Category Archives: entertainment

Return to a LEGO Galaxy Far, Far Away

The age of the gaming console has pretty much faded in our house.  We have had a Wii for more than eight years now, but it has been mostly collecting dust for the last few years.  The last thing I did with it was bring up Pokemon Ranch to get back all the Pokemon I had stored in it last summer during my Pokemon binge.  I am pretty sure I could pack the unit, the controllers, and all the games up in a box and store them away without anybody in the house protesting.

Our PlayStation 3, now four years in the house, gets more attention.  Hooked up to our TV, it gets used to play BluRay movies or stream content from Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Video games though?  Not so much.  Little Big Planet, once my daughter’s favorite thing ever, the game that got her to leave the Wii behind, hasn’t been played in ages.  The last games that got played on the unit were the short bout with the poor PS3 port of Dragon Age: Inquisition and a bit of Diablo III, picked up with a GameStop gift card my daughter got for Christmas.  Those were both very brief encounters.

The mojo had clearly gone from our console gaming.

As I waxed nostalgic around Christmas about the days back when my daughter would wake me up early on Saturday mornings so we could jump in the Love Sac and play Mario Party 8 or Mario Kart Double Dash or LEGO Star Wars on the Wii, my wife decided that we might be due for a replacement.  Our late cat Trixie kept peeing on the Love Sac, so we had to get rid of it, and with it went what seemed to be an essential part of our console gaming mix; the ability to lounge comfortably on something close to the TV.

My wife decided to fix this, so got me a six foot Cozy Sack for my birthday back in March.  A discount competitor to Love Sac, it cost about a third as much as a Love Sac of comparable size and delivers about 80-90% of the experience.

With that, I decided to see if I could tempt my daughter back into playing video games with me on Saturday morning.  Not early Saturday morning… neither of us are keen to get up early these days… but at the more reasonable, post-breakfast hour.  But what game to choose?

Looking through our small-ish collection of PlayStation 3 titles… at least relative to our Wii collection… I decided to go with a classic.  Back when we bought the PS3, I decided to get a couple titles that we already had on the Wii so I could compare the game play.  One of those was LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga.

PlayStation version

PlayStation version

While we had to played the first LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Star Wars: The Original Trilogy, (Game Cube versions for both) when the LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga came out we had to have it on launch day and we played the hell out of it.

So I loaded it up, jumped into the Cozy Sack and called my daughter to come play with me.

It didn’t really work.  She came over and watched me play for a bit, but then went back to whatever she was doing.  My wife watched for much longer, but was not inclined to pick up a controller and join me.  But I was comfy and enjoying myself, so I persisted.  I have done a few levels every weekend and have been enjoying myself quite a bit.

The game has held up for me very well.  Part of that is its simplicity.

Traveller’s Tales has put out quite a list of LEGO games at this point.  We have LEGO Batman, both LEGO Indiana Jones titles, both LEGO Harry Potter titles, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, LEGO Star Wars IIILEGO Lord of the Rings, and The LEGO Movie game.

As the years have gone by and new titles have been released, Traveller’s Tales has worked to keep the series fresh by adding in new features and new mechanics.  Viewed from that angle, LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga feels more than a bit clunky.  Everything is jump or shoot or light sabre or use the force with a special mode events appearing very infrequently.

On the flip side though, this is still the culmination of Traveller’s Tales “getting” what makes their LEGO game series great.  After two tries, where the original LEGO Star Wars was too much of a hard core video game and The Original Trilogy still showed some tuning was needed, it felt like they finally got the basic model for their LEGO games down with this one.

So, going back to that early model of the LEGO game idea was refreshing.  A lot of what I said about the game in the past still holds true, including it being perfectly fine on a PS3 controller versus using the Wii Remote.  And, while only running at 720p, it looks much better than the 480p Wii version, not to mention not being rendered in a way that makes the universe far, far away look like it was just buffed to a high gloss finish.

I am at the 40% mark according to the game, with only two episodes left undone.  When I wrap those up I’ll have to decide if I want to go back and find all the mini kits and get the True Jedi achievement on each level, not to mention unlocking all the characters that you have to buy.

 

WoW Subscriptions Drop to 7 Million on Purpose

Last week the Activision-Blizzard earnings announcement indicated that World of Warcraft had dropped from over 10 million subscribers, a position held from November 2014 through at least the end of the year, to 7.1 million subscribers, putting its player base back down to where it stood during the 13 month Pandaria content drought.

Blizzard's slide from the deck

Blizzard’s slide from the deck

That is a tough drop to explain away as “expected and consistent” so soon after Warlords of Draenor and given past history.  The much reviled Cataclysm expansion bottomed out at 9.1 million, while Mists of Pandaria took at least 18 months to hit low ebb at 6.8 million subscribers.  (MMO Champion has a nice chart showing this.) Their might be a seed of something in SynCaine’s hyperbole.

So it seemed like an odd moment for Blizzard to turn around and ban more than 100,000 accounts, unless it was an attempt to get all the bad news in at once.  Only, the bans won’t be reflected in the subscription numbers until the next quarterly report, so that doesn’t really fly.

The first I noticed that something might be up was yesterday morning on Twitter when, in amongst the widespread moaning about the Jem and the Holograms trailer I saw a tweet (since deleted) from somebody enraged that Blizzard had banned a friend’s WoW account for NO REASON.

And then, as the day wore on, we found out that there was likely a reason after all.  The official Blizzard announcement was:

We’ve recently taken action against a large number of World of Warcraft accounts that were found to be using third-party programs that automate gameplay, known as “bots.” We’re committed to providing an equal and fair playing field for everyone in World of Warcraft, and will continue to take action against those found in violation of our Terms of Use. Cheating of any form will not be tolerated.

Blizzard is serious about this sort of thing.  It is ingrained in their corporate culture, forged by their experiences with the original StarCraft, which practically became the national sport in South Korea, that cheats are bad and a threat to their long-term success.  And so they are very aggressive in seeking out any hacks, cheats, or exploits, and have been since day one of WoW. Blizzard’s Warden software has been around a long time.

Of course, there are a lot of “but I was only…” sorts of defense comments out there from the banned.  There is a fine collection of them over at the bottom of the latest post over at The Nosy Gamer, who covers botting and RMT topics regularly.

But we all know it was cheating, both those making the lame rationalizations and those of us reading them.  I ran a poll about six years back where I listed out a bunch of behaviors and let people choose what they felt was cheating.  The results stratified into three groups, with the “we all know they’re cheating” items at the top, the uncomfortable ones in the middle, and the pet peeves at the bottom.  And botting, automation of complex tasks, was right there at the top of the list.

But even if we were going to rationalize and try and kid ourselves that maybe botting some things isn’t so bad, that boring game play somehow legitimizes it, or run off and try to whitewash gold farming to frame it as a good thing, it doesn’t really matter because, as I said above, Blizzard’s corporate culture cannot see it as something besides a bad thing that must be fought.

I used to think the term “corporate culture” was a bullshit phrase.  But that was more because describing corporate culture to somebody is often like trying to describe water to a fish.  It is just there, all pervasive, yet just part of the environment, just the way things are.  Even if you change jobs, moving to another company, it can be hard to really see the full embrace of the culture.  One person just assimilates and learns how things are done.  To really see corporate culture you have to go through a merger or an acquisition and see two different cultures clash.  That is one point when you can really identify what the culture is, when it appears in sharp relief.

At my last company we went through a series of such moves over the course of a decade, and I went from my opinion about corporate culture being bullshit to wondering how some companies survive given how immutable corporate culture can be.  Culture is like a tangible substance.  It can be like mold in your attic, where sometimes it is just easier to tear the house down and start over.

At one point we were acquired by a hardware company that desperately wanted to be a software company.  We went from just shipping a disk or a download to a long and convoluted certification and sales process that looked remarkably like what you would do to sell hardware.  I had a 200-page guide covering everything we needed to do to move software from “we’re done, ship it!” to the point when sales could sell it.  And we couldn’t do a thing about it because they bought us, so their culture “won,” so we had to be a software company that worked like a hardware company, right down to refusing just to sell software unless we installed it on the hardware on which it would run before it left our building.

That quickly strangled sales, until we were acquired again.  This time though it was by a company that was a spin off from the phone company, with all the baggage that implies to anybody who has ever worked for/with any of the one-time Baby Bells.  For somebody from Silicon Valley with a background in start ups, it was almost literally like living in a Dilbert cartoon.

So when I see a company like Nintendo clinging to a hardware based business philosophy while pundits shout that they need to get into selling software, I know what I am seeing is corporate culture… or maybe corporate identity is a better term… at play.  Yes, they have recently made some minor moves in the direction of software only business, but for all they have said, it still strikes me as something to appease stock holders rather than a serious effort to change how the company works.  They still see themselves as a hardware company, measure their success by the number of Wii U or 3DS units sold, and see software as a way to move hardware rather than a revenue stream unto itself.  We’re not going to see core Pokemon RPG games or Mario Kart on iOS or Android.  It will take a near-extinction level event to get there, and while the Wii U has been a serious disappointment, that has been off-set by very healthy 3DS sales, which no doubt reinfoces the idea inside Nintendo that the problem with the Wii U was one of execution and not a call to change business models.

All of which is a very round-about way for me to say that it comes as absolutely no surprise to me at all that Blizzard chose to ban more than 100,000 accounts (and remove the corresponding revenue) right on the heels of announcing that they were down nearly 30% when it came to subscriptions.  Corporate culture will dictate.

NBI 2015 – Blog to Game, Game to Blog

The 2015 incarnation of the annual Newbie Blogger Initiative event kicked off… um… about two weeks ago.  Time flies.  Better put up the logo and move on.

NBI_Logo_450During May of each year we encourage our fellow travelers in the gaming world who have just a bit of free time to give up that free time… and some of their gaming time and some time they probably need to be doing other things… to write a blog.  Many are chosen, few will survive for even a year… really, 3 out of 4 blogs started during the event will be dormant by the next one.

What can we do about that?

Since I expended all of my actually useful advice during the 2012 event, my one contribution to this year’s event… aside from a post summing up and listing out of the new blogs at the end… will be to try to tackle one of the questions I get regularly.

And by “regularly” I mean “almost never” because clearly people who chance upon this blog learn quickly never to ask my advice on anything.  But it has come up a couple of times in the last eight and a half years.  And the question is; how have I written so many posts and keep going for however long it has been?

I can prove I have been asked this.  Liore asked me once about it on Twitter… sort of.  It was implied!  Roll with it, dammit!

My response was:

Years of MUDing made me a very fast typist.  Not a very accurate one, just very fast.

And there are days when I clearly spend more time writing about games than actually playing games.

And Low standards. I cannot emphasize how much just wanting to write something, versus wanting to write something good, helps out.

That last bit was the key.  I’d rather post crap than nothing at all.  That explains much that goes on here now doesn’t it?

But that is not all of it.  No, there is another key to what I refer to as “my success” in an off-handed way while trying not to make eye contact.

The other key factor is that when I play games, I often do it with an eye to turning whatever I am doing into a blog post.  Sometimes that manifests itself as me simply making sure I take some screen shots.  But at other times I undertake whole new trips through MMOs just because I think they might make for a decent blog post.  I am pretty sure, as an example, that I wouldn’t have bothered with LFR or the Molten Core event earlier this year if I hadn’t also seen the possibility of a blog post or two in the venture.

So there exists this two-way feed between my game play and my blogging.

I blog about my gaming as a memory book sort of thing, as well as to enhance what I have done in game by recounting it which gives it additional life.  And then I game with the blog in mind, which makes me push on the boundaries of what I do and explore new things.

And it works.

Sure, it probably doesn’t lead to some of the most exciting content at times.  I know I have done more than my share of “spending three hours flying from point A to point B in EVE Online” posts.  But I post, and have done so nearly every week day for eight and a half years, because my gaming and my blogging are pretty much a combined activity at this point.

It took a while to get there.  The alleged Wilhelm-style blogging machine didn’t come into being over night.  I had to find my way and combine the two pieces together over time.  And there have been points… usually on Sunday night when I am sketching out what the next week’s posts are going to be and I’ve got nothing, no screen shots, no notes, and nothing in the backlog… where I have thought about dumping the whole thing.  I would clearly spend more time gaming if I did.

But blogging and gaming work well together for me, to the point that if I gave up blogging I am not sure I would find as much satisfaction in gaming.

So that is it, for what it is worth.

Meanwhile, other things are going on with the NBI.  They have had a couple of blog challenges, neither of which I could really warm to.  One felt a bit too much like feeding the trolls while another I have covered ad nauseum, but that doesn’t mean other people didn’t have things to add.  You can find it all at the Newbie Blogger Initiative site.

And, finally, I want to call out the new bloggers participating this year.  This is what I could glean from the NBI forums and site, so I hope I got them all.  Not as many as years past, but that just means less of an excuse for not visiting all of them.

EverQuest Ragefire Progression Server is Coming May 20th

I have to ask again, who are these people who claim to have once been Sony Online Entertainment?  They seem to be moving at a speed unlike anything I ever saw out of SOE.

Last week the EverQuest Ragefire progression server beta opened up, then yesterday they announced in the forums that the Ragefire Progression Server would go live next Wednesday, May 20th.

Ragefire awakens!

Ragefire gets real!

Okay, yes, the EverQuest team, which now runs both EverQuest and EverQuest II and which has also been plundered to provide bodies for other projects, if I read things right, isn’t exactly making a new game like their brethren on the EverQuest Next team, nor are they trying to fix long standing problems and expand to new platforms like the PlanetSide 2 team.  They aren’t even trying to bootstrap a new game on top of the PlanetSide 2 code, as with H1Z1.

No, the EverQuest team is just trying to put together another progression server, which they have done a couple of times before, so this ought to be somewhat straightforward.  They have actual progression servers still running, right?

But even with the rather focused task, the EverQuest team does seem to be moving at a brisk pace.  The last time around there were a couple of months between the results of the server name poll, which yielded Fippy Darkpaw, and the server actually going live.  I think it must be all the attention the idea of another progression server is getting from Daybreak, and how much it contrasts with the lack of attention that the Fippy Darkpaw server got after it launched.

Anyway, the poll results were last Wednesday, the server goes live next Wednesday.

That is almost too soon for me.  I was guessing a June date in part out of wishful thinking and the onset of the usual instance group summer hiatus.  But there it is.

Like Bhagpuss, I have spent a little time on the beta server, following my usual pattern.  I rolled up a half-elf druid and started in Surefall Glade.  That was my plan back in 1999, the half-elf druid thing having been my main back in TorilMUD.  But I had two friends who also wanted to roll half-elf druids as well, so I relented and rolled a ranger instead, thinking that they couldn’t possibly be as bad as rangers were in TorilMUD.

They were.  My friends went on to greatness with their druids, one of the first really OP classes in EverQuest, while I struggled until I rolled up a bard.

So I rolled up and then rolled out of Surefall Glades and off to the front yard of Qeynos proper, the traditional spot for the first few levels for those of us starting west of Highpass.

Yeah, this looks familiar

Yeah, this looks familiar

It had been a while since I actually got out and slayed a gopher snake or two in Norrath, so there were a few changes I wasn’t aware of, like the updated looting method.

A menu of looting options

A menu of looting options

That actually helps, since one of the traditional EverQuest problems has been clicking on yourself while trying to click on a corpse to loot it, your own target area being huge relative to your actual avatar.

Of course, the prime item to loot was the Stone of Beta.

The Stone of Beta

The Stone of Beta

You collect the stones from corpses.  Not all kills yield them, but if you just keep killing they will start piling up.  Then you click on them, which puts up a firework and clicks a counter somewhere indicating your ongoing participation.  I hope the threshold for reward isn’t too high.  There is talk of a bag or some such, which would be nice.  But if you need more than 100 stones I probably won’t get there.  With the /betabuff command and content seemingly wide open on the server (I was on the Plane of Knowledge for a bit) the population feels diffused, so there aren’t the traditional groups forming up to camp bandits and such.

I did try the /betabuff command myself, boosting my first character to a level 20 druid.  However, it also turned me into a female halfling along the way.  That wasn’t going to stand, so I re-rolled another half-elf druid and went back to level 1 again.

One outstanding question is what happens with the Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak servers once Ragefire goes live?

Too soon?

Too soon?

Fippy Darkpaw is around the House of Thule expansion now… I think.  SOE never bothered to announce these things so, as I have noted in the past, the only way you could tell when an expansion hit from the forums is when SOE screwed something up… which was regularly for most of the unlocks.

But now, with Ragefire opening up soon, what will happen to the other two active progression servers.  They are long past the expansions for which most people are nostalgic.  By House of Thule SOE was in full on backport mode, trying to bring every feature from EverQuest II back in time to old Norrath.  I expect that the population, not huge on Fippy Darkpaw and small enough on Vulak that calls for a merge between the two come up regularly, will drop off with a rush back to the excitement of day one in the classic content.

We shall see I suppose.  About time to get signed up for Daybreak All Access I suppose.  The beta is free, but the live server will require a subscription to play.

And the next order of business is to see who might actually be playing on Ragefire when it opens.  EverQuest is no fun solo.

Addendum: Make that May 21st.  Much ado about happenings on May 20th.

The Doomed Convoy at KVN-36

The convoy ops for the final evacuation out of Fountain had been posted on the forums and broadcast multiple times daily on Jabber over the days preceding this past weekend.  Anybody who had been paying even the slightest amount of attention knew they were coming.  We were headed for home in the seven regions.

CFC / Imperium Space

CFC / Imperium Space

I mentioned having to get my stuff together last week.  Well all that warning was sufficient.  I managed to slip a couple of ships out and back to Deklein during the week, I moved the couple of ships I had in TEG-SD up to 4-EP12 (I put one Celestis up on contract cheap and somebody grabbed it pretty quick), and the night before the I got my main and alt accounts setup and in the two big remaining ships, a Dominix and a Megathron, ready for the move ops.

There were going to be three move ops on Saturday, at least from my time perspective.  One at 4:30am my time, one at noon my time, and one at 7:00pm my time (which is actually Sunday EVE Online time, since the game runs on UTC), each passing through the same set of systems to pick people up along the way, starting in Sakht and ending in B-DBYQ, hitting each of the staging systems in between, before heading along the most direct path home.

The purpose of a move op is to for a fleet massive enough that it won’t be viewed as a target of opportunity at gate camps and such.  ~200 ships makes for a tough nut to crack unless you plan for it.

I was tempted to try and get into the first move op.  I wasn’t going to get up at 4:30am, but I knew from past experience that move ops tend to be slow.  The idea isn’t just to get somewhere, but to get everybody in the op home safely.  That means you wait for people who disconnect or who get lost or who somehow fall a system or two behind.  It is a job more for a shepherd than a fleet commander.  And 4-EP12 is one of the last systems on the list, so I would have a lot of time before the op got there.

I also knew that our cats would wake me up at some point around 6am because they still don’t quite get the concept of “weekends” and get worried I might miss work if I am still in bed then.  And, true to form, our cat Rigby got on the bed and started meowing at me around 6am, waking me up.  I immediately… okay, maybe slowly… got up, walked down the hall to my office, booted up my computer, and got into EVE Online. However, things appeared to be moving apace for the early op, as they had already passed my system and were actually only a couple jumps from home, all in about 90 minutes.  Good speed for a move op and, I hoped, an indication of how things would go on the next op.

So it was back to bed for a bit more sleep.

I had warned my wife that there might be a two hour move op starting at noon our time, and she seemed to be okay with that.  There was an event going on in our local downtown area she wanted to go to, but it didn’t start until 2pm and ran into the evening.  Plenty of time.

Around 11:45am (18:45 UTC) I logged into EVE Online with both my accounts and started waiting for the fleet advert to appear.  I had things ready to go and decided, since I would spend a good part of the op just sitting and waiting for it to get to me, that I would take notes with time stamps, just in case this turned into a trail of tears op.

The classic Trail of Tears move op

The classic Trail of Tears move op

Game to blog, blog to game and all that.

So from this point forward, everything will be in reference to something I noted, with a time stamp in UTC.  I am also going to put in a cut here because of many words and a pile of screen shots.

Continue reading

The Loneliness of the Deep Space Entosis Pilot

As much as possible, the Entosis Link capture progress should reflect which group has effective military control of the grid.

CCP Fozzie, Summer 2015 Nullsec and Sov Status Report

As expected… and we did expect some revisions, didn’t we… CCP has taken in a lot of feedback on the proposed changes to null sec sovereignty capture/control mechanics the announced back in early March and has come up with some changes.  The focus is still on reducing the effort needed to take space nobody uses while giving systems that people live in a defensive advantage, so some of the changes are focused on aspects of that.

Alliances will be able to declare a capital system which will get a defensive bonus, as such systems tend to be staging systems that see a lot of activity, so nobody in their right mind rats or mines in them regularly.  There has also been some tinkering with the time zone and defensive rating mechanics as well as some work on the UI.

Activity Defense Multiplier

Activity Defense Multiplier

But for me, the interesting bit was how they plan to handle the Entosis Link module in the field.  The Entosis Link module is the magic dingus, the focus, the veritable Schwerpunkt of Fozzie Sov.

Much fun was had after this module was announced, imagining it being fit on an interceptor to troll sovereignty or on a carrier made indestructible via a web of triage support.  The system looked prime to be gamed.

CCP took all that feedback and laid down the following restrictions for the Entosis Link module:

  • High Slot module with a limit of one per ship
  • Requires a target lock on the structure to have any impact
  • While the module is active, your ship is unable to cloak, warp, dock, jump or receive remote assistance. There is no way to get rid of the module penalties early except for losing your ship
  • The first cycle of the module is always a “warmup cycle” and has no impact. If you lose lock or the module is disabled for any reason, you’ll need to go through that warmup cycle again before you can continue exerting any influence over the structure
  • Other than that warmup cycle, the cycle time of the module does not impact how long it takes to capture a structure. Once you’re past the warmup cycle all that matters is that your module stays active
  • Capital ships have a role penalty that increases the module cycle time by 5x
  • Consumes Strontium Clathrates as fuel for each cycle

The the links themselves have their own parameters.

T1 Entosis Link

  • +250,000kg mass when online
  • 5 Minute Cycle Time
  • 25km range

T2 Entosis Link

  • +1,000,000kg mass when online
  • 2 Minute Cycle Time
  • 250km range

So that quote up at the top of the post looks to be a true statement, because once you activate the Entosis Link module you can’t run, you can’t hide, and you can’t get any help/heals, so the grid around the structure becomes a space born game of… and forgive me for using the term of art from my childhood… smear the queer, with every hostile ship in the system aware that you are in the staring role.

And you have to stay alive anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes depending on the various factor of defense and what not.

I am keen to see how this evolves as an operational art and what ships will end up being the module carriers and what counter tactics will evolve.  For example, it seems like a determined defender, even if driven of the structure grid, could sacrifice some electronic warfare ships to break the target lock of the ship carrying the Entosis Link module just to make like miserable for the attackers.

Anyway, we will see how this works out soon, though not as soon as expected.  The newt round of sovereignty updates will be spread across two releases, the first being the Carnyx expansion on June 2, followed by the Aegis expansion on July 7.

As for how things will work during that interim period between the two… well… I read the words, understood their individual meanings and how they came together to form coherent sentences, but I am pretty sure I don’t understand the reality of how sov will work during most of June and the first week of July.

Meanwhile, move operations continue as The Imperium withdraws within its new borders.  Some groups are still out and about, including the Reavers down in Querious.  But I suspect that we’ll be spending a chunk of may re-arranging who goes where in the seven regions.

EverQuest Ragefire Progression Server Beta is Live

Who is this company that claims to once have been Sony Online Entertainment, yet uses the word “soon” unironically as though it meant something?

Even as I was digesting bits of the forum thread about the server poll results last night, a new thread went up saying that the Ragefire Beta Server had gone live.

Ragefire awakens!

Ragefire awakens!

You need a special client for the beta, which is linked in that forum post, and it is a 10GB download, so we’re getting a lot of the game.  But on the upside, the beta/preview is open to all accounts, not just those on Daybreak All Access.  So testing is like, free.

Tell that to the H1Z1 team.  Or the Landmark team.

Of course, being beta… and the server is literally called “beta” in the launcher… it isn’t always up and running.  I haven’t been able to get in yet, though I can see the server.

Your server option...

Your server option…

And while they are getting feedback in the forum thread about the beta server going live, they are officially pointing people towards the EverQuest section on Reddit… because Smed.  Of course, as noted before, that just takes moderation out of their hands, and not everybody is happy about the poll results.

Anyway, I hope they get things together so I can take a look this weekend.