the nostalgia factor is the draw or if it is just the idea of starting again on a fresh server where everybody is level one is what brings people to them, but this reaffirms the popularity of such servers overall.

This also corrects my own pet theory, that Trion wasn’t really sold on the idea of Rift Prime and so used whatever hardware they had to hand to stand it up.  Instead we’re apparently playing on the biggest, baddest hardware that Trion has.  Nice to know.

Finally, it is interesting to me at least that abilities that were added or updated after Rift’s early peak have come back to haunt the game with the boost in popularity it has achieved with Rift Prime.   A quote on that:

However, nothing on Live compares to the crazy things that a couple of abilities were doing on Prime. (We’re looking at YOU, Elemental Barrage and Wrathful Exuberance!)

And so it goes.

SuperData says Fortnite Continuing to Climb

The February digital revenue numbers from SuperData Research are out and they show what SuperData has already been going on about; the rise of Fortnite.

SuperData Research Top 10 – February 2018

On the PC side of things Fortnite is still behind PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, but that is PUBG’s strong spot.  On the console side of thing Fortnite is alone in third position with PUBG nowhere to be seen.  And when it comes to live stream viewership, the metric of the hour, Fortnite owns.

On the PC side of things both games kept ahead of World of Warcraft on the revenue front.  World of Tanks, which just saw a big update, tucked in behind WoW, displacing CS:GO, which fell to tenth, while ninth position saw Hearthstone pop up onto the list.  We’ll see next month if World of Tanks benefits from the update.

On the console side list Call of Duty: WWII continued to hold the top spot, while FIFA 18 and Fortnite both pushed ahead of Monster Hunter World.  The long on the list GTA V held on in fifth position.

And on the mobile list Candy Crush Saga stayed in fourth place while Lineage M dropped one position to eighth and Pokemon Go moved up to ninth.  Both PUBG and Fortnite have their own mobile versions on the way so the battle between these titles may eventually expand to all three lists on the chart.

Additional data from their post:

  • U.S. digital spending grows 21%. Growth came primarily from an increase in Console spend, from both large premium AAA franchises and the popularity of the Free-to-play Fortnite. Combined with the increase in Premium PC, these segments more than offset continued declines in Pay-to-Play PC and Social.
  • Fortnite continues its upward trajectory. Epic’s Battle Royale title showed no signs of losing steam. Fortnite earned more additional content revenue on console than any game other than Call of Duty: WWII and now has more monthly active users than Grand Theft Auto V.
  • PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds sells over 2.5 million digital units. PC unit sales declined for a second month in a row but continued purchases on Xbox One made up for some of the lost ground.
  • Tencent’s QQ Speed cements itself as a top 10 mobile game. QQ Speed, which launched in December, has shown one of the fastest climbs of any mobile title we’ve seen, and points to just how fast new mobile games can aggregate tens of millions of players.
  • Overwatch continues to hold buyers through back-to-back cosmetic releases, despite heavy competition for the consumer’s dollar from popular Battle Royale titles. January introduced Overwatch League themed cosmetics and February saw the release of cosmetics related to Chinese New Year.
  • Monster Hunter World continues to see great success in its first 30 days of release, due to overwhelmingly positive reviews and news.

Spring Movie League – Gnome Country for Old Men

The fourth week of our Spring Fantasy Movie League has now come and gone.

This week saw the long awaited downfall of Black Panther from the number one spot in the box office as well as another shake up in the overall Meta League standings.  The options for the week were:

Pacific Rim             $340
Black Panther           $251 
Sherlock Gnomes         $223
I Can Only Imagine      $176
Tomb Raider             $157 
Paul, Apostle of Christ $155
A Wrinkle in Time       $126
Love Simon              $98
Midnight Sun            $66
Unsane                  $58
Game Night              $56
Peter Rabbit            $50
The Strangers           $34
Red Sparrow             $34
Deathwish               $24

Way back at the start of last week, when the 5pm unlock happened on Monday, my opening gut pick was two screens of the upcoming Pacific Rim Uprising, five screens of Game Night, and one screen of Red Sparrow.  And had I fallen into a coma until 9:01am on Friday morning I would have been in very good shape… so far as Fantasy Movie League went at least… because that turned out to be the perfect pick for the week.  I had it in one.

Spring Week Four – Perfect Pick

Instead I had to watch the forecasts and predictions and weekday numbers and ponder what might come to pass.  I keep my own box office estimates in a spreadsheet and, looking at last week’s spreadsheet, I was pretty much spot on for most of the titles.  That is all very nice, but if you’re off by a fair margin on just a couple of key titles it can offset being right on all the rest.

On one end, the forecasts for Pacific Rim seemed to keep going down and down over the course of the week.  On Monday night $28 million seemed like a pretty reasonable estimate, but by Thursday there was so much hedging that $22 million seemed to be about what people would commit to.  At that price it wasn’t worth the screen space.  There were better options, including Black Panther.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, I wouldn’t have given Sherlock Gnomes a second glance on Monday.  But for reasons still unexplained forecasts for it kept getting more and more rosy.  There was a nut case outlier calling for $18 million for it, but that only made the $16.5 million estimate seem that much more reasonable.  At that level, in a world where Pacific Rim might only make $22 million, four screens of it seemed like a sane choice.

And, I will admit, there was a bit of contrariness that made it attractive as well.  I spend most of the week looking for the non-obvious pick and, more often than not, outsmart myself.  And so it was that I went with 4x Sherlock Gnomes, 3x Deathwish, 1x Red Sparrow.

Spring Week Four – My Picks

And I certainly outsmarted myself this week.  When the first estimates came in on Saturday I knew I was sunk as they were calling Sherlock Gnomes at $10 million.  That sank to $9 million on Sunday, but rose back up to just past $10 million in the final count.

That was just enough for me to finish last among those who remember to pick for week four.  The final scores were:

  1. Kraut Screens (T) – $81,618,699
  2. Biyondios! Kabuki & Cinema (T) – $80,549,594
  3. Darren’s Unwatched Cineplex (T) – $80,262,319
  4. Po Huit’s Sweet Movie Suite (T) – $80,262,319
  5. Dr Liore’s Evil House of Pancakes (M) – $79,892,432
  6. Ben’s X-Wing Express (M) – $79,892,432
  7. Paks’ Pancakes & Pics (T) – $79,281,301
  8. Vigo Grimborne’s Medieval Screening Complex (T) – $78,686,090
  9. Logan’s Luxurious Thaumatrope (M) – $75,464,430
  10. Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex (T) – $71,240,111
  11. Joanie’s Joint (T) – $70,984,791
  12. I HAS BAD TASTE (T) – $67,544,214
  13. SynCaine’s Dark Room of Delights (T) – $67,082,981
  14. Skar’s Movies and Meat Pies (T) – $63,601,432
  15. Goat Water Picture Palace (T) – $62,525,059
  16. Bean Movie Burrito (T) – $55,069,114
  17. Dan’s Decadent Decaplex (M) – $51,834,287
  18. DumCheese’s Cineplex (T) – $50,625,047
  19. Corr’s Carefully Curated Cineplex (M) – $48,323,514
  20. Aure’s Astonishingly Amateur Amphitheatre (M) – $48,323,514
  21. Wilhelm’s Broken Isles Bijou (T/M) – $48,323,514
  22. JHW’s Cineplex (T) – $22,429,804 (Did not pick)

The Meta League Legend:

  • TAGN Movie Obsession – players from it marked with a (T)
  • MCats Multiplex – players from it marked with an (M)

Somehow the Gnome madness spread and there were three of us who bet it all on Gnomes, and together we sit at the bottom of the stack for week four.  Technically, of those three, I am the only one that qualifies as both “old” and “male” but this week’s title was the best I could come up with.  I wasn’t going to waste it just because it didn’t match the facts.

Meanwhile, the top end of the range is led by those who went with two screens of Pacific Rim, with Kraut Screens winning the week overall.

That led to some changes at the top of the season rankings for the Meta League.

  1. Po Huit’s Sweet Movie Suite (T) – $423,783,431
  2. Biyondios! Kabuki & Cinema (T) – $401,503,523
  3. Ben’s X-Wing Express (M) – $401,405,223
  4. Paks’ Pancakes & Pics (T) – $391,997,325
  5. Dr Liore’s Evil House of Pancakes (M) – $377,484,414
  6. Corr’s Carefully Curated Cineplex (M) – $374,380,118
  7. Wilhelm’s Broken Isles Bijou (T/M) – $366,186,625
  8. Goat Water Picture Palace (T) – $361,492,396
  9. Joanie’s Joint (T) – $356,860,877
  10. Logan’s Luxurious Thaumatrope (M) – $355,908,410
  11. Dan’s Decadent Decaplex (M) – $353,564,566
  12. Aure’s Astonishingly Amateur Amphitheatre (M) – $350,018,641
  13. Vigo Grimborne’s Medieval Screening Complex (T) – $348,854,529
  14. Kraut Screens (T) – $315,800,182
  15. I HAS BAD TASTE (T) – $306,905,644
  16. Darren’s Unwatched Cineplex (T) – $303,038,502
  17. SynCaine’s Dark Room of Delights (T) – $293,170,471
  18. Miniature Giant Space Hamsterplex (T) – $282,526,179
  19. Skar’s Movies and Meat Pies (T) – $271,907,602
  20. DumCheese’s Cineplex (T) – $257,389,679
  21. JHW’s Cineplex (T) – $213,011,790
  22. Bean Movie Burrito (T) – $190,959,777

Po remained on top overall, but Corr and I fell back in the pack chasing him.  Meanwhile Liore, who went from 21st place to 10th place last week, continued her climb by hitting 5th position this week.  You troll her at your peril.  Fortunately for us gnome fanciers, overall it wasn’t a huge box office weekend.  There have been weeks in the past where a pick like that might have ended up with us being $140 million behind the perfect pick rather than just $40 million.

That brings us to week five, where the options look like:

 Ready Player One        $522
 Tyler Perry's Acrimony  $219
 Pacific Rim             $167
 I Can Only Imagine      $153
 Black Panther           $148
 Sherlock Gnomes         $91
 God's Not Dead          $75
 Love Simon              $71
 Isle of Dogs            $69
 Tomb Raider             $65
 A Wrinkle in Time       $54
 Paul, Apostle of Christ $41
 Game Night              $41
 Midnight Sun            $28
 Unsane                  $23

Deathwish, The Strangers, Red Sparrow, and Peter Rabbit all dropped off the list, the latter seemingly bad timing due to it being Easter this coming Sunday.

Showing up this week are Ready Player One, Tyler Perry’s Acrimony, God’s Not Dead, and the latest from Wes Anderson, Isle of Dogs. (If you aren’t sure about Wes Anderson, try this Honest Trailers video.)

Ready Player One is clearly expected to take the week.  Hell, it was directed by Steven Spielberg which guarantees it some box office exposure on that alone.  So my Monday evening 5pm pick was 1x Ready Player One, 2x Pacific Rim, and 5x Midnight Sun.

Then again, it is something of nerd culture thing, there seems to be something of a backlash about it in the very core of the audience one would expect to be embracing it, and Spielberg hasn’t exactly been delivering what his reputation might lead you to expect in the 21st century.  I mean, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls made a bunch of money, but I didn’t feel the need to buy a copy or even see it a second time.

Anyway, we’ll see if I stick with that pick or change up based on the misguided whims of various prognosticators again this week.

Shroud of the Avatar Goes… Whatever You Call It After a Long Early Access

When I saw the email from Potalarium… well, I saw it several times as I end up getting updates on three different email addresses… I was a bit taken aback at the message.  Shroud of the Avatar was on the eve of launching finally.

March 27 Launch – That is Today

I couldn’t remember if there had been some build up to this in the weekly email updates, which at this point I just skim for headlines then delete, or if this was a brand new twist.

Well, at least I moved Shroud of the Avatar to the “will ship” list on my predictions this year.  I am up at least five points today.

The suddenness flustered me a bit, and I half expected to see a follow on message announcing a delay.  But there was only a follow up about Release 52 that went through in detail what was going into this release build and linked out to the whole how to get started document for the release.

Of course here we are, just shy of five years after the Kickstarter for the project closed, having secured a little over $2 million, and I am trying to recall what this was all about again.

There was that whole Madness of Lord British season where he was talking at (not to) EA about wanting his IP back, thinking a line about great fondness might help I guess.  EA chose that moment to launch Ultima Forever, which seemed to answer the question.  So it was just Lord British talking about his Ultimate RPG, set in a land which could not yet be named. (His comment at the end of that about “ville” clones was doubly amusing given his then recent attempts to get into bed with Zynga, complete with comedy quote.)

Eventually though he seemed to get back on the rails in the right direction and launched the kickstarter to fund his project, Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar; Forsaken Virtues.   Aside from that whole “game designers suck and/or are lazy” thing (later he explained that when he said people he worked with were essentially shit he was taken out of context) the whole thing went very well.  Lord British still has name recognition and the whole nostalgia factor going for him and was able to haul in double the amount of money he was asking for.

From the official site

Since then however… I haven’t really been paying all that much attention.  By late 2014 there was something you could download and tinker with, but it was a very rough cut.  I tried it for a bit and then let it be.  There was also something about virtual real estate that came up at one point.  But other than putting it on my possible list of games to play every year for a few years, only to have it still be in development, I haven’t paid much attention to it.  Somewhere along the line I got a Steam key and activated it there, but otherwise it has just been news about the game coming along.  Even Lord British, with something to occupy his attentions, has kept his crazy side out of the news.

But today it is live.  The server status declares it ready.

Launch version has launched

I checked over at Steam and the early access warnings have all been removed and there is a launch day sale for 15% off the $39.99 price, which keeps it higher than the $30 I pledged five years back.

It looks like the the four modes originally promised are there, offline solo, online solo, online friends, and online in an MMO-esque setting.  It is also available on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.  The reviews, however, are mixed, something that seems to come from the cash shop.

And now to see how big the launch will be.  I have speculated in the past that doing crowd funding and early access means that a game’s core audience has likely already bought in by the time that launch comes, so there is no big boost at launch.  That is what we saw with Landmark certainly, and H1Z1′s recent transition out of early access was pretty much a yawn until they made the game free.  And even that only got it back up to its December numbers as opposed to its peak over the summer.  But H1Z1 has better competitors now in PUBG and Fortnite.  Still, launch alone didn’t seem to do much.

So how will launch affect Shroud of the Avatar? 

Also, when am I going to find time to play it?   I am currently still noodling around with Rift Prime, and there is Project: Gorgon now available on Steam.  It seems like 2018 is the year of stuff from five years ago.  Maybe Camelot Unchained will stir this year as well.

Rift Prime Leveling After the Patch

Or patches.  There were a few patches applied to Rift Prime last week, though the main one on Wednesday was the one that was probably of most interest.

Downtime Tiger caught mid-dash, please don’t let the server crash

That patch was the one set to address the quest line experience issue.

Up until the patch, if you set about to follow the various quest chains that lead you around Telara, you would rather quickly find the quest levels out pacing you, even if you diligently picked up every quest, carnage or otherwise, and spend time beating down every invasion or rift that came your way.

This is one of those delicate balance things.  I’ve oft complained about the other side of the coin, where quests are so rewarding that the quest chain in a zone goes gray and becomes trivial before you’ve reached the end of the story.

Anyway, this is one of the issues that came up almost immediately and seemed like something Trion could verify pretty easily, but it still took them two weeks to do something about it.  I know after a couple of decades in software that no fix is ever as fast or as perfect as you think it will be, but my gut says they should have tweaked this sooner… on a retro server having the right feel and pacing is pretty critical to maintaining your base… and then move on to add the tool that allows them to adjust the dial on various aspects of experience gain later.

Still, it did get done, and my initial observation was that it seemed to be about on track.  But I thought I would give is a more thorough look.  So I rolled up an alt.

On Rift Prime you are limited to two characters.  The stated reason is to force interdependence, which means that they don’t want you having all the trade skills on a single account.  That seems like a short-sighted move to me.  You truly dedicated would likely roll up and play through with one of each of the archetypes, so you’ve cut their options in half, while the very much WoW-inspired crafting system is going to make the market suffer from the usual problem of over-production of trivial items that one has to go through in order to level a trade skill.  How many tin longswords can the market absorb?  Not that many at all.

After rolling a cleric I decided my other character should be a warrior.  I had rolled one up before the patch, but did not get too far with him, so I deleted him and re-rolled another warrior with the same name, which led to a sort of odd series of inheritances.

The new warrior showed up in the world with some of the settings from the old version set.  I had tinkered with the number of hot bars and dropped out of the default guild with the first guy, and when I re-rolled and entered the world I found that those remained.  Other key settings I had to go back and click again.

Must stop those proposals

Once I got that settled I started off down the quest chain, all the more quickly for having done it so recently.  I was out of the starting area and down the path for not too long before I hit level 10 over at Kelari Refuge.

Level 10 already

The quests did seem to be keeping me in their level zone as I continued around Freemarch along the north side of the zone and through the quests and their various quirks.

And to you!

I kept running along until I got to the back end of the zone and level 16.  I felt that the tripling of quest experience had done its bit, that you could follow the quest chain and not fall behind.  I ran after rifts now and then when they were handy, and did a zone event along the way, but those don’t seem to reward enough experience to upset the apple cart, save for the daily “close some rifts or kill some rift creatures” quests.

So, problem solved, at least tentatively.  I can’t speak for how it goes beyond Stonefield, where my main is playing, but so far so good.

Of course, that isn’t the only problem Rift Prime is facing.  While queues have diminished to almost nothing even at peak times, random bouts of lag are still an issue.  I can go for a while and have no problem at all and then for a stretch NPCs don’t respond, quest don’t update, and even stages linger past their time for several very noticeable seconds.  And when that delay goes longer, it is often followed by a crash and a request for the player to respond.

Send in the report or send in the report… or cancel I guess…

And you can tell when the crash is hitting a large group of people, because then the report fails to go through as well.

Sorry, no report from you

I love me some cryptic error numbers, and there is no re-try, so whatever my computer had to report fell by the wayside.

I am sure this has been a voyage of discovery for the folks at Trion.  We shall see what was learned if they give this thing another try in a couple of years.

Honest Game Trailers – Fortnite

Honest Trailers did a video about PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds months back, just when it was starting to rise in popularity, taking over the market briefly held by the now officially released (and suddenly free) H1Z1 soon thereafter.  But I skipped past that back then because the game hadn’t really hit its stride yet as a dominate player.

But now Honest Trailers has a video about Fortnite, the one-time co-op game that showed up to totally eat PUBG’s lunch, according to SuperData, for specific definitions of “lunch.”

The building part of Fortnite, even in its battle royale mode, does look interesting.

In Which I am Against Instanced Content for Once

Out of the blue SynCaine suddenly decided that he had the solution to the big null sec battle problem in EVE Online.  Having seen instanced PvP battles in Life is Feudal, he felt the need to propose null sec fights like the “million dollar battle” of some weeks back be instanced as well.

My experience from that battle

He was engaged with the idea sufficiently to post a second time about it to say how wonderful it would be because it would lead to more good press about the game, since big battles and bad people are about all that gets EVE Online in the news.

And I couldn’t disagree more with the idea of instance battles in New Eden.

I am, of course, a proponent of instancing in many cases.  I think instanced dungeons and raids are part of the formula that made World of Warcraft the success it has been and remains.

The whole open world dungeon thing came from the MUD days, when communities were small and social pressure could keep people from screwing around with zone runs.  Mostly.  I still remember in TorilMUD at its peak the devs having to essentially set up rules as to who had “dibs” on a given zone.  That was during a time when the player base could maybe support four or five correctly staffed zone groups (16 players each) and so there was some competition for the prime zones.  In the end though there was no need to instance.

That changed with EverQuest and the MMORPGs that followed in its wake.  I hear people talking about ideas like “server communities” being a thing and social pressure working in Norrath back in the day, but I was there and I don’t believe it.  Dunbar’s Number gives lie to the idea that you could “know” your server “community” of several thousand people.

EverQuest had the open dungeon thing for a while, but eventually went to instancing of some dungeon content in 2003 with the Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion.  That, of course, killed EverQuest, sending it into immediate decline.

Oh, wait, no… EverQuest actually hit its peak after that and only went into decline when World of Warcraft showed up having essentially copied EverQuest while removing much of the suck.

Subscriptions – 150K to 1 million

So instancing PvE content like dungeons is fine in my book and solves a lot of problems, problems that kept coming up in the EverQuest retro servers until they went back and instanced some of the old raids as well.  Instancing wins in PvE.

Instancing in PvP though… that is a different beast altogether.

I mean, I guess it is okay for battleground and similar “match” based competitions where what you are doing is essentially outside of the game.  I wouldn’t suggest that something like the Alliance Tournament ought to take place live in New Eden with the rest of us.  The temptation to third party on it would be irresistible.

But the Alliance Tournament isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.  PC Gamer isn’t putting up headlines about the winners or commenting on ship compositions.  It is, like many things in EVE Online, something that a niche group is into and the majority of the game barely notices.

And you could say that about big null sec battles as well.  As Neville Smit pointed out at a point in the past, 85% of the game doesn’t play in null sec, or didn’t when those numbers were pulled.  The difference is that big null sec battles are one of the places where EVE Online stands out from other games, something that does get PC Gamer and the like to write about.

My gut reaction to the idea that CCP should instance big battles is that the whole idea breaks the core philosophy of the game, that everything that happens in the game happens IN the game.  There is supposed to be no magic in New Eden.  No transport fairy moves you ships or modules or ore around, you have to schlep it yourself or pay somebody to move it.  When you lose a ship you have to go get a new one, you don’t just respawn with one. (Okay, rookies ships get handed to you, but within the context of the game it has a reason.)  And when you are out doing something, mining, hauling, running a mission, or shooting somebody’s ship, somebody else can show up and start shooting at you.

When you undock in New Eden, you are taking a risk.  That is part of the deal.

So the idea that you can undock and have a battle over an objective in null sec and are able to keep it private by locking out interlopers just breaks the game in my book.

I’ll grant that is just an opinion.

The Dude has me covered

I would even suggest that CCP would agree with that opinion.  But that doesn’t make it a concrete absolute in the universe.  So I won’t just stomp my feet and say “It’s wrong!”  There are other arguments against the idea.

The first is, of course, how would CCP even implement such a thing?  Saying that they should just instance those fights is like a line item from the product manager.  They drop that turd on your desk and leave you to figure out how to deal with it.

I won’t play the Blizzard “impossible” card, as they are wont to do, but this isn’t an easy change.  You have to setup an instanced battle via some automatic procedure that needs to happen for a specific set of circumstances (e.g. Keepstar final timer), which can successfully limit participation in the eventual battle to exactly the right number of exactly the right people, and doesn’t have an obvious exploit.

While it is an interesting topic to game out the options for… and there are many, from what objectives should trigger such battles, to whether or not the battles should be the same size for all objectives or scale based on the objective (or maybe scale based on the defender’s size?), to choosing between absolute number of ships (bring 1,000 titans!) or some sort of point system, who gets to fight and how they get flagged and who won’t get flagged, how does the structure itself figure in the calculations, whether reinforcements are allowed ever or never, how big is the battlefield, if there are other structures on grid in the system are they on grid in the battle, and probably many more that haven’t come to mind.  And each of these has to be explored to see how it will change group behaviors and whether or not there is an “I win” option for somebody.

Somebody will come along and say, “Just do x, y, and z” and think they’re done because there isn’t an obvious exploit in their vague statement.  But they are kidding themselves.  They are not done, not by a long shot.  You aren’t done until you work out the details, all the details, and then have gamed them out with enough scenarios to have some confidence in them.  And then, as we have seen many times before, the players will have at it and spot things you never considered.

And whatever it is then has to go on top of the current software, follow the specific set of rules for the battle, and not disrupt the every day game.  This all adds up to an incredibly deep and complex project… and all the more so since I haven’t even considered what technical limitations may be faced… and it will need a lot of development resources dedicated to it that could be working on other items.

Is the issue important enough to warrant that?  Given the whole “85%” thing I mentioned before, I am going to guess there would many voices declaring against the idea.  I’m not sure that even the null sec voices would be in favor of it if it meant sacrificing development on other things.

Furthermore, should CCP actually decided to commit to this, does the desired end result come to pass?  Will this actually end up with EVE Online having more battles that will get press coverage?

Here is another problem.  The reason for doing this is to limit the number of players able to participate in a battle.  But part of the reason that EVE gets coverage is because of the huge number of players involved in such battles.  If we trade ugly 4000-6000 player battles with time dilation and lag and disconnections for nice smooth reliable 2000 player battles, is the new situation newsworthy?

I am not sure they are.  Maybe you get one story about CCP testing their new battle architecture, but after that raw participation numbers are out the window.  There needs to be a lot of dead titans to make the news again.

And how does that change the null sec meta?  Currently in 0.0 space we are in a very egalitarian situation where line members get to show up en masse to fights.  If the seating is limited, who gets to show up and play?  Will leadership let in a Jackdaw fleet?  Or will it be a supers vs. supers battle where titans will eat all the capital and super carriers will take care of the sub caps,  so unless you fly one of those two you need not even apply?  Or will it just be titans with refits to handle sub caps and that is all?  Then there will be a push for 1,000 of the right titan fit optimally because in an even fight you have to find your edge somewhere.  And if you can’t compete in that game then you just lose the fight automatically to the few organizations that can.

I honestly think we’re better off with the current situation, as ugly as it is, where people pile on until the server breaks rather than having nice set battles in their own little space.  And I speak as somebody who knows full well what such ugly battles can be like.  I had my guns jammed at Z9PP-H before CCP fumbled the node, I was there all day for the big battle at 6VDT-H, I saw us kill the server at battles like HED-GP or KW-I6T, and I was even there at B-R5RB where access to the battle was being strictly controlled by the coalition lest we bring down the server yet again.

Battles like this are rare and as often as not are spontaneous affairs that may or may not fall within the instancing parameters.  CCP has better things on which to spend their limited resources. The results likely won’t be more headlines for the game.  And, frankly, if we play the N+1 game we get what we deserve, and I’m good with that.

The East End of Stonefield

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I finished up Freemarch and was moving into Stonefield in Rift Prime.  While the leveling via quests dynamic was holding me a bit behind in levels, I was still about set, entering Stonefield and hitting level 18.

Stonefield tiger in the wild, find a quest hub for this child

But it wasn’t too long before pushing into Stonefield that the quest trail started to pull away from me.  Quests are pretty manageable at up to two levels ahead of your own level, but after that the situation gets a bit dicey and it wasn’t too long before I was wading around in quests three or four levels above me.  I was level 19 by then, but the quests were 22 and up.  Not a viable position for me.

After looking at the map I realized that the lead-in quest for the zone teleported me a ways into the zone and that the quests from there had only sent me back to the previous quest hub.

Stonefield map

Something in the back of my head told me that there was something to be found in the gap between that first quest hub and the boarder with Freemarch along the road between the two.

Sure enough, there were a few quests there, which helped me along.  But it wasn’t enough to catch up.  I was still lingering at level 19.  And then Wednesday’s patch hit.

There were a few items in that patch, but the key one was this:

QUEST EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN DRASTICALLY INCREASED! The exact percentage of the increase varies by level range, but is substantial– about 3x overall!

Increased quest experience, enough to keep me on track I was pretty sure.  But first I would have to get back on track.  Boosted quest experience only helps when you can actually do the quests.

I had an idea.  I went back to Freemarch and picked up the daily rift event related quests from three different quest hubs and ran after some rifts for a bit.  That was four quests total and I can confirm that the experience output was noticeably higher.  After closing a second rift to finish off the last of them, I hit level 20.

So many notifications

That was just enough to get me back on the rails in Stonefield.

Still, all was not as well as one might have hoped.  There was a report that invasion experience was wrong now and that something was amiss with warfronts (battlegrounds), the latter coming into play because somebody grabbed the PvP guild quest.  We were knocking out the PvE ones too quickly I guess.

Anyway, there is another emergency maintenance downtime today to address issues as yet unspecified.  Lag and server stability are still issues.  We shall see how things look tonight.  I am sure this is all a learning experience for Trion.  Daybreak has the advantage of having done the retro server a few times and they still stumble a bit at every launch.