Monthly Archives: November 2019

Friday Bullet Points About Aether Wars, Stadia, and Other Things

It is Friday and, as often happens, I have a few items which I want to note but which I do not really want to create whole blog posts about.

  • Aether Wars

Tomorrow is the day, the time for the big attempt at the world record for most players together in an online battle… or so CCP and Hadean keep telling me.  They have had a count down all week on Twitter.  But it is tomorrow, Sat 23 Nov 2019 at 20:00 UTC.

Aether Wars Tech Demo

As I mentioned in my previous post, the client is available on Steam.  It is a quick and easy download and you don’t have to register or sign up or anything, just launch the game when the time for the event comes up.  The event itself has not changed much since the summer version, which I wrote about here.

See you there tomorrow?  What if I told you there was a Steam achievement for joining it?  Because there is.

You could also win an all expenses paid trip to Fanfest 2020 in Iceland by just showing up, but I am betting the achievement will have more influence on who plays.

  • Stadia Launches

Google’s cloud gaming service, Google Stadia, went live this week.  Reports were that the phone app required to configure the service and buy games was downloaded 175,000 times, which doesn’t exactly put the launch into the realm of unqualified successes.  However, the launch was only for people who pre-ordered the $129 Chromecast Ultra package.  Numbers will no doubt go up when the free version is released next year, but the press has not been kind to it and data usage could still be a problem for some.

Like some others, I don’t really get why Stadia is even worth considering relative to any of the possible alternatives, which might just mean I am not the target audience.  Still, there was an excellent long Twitter thread comparing Stadia to a similar product design from the past that stirred up my own lingering feeling that Google was doing this more because they can than because they believed there was a market.

But the real pessimists have started a countdown clock to Stadia’s expected demise, a number reached based on the average life of Google products.  And they do have a point.

  • Minecraft Plans

I was going to mention this previously… and then forgot.  Such is my life.  But back at Minecon it was announced that the next update for Minecraft will focus on the Nether, adding new biomes and structures and mobs.  There are some basic details here  However, if you put a bed down in the Nether and try to sleep in it, it will still explode.

As usual, the update will only affect new worlds or areas explored after the update drops.

  • Pokemon Sword & Shield Sells Big

I mentioned last Friday that Pokemon Sword & Shield was launching.

The core RPG line continues

While I wasn’t buying a copy… we don’t own a Switch… it turns out a lot of people were on board with the new game as it sold around six million copies in the first week, making it the fastest selling Nintendo Switch title so far.

Announce you’re making a real core Pokemon RPG game and people will line up.

  • Mobile WoW When?

Bobby Kotick was up talking about the idea of perpetual franchises, which I guess is the line you take when you cannot make anything new that outsells the stuff you already have.  Seriously, the Activision Blizzard big money makers remain World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, and Candy Crush Saga.

As part of that he said that the growth would be staggering once they brought all of these to phones.  That makes me want to ask where Diablo Immortal is, but never mind.  However it sure sounds like we’re going to get some flavor of Warcraft on mobile.  Maybe.  Some day.

Defending Distant Sovereignty

The ping was later in the evening on Saturday night.  It was a call for a Jackdaw fleet with Oxygen as the FC.  Jackdaws are usually quick to get places so I figured I might as well get my duty to the state validated yet again.  I logged in, got in a Scalpel I had to hand, and joined the fleet, settling into the logi channel.

When it was announced over comms that there was a need for a few entosis Drakes as part of the fleet I was tempted to just log off then.  Entosis ops are often quite dull.  At least I was smart enough not to volunteer for one of the Drakes again.  And I figured we couldn’t be going very far.  The requirement specified GSF pilots for the enotsis Drakes, which meant defending GSF sovereignty specifically, and that is pretty much limited to Delve, Period Basis, and a bit of Querious.  Somebody must have set a timer on us and now we had to go out and make sure nothing was turned.

So it still seemed like it might be a short op.  We hung about a bit as things got put together, but even with the entosis ships it was a small fleet, with about 30 of us rolling out when Oxygen finally called for us to undock and get on the titan.  At least we would be getting a ride to where we were going.

A grinning Avatar sends us on our way

We were sent off to ZXB-VC, which is the boarder system with Fountain.  We jumped into that region and took the Ansiblex jump gates to the boarder with Cloud Ring in J5A-IX.

Taking the Eye of Terror

From there it was into Cloud Ring and a couple systems over to get the Ansiblex that would take us to 6RCQ-V, the staging system for the past wars in the north.

But we were not done yet.  From there it was into Fade then Pure Blind, where it turns out GSF still holds the sovereignty in KQK1-2, the staging system setup for the “glassing of Tribute” campaign back in the Spring.  That is kind of a long way from home.  Sure, the Aniblex network, the “Eye of Terror Mk III,” makes the trip fairly quick.  But that is still a distant point to be holding relative to our home.

On the map from DOTLAN

And we were out there because somebody set the timer for the territorial control unit, or TCU, for the system.  In the age of Fozzie Sov, the TCU just marks ownership on the map but otherwise does not come with any benefits.  It is the infrastructure hub that is the important one.  But the rules of power are that if you let somebody get away with little things like taking your TCU then they will just be encouraged to move on to bigger things.

So the bulk of the fleet, such that it was, sat in the middle of the constellation where the entosis event was running while interceptors fanned out to scout and Drakes turned on their magic sov wands.  As we hung around the gate some Sleepers rolled up and scanned us.  We had the sense not to shoot at them and nobody had any corpses in their cargo to set them off.

It is just what Sleepers are into

If you go orbit them they will scan you.  I got a couple scanning me at one point.

Scanning my Scalpel

But even they got bored hanging around the gate and warped off to find something else to scan.  The NPCs of New Eden have their own lives.

We did managed to catch and kill one of a group of ships that passed by our little camp, a Tempest that was tackled and dispatched.

Not so fast Mr. Tempest

Of course, with a drone bay large enough for a single light drone on my Scalpel I chose to put a combat drone in it.  Sure, I could have gone with the doctrine specified armor repair drone, but then I wouldn’t have gotten on the kill mail, the proof of life assignment I have for myself every month.

Of course, I wasn’t the only Scalpel so armed.  Three of us each had a different drone too.  If only a fourth had shown up with a Hornet we would have had the light drones from each empire.

That kept us busy for a little bit, but we were soon back to orbiting the gate and waiting for things to wrap up.  Fortunately nobody showed up to contest things… a sizable fleet might have just brushed us away… and the whole thing was wrapped up with the minimum number of entosis operations.

Of course, after that we had the schlep all the way back home, which would have been quick in frigates, but we had those Drakes to carry along.  And then, back in Delve, I found out why we got a titan bridge on the way out.  It looks like GSOL was in the process of taking a bunch of Ansiblex jump gates offline to move them due to the changes that went in last week that require them to be at least 500km off the nearest Upwell structure.  So there were a few more gates to take, though it is still pretty quick to get from Cloud Ring to Delve.

And so it goes.  I have seen a few sovereignty defense fleets going on this month, so apparently we’ll saddle up and ride out every time somebody trolls us by hitting a TCU on the other side of New Eden.  It keeps us busy I suppose.

The Key to Gnomeregan

As I mentioned in the Stormwind Stockade post, we were skipping straight ahead to Gnomeregan, bypassing Razorfen Kraul.  This was, in part, due to Ula demanding that we face something challenging lest her video recaps of our adventures get dull.  We cannot depend on Skronk falling off of things every time to liven up a run.

So it was to be Gnomeregan, with the group capped at level 29 according to the MOTD in guild chat and the pinned notice in our Discord.

Not that we were in danger of getting too far ahead.  When the designated time came on Sunday afternoon, our lineup was still mostly at level 28.  We were:

  • Ula – level 29 gnome mage
  • Viniki – level 29 gnome warrior
  • Skronk – level 28 dwarf priest
  • Obama – level 28 human warlock
  • Moronae – level 28 night elf druid

We met up outside the bank in Ironforge to get ourselves together.  With an eye towards getting things rolling as quickly as possible I brought my warlock, Winki, to the bank to use the summoning skill to bring Obama and Moronae to us, since I could see from the guild roster that they were strewn about the map of Azeroth and there was no need to waste our limited time on travel.

Summoning before the bank

Still, it took us a while to get sorted and to get all of the quests shared out.  Like the Stormwind Stockade, Gnomer has its share of quests.

Most of the quests

We had to trot down the hill into Kharnos in order to pick up an additional one, and I am not sure we got them all.  There is quite a list.  But once set there, it was off for the instance.

Through the snow to Gnomer

Which is a bit of a trot.  And Gnomer is also one of those instances where the elite mobs start before you get to the portal.  But that is fine.  Troggs are for killing.

And more so once inside.  Clearing troggs is a bit like clearing Defias in the Stockade.  They hang around in groups and you get the occasional walker… well, runner… passing through, though the runners are at least non-elite.  As tends to be the case, the mobs on entering the instance were lower level than us, but that changed as we moved further in.

Moving further in though… nobody brought a map and it had been ages since we had been in Gnomer, so we moved through the instance in what was probably not the most efficient method.  But we didn’t fall off of anything, which is a hazard.

We found our way to Emi Shortfuse pretty quickly and ran through her event.

Emi starts us off

The end of that event had no drop.  I was kind of hoping for the gauntlets that are a possibility, but we were denied.

Afterwards there was some question as to where to go.  I had some recollection of jumping off the ledge to get to the Viscous Fallout boss, but I wasn’t sure that was the best idea.  So we decided to just clear our way through to where ever, including that platform in the middle.

Fighting on the high platform

The fact that you can fall off of high places in Gnomer was a bit of a reminder about how things have changed.  I recall being in instances in later expansions and finding all sorts of invisible walls that would keep you from falling off into anything.

Given that we all needed a ton of drops and a bunch of the “Coke machines” that are scattered throughout the instance for quests, taking the long way around and killing as we went seemed like a reasonable approach.

At one point we came out into a room that we had to clear and things started getting out of hand.  We don’t have anybody who can quickly stop troggs when they start to run… the wind up for druid root is a bit long… so there were a couple of adds from that.  We were also fighting on a sloped section of wall with some open doors to other rooms, which ended up in a proximity pull or two.  I hope Ula got Skronk falling into one of those open areas on video.  The fight seemed to be getting out of hand but we somehow managed to come through it without losing anybody.

Taking a breather after the fight

From there we found our way into the safe zone, where we used the vendor and played with the machines.

3 silver for a piece of lead? At least it gives exp on the first try

After that we carried on to the floor area where the Viscous Fallout lives.  We were careful pulling mobs, clearing out a large area around the doorway before venturing in.

Pulling ooze back from the main floor

And then, as we were taking on one of the slimes the Viscous Fallout wandered up behind Moronae and the fight was on.  I honestly thought it was just another elemental, and the fight went pretty fast.  But, it turned out we had another boss down.  He didn’t drop the shoes, which all the casters were looking for.  Instead he had the staff.  It is a nice staff, but not what people really wanted.

After that we cleared our way back around to the out door and into an area I have heard referred to as “the gauntlet” in the past.  It is a long corridor with a walkway up on the left side, both of which had mobs wandering around.  You have to pick one or another to travel down to get to the next area.  The comedy comes when you’re in one and get close to the end of the other and pull proximity aggro and get a few surprise adds.

Here is where we ran into trouble.  At the start we went into the wide section, eschewing the walkway, mostly because there was a “Coke machine” sitting there waiting for us.  The pair of mobs next to it didn’t seem like much of an issue.

And then we got a walker as an add.  Then an alarm bot showed up and called for help before we could kill it.  And then somebody strayed too far left and we got a proximity pull from the walkway.  And then another as a walker on the walkway joined in as well.  Things were becoming a bit chaotic.

Fight in the gauntlet

At one point, with my taunt on cool down yet again… that is a long 8 seconds to wait… Skronk went down.  That was fine, he had a soul stone, we could still pull this out.  But then we had to have a discussion about whether or not we wanted to “blow” the soul stone on a fight with trash mobs.  I was very much on the “yes, revive yourself and heal me now please!” side or the discussion, and he did use the soul stone.  I suppose Moronae could have used his combat ress as an alternative, but we didn’t really have the time to bring that into the debate.

Also, all of our buffs took the opportunity to drop during that fight, just to add to things.

And yet we lived.  I figured, after that previous fiasco in the room with the sloped wall, that there was a good chance of us pulling through.  Despite being older and rusty and not very well coordinated (I’m pretty sure the voidwalker ran off and pulled another add on its own) we are still not as bad as we were back when we were doing this as a group for the first time in 2006.

Once we recovered and got buffs back up, we decided to take the walkway forward.  Its narrow confines had more mobs and would keep us marginally less likely to get proximity adds from the big open trough.  We still managed it, but we never ran into a situation quite that bad again.

Through the gauntlet, we ended up in the big room that had the next boss, Electrocutioner 6000, in the middle.  We just had to make our way around the room to the ramp up to his platform.

Around the platform, working on gnomish aircraft, are groups of five or so gnomes linked together.  They are all non-elite, so the idea was to pull them, group them up, then do “fire & ice” so the casters would burn them down.  And that sort of worked.  There were a few hiccups.  Amongs the groups there is the occasional elite mob.  The pathing for the gnome groups is still as broken as it was back in the day, which makes getting them all together awkward if you try to pull them through one of the areas they refuse to enter.  And, frankly, mage AOE wasn’t as OP effective as I recalled, so we had to get in and chop down individuals.

Still, we managed, nobody died, and we made it to the ramp and laid eyes on the boss in not too long.

There he is

Despite the Electrocutioner 6000 being a few levels above us, level 32 to our mostly level 29 group, with only Ula having hit 30 so far, the fight with him was short.  There are no special mechanics, it is just a “there he is, get him!” sort of fight that went very quickly.  Maybe our DPS isn’t all that bad.  The main complaint was that I pulled him into a dark area on his platform, so the fight wasn’t going to look good on video.

Over the corpse on the dark corner of the platform

The Electrocutioner 6000 dropped the Lagnut ring, which went to Skronk, it being spirit and stamina focused.

At that point we had been running for about 2.5 hours and there was some spouse aggro developing for a couple of us.  We started a bit late in the afternoon and dinner was ready for some of us… I had to pause the group at one point to call in a Thai food order for my wife to pick up on the way home from a listing where she was holding an open house… and pointed reminders that there was food on the table were coming.  So it was time to call it for the day.

Fortunately, the Electrocutioner 6000 dropped the workshop key, which lets people come in the other entrance, bypassing the initial bosses.

They key

So we were set for our next run.  We recalled back from that platform.

…after playing on the planes

So Gnomeregan will be a two-parter for us.  Maybe a three-parter if we decide to finish off all of the quests.  I don’t think we knocked out a single one.  As for next time, the level cap for the group was raised to 30, since Ula was already there.  We will pick up where we left off next time.

Ula has posted two short videos from our run.  The first covers entering the instance through the Emi Shortfuse event.

The second takes us through the Electrocutioner 6000 fight.

Among other things in this video, you can see the Viscous Fallout wandering up on us, the fight in the sloped room, the chaos of mobs showing up in the Gauntlet, the pathing issues I mentioned, and how quick the Electrocutioner 6000 fight and why we took the fight in that dark corner. (Hint, proximity pull again!)

End of a Vision

I was shocked tonight to see the announcement that Brad McQuaid passed away.  I first saw the news from the Pantheon MMO account on Twitter and wondered if it was real, it seemed so out of the blue.

It is with deep regret we share that Brad McQuaid passed away last night. He will be deeply missed and forever remembered by gamers worldwide.

Thank you for bringing us together through your worlds. Rest in peace .

VR offers our deepest condolences to Brad’s family.

But it appears to be true.  There are reactions all over the MMO space, including some words from the EverQuest team.

From the EverQuest Teams,

We are devastated to hear of the passing of Brad McQuaid and are eternally grateful for the EverQuest Universe he was instrumental in creating. His effect on all of us, the gaming industry overall, and fans of EverQuest and RPGs is immeasurable, and been life-changing for so many.

Continue your great quest, Aradune. May your next adventure be even more grand than this one.

I am kind of in shock.  I’ve been dismissive of his vision and pretty hard on how Vanguard turned out, but without him there would have been no EverQuest and the landscape of the MMORPG genre would have been very different.

Always the guy with the flaming sword

I played with him on TorilMUD back in the day.  It is hard to believe that was more than 20 years ago, that EverQuest is now past 20, and that he is gone.  He even dropped by here to comment a few times, always in his long winded way. He had an impact on the industry that will carry on.

Other reactions:

 

Two Hundred and Ten Million Skill Points

I thought I was done with these skill point progress posts.  I said at 200 million skill points that I probably had enough skills trained on my main and that I should start working up an alt because you become completely spoiled after a while by having every primary and secondary skill trained up to at least IV and usually V for any fit you want to fly.

And I stood by that for maybe seven months, turning off training on Wilhelm and running up skills on an alt I could leave behind in Delve for things like homeland defense fleets while otherwise deployed.

And then CCP added more ships to the game and my goal of being able to fly all the subcaps reared its head yet again and now I am another ten million skill points up on my main.

As I do with these posts, here is my skill point journey so far, broken out in ten million skill point increments.

And here is where I stand on skill point distribution.

Spaceship Cmd  70,558,541 (66 of 81)*
Gunnery        19,565,141 (36 of 52)*
Drones         17,036,708 (22 of 26)
Fleet Support  13,351,107 (14 of 15)*
Missiles       11,111,853 (22 of 26)
Navigation      9,660,314 (13 of 13)
Engineering     8,939,855 (15 of 15)*
Electronic Sys  8,159,689 (15 of 15)*
Scanning        7,168,000 (7 of 7)*
Armor           6,131,137 (13 of 13)
Shields         6,074,039 (12 of 13)
Science         5,714,282 (21 of 39)
Resc Processing 4,756,183 (22 of 37)
Subsystems      4,096,000 (16 of 16)
Trade           3,821,020 (10 of 14)
Neural Enhance  3,810,275 (7 of 8)
Targeting       3,207,765 (8 of 8)
Rigging         1,944,630 (10 of 10)*
Planet Mgmt     1,612,315 (5 of 5)
Structure Mgmt  1,446,824 (6 of 6)
Production      1,157,986 (5 of 12)
Social          1,130,040 (5 of 9)
Corp Mgmt          24,000 (2 of 5)

~Total 210,477,704

Items with an asterisk changed from last time I checked in.

My skills broken out by levels.  Lots of level V skills now.

 Level 1 - 1
 Level 2 - 3
 Level 3 - 38
 Level 4 - 90
 Level 5 - 224

As usual, Spaceship Command got the bulk of the last ten million points, rising by about 7.5 million points since last check in.  The Triglavian menace drove quite a bit of that.  I can now fly all of the Triglavian ships from Damavik to Leshak, including the Tech II models in the middle.

A Damavik and a Vedmak in warp

A Damavik and a Vedmak

I’ve only flow the Damavik in combat so far, back when DBRB had his Triglavian roam, but I have a Leshak sitting in my hangar for structure shoot ops.

I just make a “bzzzzzzz” sound in my head when I see a Leshak burning something down

I also made sure I could fly the Monitor… not that I plan to be an FC, but just as a completionist skill.  I want to be able to fly ALL the subcaps dammit!

Likewise, the coming of the Triglavians and their new weapon systems meant that gunnery also got a boost in skill points.  I didn’t go tech II across the board there, just where I thought it might be required.  Again, Leshak is ready on that front.

In the other areas… I guess I tuned up a few skills to level V.  The only other one I remember clearly is Armor Rigging V, which I trained out of my reserve of unspent skill points, when I realized that my Guardian would go slightly faster if I had that trained.  We were on an op with Asher and listing out all the skills that might make ships go faster for the armor Ishtar doctrine we were flying and that was the only one I did not have maxed out.  I will spend skill points freely for a bit more speed.

That all got me pretty far along for the ten million skill point milestone, but I was still short.  So I trained up one silly skill.  I trained up Capital Ships V.  So, when it comes to the age old question… or at least as old as I have been writing this series of post… of how far I am from flying a titan, the answer is now “under two hours.”

It only took me a dozen years to get from about 168 days to under two hours.  That is real government project level efficiency there.

And now I am back to training up that alt.  He is nearly done with tech II logi skills.

Level 105 Fever in the Plane of Magic

I re-subbed to the Daybreak All Access pass for the EverQuest II 15th anniversary events, as I did back in March for the EverQuest 20th anniversary.  This started off with chasing some dragons, as I mentioned last week.

Dragon in the Loping Plains

There are four dragons and they are not hard to find.  They spawn in a rotation by the travel spires in four zones.  You can follow them through their cycle going from Thundering Steppes to Everfrost to Nektulos Forest to Loping Plains.  I think that is the order.  I just go where the crowd goes.  There are some interesting drops and an achievement and special mount form if you slay all four dragons.

Spires Defended

Achievement reward

I did that with the character I consider my main, Sigwerd, a level 100 berserker on the Skyfire server.  Then I got out my level 100 paladin on the same server and did it again.

Dragon in Nektulos Forest

And then I did it yet again with a level 100 berserker, Reynaldo on the Hands of Fate server, who is still knocking around in the Revelry & Honor guild.  It was a bit tougher with him as I have never bothered to get him a mercenary, and not having your own pet healer means taking care.  Still, I managed it with him.

I have another level 100 character sitting around, a Shadowknight who was one of my level 100 boosted characters… Sigward is the only one who leveled up to 100, and I seem to recall boosting him to 85 back in the day… but I wasn’t sure how much commitment I really had to him.

And I was wondering how to use some of the nice drops I got from the dragon event.  Bhagpuss has a post that shows the dragon form mount.  They were all flagged for level 110 players and my highest group there is all level 100.  I wanted to get somebody to level 110.

The easiest way to do that would be another boost.  And since you get a level 110 boost with the base Blood of Luclin expansion pre-order at basically the same price as a boost out of the cash shop, I figured I might as well grab the expansion.

So there was now a level 110 boost in my /claim items.  However, in buying the expansion I also unlocked all of the previous expansions.  I do not remember the last time I bought an expansion, but now I had everything live on the server.  So I decided to see if I could just level up to 110 via content rather than using the boost right away.

Of course, as I always say when I come back to EverQuest II, the game is pretty bad at telling you where to go or what to do in order to get started at whatever level you left off at.  I had been doing something in the Vesspyr Isles previously with Sigwerd, but I recalled it being very slow.  He was barely 5% into level 100 and I knew he had done a series of quests there already.  I was not keen to go back, so I looked around at what else was available.

There was Myrist, The Great Library on my map, but that said it was for level 110 players.  Next to it, however, was the Plane of Magic.  That said level 100, which seemed good enough for me, so I gave that a shot.  I took the spires there and was in.

When you wander into the Plane of Magic you have to pick a faction to work with.  Each espouses a specific philosophy, but I chose House Vahla pretty much at random.  They had a nice gold trimmed platform.

Turning in a quest on their platform

The first couple of quests boosted me up to level 101 pretty quickly.  It was one of those deals where you have to earn enough status with the faction in order to unlock further quests, so I repeated the first two a few times.  Soon I was level 102.  Clearly these were decent quests.  I had read somewhere that Daybreak chose to emphasize questing for leveling up.  While I had the membership boost, the vitality boost (blue bar in EQII land), and a pre-expansion experience boost going, slaying mobs didn’t move the experience bar at all, no matter how hard I hit things.

Hitting things repeatedly

The damage I do seems to throw out crazy random numbers.  And EQII does not suffer from a lack of combat skills, so I just mash a bunch of buttons and things die.

Getting around wasn’t too bad either.  EQII has embraced flying and my berserker had a mount from a special event from way back, so I just glided over the terrain, dropping on my targets when I needed to.

Swooping by a waterfall

But it is the quests that boosted me along.  It wasn’t a long time before I had made it to level 105.

Half way to 110

After that the quest experience started to slow down some.  But I am going to try and carry on a bit and see if I cannot get to 110 on my own before the Blood of Luclin expansion hits.  It might be something to actually be lined up at the right level for an expansion when it drops.  Of course, we’ll see if I can actually figure out where to go when it does drop.  Daybreak still isn’t very good at that.

Addendum:  I carried on after I wrote this and made it to level 107.  I had to use the Orb of Concentrated Memories, an item usable once every seven days that restores you exp vitality.

The guild log shows me leveling up

Now I’ll have to see if I can make those last three levels before the bonus exp runs out.

WoW Classic Sunday and Phase 2

WoW Classic has finally reached its Phase 2 status.

Classic is as classic does

Dire Maul, which was originally slated to be unlocked as part of Phase 2, was opened up to players back in mid-October.  The hold up on the rest of Phase 2 was said to be based on realm populations.  Blizz wanted to remove layering from all WoW Classic realms before they put Phase 2 into effect.  This past week they removed layering from all realms.

They didn’t fix the population problems, and there are still free transfers available for US and EU realms off of servers that are over-crowded, so Blizz expects you to resolve your queue issues on your own.

Phase 2 brings two world bosses into the game, Lord Kazzak in the Blasted Lands and Azuregos in Azshara, both of which are suggest as 40 person raids.

Phase 2 also brings in the PvP Honor system, where players can earn honor points for killing players from the other faction.  Since the first battlegrounds won’t be introduced until the next phase unlocks, this means open world kills as well as raids on enemy capital cities to kill faction leaders.  There is a diminishing returns system that reduced the amount of honor for killing the same person or faction leader in the same day:

  • 1st: 100% of Honor
  • 2nd: 75% of Honor
  • 3rd: 50% of Honor
  • 4th: 25% of Honor
  • 5th (and beyond): 0% Honor

That, of course, won’t keep people from killing you over and over.

And for all that honor you can earn ranks and unlock gear, ranging from the Private/Scout ranks with their tabard up to the Grand Marshal/High Warlord rank, which will give you access to some epic quality weapons.

One of the items not included yet with Phase 2 is the key ring.  That is expected to be included before the end of the year.

Details for PvP ranks and honor requirements are all in a blog post by Blizzard.

With Phase 2 in play now, people will be looking for an indication as to when Phase 3 will be coming along.  Phase 3 will bring Blackwing Lair, Darkmoon Faire, and the first two battlegrounds, Alterac Valley and Warsong Gulch.

Pokemon Sword and Shield

But when I grew up, I put away childish things

-1 Corithians 13:11

Today is the launch date for for Pokemon Sword & Shield, the first new, “real” Pokemon game to come to the Switch since Nintendo and Game Freak pulled the franchise from the Nintendo 3DS handheld platform.

The core RPG line continues

Unfortunate KGB reference aside (the sword and shield of the party), the impending release of this game and the launch of the Switch Lite got my daughter and I discussing a potential return to the franchise.

The Switch Lite, an actual attempt at a handheld version of the Switch (because the Switch is way too big to qualify in the DS/3DS or PSP league… I present the Switch Lite as supporting evidence of this) was really the trigger event for this. My daughter and I have a long history together with Pokemon games, starting back with Pokemon Diamond on the DS Lite in 2008 and carrying on through into the 3DS era.  And portability… along with wireless connectivity… was always a big part of the experience.  Our solid little DS Lite units traveled with with us many places.  They were brought to Pokemon events, played in airports and hotel rooms and on cruise ships when there was idle time as well as around the house.

As somebody who pretty much always plays video games sitting at a PC there was definitely a liberating aspect to having a small, handheld gaming console that could be played where ever we went.

So my daughter and I talked about the idea of a Switch or Switch Lite and the new Pokemon game off and on over the course of the summer.  In the end, there was no conclusion reached… which was essentially a negative conclusion by default; we would not be buying a any new hardware just to play Pokemon Sword & Shield.

There were a bunch of little reasons that held us back; pricing, the way the new game was coming together, uncertainty about features.  However, none of those would have really stood in our way, except for the big reason, the real reason.  And that is the fact that my daughter has almost grown up.  She will be 18 soon.  She already has her first college acceptance notification. (University of Oregon)  She has a driver’s license and a car and a job and a boyfriend and a social life and all the dreams and worries and ideas that come with that time in your life.

And in the mix of all of that there isn’t a lot of time for Pokemon.

About six years back I wrote a farewell to Pokemon, thinking at the time that we probably wouldn’t make the jump to the 3DS platform.  But then my daughter came around and we played the games for a few more years.  There won’t be a similar reprieve this time.  A year from now she will be off to college and the seriousness and growing which that entails.

But there is always a future for childish things, once you’ve gotten past that embrace of adulthood and the seriousness that goes with it.  This blog is a testament to that.  And, after talking with my daughter about this, she did decide to start a fresh game of Animal Crossing: New Leaf on her old 3DS.

Clearing the Stormwind Stockade

I do not imagine that the Stormwind Stockade is on anybody’s list of epic, memorable classic WoW instances.  It might even be one of the instances that was made better by the Cataclysm revamp.  At least it got Hogger as a boss then.

But there it is, in the middle of Stormwind, easy to get to and easy to run.  It was also right in our level range and about right for our level of commitment.  I was still ill and had family in town, so a short window of time on Saturday afternoon was about it for me.

Skronk and I got over to the Stockade early just to get quests and what not in order… and to listen to the NPCs talk about their troubles.

Hanging out

Sitting around there for a bit was another reminder of how much detail work Blizz put into the game.  The NPCs go on about the troubles in the Stockade and every once in a while a group of Defias prisoners surges out of the entrance to the dungeon to fight with the Stormwind guards.  You can jump in and help, but the guards subdue them in short order, then go back to moaning about their current situation.

The Stormwind Stockade is a small instance, but it does seem to try to make up for that with quests.  As we sat around waiting for people to get online and over to Stormwind, Skonk and I were able to put together five quests for the instance, and checking later, I was missing a sixth according to the list over at Icy Veins.  Somehow I didn’t get the one from the Wetlands.

My quest list for the Stockade

I think for the full run you need to walk out of the instance with three heads, a hand, ten bandanas, and a checked off shopping list of various prisoner types slain.

As everybody got online, we ended up with this as our group.

  • Ula – level 26 gnome mage
  • Viniki – level 26 gnome warrior
  • Skronk – level 26 dwarf priest
  • Obama – level 27 human warlock
  • Moronae – level 27 night elf druid

We formed up outside the instance, some potions were passed out, quests shared, and then we headed in.

Looking into the Stockade

The challenge of the Stockade, such that there is, is mob management.  The instance is small, but fairly crowded with Defias prisoners, so it is easy for a pull to bring more mobs than you thought and accidentally pulling by proximity will happen if you are not careful.  The mobs also all run when they get low on hit points which can lead to more pulls if you’re not careful.

And, at the start of the instance, they can also run past the zone entrance far enough that you cannot loot them.

No Stockade run is complete without this situation

Other than that, the whole thing is a short north/south-ish corridor which is crossed by and east/west corridor, each with cells on either side and at the ends.

Map of the Stormwind Stockade

That map, which I swiped from the web, is from later in the life of the game, when instances got in-game maps, but before the Cataclysm rework, which put bosses on the maps, which I guess would make it from somewhere in the WotLK time frame.  Maybe?

Anyway, you move through the instance clearing the hallway, then each cell as you move past.  Each cell has three or four mobs.

Fighting in one of the cells

The cells have their quirks.  At one point I ran up to the broken bars to proximity pull a Defias standing behind them, but he just sat there until I moved to the open door section in the middle.  Then he came to get me.  They may have wrecked their cage, but they remain locked up in their hearts I guess.

As for the bosses… they aren’t really bosses the way they are in other instances.  A couple of them show up in random cells along the way.  Down at the west end, where we headed first, we found Dextren Ward in the furthest west cell.  We cleared the the north and south cells first, mostly out of habit, then realized we had done it right because Ward’s special attack is to fear people, which sends you running into those rooms.  If you haven’t cleared them, it is all about the adds.

Down at the eastern end there was Hamhock, the ogre, and then Bazil Thredd, neither of whom were particularly tough.  They also drop no loot, no doubt because it would be way too easy to farm.  There is a rare spawn boss who does have a couple items, but we didn’t get him.  So we collected the various body parts, as each of the mobs were generously supplied with five heads or hands or whatever.  By that time we were also done with our shopping list of kills.

Group picture time… not even sure which boss now

The one thing we were not done with was bandanas.  Everybody in the group needed to collect ten, they drop off of maybe one in four Defias mobs, and unlike heads or limbs, no Defias line member ever seems to carry a backup bandana or three on their person.  So even when we had slain the last named mob we were well short on bandanas.

But the Stormwind Stockade provides.  Another oddity of the instance is that it respawns the trash mobs pretty quickly.  Before we were done with the west end of the long corridor Defias mobs had begun respawning around the entrance.  We had to clear a walker as we crossed to the east end, so when we were done there we just turned around and went back to clear the rapidly returning Defias to collect bandanas.

Slaying respawns

We had to carry on with this for a while, but eventually people started finishing up their collection.  As that happens others are more likely to get bandanas, so our full quota was reached pretty quickly once we were down to two people.

Ula once again did a video of some of our time in the Stormwind Stockade, so you can get a sense of what it is like in there.

The soundtrack is better on the video I think.  The video also shows one of the trials of being the tank, which is people hitting mobs other than the one you’re hitting.  You can see me turning around and taunting mobs off of people.  Fortunately the warrior taunt is very effective, so it isn’t a huge deal and gives me something else to do now and again.  We would be in trouble if I had gone with my pally tank idea though.

The video is also available over on Ula’s new blog, which you can follow to keep up to date on her video releases.

After that it was time to exit and begin the great turn-in of quests.  Most of them offered up just experience and a bit of silver as rewards.  Not that I mind a bit of silver.  My characters are all still pretty poor.  But The Stockade Riots quest is part of a chain which began with a drop at the end of the Deadmines which brings you around to the garden in the castle for an event that has you talking to a gnome named Tyrion and then slaying a pair of plotters.

Finding Tryion

There is a bit of a hang up in this quest as Tyrion is required for two stages of the quest, and when he is involved with one you cannot turn in the other.  Skronk and Ula got hung up for a while waiting on this.  I came back later and was able to get some help from a stranger to finish it.  It is worth the wait as after you have completed The Attack you unwind back through the people you spoke to, ending up at the king in Stormwind castle.

And her, but we’ll get to her later won’t we?

Once there, your reward is a pretty decent ring, with stats for everybody.

The seal of Wrynn

I will no doubt be hanging on to that one for a while.  And so ended our Stormwind Stockade run.  In its WoW Classic form it is a bit forgettable, though the one quest reward was worth it  If you look through past group encounters with the Stormwind Stockade you’ll see I don’t have much to say about them either, though I do mention that ring after the first run, so I must have done that quest before. (Though I don’t remember it at all.)

As for the next destination, we head straight to Gnomeregan.  We’re pretty far into the level range for Razrofen Kraul, as our side run into it indicates, so it may get bypassed and left for an alt group to conquer.  We shall see.

EverQuest II at Fifteen and the Memories of What Could Have Been

I am sure I’ve told this tale before… probably several times… but playing EverQuest II back at launch was really a last minute decision for me.  Meclin… or Gaff… or Rarik…  or whatever I call him these days… Tim I guess… with whom I had played Sojourn/TorilMUD on and off for the previous decade, was suddenly taken with the idea of playing EverQuest II.

An ad for EQII from the August 2004 issue of Computer Gaming World

I hadn’t really been paying attention.  I’d stopped playing EverQuest for a variety of reasons, gave my account to a friend who still played and was doing some multi-boxing (they never changed the password, so I checked back on that account and found all my chars deleted), and basically played single player games or online match-based games like Delta Force and Battlefield 1942.  I knew some people who played EQ or DAoC, but I wasn’t interested.  I had neither the time nor the inclination.

TorilMUD revived itself, after having gone missing for a stretch, in early 2003 which got some of the people I knew back together.  I dove back into that and for one last stretch it became my main game.  But after getting to level cap and getting into a guild and doing zones regularly, word started to get around about EverQuest II.

There was a strong tie between TorilMUD and EQ, with TorilMUD having been the home of a number of EQ devs, including Brad McQuaid, and having served as the basic template for EQ.  A lot of early EQ, from classes to the death mechanics, were rooted in TorilMUD.

So with an new EverQuest coming, it was natural for people to be looking into it.  Not me however, I wasn’t feeling any sort of itch.  Tim though, he was listening to the reports on the new game.  He even passed me a write up somebody had done in beta.  He wanted to get in on the new game, and all the more so since he missed out on early EverQuest.  So a bunch of people from our guild… him and Chandigar and Pril and Oteb and a few others… got on board with playing EverQuest II at launch.

Or almost at launch.

We didn’t get there for the first round of servers.  But the team at SOE had a plan for launch that included bringing new servers online as the current ones filled up.  So we joined in with the launch of the Crushbone server on November 13, 2004, fifteen years ago today.

My earliest screen shot of EQ2 – Nov. 14, 2004

We got in, got through the Isle of Refuge, made it to town, and eventually formed a guild the next day.

Our guild on Crushbone

The guild was a mix of TorilMUD players and some EverQuest players that included a friend of Tim’s.  We all joined together and became the Knights of the Cataclysm.

The EverQuest II lore is based on a cataclysm, the breaking of the moon that rained down debris on Norrath, sundered the lands, broke up continents, reworked the landscape, and basically provided a way to start from scratch to a certain extent.

The game, heir to EverQuest, the reigning champion of the fantasy MMORPG genre with more than 550K subscribers, was expected to carry on the tradition of the original.  The headline of the review by Jeff Green in CGW was The Once and Future King!

Unfortunately, cataclysm proved to be something of an apt metaphor for the game.  There was a lot wrong with it at launch.  For openers, the systems requirements were way too high, something that prevented much of the EQ base from even considering migrating to the new game.  And that migration was clearly central to the plan at SOE.

There were also a myriad of bad assumptions, bad features, and last minute changes… the game was already a year or so “late” so the need to launch seemed to be driving much of the process at that point… that hamstrung the game.

Some of it was self-inflicted.  There has long been the tale about how the EQII team felt they had to steer away from the original game and create their own lore.  Crafting, which had been its own class during the beta, because a sub-class for players, though retained the same advancement structure.  What it also retained was an overburden of complexity and interdependence between the professions.

Adventuring classes had the odd archetype system, where you chose fighter, rogue, cleric, or mage up front, then specialized at level 10, then again at level 20, at which point you were finally at your final class.  But there were really too many classes and too many races and not enough character slots (just 4).

Grouping was pretty much required if you wanted any sort of smooth ride while leveling.  Some zones were locked behind group quests, though only if you wanted to go there before a given level.  Afterwards you could just walk in.  And somebody at SOE had given too much ear to people complaining about twinking in the forums, so a lot of spells could only be cast on groups members, others had pitifully short duration, and some spells combined both.  Gone were the days of casting Spirit of the Wolf on grateful lowbies.

And then there were the core issues, like zones.  The market was moving towards the seamless world idea, but EQII still had you zoning.  And there wasn’t even the illusion of a single world as with EQ.  The place was chopped up into disconnected areas that you visited via a portal or a bell.  I am sure that some problems were solved with this approach, but it left the game feeling less like a world.

Add in the graphics, which were not bad if you had a rig that could display them, though the color scheme tended towards muddy, but when you did crank them up went a little too far into the uncanny valley when it came to characters, and the seeds of discontent had been sown.

Meanwhile the gaming market itself had changed.  When EverQuest launched in March of 1999 there were other MMORPGs, but they were pretty different.  Ultima Online had its isometric 3rd person perspective.  Meridian 59 was all about PvP.  When Asheron’s Call showed up it had a different advancement philosophy.  These were all distinctively different titles.

By late 2004 more games had appeared in the genre.  Dark Age of Camelot talked about being like EverQuest with PVP but without the “suck.”  There was already news coverage for other competing titles.  Guild Wars was in the offing.  Brad McQuaid had already left SOE with some of the original EverQuest crew and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was vying for the successor to Norrath title.  And, of course, there was that title from Blizzard that was getting lots of coverage.

And so the cataclysm metaphor seemed apt.

Not that it was all bad.  The game’s housing system, and how well integrated it was to the game, including a trade profession dedicated to building furniture, still stands apart from any other MMORPG I have played.  Its free form decorating and the ability to hang trophies from your adventures on your wall, as well as being your in-game store front, worked very well.

As a group, as a guild, we stayed mostly pretty dedicated to the game for almost a year.  But we were something of the exception rather than the rule.  People who did not feel at home in the new world often went back to EverQuest.

But in a couple of weeks after we first logged in World of Warcraft launched, and a lot of people who didn’t go back to EverQuest moved on to WoW instead.

SOE knew they were in trouble pretty quickly after WoW launched, and the game started changing to adapt.  We got little quills and books over quest givers, the EQII version of the big yellow exclamation mark and question mark in Azeroth.  Trade skills got revamped.  We got offline selling.  The emphasis on grouping being a requirement after level 20 or so was relaxed somewhat.  A lot of those group encounters in the Thundering Steppes were made solo encounters.  Buffs got saner timers.  Travel was tinkered with.

Meanwhile, the SOE mania with more content lest we all leave… EQ was well into its “two expansions a year” era… meant that an expansion popped up before some of us were at level cap.

Within a few months people started to fade away.  On guild coms people were pining for Vanguard, which they were now sure would be the real EQ successor.  I went off and tried WoW. came back for a while, then a large portion of the TorilMUD faction in our guild went to WoW together, settling on the Eldre’Thalas server where I still play some of the characters I rolled up back then.

And now here we are, fifteen years down the road, and the game is still there.

As their splash screen proudly declares… though that is the original EverQuest box art

It has been updated, changed, and re-arranged over the years often, but not always, improving the game.  It still gets a new expansion every year, which is a lot more than many games in the genre get.  People still pine for an alternate universe where WoW never launched, but I don’t think that would have made the game any more popular.  It was a mess at launch, but has matured over time, so that the game today plays differently than it did way back when… though there are too many damn skills still.

Oddly, I think the fact that the game has changed so much, mostly for the better, is one of the reasons that the whole progression server idea isn’t nearly as popular for EQII as it is for EQ.

In EQ the old locations mostly look about the same.  Okay, they updated Freeport, but Qeynos and Faydwer still look as crappy as they did back in 1999.  Even if the progression server isn’t a pure 1999 experience, you can squint your eyes and pretend and mostly feel the nostalgia burn.

But EQII?  How the hell does Daybreak even begin to simulate the chaos and dysfunction that was early EQII?  So much has changed that there is no going back to 2004.  There simply aren’t enough free resources at Daybreak to re-create the original game.