Daily Archives: December 30, 2019

Looking Back at 2019 Highs and Lows

What people forget is a journey to nowhere starts with a single step, too.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor

Here we are again, sitting at the end of another calendar year.  And not just that, but at the end of a decade as well, if we’re going to collect our arbitrary eras of time.  Reality doesn’t care about the calendar, but humans like to put things in nice neat boxes.

As has become the routine every year, I spend a bit of time writing out some of the highs and lows of the year.  This is not at all an inclusive or an exhaustive list of things good and ill that came to pass in 2019.  I inevitably look back at these posts and come up with a dozen more things I could have listed.  Rather, this is more of a stream of consciousness vomit of words into the text editor.  As such, don’t expect to find any links to whatever I bring up.  But you can ask in the comments I suppose.

The only links you get are back to past iterations of this post from previous years.

I think the major change this year is that I decided each bullet point needed to be a complete sentence with punctuation.  That probably means they aren’t really bullet points, but I don’t care.

One thing I will note is that going through some of the older posts… and I now have a full decade streak running from 2010 through 2019… is how much my focus has narrowed.  My ability to care about a wide range of games and genres and technologies has decreased noticeably as the years have dragged on.  I suspect that this is a function of age as much as anything else.  But this means that, over time, the list of categories has decreased and the number of titles I feel inclined to mention has grown smaller.  Still, I will go on about some of the expected standards from the blog.

Blizzard

Highs

  • The Warcraft 25th anniversary and WoW 15th anniversary were highlights.
  • Rise of Azshara update finally gave us the flying unlock for Battle for Azeroth.  That was enough to get a few people back.
  • WoW Classic comes alive and succeeds beyond at least Blizzard’s expectations, picking up the slack for the faltering Battle for Azeroth expansion.
  • Personally WoW Classic was an excellent return to a simpler time in Azeroth.
  • A working version of Diablo in conjunction with GoG.com!
  • Diablo IV announced!
  • Overwatch 2 announced!  It will have a PvE story campaign and will overlap functionality with Overwatch.
  • The next WoW expansion, Shadowlands was announced.
  • More decks and a new game mode for Hearthstone.
  • Warcraft III: Reforged closer to release, and it looks really good.
  • StarCraft Cartooned was pretty funny.  Worth my $10.
  • The promise of more devs for WoW and WoW Classic.

Lows

  • 2019 was a strong reminder that Blizzard is just a company and not a special magic factory or your best friend or an organization that cares a single whit about you.  Blizz is just EA dialed back to maybe 8.  That doesn’t mean you should be mean to people who work there (please don’t be that person), just that you should set your expectations accordingly.
  • The Blitzchung Hong Kong fiasco put a shadow over the whole company right before BlizzCon.
  • Blizzard’s sanctions against Blitzchung, their slow response, their corporate speak, and the lack of clarity as to what J. Allen Brack was actually apologizing for all worked against Blizz.  The only bright point for Blizz in all of this was probably that most of its customers didn’t give a shit.
  • Battle for Azeroth just wasn’t thrilling people.  This is a problem when you have a lot of people to please and you only push an expansion out every other year.
  • Took Blizz a while to get Darkmoon Faire trade skill quests working right with the BfA tradeskill revamp.  Another case of one hand not paying any mind to the other I bet.
  • Blizz wildly underestimated WoW Classic popularity, having to nearly triple the number of servers they started with, then doubling the capacity of the servers just to soak up all those wanting to play.
  • WoW Classic has some odd performance issues.  It is mostly crisp, but crossing zones always has a little hiccup and at times actions fall behind the UI and you’re left hanging while the game catches up.  Maybe that was in vanilla too and I’ve just forgotten.
  • WoW Classic population balance… lots of free character transfer offers, but not sure if they did the trick.
  • Then there was UKDillahs and their DDoS attack on WoW Classic.
  • WoW Classic can’t carry the load forever and there has been no indication that Blizz “gets” the whole nostalgia thing beyond a superficial level.
  • WoW Classic PvP servers once honor was introduced.
  • Paid character transfers for WoW Classic show up now that honor has made life miserable on some PvP realms.
  • The level squish plan coming with Shadowlands if rife with the possibility of problems.
  • Diablo IV is still a long, long way away.  We’ll be getting updates about it for a couple more BlizzCon cycles before it goes live.
  • No Diablo II remaster yet and the original Diablo II devs say it will never happen… though they throw shade at everything Blizz does with the franchise they created.
  • Is Overwatch 2 a dessert topping or a floor wax?  It is billed as a new game, looks like an expansion, and feels a lot like something that should have been part of the original.
  • Warcraft III: Reforged was supposed to launch in 2019.  Only made it to closed beta so far, and only for those who pre-ordered.  The launch should be in January.  We shall see.
  • StarCraft II?  Helloooo?
  • The usual amount of missed opportunities due to Blizzard being both slow and cautious and having grown to be even more lumbering due to its size.
  • Layoffs announced in the breath after celebrating their best financial performance ever.
  • Blizzard margins were way down mid-year, which is never a good look for a public company as Wall Street obsesses about margins.
  • Not a single new game out of the company in how many years now?

Daybreak

Highs

  • EverQuest turns 20!
  • Lots of good EverQuest news about the viability of the franchise.
  • EverQuest II turns 15!
  • Both Norrath games got a new expansion.  The future seems bright for fans.
  • EverQuest and EverQuest II special rules servers have helped keep the Norrath franchise alive.
  • Managed to find time to play and enjoy both EverQuest and EverQuest II this year.
  • The EverQuest Show arrives dedicated to covering EverQuest, something I have long wished for.
  • DC Universe Online remains hardy, gets updates.
  • DC Universe Online even got a version on the Nintendo Switch!  No idea how it is doing there, but that they thought it was worth the effort says something.
  • Daybreak launched a new title, PlanetSide Arena!
  • Plans for a PlanetSide 3 announced!

Lows

  • Layoffs.
  • Signs of a possible company break up or sale, with new names being registered and new social media accounts.
  • Daybreak has four viable games: EverQuest, EverQuest II, DC Universe Online, and PlanetSide 2… and I won’t swear to that last one… the youngest of which is seven years old.
  • EverQuest franchise is a cow and Daybreak is content to milk it.  Same for DC Universe Online.
  • Exec Producer says there could be another EverQuest game someday under the right circumstances, which leads me to believe there won’t ever be a new EverQuest game so long as current Daybreak management are running the show.
  • EverQuest special rules servers tend to work best in one flavor despite different variations.
  • EverQuest II special rules servers do not have the same appeal as EverQuest flavors.
  • EverQuest II seems to be back in the performance issues zone.  When playing there are is a lot of hesitation and delay when using spells or combat skills.  This is more so in group play, like the dragon events, but I see it even in solo instances.
  • The EverQuest II expansion, Blood of Luclin, is… odd.  That may not be bad.  There may be things going on here the industry ought to look at.  But for a company that brings out an expansion annually in order to cater to its core audience, rocking the boat like this is a risk.
  • The EverQuest Show went quiet after a few months.  I hope it isn’t gone for good.
  • No more Player Studio.  SOE/Daybreak were leaders with that, but had to fold up shop.
  • Sorry about that currency exploit which apparently inflated the hell out of the economy in DCUO.  Daybreak had to apply a “fix tax” that basically took everything above 25 billion from anybody’s account.
  • Z1 Battle Royale handed back to Daybreak when NantWorks couldn’t make it work.
  • H1Z1 neglected and mis-handled on the PS4, while the returning PC prodigal son… was also neglected and mis-handled.
  • PlanetSide Arena, a battle royale based on PlanetSide 2 strikes very few as new in any way.  Overwatch 2 has better claim to being new to my mind.
  • PlanetSide Arena failed to launch in February, re-targeted to “summer” to include PlayStation 4 version as well, after which Daybreak goes into its usual silent mode for six months.
  • PlanetSide Arena goes early access on PC only in September (technically just before the end of summer on the calendar) only to be roundly scorned by the dwindling PlanetSide 2 community.  Steam numbers quickly go so low that the game is clearly not viable.
  • PlanetSide Arena gets shut down… would writing just PlanetSide Arena have been enough?
  • Plans to revitalize PlanetSide 2 appear to be to based on… something vague they can’t tell us about.  That generally means they don’t know.  We’ll find out in 2020.
  • PlanetSide 3 plans were to build off of PlanetSide Arena… which is now kaput.  So what happens now?
  • PlanetSide and H1Z1 franchises prove that being a cow and getting milked is still better than some other options.
  • Does Jason Epstein still own this mess?

CCP

Highs

  • Triglavian ships for everybody!
  • Triglavian invasions for most everybody!
  • Skill points for everybody!
  • Really a lot of good, solid, quality of life fixes in the game.  They may be small, but they matter.
  • Moratorium on devs playing EVE Online openly has been lifted after more than a decade.
  • CCP working on the ISK faucet problem seriously, and actually having an impact.
  • War Dec changes finally putting some sort of cap on that scourge of high sec.
  • Some progress on Upwell structure issues like time zone tanking and low powered structure spam.
  • Still some wars in null sec, with TEST and Fraternity battling and the Imperium going north to drive PanFam out of Tribute.
  • CCP said to have gotten lots of good, actionable data from summer experiments.
  • EVE Fanfest World Tour brought official EVE Online events to many people.
  • EVE Vegas and the Permaband performance were excellent.
  • EVE media seems pretty strong on the streaming front.  Lots of streamers and streaming shows covering New Eden.
  • Team Talos created to tackle what are essentially balance issues!
  • Katia Sai making it to all the systems in New Eden without losing a ship and getting wide recognition for the feat, including a monument in game and a Guinness Records achievement.
  • A whole range of new and colorful ships SKINs arrived as the year closed out.
  • EVE Aether Wars tech demo promised better tech infrastructure for online games of the future.
  • Finally progressing towards another live product with EVE Echoes.

Lows

  • CCP bans CSM member Brisc Rubal for cheating… and then does their investigation only to end up reinstating him and apologizing.  The phrase “measure twice, cut once” springs to mind.
  • The CSM remains a bastion of null sec for the same old reasons.  But an elected CSM will always be as such.
  • CCP gets lots of new players, then loses almost all of them in the first week.  Half of people who register don’t end up even logging in.
  • There comes a point where “give away more skill points” might not be the right answer.
  • What Alliance Tournament?
  • Entosis mechanics remain a barrier to sov warfare in null sec.  We shoot structures to fight and only take space when one side decides to pack up and leave.
  • Capital meta still oppresses subcap game play in null sec.  Form battleships and you get supers dropped on you.
  • The “summer experiments,” Hurricane Hilmar and the Chaos, era kills off a lot of null sec and economic activity.  Velocity of PLEX plummets.
  • Imperium campaign in Tribute was brought up short by the completely unfun and unrewarding Drifter attacks.  Player war killed by dubious event.
  • Their own analysis showed that the blackout hit the poor hard and was barely noticed by the rich.  Just like real world economics!
  • HyperNet Relay – Gambling returns to New Eden.  But CCP and the CSM seem quite enthusiastic about a mechanism where almost everybody involved loses their money.
  • Cyno changes meant an end to solo capital play unless you had the budget to pay half a billion for every cyno.
  • No more EVE Vegas.  Its not that I don’t like San Diego.  It is a nice place.  My sister lives there.  But if you’re going to to keep it in the western US, LA is the clear winner (Disneyland for the family) and Seattle is the place different enough to be a runner up.
  • CCP Guard and CCP Falcon, two staples of the community team, left CCP.
  • Written media about EVE Online continues its decline.  Crossing Zebras closed down, New Eden Register faded, EVE News 24 pretty much just reposts dev blogs and press releases, and even INN has become sporadic in its coverage of New Eden.  Streams and videos are great, but I miss the search and index functionality that comes with the written word.  But then blogs are pretty fringe now as well.  The cool kids don’t write.
  • There was a long, dry spell of almost no new ship SKINs for much of the year.
  • EVE Aether Wars is tech that will never make it into EVE Online at this point and the record attempts as part of the tests fell so far short of goals as to be embarrassing after three tries.
  • That Starter Pack deal that gave anybody who bought it a one time million skill point boost for $10 is still there, still available for anybody to buy.  I guess CCP decided they could weather out our 15 minutes of outrage… and it looks like they were right.
  • CCP’s plans for EVE Online are all tactical, which isn’t all bad, since the game needs that, but there is no long term vision of aspirational feature on the horizon.
  • Seriously, when CCP Seagull mentioned player made star gates way back when, was anybody thinking “oh, that will just be the replacement for jump bridges?”  Because I sure thought it meant something more expansive.
  • That chart from Hilmar that seemed to say that the goal of the new player path culminated in anxiety and boredom.  It is in the CSM minutes and it betrays some blurry thinking.
  • Still a lot of goofy, old, out of date, need revision mechanics in the game.
  • Perhaps the first year where I did feel like EVE Online was dying.
  • I am not a fan of EVE Echoes.  It is too complicated to be a mobile game yet too simplified to be EVE Online for me.

Standing Stone Games

Highs

  • LOTRO got another expansion with Minas Morgul!
  • LOTRO Legendary server carries on with progression.
  • SSG says they have many years of additional content they could add to LOTRO.
  • An admission that the awful legendary weapons system might need some work.
  • DDO got… some things.  I seem to remember that.

Lows

  • The Minas Morgul expansion is hidden behind the Mordor expansion, which stopped me cold.
  • I honestly think the claims about future content are hubris in the extreme.  Content sells, but the ring was destroyed in the last expansion.  How many “we’re still cleaning up Middle-earth” expansions can they get away with?  Unless they’re going to go the time travel route.  Please no.
  • SSG attempting to cash shop their way out of the awful legendary weapon system that has been a menace following the game since Mines of Moria, like a tedious and time consuming Gollum.  Don’t like legendary weapons?  Just give us $50 and to unlock everything.
  • As I have said before, the company depends on milking their two titles for their ongoing survival.  Any serious misstep could derail the whole thing.
  • Still not clear who owns the company and what the real connection is with Daybreak and whether or not that connection should worry us given the tenuous nature of Daybreak’s future.

Other Games and the Gaming Industry

Highs

  • TorilMUD carries on, has added a new class to the options.  Not bad for a 26 year old game.
  • The Minecraft Village & Pillage update was pretty big, with a lot of great additions to the game.
  • Jedi: Fallen Order, in which it seems like EA somehow managed to make a decent Star Wars game that wasn’t laden with microtransactions, loot boxes, or other heinous cash grabs.  It is like they know what they’re doing wrong, but do it anyway.
  • Google Stadia promised a whole lot of stuff.
  • Auto Battler/Auto Chess gave us a new game mode that was some fun, leading to Teamfight Tactics and Dota Underlords.
  • The Switch gets a real Pokemon core RPG title in Pokemon Sword & Shield and it sells like crazy, proving once again the strength of the franchise.
  • The Epic Game Store gave Steam some competition, which it really needs.
  • Steam still carried on, even managing to get EA and Microsoft to put their games on the Steam store again.
  • Microsoft launched Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition on Steam.
  • Niantic has kept Pokemon Go lively by unlocking new Pokemon and adding new features.
  • Niantic even let me change teams in Pokemon Go. It cost a thousand coins, but was worth it.
  • Yathzee Crowshaw’s Dev Diary series on YouTube where he is making 12 Games in 12 Months has been great so far.  Learn about the primary game play loop!

Lows

  • The loss of Brad McQuaid.
  • Shroud of the Avatar getting handed off to an unknown company was a new low point for the game.
  • Not sure the downsides of Google Stadia… like having to buy any game you want to play there again if you already own it… will make the upsides worth it, even if Google manages to fulfill its promises.
  • I don’t even care about Fallout 76 and it annoys me.  Stop being bad!
  • The Epic Game Store lost many fans when it paid devs to sign exclusives that required them to pull already existing pre-order from Steam.
  • Most people are just going to stick to Steam no matter what.
  • Steam sales, summer, winter, and in between, just don’t have the power they once did.  I’ve been saying that for years now, but sales continue to have less impact on me and sale prices are the not-so-new normal at this point.
  • Great moment during the summer sale when Steam managed to get lots of people to purge their wishlists due to being unclear how you might win a game from it.  Lots of dev panic as they saw their games getting dropped and then Valve trying to explain their mistake.
  • Steam continues to have to revise their policy of allowing any game.  They approved a game called Rape Day, then removed it after outrage.  More recently they deleted a whole range of crap… which should be a high, but that they still won’t admit they should have standards makes this a low.
  • Unless you have a current machine, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition might not run very well on your system.  Also, do I want to buy that game for the third time? (Original, HD, and now DI versions.)
  • The last few levels before 40 in Pokemon Go are a drag with little in the way of rewards.  Also, any event that requires me to make multiple excellent curve ball throws is taxing to my patience.  Also also… damned Sinnoh stones.
  • Cryptic killed their player studio stuff in Star Trek Online and Neverwinter.  User created content is apparently more trouble than it is worth.
  • ArenaNet layoffs and the departure of people like Mike O’Brien cannot mean good new long term for Guild Wars 2 fans.
  • Fallen Earth went dark, but plans to come back.  We shall see.
  • Industry cannot stop making lockboxes seem bad, while trying to explain them away as “surprise mechanics” just makes them look like liars.  This is how you get your industry regulated.
  • GameStop is as good as dead now.  You may not love GameStop, but it being there and able to sell me some obscure bit of console hardware no longer made by the OEM was handy at times.
  • More local to me, electronics chain Fry’s, once the Silicon Valley go-to place for nearly everything nerd, looks to be on its death bed as well.
  • Along with the used market, digital is also killing off the rental market.  Redbox said nuts to that and shut theirs down.  GameFly probably won’t be long for this world.
  • Writing this section proves more so every year that I rarely play anything new.  I like my old games.
  • I’m not even good at keeping up with MMOs anymore.  I am not sure I could string together three relevant sentences about games like ESO, FFXIV, SWTOR, or any of the other still viable, still chugging along staples of the genre.

 

Media, Social and Otherwise

Highs

  • Watched some good shows like The Boys, Succession, The Madalorian, Watchmen, Umbrella Academy, and Russian Doll along with new seasons of The Expanse, Rick & Morty, The Good Place, and The Crown.
  • Baby Yoda deserves a special mention.
  • Good movies as well, like The Irishman, Detective Pikachu, The Dead Don’t Die, Toy Story 4, Dowton Abby, Ford v Ferrari, and Jojo Rabbit.  I was happy with all of those.
  • Working towards cord cutting with a Roku Streaming Stick and services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Disney+.
  • On YouTube Honest Trailers, How it Should Have Ended, and a few other channels continue to deliver joy for me.
  • Despite complaints, I find Twitter to be a good source of news and humor.  It has remained the best social media option for me, though I am also very selective as to whom I follow.
  • For all the cries that “Facebook kills democracy” and the like, I’ve yet to see anybody I know post or comment on something politically where I couldn’t have guessed where they stood in advance.  Nobody is swayed by retweeting memes or political ads as everybody makes up their mind first then cherry picks facts to support their point of view.  Facebook just made this more obvious.

Lows

  • No real “great” movies or TV shows however.  That might just be me, but nothing this year made me want to go back and watch it again.
  • Not feeling it for the final season of BoJack Horseman.  They seem to be setting him up for a huge fall just to make sure the series is done.
  • The main high point of Star Wars – Rise of the Skywalker is that at least we’re done with that for a while.  I’ll stack rank the series again at some point, but don’t expect episode IX to be near the top.  It mostly felt like wasted potential.
  • Profusion of new specialty video streaming services.  I am tapped out after having to get Disney+ because my wife said we needed Baby Yoda.
  • Cannot really cord cut because the cable company remains the only high speed internet option in my neighborhood and 100 MBit internet alone costs more than 100 MBit plus basic cable.
  • Also cannot cord cut because Hulu “live TV” is over a minute delayed for live sports, and my wife texts her friends about hockey and cannot stand to hear about goals or penalties that haven’t hit our TV yest.
  • Not enough time/energy to go see a lot of movies in the theater, and and many are getting hidden away on some streaming service I won’t be subscribing to.  I didn’t see Avengers: End Game until we got Disney+.
  • Love binge watching shows, but getting all the episodes at once just means waiting longer until the next season becomes available.  But I won’t stop.
  • That drip feed of weekly episode releases is tough to deal with now… but it does keep everybody on the same page and builds up a sense of fan engagement for some shows.  Just stop being in such a hurry to live post all the spoilers as the episode airs.  Some of watch the next day.
  • Horrible Sonic the Hedgehog render for movie gets huge fan backlash, forcing studio to rework the model, leading to the company doing that work getting fired for not going into constant crunch mode to do the fix.
  • Twitter redoing its web interface was an abomination.  I was very happy when a browser plugin showed up to return it to its old format.  But I freak out a bit every time I see the new UI on somebody’s machine.
  • People on Twitter are still horrible.  There needs to be some sort of reminder that the person you’re trashing is a real human being and maybe some sort of five minute delay on posting with a Win10 level “are you sure you want to post that?” and “really, last warning, do you really want to say this publicly and have it recorded for all posterity?” before a tweet goes live.
  • The lack of a typo edit feature in Twitter is just killing me.
  • Facebook is still annoying to look at even if it isn’t killing democracy.
  • The demise of MAD Magazine, staple of my adolescence.  There was much there that made me the cynic I am today.
  • Elementary wrapped up in a semi-satisfying way I guess with a half season finale.  But the previous season felt like they were struggling for a thread, so maybe it ran too long.
  • The end of Game of Thrones… as lots of people have noted… felt rushed and rather half-assed.
  • Also, generally speaking, in a world of LED TVs please stop doing so many scenes of people in black, with dark gear, in unlit rooms, on dark moonless nights.  If you create video that is pretty much unviewable on default settings you suck.
  • Google+ went away, though admittedly few were using it… much fewer than were still using Google Reader when they killed that.

The Blog, Blogging, and things more Personal

Highs

  • The blog carried on for another year.  That makes 13 years in total.
  • Still managed to crank out a prestigious amount of posts and words.
  • Blaugust had a reasonable turnout this year, and the Discord channel for it remained active after it ended. (Unlike last year, when there were like three of us still there afterwards.)
  • MMO Fallout announced it was shutting down… then opened back up to keep covering neglected bits of the MMO market niche.
  • The old instance group back together again in WoW Classic!
  • We got a new oven and I am surprised at how much of a difference it made.  Consistent, even, accurate heat means the directions on the box for most everything I cook are correct.  My wife, who actually cooks real food, likes it too.
  • My wife and I have successfully raised child to legal adult age.  Said child has already been accepted to several universities.  Op success!

Lows

  • Do people still read blogs?  Blog traffic continues to drop off.
  • I remind myself that quantity does not equal quality.
  • More worrying, my own desire to write yet another post about something I’ve probably covered previously feels like it is slipping.
  • The instance group is all older and less able to stay up past our bed times.  Earl being in Japan also makes group times a bit odd.
  • Having adult offspring doesn’t make you feel any younger.  Oh, and now to pay for that university education without incurring crippling debt for anybody.  Welcome to America.
  • What are we going to do when the child, the center of our existence for almost 20 years if you count getting everything ready, leaves the nest for college?  I kind of envy my parents for having kids so young.  When I left home my dad was the same age I was when my daughter was born.  Then again, my parents being young meant that my main parenting lesson from them was “Don’t do what they did if I can avoid it.”
  • Also, everything else in Silicon Valley is so freaking expensive.  If I am able to retire some day, we will have to move in order to afford it.  I hear Idaho is… nice.
  • In a complex world our simian brains fixate on simple answers, often “burn it down and rebuild it from scratch” without any care for the impact.  Humans are dumb when they generalize, freeze up when they get all the details, and I don’t know how to fix that.  It is frustrating no serious public discussion of any issue seems possible.

Final Thoughts

It isn’t as bad as all that.  But I am sure next year will try to prove me wrong.  It is a leap year, which means not only is there another full day for the world to get into trouble, but there is also another summer Olympics to get through.  And there is a presidential election too.  But I’m sure that won’t be a problem.