Category Archives: Pirates of the Burning Sea

December in Review

On Events in 2008

I sit here on the final day of 2008 looking back and saying, “WTF?”

Pirates of the Burning Sea set sail, but foundered.  Excellent ship to ship combat turned out to not be worth a monthly fee.

Age of Conan should have launched in March because it came on like a lion, but is now more like lamb in size and competitive vigor. (Or maybe a salt marsh harvest mouse.)  Folks in Oslo have since been heard saying things like, “Third time is a charm!”

Warhammer Online screamed “WAAAGH!” in September, but within six weeks the Mythic team was trying to consolidate its population rather than adding new servers, something that Mark Jacobs himself had previously said would be a sign they were in trouble.  Not that Mr. Jacobs is now saying they are in trouble, but I just love that quote as an example of things not to say. Meanwhile, even some WAR fanbois have changed their mind on the game.

Tabula Rasa, after a statement of support by NC West President of Publishing David Reid, was declared untenable just weeks later and slated to be closed at the end of February 2009.  The Bane issued a press release declaring total victory over the humans while General British, Colonel Blackthorn, and Major Miscalculation fled into space.  A blank slate indeed.

Sony Online Entertainment talked a lot about cool upcoming products, but shipped no new games.  Aside from two expansions and a lot of small content additions, the big headline of the year for SOE seemed to be, “EverQuest and EverQuest II: Now with RMT!”  While I won’t argue with Grimwell’s declaration of success on that front, the reaction seemed to me to be mixed.

All the while the Wrath of the Lich King seemed to be getting lukewarm support at best over the summer with many a blogger picking apart individual features or weighing the whole and declaring it “too little, too late” after nearly two years of waiting.  Then, as the day approached, people began filing back into Azeroth after their summer vacations in other lands.  On the ship date Wrath broke previous sales records set by The Burning Crusade, pushed WoW to a new subscriber peak (sure, just half a million people… small when compared to 11 million, but still more than almost any other subscription based MMO you care to mention has total.), and was generally declared wonderful by those who have enjoyed WoW in the past.

So screw convention wisdom, I’m going back to wild and crazy predictions.  Diablo III will generate more revenue than Toyota when it ships and StarCraft II will cure cancer and lead to the reunification of Korea.

The Site

I cleaned up the right hand bar quite a bit.  The most obvious piece that is missing is the counter for Feedburner.  I originally put it up there to encourage people to subscribe to the site via FeedBurner, since it offered some statistics.  However, most of the people who read the site via RSS use the WordPress.com feed, so the counter was displaying about 10% of my RSS readership.  Since WordPress.com has since added some minor stats about RSS, I decided to just remove the counter.  The FeedBurner feed is still live and will remain so, there just won’t be a link to it now.

One Year Ago

December 2007 seemed to be a busy time for the SOE.  First there was the whole “moving a whole guild from test to a live server” brouhaha.  Then there was the rumor of SOE being purchased by Zapak Digital Entertainment.  And, finally, there was the deal with Live Gamer to take over transactions on the Station Exchange servers, at which time Smed himself said that this did not mean that they were going to open the flood gates of RMT on any of their servers not currently served by SOE’s own Station Exchange RMT plan.  All of which I wrapped up in one post.

The yearly EverQuest Nostalgia Tour was off to the usual activities.

I put up my predictions for the “Next EverQuest II Expansion,” which I have yet to score.  I will have to get a post together comparing The Shadow Odyssey with my own guesses.

The Saturday Night Permanent Floating Instance Group was finishing up Blackrock Depths.

Dr. Richard Bartle brought up the “why so much fantasy” question for its regular beating to death.

I was interviewed over at World IV.  So far that is the only interview I have ever been asked to do.

I lost my first battlecruiser to pirates in EVE Online.  Meanwhile, after pissing away a lot of ISK on invention, I was not getting a lot of results.

And I bought a new gaming computer full of Quad Core goodness.

New Linking Sites

A big holiday thank you to these sites who link to The Ancient Gaming Noob.

Please take a minute to visit these sites, one of them may be your new favorite blog!

Most Views Posts in December

  1. Play On: Guild Name Generator
  2. Getting Upper Blackrock Spire Access
  3. How To Find An Agent in EVE Online
  4. Howling Fjord Quest Night
  5. Best MMO Expansion in 2008?
  6. Do You Name Your Ships?
  7. 2008 MMORPG Progdictionations
  8. LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
  9. Five LEGO Video Game Titles I Want
  10. The Name Generator (which has nothing to do with #1)
  11. Is There Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG?
  12. The Way Questing Used To Be

Best Search Terms

world of warcraft hot to get out of gnomergen
[A lot of people are]

which mmo
[A question that plagues so many of us]

new lego emperor
[That is what we all seek!]

Spam Comments of the Month

ignorant christmas wallpaper cell phone :PPP
[Not a random string at all!]

I use WoW code all the time as it saves time!
[added to my Know Your WoW Code post and linked to a gold seller.]

Deleted Comment of the Month

Die in a fire you ‘tard.
[Like almost all of the really hateful comments I get, this came from an EVE Online player.  The game inspires passion, both good and bad.]

EVE Online

EVE Has been quiet for me this month, not so much out of a lack of desire to play as a lack of time.  The first half of the month I was busy shipping a product before the holidays, and then came the holidays.  Still, I ran a mission or two, hauled freight when needed, kept production going, and brought in another pile of ISK.  Still no freighter though.

EverQuest

I have not played ANY EverQuest.  There has been no 2008 EverQuest Nostalgia Tour.   EverQuest II might be old enough now that it is suitable for nostalgia.  That certainly fits what I have been doing there.

EverQuest II

In Norrath I have been mostly involved with the adventures of Reynaldo Fabulous of Freeport, a swashbuckling berserker who has been cutting a swathe through the original level 1-50 content in EverQuest II.  With the support of his friends and his guild he has managed to get to level 52 and remain fabulous.

Lord of the Rings Online

The call of Moria seems to have hit Gaff.  Having a lifetime membership means I can pick that game up any time.  However, now he is talking about starting over on a new server.  Damn his eyes, I finally have horses on all my guys on the old server.

World of Warcraft

Holiday commitments and illness has kept the instance group from playing as often as usual.  Still, we are banging away in Northrend and expect full victory in Utgarde Keep any day now!

Coming Up

Santa delivered more than just LEGO kits to our house over the holidays.  There were also a few Wii and DS games that I will mention in future posts, though it seems at the moment that Cooking Mama II is the surprise DS hit with my daughter.

And, of course, tune in tomorrow for my predictions for 2009.  I’d better start working on them!

Shut Up We’re Talking #40

Shut Up We’re Talking” one of the podcasts in the VirginWorlds Podcast Collective now has episode Forty available.

A very special year end show, and not just because it consisted just of members of the Revelry and Honor EQ2 guild.

Hosts Darren and Karen are joined by Michael Zenke and myself to wallow in all that was 2008.

  • Introductions – As if you did not know
  • What We’re Playing – You can probably predict most of the answers
  • The Ghosts of Predictions PastDarren, Karen, Michael and myself talk about our predictions for 2008 and how far off we were.  Darren and I scored ourselves in posts already, but you can look back at and see how well we did.
  • The Ghosts of MMOs Present – We take up the Massively categories and pick our “bests” for the 2008 MMORPG scene.
  • The Ghosts of Predictions Future – We each make one prediction about what will happen with MMORPGs in 2009.
  • Blog of the Week – There was NO blog of the week.  But Darren has an angle to this.
  • Out Takes – What could beat Mr. Zenke’s Bartle rant during the show?  How about Darren’s wife?

And, as an added bonus, an after-show picture of the show crew in the R&H Guild Hall.

Darren, John, Michael, and Karen

Darren, John, Michael, and Karen

Another fine show and a testament to the editing powers of Darren.  However, he really needs to hire me to do his show notes.

You can download it via iTunes or here at VirginWorlds.

Scoring My 2008 MMORPG Progdictionations

Back on January 1st, 2008 I posted ten MMORPG predictions.  These were meant to be outrageous, humorous and not very subtle jabs at some of the tepid, obvious, and vague predictions being made elsewhere about the state of the industry and its future.

But now the year has nearly passed and it has come time to do the accounting for my predictions.  I am not going to copy and paste the whole set of predictions into this post, but I will maintain the same titles and order, so you can compare the results to the original 2008 MMORPG Progdictionations list.

For the predictions, I am going to score each one out of a possible 10 points, so a prediction that is right on the money gets 10 points, while something completely wrong gets 0.  With a total of 10 predictions, that gives me a possible 100 points.

How close did I get?  Time to score the list!

1. Age of Conan

Funcom managed to avoid becoming major campaign issue in the 2008 US presidential elections.  Still, the boys from Oslo managed to screw up quite a bit without excess negative publicity, angry mobs, or government intervention.  I am going to give myself 4 points out of 10 just for predicting bad things happening with the game, even if they only led to layoffs as opposed to the complete dissolution of the company.

2. The Agency

The Agency did disappoint, if not in exactly the way I predicted.  It did so by simply not shipping.  Didn’t this game have a December 2007 ship date at one point?  Anyway, disappointment is disappointment, so I am going to be greedy and give myself 3 out of 10 points here.

3. BioWare

BioWare, EA, and LucasArts actually admitted that BioWare is making an MMO, and they even gave us a name.  Star Wars: The Old Replublic will be coming some time in the next decade or so it seems.  I was sure they were going to mess with our minds on this for at least another year on this, so 0 out of 10 points for me.

4. Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising

Nobody appears have picked up Rome Rising.  Not Mythic.  Not SOE.  Nobody.  0 out of 10 points.

5. Pirates of the Burning Sea

The first three words of my prediction, “While launching slowly…” were right on the money.

I think that gets me 3 points, one for each word.

The rest of prediction was garbage.  There was no surge of subscriptions in the UK, Spain, or France, certainly none large enough to influence gaming PC sales, nationalism in the three countries was not set afire by the game, and the summer of 2008 saw not one of these countries at war with another.

3 out of 10 points total.

6. Star Trek Online

The ghost of Gene Roddenberry may very well have possessed Daron Stinnett and taught him the true meaning of Star Trek, but a fat lot of good it will do anybody unless Daron passed that information along to somebody at Cryptic Studios, the team now working on Star Trek Online.  There was no return from the brink for Perpetual.  And so it goes.

Still, Star Trek Online is still alive and may still be able to prove (or disprove) that life in the 25th century is as dull as dishwater.  That fact alone has got to be worth 3 out of 10 points.

7. Tabula Rasa

My prediction that General British would be ganked in Tabula Rasa was completely turned on its head when Richard Garriott, in a surprise twist ganked NCSoft and fled the scene… hell, he fled the planet, at least for a while.  If only he had ganked them in a theater and had then fled to a warehouse so I could tie in the whole Lincoln/Kennedy thing.  Okay, maybe “ganked” is too strong a word, but nobody is coming away from Tabula Rasa smelling like a rose.  So there was some drama remotely related to something tangentially connected with something I predicted.  1 out of 10.

8. Vanguard

Brad McQuaid remained completely silent in 2008.  I have to give myself 0 out of 10 points on this one.  Honestly though, not having to read any more forum posts from Brad makes it worth being wrong.

9. Warhammer Online

I said I was not going to quote the original post, but I think I have to for this one.

Scared straight by the Conan debacle, Warhammer Online will slip further into 2008, and will only ship after the US presidential elections and the short war in Western Europe. While getting decent but not extravagant reviews, it will get a significant subscriber boost from players leaving other MMOs. This timing will allow Marc Jacobs to declare success immediately.

I am giving myself 8 points for that part alone.  My ship date prediction was a lot closer than Mythic’s first few guesses (not to mention being just six weeks off from the election), WAR certainly got a boost from people leaving other MMOs, and Mark Jacobs has not been shy about declaring success.

Mythic did not, however, adopt the “Mythic Ticket” subscription plan I predicted.  But given the end of the WAR launch euphoria, I have to imagine it might start looking like an attractive idea.  Plus, you cannot beat the name “Mythic Ticket.”  It makes “Station Access” sound like a low end cable TV package.

8 out of 10 points.

10. World of Warcraft

Blizzard shipped Wrath of the Lich King before the end of 2008, it was a huge success, it dwarfed past game sales records (also set by Blizzard), piled up huge revenues, and perhaps even saved PC gaming for another year or two.  I heard that a display of Wrath at a Best Buy in Ohio tipped over and the boxes fell into the shape of the Virgin Mary, which in turn healed everybody in the store.   I fear Tobold is going to have to keep his current job, as Michael Morhaime, Frank Pearce, and Rob Pardo are secure in their positions for the time being.  0 out of 10 points.

Total Score: 22 points out of 100

And a very generous 22 points at that.

But that is what you get when you go for outrageous and specific, which is why so many yearly predictions are tepid, obvious, or vague.  Some people prefer to be mostly right than patently wrong.  And since I set out to be patently wrong, I take those 22 points and as a condemnation that I was not outrageous enough in my predictions.

I will have to remedy that with my next round of MMORPG Progdictionations, coming January 1, 2009.

Server Status Pet Peeve

One of my MMO pet peeves, probably the only one that I have actually complained about multiple times on official forums, is the availability and reliability of server status information.

This morning I went to log onto EverQuest and, after going through three of the screens through which you must pass in order to get into the game, I got a notification that the server, Luclin, was down and that I should go check the network status page for details.

Of course, the EverQuest network status page showed all servers up.

At the bottom of the page there was an entry about the servers being down for six hours starting at 5am today. Since it was 9am, the servers were obviously still down for that maintenance period.

What irks me, of course, is that the server status, all that static text in bold green in the middle of the page, indicates that the servers are all up. The person whose job it is to change that text when the servers are down either forgot or is out of the office, and since it is obviously not automated, the text remains the same.

Okay, so EverQuest isn’t down that much any more and, well, it is EverQuest, so who even cares?

It is the fact that it shows a lack of attention to detail that bothers me. Here is something that could be automated, that should be automated, yet is left as a manual task that gets looked after some of the time.

It is a polish thing, if I can use that word safely while Darren is about.

World of Warcraft has a great Realms Status page that is very useful. It shows server status, server load, and tells you if there is a queue. Blizzard talks about polish and attention to detail and they demonstrate it here. The only problem I have ever had with that page is when there is some general server problem and a few hundred thousand people hit it at once. The price of success.

EVE Online has just one server, but the server status is right there in front of you when you launch the client. Plus, the server status is available via an API, so I can see server status when I am running EVE Mon.

And it isn’t just EverQuest that shows this neglect. I have seen enough instances of the EverQuest II network status page reporting “All Servers Are Up,” when they quite clearly are not up, to feel the need to verify anything I read there.

And when looking at other SOE games, I noticed that the Pirates of the Burning Sea server status page reports all 13 servers up and running.

Correct me if I am wrong here, but didn’t they merge down to fewer servers than that? I could have sworn that Guadeloupe, the server I played on, was one of those eliminated, yet it is still listed as up. Did I completely misunderstand something (not unusual), or do we have at least one Flying Dutchman server on the loose?

And I could not find any server status for Vanguard.

Polish includes the whole user experience. It includes all of the little things, like accurate server status pages. It can be hard to take a company seriously when it treats information like this so haphazardly.

Who else does server status well… or badly?

Adrift in a Burning Sea

I started off playing Pirates of the Burning Sea with the pre-boarding party, which means that I have been playing for nearly four weeks and have not written very much. I mentioned my first character, a freetrader, in a post.

Of course, I have since rolled an alt, who has quickly become my main. Out with Friedrich Voss, freetrader, in with Remy Darlan, naval officer.

Here is with the noted privateer Henri Le Petomane, aka Potshot. Remy is on the left.

remyandhenri.png

Of course, you have to watch out for those privateers. They are always skulking around, trying to pull something on you.

herniandremy.png

During the pre-boarding, a Society (guild) was formed, Le Cadre Crepusculaire, on the French faction of the Guadeloupe server, which true to my stated rules of server choice, remains ever at the top of the server list, being the most lightly populated server.

Of course, as is customary, I squandered the whole pre-boarding time frame, only getting to level 8 before launch.

Since I have been laid up with a sprained ankle, I have not been out to Fry’s to buy the box yet. Potshot was nice enough to let me use his 14-day buddy code to get me going.

I have played enough to give some basic impression of the game so far.

The Highs

The Looks – The game looks pretty darn good, especially at sea. There are some visual issues on occasion, like my ships ensign flying through the sails, but I see things like that in World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online as well. You can get all sorts of wonderful age of sail screen shots.

My sloop

My sloop

The Avatars – There are just enough customization options that I have yet to see two avatars that look alike. I can spot my friends, as they all look unique. Nobody need worry about showing up at the party and finding somebody else in the same outfit. And if it does happen, you just head to the tailor and update your look.

Naval Combat – Easily my favorite part of the game, Flying Labs has done a wonderful job finding a happy medium between the realism of sailing and combat in that time period and the need to keep the game accessible. I have a lot of fun with Potshot out hunting bigger NPC ships on the open sea.

Mixed Results

The Economy – It is complicated. You cannot just run out and start building ships on your own. You really need a concerted effort to get an assembly line going. There is no magical transporting of goods. You have to go haul your freight from harbor to harbor just like in EVE, something I respect.

On the other hand, it might be too complicated to get into. I have not quite figured out deeds and recipes and such. And while I was trying to figure out more on that front, I lost my shirt when I had all of my production up in the auction house in New Orleans, and then the Spanish took the place. You cannot access the auction house of another power, so I lost it all.

Boarding Combat – It isn’t bad, but it just doesn’t do anything for me. There are only two skills I ever use in combat. And if I do things right in the naval battle, the boarding is usually a walk-over.

The Missions – Interesting at first, but you can burn out on them very quickly. Plus, they all seem to be instanced, which is okay, but they all seem to be solo as well, which is not.

Travel – This one is mixed for me because travel seems to be both too fast and too slow. Hitting 82 knots in a sloop when you catch the current right seems downright silly. On the other hand, I had to cross three quarters of the map to turn in my commendations to get a sloop, a trip that took a good 45 minutes one way.

Light Server Population – This is my own fault, I suppose. But now we’re invested on a server. There is rarely a crowd when we go hunting on the open sea, which is nice. On the other hand, the Spanish and the pirate factions are taking over key ports all over and there does not seem to be enough Frenchmen to halt that tide, much less get back our own.

PvP – We’re losing ports like crazy, which is bad. On the other hand, as long as I stay out of those contention zones, which don’t last very long, I can thumb my nose at those in the pirate faction who seem to be out trolling for suckers to engage them, with one wee ship out front, and three or four more big ones just over the horizon.

The Lows

Ships in the Night – While the avatars look great on the beach, and still pretty good during ship combat, while out in the open sea, you end up with the same problem EVE has – a bunch of ships sailing around and no feeling of personal interaction.

Anti-Altism – The game reminds me of the early days of EverQuest, when you had to get somebody else online to pass things to your alts. I get the reason that you want to keep players from pooling the assets of multiple characters on a single account, but it is swimming up stream. I want shared warehouse space.

Bugs – There hasn’t been any crashers for me, but there have been a couple of that have annoyed me. Number one on the list has to be the hole in the port contention code that lets a faction take over a port faster than you can get a pizza delivered in most US towns.

Summary

I like the naval combat and try to get on when I can so Potshot and I can go hunting together. But that is about the only draw at the moment for me. I feel the urge to level and to get bigger ships, the better to battle, but after losing most of my doubloons in the sack of New Orleans, a Bermuda Sloop seems to be about all I will have for a while to come.

The game is interesting, and I will likely play it off and on as long as I have Station Access, but I am not sure that it is interesting enough that I would pay a monthly subscription just to play it.

January in Review

The Site

I wrote a bunch of nonsense over the course of the month, nothing out of the ordinary in that, but this month a bit of it caught on elsewhere.

First, my “MMORPG Progdictionations” got quite a few page views, some from forum links where things I predicted were being discussed rather seriously. I guess they missed the Humor tag on that post.

Then I got back on the “Why So Much Fantasy” treadmill and tried to figure out in narrative form what factors lead to the success of fantasy MMORPGs and how strong those same factors are in the realm of science fiction. Optimistically titled, “Is There Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG?” it got the most reactions ever for something I have written.

Potshot wrote “No Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG

Tipa created the premise for a scifi MMORPG with, “MMO Sciene Fiction Outline #1 – “Book of Days”

Lemegeton responded to mine and other posts with “SciFi and Heroes

Troll on Fire enthusiastically misinterpreted my point with “Bring on the Andromeda Galaxy?”

Gooney gave me my first GAXonline link back with “The Western Sci-Fi Phenomena

And I was linked on Massively in “Sci-fi MMO, you’re my only hope… ” which lead to the post “Why Fantasy, and not Science Fiction, Part Eleventy-Billion

So if the measure of success if how many blog posts come up in reply to your own post, this was my best post ever!

One Year Ago

The MMO blogesphere starting talking about generations of MMOs, and I asked if we had even gotten past the first generation, then quoted Wikipedia’s take on the generation debate.

The instance group finished up the Scarlet Monestary and rolled through Razorfen Downs.

Blintz, my swashbuckler in EQ2 was just digging into Zek, The Orcish Wastes, one of my favorite zones in post-cataclysm Norrath.

Scott Hartsman described some of the goals for the EverQuest II expansion that would eventually become The Rise of Kunark.

I played in some of the Vanguard open beta, once I got it downloaded, but when the game actually launched, I declined to buy the box.

And, finally, Blizzard launched the Burning Crusade without the usual first day disasters that usually accompany an expansion, though I couldn’t figure out why I was bothering to buy a copy.

New Linking Sites

A big thanks to these sites who link to TAGN. I encourage you to give them a visit in return.

Again, if your site does link here and I have not mentioned it in the past, feel free to drop me a note, as it is getting harder and harder each month to find sites! (And I’m still lazy.)

Most Viewed Posts in January

  1. 2008 MMORPG Progdictionations
  2. Play On: Guild Name Generator
  3. Is There Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG?
  4. How To Find An Agent in EVE Online
  5. LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
  6. EVE Online – The Tutorial
  7. What Is A “Tank” In EVE?
  8. A Tech II Blueprint At Last!
  9. Saturday with Red 5
  10. Revelations Tutorial – Part III
  11. EVE, ISK, and RMT
  12. Pokemon – Battle Revolution

Best Search Terms

gnoll sex
[We’re still not that kind of site]

“you don’t say” “who was it?” “he didn’t
[Spike Jones references FTW!]

“Julie Whitefeather”
[Never even mentioned once on this site. She is on VirginWorlds.]

when is pokemon on?
[Please use TVGuide.com]

EVE Online

I have not been spending a lot of time in EVE lately. Now that I know the corp that preys on mission runners in the low sec systems near me, I have stopped running missions if they are on. And, since they seem to be on a lot, I might have run two level 3 missions in the last month. Losing a barely equipped battle cruiser was annoying. Losing my fully equipped and rigged (for missions) Drake would be a deal killer. Those with the most free time win again.

So I have been training, playing the market, and hauling trash. While I have a reasonable nest egg left over from mining, I have not found anything really lucrative on the market into which to invest, so I piddle along selling light and heavy missiles and hybrid charges.

EverQuest

EverQuest Nostalgia Tour 2007 Edition is now officially over. Results to follow.

EverQuest II

Since I secured the eleven snow globes of Frostfell, I have not been playing very often in Norrath, much to Gaff’s annoyance. He is back on a big EQ2 binge while I barely log on. Blintz, my main, is still sitting at level 62, waiting for me to return.

Lord of the Rings Online

I got my founder’s level 25 horse. Oh, and they fixed the crash problem I was having. I didn’t actually play more than an hour, but at least I have that option again, now with faster transport.

Pirates of the Burning Sea

I have been playing Pirates for four weeks nows and I have not written very much about it. That will be rectified with tomorrow’s post.

World of Warcraft

Azeroth has been my #1 location for the month of January. In addition to the instance group I have been running my hunter up levels in hopes of getting him to the Outlands. He is 56 now. I want to explore the new (year old) content, but Vikund has to stay close to the group in level, so I cannot go too nuts with him. Even so, Vik was close enough to level after the Scholomance run that I just ground him up to level 62 so he could get some new skills. He is now tied with Blintz in EQ2 as my highest level MMORPG charater ever.

Wii

A few new Wii games showed up at our house over the holidays. I have not had time to write about even one of them. I will try to change that soon, though with a sprained ankle, I have had to give Dance Dance Revolution a rest!

Upcoming

February will be a busy month. We have end of fiscal year at the office, with all of the associated planning and budgeting tasks, plus I will be on vacation for a week, so it will be a light month for posts. I won’t be able to keep up the current pace, but I won’t let myself disappear either.

One big thing coming up next month is GDC in San Francisco. I picked up an EXPO Pass again this year and will be up there Thursday and Friday, stalking Brent, Brenden, Darren, and whoever else I can find. If you are going to be up there, let me know.

X-Fire – Joining The Statistics

I like to look at the X-Fire statistics each month, as I have posted in the past, so I thought, as part of my 2008 gaming adventure, I would become part of those statistics.

In addition, I also thought it would be interesting to see my own statistics for the year, to see which game I end up playing the most in 2008.

So I downloaded X-Fire and ran the installer.

I did not even have to create an account once it was installed.

Back in the day I was in a gaming clan that required its members to run X-Fire when online. I even remembered my account name and password nearly four years after I last logged in.

Currently, my gaming stats still show Battlefield 1942 as my most played game. The Desert Combat mod for BF 1942 was the big game for our clan.

After nearly a month of having X-Fire installed, World of Warcraft is my most played game for 2008, followed by Pirates of the Burning Sea. For some reason, X-Fire does not seem to be picking up EVE Online, as I rather suspect that should be in the #2 spot. I will have to fix that.

None of the 35 people on my X-Fire friends list appear to still use X-Fire, or at least their old X-Fire account. I do not know anybody who currently uses X-Fire, so as a buddy list, it is not much use at the moment.

Not long after I had X-Fire installed, I found out the best feature it offers. Forget about statistics, the friends list, or the voice features.

The best thing is that X-Fire downloads the patches for World of Warcraft quickly, efficiently, and automatically.

No more Blizzard downloader for me!

I will see at the end of the year which game I played the most. But between now and then, I will spend less time waiting for WoW to patch.

SOE, A Grace Period Please?

I picked up the pre-order box for Pirates of the Burning Sea, downloaded the client, and have been playing the game since the “Pre-Boarding” party began.

That is pretty much the same story I told when Lord of the Rings Online came out. I bought the pre-order box, played through the pre-release, and then went straight into the game.

Pretty much the same, but not exactly the same.

With Lord of the Rings Online, after the pre-order period ended and the game went live, Turbine gave all players with pre-order keys a two week grace period in which to purchase the full box. We did not have to rush out on day one, a Tuesday (why is that the industry standard day for releases… and patches?), to get the box. We could at least wait for the weekend.

I wish SOE had picked up on that idea.

But no, when I tried to log on tonight, I got this:

soepirates.png

No code, no play.

Not unexpected, I suppose. This is the first time, that I know of, where SOE has done the pre-order play period thing. They might not have thought to look at how other companies have done it.

I have a pre-order box, but I am stuck at home with a sprained ankle (I get to learn how to use crutches again), so I cannot just run out to the store and pick up a copy. That will have to wait a week or so.

Since sailing is out of the question, maybe I’ll go see if Turbine fixed that video drive crash problem they have been having. I still haven’t picked up my horse.

The Official SOE Podcast #28

Alan “Brenlo” Crosby and Aimee “Ashlanne” Rekoske host this episode of the SOE Podcast, with Jason “Pex” Ryan reading the news.

Topics:

  • SOE Gaming News
  • Thanks to EQ2 Guides
  • Happy New Year
  • The Holiday Break
  • CES – The Agency & Pirates of the Burning Sea
  • Interview with the Pizza Delivery Dude
  • EverQuest II – New producer
  • Aimee’s 30th Birthday/Disneyland Trip
  • Listener Email: Dillard asks about the SOE Store
  • Interview #2 – Joy Parkes, SOE Voice-over Coordinator
  • Commercial Break
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea
  • Star Wars Galaxies Chapter 8
  • Top Ten signs you play too much Vanguard
  • 2008 SOE Community Influencers Summit
  • TV and Movies
  • What are you playing?
  • Out takes

The show is available on iTunes as well as from the official SOE podcast site.

The show was recorded on January 14th and runs just over 52 minutes.

Is There Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG?

This came to be in the car during my commute while I was pondering the future possibilities of Star Trek Online. I think I actually managed to capture most of it in notes, put great chunks of it down in writing, then edited out the irrelevancies.

This is an attempt to lay down the environment that brought about the seeming wealth of fantasy MMORPGs and compare that to analogous factors for the science fiction genre. I should be able to do this, with the right information, as this sort of systemic analysis was my minor way back when.

Note I am using the term MMORPG rather than my usual MMO. I want to emphasize the “role playing game” aspect of these games, as I think that is a key to their stickiness with players.

And, yes, this is sort of going back to the “Why So Much Fantasy” topic, so sue me.

Hypothesis

Fantasy MMORPGs came about because of a series of environmental factors made them possible and that those same factors do not exist, at least in the proper proportion, for Science Fiction MMORPGs to be created, much less be equally popular and prevalent.

Tag Line

You have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run.

The Factors – Fantasy

Literature: A lot of people point to “The Lord of the Rings” as the spark for the popularity of the fantasy genre. And you cannot deny that it has had influence, but so did Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” more than a century before. Works of fiction surrounding King Arthur, such as Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur,” a title that has seen a number of resurgences in popularity over the last 500 years, and general interest in things like myth and mythology all builds a strong foundation for a work like The Lord of the Rings to flower and in turn act as an inspiration for further works.

Table Top Role Playing Games: By this I mean, of course, Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, there are many variations on the fantasy table top role playing genre, but D&D is the big name, the World of Warcraft in the FRP market, and the first player. It is a rare thing indeed to find somebody who has played more than two role playing games that has not done something with D&D. D&D has been a success and has found its way into popular culture, driven by the base of literature, but also popularizing that literature as well. I played D&D before I read “The Lord of the Rings.”

Computer Role Playing Games: There has been a long line of very successful computer role playing games. From the early text games that lead to Zork to the current Neverwinter Nights 2, there has been a long list of popular and profitable games in the fantasy genre. These games created, or adopted from other genres, many of the interface conventions that ended up being part of the standard MMORPG interface.

MUDs: Single player games showed how things should progress graphically while MUDs showed how a multi-player environment and community might be developed. Again, high fantasy rules the road and there were dozens and dozens of successful, well populated, heavily played MUDs that worked out over time, if not the best way, at least a viable way to run a multiplayer fantasy environment. My own favorite, Toril MUD, itself the result of several generations of change and development, had a very obvious and direct influence on the development of EverQuest.

The Factors – Science Fiction

Literature: Science Fiction’s body of work is somewhat less substantial and also somewhat more scattered. I took a course at University on the history of science fiction, and the professor was quite adamant that the direct antecedent to science fiction was Mary Shelley’s gothic horror “Frankenstein,” and that the true heart of popular science fiction lay in the melding of technological speculation (star ships, ray guns, and the like) with coming of age stories (one of those Joseph Campbell staples) where a young male, often in his teens, faces adversity, defeats the bad guys, and prevails, often where his elders have failed. How many Heinlein stories follow that thread? “Ender’s Game” and Star Wars in a nutshell as well, I’d say.

Yes, that theme is also popular in fantasy as well. You can view “The Lord of the Rings” through that lens, putting hobbits in general and Frodo in particular, in the main role. But as a genre, science fiction is not that far from its roots, the pulp novels of the 40s and the domination by Heinlein in the 50s and 60s. There is not 500+ years of work behind the genre. There is no long history of popular revival of the genre.

And, perhaps more importantly, as has been suggested by others, real science has made a lot of science fiction look rather silly. It turns out not to age well. How much of Heinlein’s time line have we passed by without the technology showing up? No flying cars yet! If you go back and read, say, Asimov’s “I, Robot,” you get to a section where he writes about how hard it was to develop the technology to allow robots to speak, but that getting them to understand voice command was trivial. That, of course, is the opposite of reality today.

So while science fiction has a foundation, it is not nearly as big nor as solid as the high fantasy foundation.

And while Star Trek itself actually has a pretty large body of written work, it is pretty much a niche market. It does not extend into popular culture the way the television shows have. Nobody is planning to make a Captain Sulu movie that I know of.

Table Top Role Playing Games: There have been, of course, many science fiction based role playing games. There was even a very good Star Trek based role playing game from FASA. But as a percentage of the market, they were all eclipsed by D&D. And popular ones not based on a known IP were even less significant. The best known are probably Warhammer 40K, which has its roots deep in fantasy, and Traveler, which was wonderfully deep and complex, but not all that popular in the end.

Computer Role Playing Games: There have been a ton of science fiction themed games. The first computer game I ever played, on a main frame, was Star Trek. But good, science fiction themed, role playing games have, again, not been as prevalent as the high fantasy counterparts. There were some good ones out there, like Fallout. But most games in the science fiction theme have been shooters (Marathon), tactical simulations (Starfleet Command), or empire building (Masters of Orion). There are a few fleshed out role playing styles in the science fiction genre, probably best characterized by Wing Commander and Freelancer.

MUDs: My experience with science fiction MUDs is pretty small. This is mostly because the few I played were all either boring (and usually Trek based) or high fantasy with a science fiction veneer. Doing a global replace on longsword to make it light saber is not all you need to do to make a science fiction MUD. Since my knowledge in this area is weak, I will admit in advance that I could be wrong, but I do not think there was a popular, heavily played science fiction MUD that would act as a guide to making a science fiction MMORPG the way there was for fantasy.

Quick Summary:

Above I tried to lay out what I see are the antecedents required for creating a sustainable, popular, MMORPG environment for a given genre. Things that have both created the interest in MMORPGs in said genre as well as acting as a practical guide to creating the games. Those are, with my assessment:

               Fantasy  SciFi
 Literature    High     Medium
 Table Top     High     Low
 Comp RPGs     High     Medium
 MUDs          High     Low

The Result

Guess what? As a culture we have created an infrastructure that not only produced, but practically dictated the form of a bunch of fantasy based MMORPGs. Meridian 59, Ultima Online, EverQuest, and World of Warcraft are all logical conclusions when you look at what came before. Literature, Dungeons and Dragons, computer fantasy role playing games, and MUDs set the standards and expectations. That is probably why I felt such an affinity for EverQuest on day one. I, the people around me, and the people who created it, had all been groomed for that eventuality.

But you probably knew that already.

On the science fiction side of things though, the factors are not as strong.

The science fiction body of work is relatively young compared to fantasy and has the flaw facing anybody predicting the future, being wrong more often than right.

Single player computer role playing games have existed, but have tended to chew on just corners of the genre. Standards for space traders and ship combat have been well defined, but other roles for the genre have been left unexplored.

And there has not been the same small community building exercise that fantasy got with the MUDs of the 90s that taught a generation of players and developers about groups, raids, boss mobs, drops, the holy trinity, and the uselessness of rangers.

With that setup, you get a series of unsatisfactory games when you are looking for a science fiction MMORPG. You have EVE Online, which is more a mass space flight/space trader sim than a role playing game, Tabula Rasa, which is more of a shooter than a role playing game, and Star Wars Galaxies, which really seems to be a fantasy game in science fiction clothes.

Conclusion

Given this view, we’re utterly naive to hope for a good science fiction MMORPG to show up, and if it did show up, we might not even be equipped to recognize it. Brilliance and insight have been thwarted in the past by an uncomprehending public.

So back to Star Trek Online, it is not that the IP is impossible, any curse not withstanding, it is that science fiction as an MMORPG genre is not possible, or at least is not likely.

Comments

So this is something I put together pretty quickly, shored up a bit with details, but otherwise tried not to disturb too much, lest I talk myself out of it.

But does it make any sense? Did I miss something? If so, what?

If it does make sense, how do we get to the point where we have the conventions and understanding to make science fiction MMORPGs not just possible but likely?

And what does it say for other genres… like pirates, for example?

Or was this all an exercise in “Well, duh?”