Category Archives: entertainment

The Unblinking Eye is Watching You!

Daybreak Game Company now has a logo.

It follows you as you move about the room!

It follows you as you move about the room!

It sort of makes me feel like an angry owlbear is watching me.

They also apparently have a working domain at daybreakgames.com now and a new site that seems to be pretty much free of Sony or SOE mentions along with new terminology like Daybreak Cash rather than Station Cash.  It is like they are a real company now!

Addendum: There is also an interview with Smed about the site and logo update. It includes this:

The Daybreak logo was designed to reflect that brand, with a nocturnal aspect, (the owl’s eye), a technological aspect (the gear within the eye), and a more literal aspect (the “Daybreak” of a rising sun within the gear). The red, black, and yellow of Daybreak logo is starkly different from the familiar blue and white of the Sony Online Entertainment label, which might serve to emphasize a separation from the company’s past. Internally, Smedley said that separation has already happened.

Summarizing the rest of the interview, there is nothing but geezers left in the company, WoW is dead, and long live cash shops or something.

And a further interview over at Polygon that talks about being the odd duck at Sony, which we all sort of knew.

Off topic:  This new official Smed picture seems like it is aching for a Daybreaking Bad joke or something.

I will cut you

I will cut you

Jacked Up But Clearly Not Good to Go!

I played a lot of StarCraft back when it was new… which was back in early 1998.  My friends and I played it after work at the office and at home via Battle.net.  As so many have said, it was a very well balanced RTS with three distinctly different factions to learn.  Our interest in it kept going right through the Brood War expansion. (Though when I look at the dates, Brood War came out eight months after the main game, which might be some sort of Blizzard record for shipping an expansion.)

Anyway, I have written a bit about StarCraft before and it has come up now and again for our group as a possible game to go back to.  The primary arguments against it tend to be the fact that it runs at 640×480 resolution and that none of us are really into RTS games much any more.  It was a game from a specific point in my timeline, and that time may have passed.

But I still have strong memories of it.  Even my wife remembers the game.  Back when it was current my then wife-to-be and I shared an office in her condo so when I played video games I either had to put on headphones or share the audio experience with her, and the audio StarCraft left its mark.  To this day she will, every so often, as if I ever play “Jacked up and good to go!” any more, that being one of the more memorable Terran Marine quotes.

Since then StarCraft II has (finally) shown up, but while I have written about it a bit… mostly in the context of Blizzard as a whole… I have never gotten around to buying the game.  I have thought about it, but since I play MMOs now, and since those tend to consume all available gaming time, I am not sure when I would play.  Plus, for me, it was always a group game, so buying it myself would seem… odd.  The campaigns were never the high point, it was always about playing with friends.  (Though with playing at work a thing of the past due to IT policy, I am not sure I would miss LAN play.)

So I was a bit surprise/amused/happy to get a note from Blizzard letting me know I had been given access to the closed beta for the upcoming Legacy of the Void expansion for StarCraft II.

Why thanks!

Why thanks!

Blizzard had some details out about this back at BlizzCon last year, but it seems like things are really in motion if they are already sending invites to random opt-ins like me. They want feedback early according to the details.

For this reason, we decided to start the beta sooner than we normally would have in the past, providing ample time for feedback and iteration.

Though I gather from the Beta FAQ that my purchase of a virtual ticket to BlizzCon 2014 put me on the list.

I mentioned that I got the invite to my wife and she said the line, “Jacked up and good to go!” and told me I had to play… and that I had to have the audio run through my speakers so she could hear what the units were saying.  So it had to be done.

I downloaded the beta, though I first tried to do it through the “Download Now” button in the email, which only succeeded in downloading the StarCraft II starter edition.  Not that that was a bad thing.  I got that going and ran through the tutorial mission just to make sure I still knew the basics.  I slaughtered the CPU guided foe with ease following the tutorial instructions along with some vague memories of how to play from back in the day.

After that I went back to the Battle.net launcher and downloaded the Legacy of the Void beta directly and got that up and running.

That was what I wanted to see

That was what I wanted to see

I got in there and looked at what options I had.  They were limited to 1v1 multiplayer games over Battle.net, which was to be expected given the blurb in the invite.

This phase of the Legacy of the Void closed beta test focuses on the multiplayer aspects of the game, including the new cooperative Archon mode, so ramp up your APM and dive into the battle.

So multiplayer it was the option.  How bad could it be, right?

Actually, the more accurate question was, “How bad could I be?”

I played three games in quick succession… and they were quick because I ended up surrendering after being wrecked much earlier than expected.  I am not just bad at StarCraft II at this point, but I am apparently so much worse than the average player in the beta… who are much more likely to be self-selected individuals who are really into StarCraft II as opposed to happy memory dilettantes like myself… that after the third humiliation I closed down the game and went back to Azeroth to work on my second druid (mentioned last week) healing for random Dungeon Finder groups.  At least there when things are going bad I can at least tell why.

Hitting level 90

Hitting level 90!  Another garrison soon

It just isn’t worth my time simply because I do not care enough about StarCraft II to put in the effort to be more than a very small speed-bump on somebody’s road to victory.  Those days are gone.

And the most disappointing bit in the whole thing… the Terran Marine units don’t even say, “Jacked up and good to go!” any more.  I had to check the list of quotes to be sure, and it isn’t there.

But I will always have memories of 1998.

LOTRO – The War of the Ring as an Eight Year Long Quagmire

Lord of the Rings Online officially went live eight years ago today.  I had been in the late beta, but made sure to note the first day that it was officially a going concern back in 2007.

Yahoo Headline 2007

Yahoo Headline 2007

Of course, one of the ongoing jokes about the game is how long it has take it to move through the story relative to how long the events in the books were reported to take.  Even allowed a generous spread of dates, say from when Gandalf warns Frodo to get out of the Shire (April 11, 3018 TA, or five months before Frodo gets off his ass and goes… hobbits…) through to when Sam Gamgee arrives back from the Grey Havens (October 6, 3021 TA) after Frodo and Bilbo depart Middle-earth, still only comes up to three and a half years.  The old LOTRO news site A Casual Stroll to Mordor came by its name honestly,

It wasn’t so bad at first.  The game only took about a year longer to get to The Mines of Moria than it took the fellowship to get through to the other side, though that still put the expansion out longer than it took to Frodo to throw down Sauron, celebrate with the new king, meander back to The Shire, fight the last battle, and start complaining about his PTSD.

But here we are, eight years in, and still in The Two Towers, with Minas Tirith still over the horizon.  I like to try to imagine the story playing out over a longer stretch, the war of the ring as an ongoing quagmire, though it requires both sides to move at a pretty lethargic pace.  Vast armies slow to form then lumbering about at a snails pace as Frodo… I don’t know what Frodo is up to.  He and Sam seem to have found something to do.

Anyway, Turbine’s vision of Middle-earth is still here to explore.  Things do not look promising, at least if you were holding out hope against hope of seeing Mount Doom or the gates of Mordor.  The look forward into 2015 seemed rather modest, and then we had all those tales of woe about Turbine itself leak.  But we are also unlikely to see as ambitious an attempt to recreate Middle-earth any time soon, so enjoy it while we have it.

 

Another Rush to Draenor

After our runs through Skyreach the previous week we were, as a group, off the leash and headed to level 100 in order to get access to the final four normal mode dungeons in Draenor.  And once I turned Tistann’s experience back on and started using him for pet battle dailies along with catching up with some of the quests in Spires of Arak, I found his levels quickly mounting.  He is already into 99 with what does not feel like all that much effort.

So I decided to slow him down a bit.  I didn’t want to be first to 100 necessarily, and what would the point be getting there when others in the group are still working on hitting 98.

It was time to bring out another character.

I guess I could have worked on all of the garrison related quests and building related things, but I do like the leveling game in WoW and always seem to have a character somewhere I am working on.  So it was more a question of which one I should return to this time around.  I have been spending some time now and again with my Orc hunter.  But, in looking down the list, I decided to go with my other druid on Eldre’Thalas.

For reasons unclear to even me I ended up with two night elf druids on the same server.  They used to even have the same spec and professions.  The second druid, Selirus (one of those name generator names that I took before ever trying to pronounce aloud) was actually the senior of the two, but somewhere fell by the wayside as Alioto moved ahead.

While Alioto sits at level 100, Sel was just level 83, somewhere in the Cataclysm content, close enough to Draenor that I could get that sixth garrison soon enough, but still with some work to do.  His gear was a bit of a mess, having tried to be both feral and resto by turns, so the first thing I did was decide to go with healing and concentrate on just that.  If nothing else, when he catches up with the rest of the group, that would give us a secondary healer option so Skronk isn’t always “it” for instances.

Fortunately, after splurging on heirloom gear over the years, I had a selection of items for him to wear for his role.

Restoration Druid Heirlooms

Restoration Druid Heirlooms

That would keep me outfitted until 90, when the Draenor gravy train of gear would take over.  With crafted items, mission and quest rewards, and things that pop up as drops, I have yet to miss heirlooms past level 90.

Leveling as a healer means either slogging through quest content in a spec that doesn’t do much damage or doing random dungeons.  And what better way to get back up to speed on druid healing than jumping into the mixed bad that is Dungeon Finder groups!

I downloaded the Healium addon, threw some healing skills on my bar (I nearly found them all!), and queued up to see how bad it could be.

The first group was rough.  They were in Stonecore and their healer had just dumped the group after the second boss for reasons that became very clear very quickly.  As a whole, the tank and the DPS seemed to be operating on the “everybody pull a mob and tank it, the healer will sort it out” philosophy of instance running.  Also, run run run and grab the next mobs even when the healer is trying to ress after the last batch.

There were deaths.  But there were no wipes on my watch.  I quickly went back to my baseline of putting lifebloom on the tank and keeping him alive, then me, and then any DPS way out in distant third position.  We managed to make it through and finish up, and I felt no compunction about hitting need on drops from the final boss.

After that though, I hit a good streak.  I ran with four groups all of whom seemed t have their act together, including one team in Grim Batol that was so in tune that we had what must have been the most efficient run ever.  Everybody knew the instance and nobody stood in the fire.

Having a full blue bar, a pile of heirlooms, being able to do the quests with each of the instances, and getting the bonus experience from doing randoms, I saw my levels mount quickly.  After Grim Batol Selirus popped to level 86 and was out of Cataclysm and into Mists of Pandaria.

I was wondering how that was going to work out.  I thought at one point you actually had to hit the right quest line to be able to open up dungeons in Pandaria… or at least get onto the ground in the expansions.  But from my perch in Stormwind I was able to queue up and quickly found myself in Stormstout Brewery.

The brewery awaits

The monkeys awaits

The first run in Pandaria was a good one, with only one death when our rogue ran ahead.

My final instance of the evening wasn’t so smooth.  I was dropped into a group at the start of the Temple of the Jade serpent, which is an easy enough instance.  We did it as a four player group at level back in the day.  And things were about 80% fine.  As a healer, I just happened to have one problem child, a dwarf paladin would just had to stand in the gunk like he had a death wish.  Up to and back from the first boss, there is just one simple rule, don’t stand in the water or you will die.

He wasn’t obnoxious or rude or anything, he just wouldn’t listen to my suggestions that he not stand in stuff and that he pay attention to his health bar.  He never said a word and eventually I just stopped healing him simply to get his inevitable death out of the way quickly.  Checking the Recount numbers, nobody else was healing him, nor did he use his lay hands ability or anything.  I didn’t feel bad about that, though in hindsight maybe I shouldn’t have stopped ressing him, instead telling him to release and then shouting “Run, fatboy, run!” to encourage him to catch up on his own.

Alright, I didn’t shout that, but I did leaving the resses to his guild mate who was also in the group.  If only he could have explained how to not stand in things while casting.

Anyway, everything aside from my little death eating pally pal was fine on that run, as it tends to be on most Dungeon Finder runs in my experience.  Out of six runs in one evening, four were good to excellent, and the other two were only slightly annoying.  But the negatives hang in your mind, so I can barely recall anything from a couple of the good runs while I am sure I will remember that pally for a long time to come.

All of which left me on the edge of hitting 87.  At that point I did the intro quests for Pandaria so that I would at least have access to the continent via the portal in Stormwind.  At this rate Selirus will be in Draenor and I will have that sixth garrison to tend this weekend.

Ship Skin Revamp Coming with the Mosiac Expansion Next Week

I am pretty sure that EVE Online players have been talking about their desire to customize their ships for as long as the game has been around.  Probably the most visible icon of this… dare we call it a movement… is the Hello Kitty Kestrel.

You would fly this, I know it

You would fly this, I know it

That, of course, is an extreme example to make a point, something you would never expect to see in-game or in real life.

Hello Kitty Nissan Silvia S15

Hello Kitty Nissan Silvia S15… love that tail pipe

(photo from the Deviant Art portfolio of no5master)

There is always some desire to stand out from the group.

Long range beams

Red beams because I want to be different! Also I was bored.

Of course, the specifics as to how any individual wants to stand out is all over the map, so I am not sure CCP has had an easy time getting to where they are now, nor do I believe it will please a very large percentage of the population of New Eden.

But at least we’ve got something.  And that something is ship skins.

CCP launched that plan a little over a year ago with skins for a few ships and what felt like a convoluted… and somewhat expensive… process to get them into the game.  It was about $2.00 to get a skin on a frigate through the manufacturing process, at which point the skin was expended and now a permanent part of the ship.  If the ship blew up… and frigates blow up with alarming regularity… the skin was gone.

Due to the price as much as anything else I would guess, the skins did not see a lot of use.  Well, I didn’t see many of them, though that might be as much because of another issue I’ll get to later.  In the end it seemed to become more of a PLEX alternative, a way for some to turn real world cash, used to purchase Aurum which in turn could be used to purchase the skins, into ISK by selling skinned ships for a premium in Jita.  Not a bad thing, but not much mass appeal in that either.

CCP has tinkered with the system a bit and added some new skins.  The dread skins that came in with Rhea are probably the ones I see the most.

How could any Goon pass up a Fat Bee Moros?

How could any Goon pass up a Fat Bee Moros?

But CCP announced a big change to the whole ship skin thing this week with a detailed Dev Blog on the topic.  The essence of of the change is that skins will now be bound to your character rather than a ship.

Skins tab in the character sheet

Skins tab in the character sheet

So if you have a permanent skin (and all previously purchased skins will be permanent) you will be able to apply it over and over to ships as you lose them or swap.  Also, there will be temporary skins that will have a 30 day duration.  And you will be able to swap skins in space, barring a few activities like when you have a cyno running.

This is in conjunction with a slight change up to Aurum packages and the list of current and new skins that will be available with next week’s Mosaic expansion (it should have been called Charybdis to go with the last expansion, Scylla) led at least one player to tally up how much all these skins might cost the avid collector.

Nearly $1,600 in skins if you straight up buy your Aurum for real world money at the best possible rate.  More than I would want to spend.  But then I have the problem that, even with more than 100 skins lined up for release, there are very few that apply to ships I fly.

Some ships have just been ignored.  In what reality would you have somebody work on a skin for the Ferox, but leave the ever present Drake on the sidelines? (Okay, they had a Guristas skin to work with already, but still.)  And the Tech 3 cruisers like the Tengu, with their different modules, are probably a pain in the ass to skin due to the variety of layouts you can create, so I might expect them to never get skins.

And then there is the Tech 2 problem.  Among the ships I fly regularly there is the Harpy, the Hawk, the Ishtar, and the Basilisk.  The first two share the same hull as the Merlin, while the latter two share hulls with the Vexor and the Osprey respectively, all three of which have custom skins available.  However, those skins only apply to the specific models rather than generically to the hull, so I have no real options for my daily rides.  I suspect that will change over time, but on day one I will have no real reason to run out and buy a skin, unless I want to drop about $20 to paint my hangar queen Archon blue with the Archon Kador skin.  It looks cool, but maybe not $20 cool.  If I had an Avatar though, I would totally buy the Kador skin.

The blue Avatar

The blue Avatar

So skins will be great for some and no doubt a disappointment to others.  Some people will want to paint their hulls themselves or have corp or alliance logos present, while others will want different ways to stand out in the crowd.  This month’s Blog Banter was all about such things.  And then there is the question to which I rather vaguely alluded to above, which is who will see these skins in any case?  You’ll see your own and maybe those in your fleet if you look around.

A Quafe skinned Domi!

A Quafe skinned Domi in our fleet

But space is big, something modeled well enough in EVE Online, so your foes are often just entries on your overview and maybe some brackets on your main screen.  You have to go out of your way to see their ships and they yours.  Ah well.

Anyway, I’ll probably be in for a couple, once they become available for ships I actually fly.

What do you think of this update to ship customization?  What ships are missing?  What would you buy if it was available?

EverQuest Expansion Plans and Progression Server Polls

On the one hand, the news out of Daybreak is a little sad.  We now know what the last EverQuest expansion is (a question I was pondering eight years back) because, according to the latest producer’s letter the game is following its younger sibling, EverQuest II, into the realm of adventure packs.  I’ll quote from the letter because I don’t know how long that link will last.  Daybreak is still running on the Sony domain.

We expect to do two campaigns a year with our first coming this fall. Our primary goal is to keep the world vibrant with content and respond to player needs and issues. We will still provide new lands and character advancement opportunities with our campaigns.

In our two campaign releases each year, we plan to release about the same amount of content as we normally would in one annual expansion. This is important to us because it will allow us to deliver content to you more often as well as respond to an ever-changing player base. For example, the Progression Server is just one thing we are doing in response to recent community feedback. I’ll also say that pricing has not been determined for the first campaign coming in fall, but we’ll share details when we get closer to our release.

So The Darkened Sea will be the end of the line, the twenty-first and final EverQuest expansion.

And yes, there is a discussion to be had as to what going to smaller DLC means and exactly how different that will be from the “expansion every autumn” plan that both EverQuest and EverQuest II have followed for more than half a decade. (Before that it was two expansions a year!  Oh heady days of too much content, broken or not, and speculation about SOE abandoning EverQuest!)

The change was not unexpected I suppose, and the idea of smaller, more regular DLC is certainly part and parcel of the whole free to play idea.  Of course, so is the whole throwing up an alert in the middle of combat asking you to become an All Access subscriber, where “All” has a curious definition.

All the games we say, not actually ALL the games...

For specific definitions of “All”

I mean at least The Elder Scrolls Online says they are limiting their on screen ads to once per day.  Daybreak pops that “Go Gold!” ad (and why is it “Gold” one moment and “All Access” the next?) a couple times an hour if you haven’t subscribed.  But I guess at least it goes away when you’ve subscribed.

Anyway, an end of an era, with the last expansion box, virtual though it might have been, having left the building.

On the other hand, the new progression server plan seems to be taking on more life, and getting more thought, than the past couple of runs.  Seriously, from the outside at least, the next progression server feels like it is getting more thought that the last two runs (plus the 51/50 server) combined.  There is a progression server FAQ, which is getting updated regularly, in the forums (I guess I should be happy it isn’t on Reddit) that goes into a lot of detail as to what is being planned.

High on the list of good ideas is applying their zone splitting tech to the low level zones so they don’t feel a need to roll another server immediately to cover the influx of new players.  That, in the past, has always led to a lesser, underpopulated server over the long run and calls for server merges, which are a pain.  So the following zones will be able to spawn additional versions to cope with the expected initial load:

  1. North Qeynos
  2. Surefall Glade
  3. Qeynos Hills
  4. West Freeport
  5. Commonlands
  6. Nektulos
  7. Misty Thicket
  8. Everfrost
  9. Steamfont Mountains
  10. Greater Faydark
  11. Butcherblock Mountains
  12. Innothule Swamp
  13. Toxxulia Forest
  14. Paineel
  15. Field of Bone

That doesn’t seem like quite enough for me, though that is likely because I will roll up in Qeynos (screw Freeport and its fancy new graphics!) and West Karana will likely be heavily used as well, if past experience is to be believed.

Zone Line - Well Marked

Just look at the corpses at the zone line

Also, no Blackburrow?  Ah well, we’ll see how this works.  And the crowds won’t be there forever.

The FAQ also indicates that they have updated the progression speed options that they are allowing people to vote on.  In addition to the ones I listed previously, there is now the  Level Cap Bias option, which plays out like this:

  • Ruins of Kunark:         8  months
  • Scars of Velious:         3  months
  • Shadows of Luclin:      3  months
  • Planes of Power:        3  months
  • Legacy of Ykesha:       2 weeks after PoP
  • LDoN:                           4 weeks after PoP
  • Gates of Discord:       4 months after PoP, then every four months

I am not sure how that really matches the name, but the FAQ says that they would have to work out the unlock schedule.  I am torn on this, because 8 months to Ruins of Kunark means we spend the maximum amount of time in classic EQ, which favors my own bias.  So, with the poll already up in-game, I voted for that as my first choice, with Maximum Nostalgia as my second.

Server detail vote

Server detail vote

That does, however, give Ruins of Kunark, the best expansion ever, a pretty short run.  It deserves more time.  That made another question, the opening day content question, more difficult.  I eventually went for classic only, but I was not wholly against day one being classic plus Ruins of Kunark.  That makes for some gear mis-matches and the level 50 raid content becomes odd when you are cleared to level 60, but Kunark does have a lot of nice low level zones that tend to get bypassed when everybody is already 50 when the expansion unlocks.

Opening up with classic, Kunark, and Velious though, that seemed like too much.  I couldn’t go there.

I also picked expansion unlocks on a schedule versus via a vote.  Voting has been so problematic over the life of the Fippy Darkpaw server that I would rather just not have it than have more close votes where people are saying that the poll wouldn’t open for them.

Starting content and unlock process

Starting content and unlock process

Finally, there was the vote on a name.  I had to go with the simplest name to remember.

Name choices

Name choices

I am not even sure what “Ragefire” is in the context of EverQuest, but it sound nice.

And the final bit of interesting news, for me at least, was the fact that Daybreak plans to have a beta to test the mechanics of the new progression server.  Imagine that!  Those who participate will get some sort of non-power goodie, with an extra large bag having been mentioned as a possibility.

So not only does it look like a progression server is going to happen, but it is starting to feel like Daybreak might be serious about the whole thing.  Of course, they seemed serious about past incarnations of these servers as well, right up until they launched, at which point then ceased to be mentioned ever again.

Anyway, those of us looking forward to this sort of thing… which seems to be Keen and Bhagpuss, along with myself… will no doubt be in there and voting and covering events as they come up.  The age of EverQuest and the nature of its growth (with lots of segregated content added over the years) makes this sort of server viable in a way that something like LOTRO can likely only dream of.