Category Archives: TorilMUD

Dealing with Mudflation

A few weeks back on The Meta Show The Mittani characterized CCP’s attempts to fix the EVE Online economy as an attempt to roll back mudflation.  And that seems to fit the bill as to what they have been attempting over the last few years really.

Mudflation goes back to… well, as the name implies, MUDs and their economies.

Much has been written about the economies of online games, but my early experience with mudflation was around TorilMUD, which was big enough to have a player economy, but not big enough to absorb the faucets over time.

Mudflation generally refers to the growth of both power in online games and the effects of the uninterrupted flow of cash from drops, quests, and what not into the player economy.

In TorilMUD both aspects hit the game.  Power creep was generally part of the introduction of new raid zones.  If somebody made a fancy new zone for players to attack, they would seed it with some desirable gear, a bit better than you could get in some of the older zones.  That made people run the new zone to get the drops that they wanted, but also made older raid zones a bit easier to run.

For example, way back in time, the City of Brass in the Astral Plane was a tough zone for a raid group.  It had some nifty stuff, but groups primarily went there because it had drops for a couple of epic spell quests, including one of the druid spells… creeping doom or moonwell, I forget which this far down the line.  You needed a fire protection item, you needed to have fly cast on you, several of the fights needed very specific group compositions.

As new raid zones came in and gear got better overall, City of Brass became a bit of a cakewalk.  Part of that was the raid leaders learned all the tricks over time, what you could skip and how best to approach various bosses, but a lot of it was that we were all just now over-geared for the zone, so that save for one boss fight a run was rarely in question. (Unless Mori was running the raid, in which case we might all wipe just traveling through the Astral Plane and spend the next three hours recovering from that.)

The TorilMUD solution to this over time was to redo gear, generally by hitting it vigorously with a nerf bat until zones were, if not hard, but at least not a walk over.  Often the devs came for specific things.  There was the great war on haste items.  I remember Meclin lent me a pair of grey suede boots, which were haste items when he took a break and I traded them for some gear that was a big upgrade for me and then, two weeks later the devs nerfed them into oblivion.  I offered to go buy a pair of grey suedes for him when he returned to the game.  They were cheap because nobody wanted them anymore.

Part of the issue for TorilMUD is that it has had a level cap of 50 since 1993, so adjusting gear was the go-to solution.

Then there was the economy.  For some time after a pwipe, and I went through four of those, a player economy would grow and flourish.  I wrote a post about how we used to handle sales by yelling about our wares back in the old days.

TorilMUD was a game of many faucets and few sinks.  As usual, life was hard when you were level 1 and could barely afford the copper needed to buy a ration to eat.  But as you went on and looted every coin and sold every bit of junk to a vendor… we used to race off to the Faerie Forest with every crash/reboot because there were things we could sell available at such a reset… you eventually could cover your needs, then buy a few luxuries, then had excess.

When everybody was hungry, the economy thrived.  When people got fat, when the streets were running with gold, then the economy would die.  Basically, gear had value and coin did not, and who trades something of value for no return?  And when somebody did want to buy/sell something, it was for an obscene pile of coin.

That problem was never solved, save through the community itself.  People were generous in donating gear and when there was no demand, people stopped farming low level gear to resell.  But if you wanted to buy gear, pay money for an item, you were likely out of luck. (Except maybe for that tinker’s bag in the Faerie Forest.)

Both of those aspects of mudflation have carried on into modern MMORPGs.

In fact the experience of early EverQuest was very much a replay writ large, right down to people shouting to advertise their wares in the tunnel in The Commonlands.

The Plane of Knowledge kills all this eventually

The EQ developers had a different way out… a route that actually ran with gear inflation… which was expansions.  If you pile on some levels or some AAs to earn, a bit of story, and a pile of new gear to grind for, then you kick the gear inflation can down the road.  As long as you keep making expansions… and the EQ team was doing two expansions a year at one point… and don’t go crazy, you can sustain this for quite a while.

The economy was still a bit nutty in Norrath.  They had to turn off gravity in the Bazaar, the official player economy center, because you needed to haul huge amounts of platinum coin around to buy things, and woe to anybody who forgot to bank their coins before stepping out of the Bazaar, because you would find yourself weighed down, unable to move.  I’ve done that.

World of Warcraft had adopted pretty much the same point of view, at least up through the Battle for Azeroth expansion.  They did a gear squish at one point, just to reign in numbers, but gear progression through expansions was still pretty much the same; new expansion green gear was likely better than your old expansion purples.

And the team at Blizz made old raid tourism a thing for pets and transmog gear, so your inflated power could be used to go back and collect stuff you missed in past expansions.

It wasn’t until Battle for Azeroth that they started to feel that the “more levels with every expansion” model might be reaching the point of absurdity, so we got the great level squish before Shadowlands hit.  For me the jury is still out as to whether that was worth the effort, though it is hard to judge due to Shadowlands growing stale in the first six months and then the hostile workplace lawsuit hitting the company.

Regardless, I suspect that a level squish like that is a luxury that few titles can afford.  I am sure the EQ team feels the pain of having a level cap at 115 and 27 expansions to sort through.  I am not sure how Neverwinter managed it, though I suspect their plan was not as ambitious.

On the economy front Blizzard has just run with the inflation model, even expanding the gold cap over time.  Each expansion hands out more gold, but they add in a few fancy gold sinks… mounts and bags and what not… to try and offset that.  I am sure that WoW Tokens helped at least redistribute some of the hoarded gold in the game.

But the player economy isn’t critical to the game.  There are servers where the economy is totally screwed up, where the auction house is bad, but you can mostly ignore it.  You do quests, get gear, earn faction, get enough gold to buy from NPC vendors, and go on with your life and adventures.

It has actually been a bit amusing to watch the economy change in WoW Classic with the unlock of Burning Crusade Classic.  We would go out of our way to finish a quest with a one gold reward in vanilla.  In Outland the quest rewards are throwing gold compared to what we’ve been used to, and the market reacted.  People got rich, prices went up, and things moved along.

Still, the auction house it options.

Which brings me back to EVE Online, where started about a thousand words back.  CCP has been doing something that I have not seen before in an online game.  CCP has been trying to stuff the economy side of the mudflation genie back in the bottle.

After introducing all the changes that led to the current situation, epitomized at one point by the Delve Time Unit, CCP had a change of heart/staff and started down a path to reduce the wealth being accumulated in New Eden.  Rorqual mining was repeatedly nerfed as was supercap ratting.  Taxes on commerce were raised.  Anomalies were nerfed some more, then the whole ESS nerf was put in place to put income at risk.

CCP then got serious and went after mining and minerals, the core of the manufacturing economy, reducing ore yields, limiting where some minerals could be found, reducing the number of asteroids, and generally trying to starve the New Eden economy.

Most recently CCP redid industry.  Ship prices were already on the rise due to mineral prices, but CCP made certain ships, battleships and above, much more expensive to produce which saw a large downturn in production back in April.

A lot of effort has gone into throttling the economy, though after all that CCP threw some ISK at people for an event when they unlocked the ESS reserve bank keys.

July 2021 – Money Supply Over Time (with highlight)

While the money supply is down a bit from the June 2019 high, that last injection seems to have undone much of what they were attempting to achieve.

And CCP has promised that the starvation economy will be ending with changes slated for Q4 of 2021.  We do not know what those are yet, but I am very curious to see if there will be any tangible change resulting from these months and years of squeezing the economy.

For example, CCP loves when null sec goes to war.  Big battles with expansive ships set records and make headlines that help promote the game.  But this big economic squeeze has clearly impacted the war.

Yes, PAPI is claiming that the tax changes killed off their Tranquility Trading Tower revenues, which meant they could no longer finance the war, but that feels more like an excuse than major factor.

That said, making capitals and supercapitals more expensive to produce means that both sides in the war were much more careful about putting hard to replace assets on the line.  The tax change may not have ended the war, but the production change loomed large over how it was being fought and made those big battles CCP loves less likely.  Nobody wants to risk their big toys if they can’t be sure they can replace them.

CCP is in a tough corner, I will admit that.  If they think the economy is getting out of hand they cannot just add some more sinks in with the next expansion, a spiffy new mount or some such.  And the economy is vital to EVE Online in a way that few other games have ever managed.  Life goes on in New Eden because you can go to Jita and buy a new ship to replace the one you lost.  ISK has value in the economy.  Screw that up and the game breaks hard.

But I am still wondering if this effort will end up being an object lesson to other developers about how to, or how not to, deal with mudflation.

A Timeline of SOE and Daybreak Games

We are entering a new era for the games of Daybreak which made me think it might be a good time to review the story so far.  We’re around the 25 year mark for when the seeds of the company were planted and, with the Enad Global 7 purchase, the time seems ripe.

  • The House that EverQuest Built

First there was EverQuest.

Firiona and friends at launch, 1999

At some point around 1996 John Smedley, working at Sony, managed to get Brad McQuaid, Steve Clover, Bill Trost, and a host of others together to create a 3D online multiplayer fantasy game loosely (or not so loosely in places) based off of Sojourn MUD / TorilMUD.

Launched on March 16, 1999, a variety of Sony organizational names were connected to the game at different times including Sony Interactive Studios America, Verant Interactive, 989 Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment America, Sony Pictures, and Sony Online Entertainment.  My original disk and manual both display the 989 Studios logo prominently and names a couple others in the fine print.  As I mentioned in my 20 year anniversary reflections post about EverQuest, one magazine referred to the company running the game as Sony, Verant, and 989 in different parts of the same issue.  It was a confusing time.

Clarity came eventually though when EverQuest exceeded all expectations for success.  That was a bit of a surprise.  March of 1999 pre-dates the age of influencers and social media.  The internet wasn’t seen as a serious news source, though Matt Drudge breaking the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal had at least made a few start paying attention.  But a lot of us were still getting our gaming news via glossy monthly magazines where full page ads at the covers were the best way to gain attention.

I don’t recall any such ads for the game back in early 1999.  I only knew about the game because almost everybody then active on TorilMUD got invited to beta, usually by Brad McQuaid’s Aradune character in game.  I declined the beta invite, but came for the opening.

Not only were ads scarce, there wasn’t a lot of background to draw attention to the game.  Compare that to what most see as its direct competitor of the era, Ultima Online.  The Ultima franchise had been rolling along for more that 15 years when UO launched in late 1997.  The series spawned a studio, Origin Systems, that created other well known games.  And then there was Lord British, who ended up living in a castle and going into space on the proceeds of his Ultima empire.  UO had the fame, reputation, and lineage that EQ lacked.

And yet, at their respective peaks, EQ would have more than double UO’s subscribers.

EQ seemed to spread by word of mouth.  After buying it at Fry’s on my way home from work on launch day, I came into the office and told a bunch of people about it.  They all went out and bought copies and we ended up playing together.  And they told people and I told more people and others who played told people and soon the people I was telling already knew about it and there was a song “Has anybody seem my corpse?” being passed around and the whole thing had become something of a minor social phenomena.

And its success cemented the idea of online gaming at Sony so that the plethora of names was eventually pared down to Sony Online Entertainment.  25 years down the road from Smed collecting a team to get the ball rolling, this is all still the house that EverQuest built.

  • A Timeline of Events

This is not an exhaustive list, and I am not going to try to piece together things that came before March 16, 1999 or betas for various games.  Early access though, that is another story. I am also going to try not to editorialize, which won’t be easy for me.  If I have missed anything important, drop me a note or a comment and I’ll update the post.

  • 1999
    • Mar 16 – EverQuest launches with a base monthly subscription is $9.89 a month; servers are quickly overloaded and a long series of new servers kicks off
    • Jul 28 – MMORTS Sovereign announced
  • 2000
    • Apr 24 – The Ruins of Kunark, the first EverQuest expansion, launches
    • Oct 5 – SOE acquires Infantry
    • Dec 5 – The Scars of Velious, EQ expansion #2
  • 2001
    • Apr 17 – Cosmic Rift launches
    • Dec 4 – The Shadows of Luclin, EQ expansion #3
  • 2002
    • Apr 25 -The subscription rate for EverQuest increased to $12.95
    • Oct 29 – The Planes of Power, EQ expansion #4
  • 2003
    • Feb 11 – Sovereign MMORTS officially cancelled
    • Feb 11 – EverQuest Online Adventures launches on PlayStation 2
    • Feb 25 – The Legacy of Ykesha, EQ expansion #5
    • May 20 – PlanetSide launches
    • Jun 24 – EverQuest Macintosh Edition launches
    • Jun 26 – Star Wars Galaxies launches
    • Sep 9 – Lost Dungeons of Norrath, EQ expansion #6
    • Nov – Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga launches
    • Nov 17 – EverQuest Online Adventures: Frontiers expansion launches
    • Dec 1 – Lords of EverQuest, a single player Windows RTS, launches
  • 2004
    • Feb 10 – Gates of Discord, EQ expansion #7
    • Feb 10 – Champions of Norrath launches on PlayStation 2
    • Mar – EverQuest subscribers hit a peak of 550K
    • Sep 14 – Omens of War, EQ expansion #8
    • Oct 27 – SWG Jump to Lightspeed expansion
    • Nov 8 – EverQuest II launches
    • Nov 12 – A second round of EQII servers are launched to absorb the surge of new players
    • Nov – SOE introduces the Station Access plan that gives players a combined subscription to EQ, EQII, and Planetside for $22 a month
    • Nov – EQII subscribers who opt for Station Access get two extra character slots on their account and access to the EQII Players stats page
    • Dec – EQII is down for almost two days as an update breaks the live servers
  • 2005
    • Jan – SOE Announces SWG is being added to Station Access
    • Feb 7 – Champions: Return to Arms is launched on PlayStation 2
    • Feb 8 – EQ server consolidation starts with the four PvP servers being combined into the single Zek server
    • Feb 15 – Dragons of Norrath, EQ expansion #9
    • Feb 17 – SOE temporarily adds the /pizza command to EverQuest II as a cross promotion with Pizza Hut allowing players to order a pizza from within the game
    • Mar 21 – The Bloodline Chronicles, the first EQII adventure pack launches
    • Mar 22 – Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, a PSP title, launches
    • Apr – SOE begins a series of EQ server merges to bolster the populations, which runs on until the end of June
    • Apr – EverQuest II – East, developed for China, Taiwan, and South Korea, launches
    • May 5 – SWG Rage of the Wookies expansion launches
    • Jun 28 – The Splitpaw Saga, the second EQII adventure pack launches
    • Jul 20 – EQII gets new servers, Shadowhaven, The Bazaar, and The Vox PvP under the Station Exchange program, which allows players to sell in-game items for real world money; players are allowed to transfer characters there from other live servers
    • Aug 15 – SOE takes over operation of The Matrix Online
    • Sep 13 – Depths of Darkhollow, EQ expansion #10
    • Sep 13 – Desert of Flames, the first EQII expansion
    • Nov 1 – SWG Trials of Obi-wan expansion launches
    • Nov 8 – SWG New Game Enhancements update lands, changing character progression
    • Nov 9 – The “SOGA” character models from EverQuest II – East become an available option in EverQuest II
  • 2006
    • Jan – SOE announces they will be merging 10 low population EQII servers into 10 medium population servers because players are “too spread out” on the low population servers.
    • Feb 17 – Shadowhaven Station Exchange server is merged into The Bazaar server
    • Feb 21 – Prophecy of RoEQ expansion #11
    • Feb 21 – Kingdom of Sky, EQII expansion #2
    • Mar 28 – Untold Legends: The Warrior’s Code, a PSP title, launches
    • Mar 29 – EverQuest II – East is shut down, with all Chinese accounts transferred to the Mistmoore server, all Taiwanese accounts to the Najena server, and all Korean accounts to the Unrest server
    • Jun – EQ launches the first progression servers for the game, The Combine and The Sleeper, which let players play though all of the game expansions in order
    • Jun 14 – The Fallen Dynasty, the third EQII adventure pack launches
    • Sep 19, The Serpent’s Spine, EQ expansion #12
    • Nov 13 – Echoes of Faydwer, EQII expansion #3
    • Nov 15 – Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, a PSP title, launches
  • 2007
    • Jan 30 – Vanguard: Saga of Heroes launches with SOE as publisher
    • Feb 13 – The Buried Sea, EQ expansion #13
    • May 9 – Legends of Norrath collectible card game is launched, running within EQ and EQII
    • May 15 – SOE takes over operations for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
    • Mar 21 – The Sleeper EQ progression server is merged into The Combine server
    • Apr 30 – The EQII Darathar– UK PvP, Gorenaire– FR PvP, and Talendor– DE PvP servers are merged into the Venekor – RP PvP server
    • Jul 11 – The Agency is announced
    • Jul 19 – EQuinox, the official print magazine of EverQuest II is announced with issue #1 featuring Rise of Kunark information and beta access
    • Oct – Station Access pricing peaks at $30 a month for subscription access to all SOE titles including The Matrix Online and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
    • Nov 13 – Secrets of Faydwer, EQ expansion #14
    • Nov 13 – Rise of Kunark – EQII expansion #4
    • Dec – SOE is caught after moving the level 60 Unholy Trinity guild off of the test server to a live server, an action against stated company policy and not something ever made available to the average player, causing a fierce reaction from players
    • Dec – A false rumor spreads that Zapak Digital Entertainment is planning to purchase SOE and its games for $300 million, an amount close to what the company will sell for in December of 2020
  • 2008
    • Jan 22 – Pirates of the Burning Sea launches with SOE as publisher
    • Feb 14 – EQuinox issue #2 is announced, featuring Legends of Norrath cards
    • Apr 16 – LiveGamer is brought in to run financial transaction for the Station Exchange RMT servers The Bazaar and The Vox PvP
    • ~Sep – EQuinox issue #3 is cancelled and the magazine idea is scrapped
    • Oct 21 – Seeds of Destruction, EQ expansion #15
    • Oct 24 – The EQII Venekor– RP PvP is merged into the Nagefen, the final remaining PvP server
    • Nov 18 – The Shadow Odyssey, EQII expansion #5
    • Dec – SOE introduces Station Cash, a virtual currency, and an in-game cash shop in EQ and EQII
  • 2009
    • Jan 23 – SOE games become available on Steam starting with EverQuest and EverQuest II
    • Apr 28 – Free Realms launches
    • Jul 31 – The Matrix Online is shut down
    • Dec 15 – Underfoot, EQ expansion #16
  • 2010
    • Feb 16 – Sentinal’s Fate, EQII expansion #6
    • Mar 4 – The Combine EQ progression server is merged into the Druzzil Ro live server, ending the first retro server run for the company
    • Apr – SOE tries a new EQII Passport subscription plan where for just $5.00 a month you can play for three consecutive days during a single month
    • May 5 – SOE announces The Agency: Covert Ops, a free to play title on Facebook
    • Jun 10 – Tanarus, a title that predated EverQuest was shut down
    • Jun 22 – EQ server merges come again, paring down the server count by ten as low population servers are merged into more populated ones
    • Jul – EverQuest II Extended, a free to play version of EQII launches
    • Aug – Plans for EverQuest Next announced at FanFest
    • Sep 15 – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures launches
    • Oct 12 – House of Thule, EQ expansion #17
  • 2011
    • Jan 11 – DC Universe Online launches on Windows and PlayStation 3
    • Feb 15 – The Fippy Darkpaw EQ time locked progression server launches, with the Vulak’Aerr server being added soon thereafter to handle the crush of players (I have a whole timeline for those servers)
    • Feb 22 – Destiny of Velious, EQII expansion #7
    • Mar 31 – The Agency is officially cancelled
    • Apr – Flying mounts introduced into EQII
    • May – SOE games are down for almost two weeks as part of the PlayStation Network security breach in which personal data from a reported 24.6 million accounts were compromised
    • Jun – At E3 SOE announced that pricing for Station Access, now called SOE All Access, would drop from $30 to $20 a month, but extra character slots for EQ, EQII, and Vanguard would no longer be part of the plan
    • Aug – SOE finally gets a unified server status page
    • Nov 1 – DC Universe Online goes free to play
    • Nov 15 – Veil of Alaris, EQ expansion #18
    • Dec 6 – Age of Discovery, EQII expansion #8, which also ushers in the free to play era of the game as EverQuest II Extended is folded into the live server list
    • Dec 15 – Star Wars Galaxies is shut down
    • Dec 18 – The Vox PvP Station Exchange server for EQII is merged into the Nagefen server
    • Dec 21 – The Bazaar Station Exchange server for EQII is merged into the Freeport server ending the Station Exchange program
  • 2012
    • Feb – SOE announces it is selling its EU customer accounts to a German media company, ProSiebenSat.1
    • Mar 16 – EverQuest goes free to play
    • Mar 29 – EverQuest Online Adventures shuts down on PlayStation 2
    • Mar 29 – Infantry is shut down
    • Mar 29 – Cosmic Rift is shut down
    • Mar 29 – Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga is shut down
    • Aug 7 – Vanguard: Saga of Heroes goes free to play (a week earlier than planned)
    • Aug 7 – SOEmote is introduced to EverQuest II
    • Sep – SOE introduces Player Studio for EQII, which allows players to create cosmetic items to sell in the in-game cash shop, for which they will be paid a cut of the sale
    • Nov – SOE introduces Krono for EQ and EQII, an in-game item that can be redeemed for 30 days of subscription time, which users can purchase for real world cash and sell at the broker to other players for in-game currency
    • Nov 13 – Chains of Eternity, EQII expansion #9
    • Nov 20 – PlanetSide 2 launches
    • Nov 28 – Rain of Fear, EQ expansion #19
  • 2013
    • Jan 30 – SOE publishes the import Wizardry Online as a F2P title
    • Jan 31 – Pirates of the Burning Sea ceases to be published by SOE
    • Aug – A new vision/plan for EverQuest Next is announced at FanFest, which includes the involvement of Storybricks
    • Aug – The FanFest presentation mentions a dev tool EverQuest Next called Landmark
    • Sep 23 – SOE publishes the import Dragon’s Prophet as a F2P title
    • Oct 8 – Call of the Forsaken, EQ expansion #20
    • Nov 12 – Tears of Veeshan, EQII expansion #10
    • Nov 13 – SOE starts selling early access packs to EverQuest Next Landmark
    • Nov 15 – DC Universe Online launches on PlayStation 4
    • Nov 18 – EverQuest Macintosh Edition is shut down
  • 2014
    • Jan – Station Access/SOE All Access pricing drops to $15 a month, the price of a single game subscription, but keeps the 500 Station Case stipend after the forums erupt when Smed suggests they may remove that benefit
    • Jan 24 – SOE announced they will be shutting down Free Realms, Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures, Wizardry Online, and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, which is seen as the reason they have cut the price of SOE All Access
    • Mar – EverQuest Next Landmark becomes just Landmark
    • Mar 31 – Free Realms is shut down
    • Mar 31 – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures is shut down
    • Apr 10 – H1Z1 is announced, a zombie horror title oddly dedicated to SWG players
    • Jun 18 – The ProSiebenSat.1 experiment ends and all EU accounts are transitioned back to SOE
    • Jul 31 – Wizardry Online is shut down
    • Jul 31 – Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is shut down
    • Oct 28 – The Darkened Sea, EQ expansion #21
    • Nov 11 – Altar of Malice, EQII expansion #11
  • 2015
    • Jan 15 – H1Z1 releases as early access
    • Jan 22 – The class action suit for the PlayStation/SOE security breach of May 2011 is resolved, awarding the lawyers $2.75 million and each affected player 450 station cash… but only for US players and only if you filled out a form and could prove you were affected
    • Feb 2 – Sony announces it has sold SOE to Columbus Nova and the organization will be known as Daybreak Game Company going forward
    • Apr 28 – The Rum Cellar, the fourth EQII adventure pack launches
    • Apr 30 – Daybreak acknowledged and blessed the existence of the Project 1999 EQ retro server being developed by a private group, with the P1999 team and the Daybreak EQ team coordinating updates so as not to overlap each other
    • May 22 – EQ opens the Ragefire progression server, the start of a regular run of special servers that help boost the game’s popularity by pulling back many lapsed players
    • Jul 24 – Daybreak announces that long time studio head John Smedley is leaving the company, Russel Shanks steps up to take over his role
    • Jul 24 – EQII launches the Stormhold progression server and Deathtoll PvP server, the first retro servers for the game
    • Aug 21 – EQII announces the Drunder server, where rule breakers will be sent to play and no customer support will be available
    • Oct – Nine of the lower population EQII servers, including the final PvP server Nagefen, are merged down to three PvE servers, all with new names (Maj’dul, Halls of Fate, and Skyfire), while the Antonia Bayle server remains unto itself
    • Nov 16 – Dragon’s Prophet is shut down
    • Nov 17 – Terrors of Thalumbra, EQII expansion #12
    • Nov 18 – The Broken Mirror, EQ expansion #22
  • 2016
    • Feb 8 – H1Z1 King of the Kill the battle royale game and H1Z1 Just Survive, the co-op zombie horror game, are split into two products, both remain in early access
    • Mar 8 – The EQII Deathtoll PvP retro server is shut down
    • Mar 11 – EverQuest Next officially cancelled, leaving Landmark the remaining active part of that project.
    • Apr 29 – DC Universe Online launches on XBox One
    • Jun 10 – Landmark leaves early access and goes live
    • Jul 1 – PlanetSide is shut down
    • Aug 17 – Legends of Norrath is shut down
    • Nov 15 – Kunark Ascending, EQII expansion #13
    • Nov 16 – Empires of Kunark, EQ expansion #23
    • Dec 19 – Daybreak acquires Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeon & Dragons Online from Warner, setting them up under the name Standing Stone Games, never mentioning in public that they are the actual owners
  • 2017
    • Feb 21 – Landmark is shut down
    • Jul 31 – LOTRO launches the Mordor expansion
    • Sep 22 – The Vulak’Aerr EQ time locked progression server is merged into the Fippy Darkpaw server
    • Oct – H1Z1 King of the Kill renamed H1Z1 again due to a desire to release the game in China, where having “kill” in a game name is frowned upon by government censors
    • Nov 28 – Planes of Prophecy, EQII expansion #14
    • Dec 12 – Ring of Scale, EQ expansion #24
  • 2018
    • Feb 28 – H1Z1 leaves early access and goes live
    • Apr 24 – In response to a question about Russian sanctions Daybreak issues a statement declaring it was never owned by Columbus Nova, in open contradiction to three years of information, and was always solely owned by Jason Epstein
    • Apr 24 – Daybreak removes all references to Columbus Nova from its web site and attempts to edit the Wikipedia page about the company to hide any Columbus Nova connection
    • Aug 7 – H1Z1 launches on PlayStation 4
    • Sep 4 – The EQII progression server Stormhold is merged into the Antonia Bayle server, ending its run
    • Sep 6 – Daybreak announces a deal with NantWorks to create NantMobile G which will take over H1Z1 on PC with a plan to revitalize it, starting by rebranding it as Z1 Battle Royale
    • Sep 6 – NantMobile G project also proposes mobile versions of Z1 Battle Royale and EverQuest
    • Oct 24 – H1Z1 Just Survive is shut down
    • Nov 13 – Chaos Descending, EQII expansion #15
    • Dec 11 – The Burning Lands, EQ expansion #25
    • Dec 14 – Planetside Arena is announced, an attempt to bring battle royale to PlanetSide 2, with pre-orders for early access for sale
    • Dec 18 – Daybreak offers 4,000 lifetime subscriptions for sale at $299 each
    • Dec 24 – Daybreak announces that they have sold out the 4,000 lifetime subscriptions
    • Dec 28 – Daybreak puts 6,000 more life time subscriptions up for sale through Dec. 31st
  • 2019
    • Feb 18 – PlanetSide Arena launch is delayed until summer, allegedly to have a simultaneous launch on PlayStation 4, all pre-orders are refunded
    • Jul 11 – After over a year being offline, Daybreak announces that Player Studio for EQII has been shut down
    • Apr 6 – NantMobile G hands Z1 Battle Royale back to Daybreak having failed to revitalize the game, after which little is heard about the PC version
    • Aug 6 – DC Universe Online launches on Nintendo Switch
    • Aug 30 – A PlanetSide Arena roadmap is released with plans for early access soon, with an official launch in 2020, PC only
    • Sep 19 – PlanetSide Arena arrives in early access just barely making the declared “summer” launch plan
    • Oct 21 – A PlanetSide producer’s letter states that PlanetSide Arena is a stepping stone towards PlanetSide 3
    • Nov 5 – LOTRO launches the Minas Morgul expansion
    • Dec 14 – Daybreak announces that PlanetSide Arena will be shut down in January
    • Dec 17 – Blood of Luclin, EQII expansion #16
    • Dec 18 – Torment of Velious, EQ expansion #26
  • 2020
    • Jan 10 – PlanetSide Arena is shut down
    • Jan 21 – Daybreak announces a series of sub-studios, with Darkpaw Games responsible for EverQuest and EverQuest II, Dimensional Ink handling DC Universe Online, and Rogue Planet Games handling PlanetSide 2
    • May 20 – The Fippy Darkpaw EQ time locked progression server ends its nine year run as it is merged into the Vox live server
    • Oct 20 – LOTRO launches the War of Three Peaks expansion
    • Dec 1 – Enad Global 7 (EG7) announces plans to acquire Daybreak
    • Dec 2 – EG7 presents an unprecedented array of previously private information about Daybreak to its board, shareholders, and the general public proving, if nothing else, that the company made money
    • Dec 8 – Claws of Veeshan, EQ expansion #27
    • Dec 15 – Reign of Shadows, EQII expansion #17
    • Dec 23 – EG7 completes the acquisition of Daybreak Game Company

And that brings us up into the new year.  We shall see what 2021 and beyond holds for the company

  • Sources

The joy of me blogging the way I do is that I have a blog post that corresponds to most every item on the above list that happened in the last decade.  I considered linking to each and every one, but decided against it.  You can use the search box at the top of the page if you want to find posts here about things like EQII Passport.

Before 2010 I was more chaotic in my blogging and, of course, before September 2006 there was no blog, so nothing to reference.  Fortunately, I had done a post about SOE and its MMORPGs back in 2016 where I had recorded the status of their games, and had researched a bunch of other items in the past.  This blog isn’t all just about Blackrock Depths and World War Bee.

And, where that failed, Wikipedia remains a wonderful source.  There are well maintained pages about most of the games and lists of all the expansions for both EverQuest and EverQuest II that helped me quite a bit.  And over at Daybreak there is even a server merge page for EverQuest and another for EverQuest II servers deep in their site.  There are some errors, but the dates seem solid.

As for what to include, I am obviously biased towards the games I play or played.  I did try to include every paid expansion for games, as those were generally pretty easy to find.  Game content updates are more obscure, though somebody has charted all of the episode drops for DC Universe Online on that Wikipedia page.  I just wasn’t that dedicated to the post.  I started getting into special servers, but decided once they became an annual thing in 2015, I declared them as such and moved on.

Looking Back at 2020 and Trying for Highs

2020.  What a year.

Every year I try to distill a bit of the world I focus on into highs and lows.  There is a history of posts here.

Sometimes I include a “middling” category, but usually not.  This year though I have had enough lows.  This year I am going to make a list of highs.  And I am going to try… though I make no guarantees… not to include sarcastic highs that are back handed jabs to highlight actual lows.  Your mileage may vary.

Video Games Overall

  • 2020 has been a banner year for video games.  SuperData Research has reported every month since the pandemic began in earnest that sales have been up over last year by double digits.  Lots of new releases, lots of good games, lots of revenue to keep the industry going.

Blizzard

  • The Shadowlands pre-patch events went well.
  • Shadowlands launched to big numbers.
  • WoW Classic remains strong despite the pull of the retail expansion.
  • The instance group’s return to WoW via WoW Classic has kept on rolling throughout the year.
  • Bobby Kotick says WoW is a billion dollar a year franchise.
  • Shadowlands and WoW Classic combined have revived the fortunes of WoW… though the pandemic helped some too.
  • The retail WoW level squish clearly did not drive too many people away and made getting into the latest content less of a chore.
  • It seems likely we’ll at least get some news about a classic The Burning Crusade server.
  • Had a fun run through Diablo II, which still plays pretty well 20 years down the line.
  • Blizz has been quietly fixing Warcraft III Reforged after its bad launch.
  • We got some scraps of information about Diablo IV.

Daybreak Game Company (now including Standing Stone Games)

  • The games are set to be run by EG7, a company optimistic about being in games.
  • The company actually makes money.
  • The games they still have all actually make money too… well, maybe not H1Z1, but most of them.
  • The mystery of who really owns Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online was finally revealed.
  • EverQuest and EverQuest II both got updates and expansions this year.
  • EverQuest was able to play the special server card successfully yet again.
  • We learned that DC Universe Online has what would have been considered a huge player base in the pre-WoW era.
  • LOTRO got a 64-bit client.

CCP

  • The EVE Online franchise is a resilient part of the Pearl Abyss portfolio.
  • EVE Echoes, the mobile version of the game, has grabbed a lot of new players, and took less time to get out than Diablo Immortal.
  • The pandemic helped boost the PCU over 40K for the first time in a couple of years.
  • Hilmar said at the Youil Fireside that 1.9 million new people logged into EVE Online this year, more than the past three years combined.
  • World War Bee got enough players together organically to set two Guinness World Records.
  • Andrew Groen delivered Empires of EVE Vol. II, another great installment in the history of the game.
  • That Triglavian event wrapped up with an epic finale that tore systems out of New Eden to create a new Triglavian region.
  • CCP seems really, really serious about fixing the in-game economy.
  • PLEX for Good ran for both the Australian wild fires and pandemic relief.
  • Tech II salvage drones.  At least one person got their Christmas wish.
  • CCP finally rolled out the replacement for the old fansite program.  I did not make the cut, but a lot of streamers now how free accounts and extra PLEX to spend.
  • CCP still has hopes for an EVE Online based shooter game.
  • The CSM15 election saw a peaceful transition of power and nobody has been kicked off the council… yet.  Seriously, it is a rare CSM when somebody doesn’t get voted off the island.

Pokemon

  • Pokemon Sword & Shield launched at just the right time before the pandemic to become a staple of play.
  • The new Pokemon model on the Switch is expansions after the main game drops, and Pokemon Sword & Shield had The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra this year, which helped keep the game a hot property.
  • Pokemon Home showed up to provide a link to bring Pokemon forward from the DS era and transfer them in from Pokemon Go.
  • Niantic changed up Pokemon Go to adapt to the pandemic, giving us things like remote raid passes to keep us playing when we had to stay home.
  • Niantic also raised the level cap on Pokemon Go in a way that didn’t toss your accumulated xp by tying levels 41-50 in with both xp and special tasks.

Other Areas of the Video Game Industry

  • TorilMUD carries on for another year, making it a total of 27… and even added a new class this year.
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons landed just in time to give many a shared virtual experience as we stayed home for the pandemic.
  • Minecraft got a big update to make the nether a more interesting place to explore.
  • Minecraft Dungeons launched, and was a nice, if somewhat simple, clicky ARPG.
  • EA managed to ship another decent Star Wars title, Star Wars: Squadrons, which is supposed to be quite good in VR.
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator had an excellent launch.  Again, another title that was supposed to be good in VR.
  • There was a Half-Life game.  That almost never happens.  And, one more time, Half-Life: Alyx was good for VR.
  • Crusader Kings III gave people the medieval royal soap opera simulator that they didn’t know they needed.
  • GuildWars 2 has an expansion coming.
  • A two year old game, Among Us, suddenly exploded onto the scene thanks to streamers.
  • New consoles!  The Xbox Series X/Series S and PlayStation 5 came out!

Blogging and the Like

  • Hey, the blog is still here!  Both of my blogs.
  • This blog is also experiencing a bit of a revival… or a dead cat bounce… as traffic has been up a lot over last year.  It is still a far cry from the heady peaks of 2012, but I guess the pandemic didn’t just boost video games.
  • I wrote a lot of posts in 2020.  This post number 403 for the year.
  • I actually got close to 800 followers on Twitter… and then they purged a bunch of bots and I fell back down.  Also I strayed into the political with the election and no doubt scared some people off.
  • We had a double event year with Blapril and Blaugust.
  • Lots and lots of plumbing related spam comments this month… like tens of thousands. If your comment got stuck in the spam filter I probably never saw it due to that.  Hrmm, that wasn’t a high, was it?

Television, Books, and the Media

  • I watched a LOT of television this past year.  There is probably another post on that coming, though I have done those Pandemic Binge Watching posts along the way.  While not everything was great, there were a lot of good shows available.
  • My reading routine was disrupted by the changes the pandemic brought.  I have to find a regular time in my schedule for that or it won’t happen.  But still I managed to read a lot of books in 2020.
  • I spent a lot more time reading the news… and I do not shirk on that front on a normal year.  No doubt this is some attempt to foster a feeling of control in the world, but I suppose I learned a lot.
  • Podcasts and YouTube content kept me going at times, with new faces popping up like Julie Nolke and Sarah Cooper.

Personal Life

  • We’re in the back half of December and I still have a job and haven’t caught COVID-19.
  • I have somewhat adapted to my new life where I spend 23 hours a day, seven days a week inside at home.  Nothing tests your introvert status than forced isolation from the world I suppose.
  • Daughter made it through her first semester of college living on campus and came out with both good grades and good health still.
  • I bought an exercise bicycle for home and have been very good about using it regularly… except over the holidays when my now weak grasp of time fell completely apart and I only know what day it is when I open up the blog.
  • I started depositing checks via my phone.  This was largely because my credit union finally added that feature to their mobile app.
  • Let me reiterate; family still healthy and safe.

This ended up being a somewhat shorter list than past years.  In part that is because the scope of my game knowledge has been funneled down to a few titles of late.  But mostly it is because I am better at writing negative entries I bet.  The post would be more than double in length if I let go on that front.  But we’ll let sleeping dogs lie, for now at least.  There will be plenty of time for that in 2021.

But if you’re dying for some 2020 sick burns, Honest Trailers has you covered.

Take that 2020!

Young Again

While I do not play much, I do keep an eye on TorilMUD still, and I am always interested when some long time mechanic gets changed.  This time around it was age.

Back when it was created, in the Sojourn MUD days, it was an attempt to not only create a Forgotten Realms MUD, but also tried to bring Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2.0 mechanics, so back when I started playing it in 1993 was a place where you could find THAC0.

One of the mechanics that they brought over was age.  Age was very much a thing in long term AD&D campaigns, but it was also something that could be quite relative.  You could spend a year in a campaign where your character would only age days.

In a real time, always running video game though, time keeps passing even when you’re logged off.  In TorilMUD one real life minute is one in game hour, so every day in game, where 1,440 minutes pass, ages you 60 days.  You are aging five years a real life month or 60 years in a real life year.

I have characters from 2003 in the game, which means they’ve aged nearly a thousand years.  Even my main, a half-elf who has had the rejuv treatment a few times, is pushing 700 years of age and has not benefited from the experience.

For elves, not a big deal.  They just get better with age.  But humans and half elves and… well… most everybody else… they have shorter life spans.  A human rolls up at age 18, gains stamina into their 30s, and then starts to lose stamina and strength slowly after that.  (Though, oddly , they kept gaining movement points, so you might have a weak, low hit point old paladin who could walk the length of the world as long as he wasn’t wearing any armor.)

To counter this, necromancers had a spell that would rejuvenate you, reducing your age to a more viable range.  Like everything, there was some randomness to it, and inevitably I would be close to optimum and take one more hit only to roll big and end up younger than I wanted, losing a few hit point in that direction.

There was also an issue with paladins interacting with necromancers at one point, though I think they relaxed that rule.

But now the devs have decided that maybe aging isn’t the best idea.  So with the latest patch notes they have declared eternal youth:

We’ve removed character aging with this patch. The concept of character aging is a relic from the past that adds nothing to the game today, while punishing players returning from a hiatus. Your character’s age has now returned to the realm of your personal roleplaying, where it belongs.

So it goes.  It fit into the world of 1993, and perhaps wasn’t a bad thing when the MUD was only running four or five years between pwipes.  But now, 17 years into its current run, age is really more of a punishment than a useful mechanic.

But isn’t that the way it goes with life?

Looking Back at 2019 Highs and Lows

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

Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor

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

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

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

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

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

Blizzard

Highs

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

Lows

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

Daybreak

Highs

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

Lows

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

CCP

Highs

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

Lows

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

Standing Stone Games

Highs

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

Lows

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

Other Games and the Gaming Industry

Highs

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

Lows

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

 

Media, Social and Otherwise

Highs

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

Lows

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

The Blog, Blogging, and things more Personal

Highs

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

Lows

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

Final Thoughts

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

The Alleged Purity of Leveling

More carping about levels and the problems they bring.

Only, this time I think there is some question as to whether or not there is really a problem.  At least in my mind there is a question.

The problem, as laid out, is people leveling up the “wrong” way, be it favoring a specific form of game play or using an exploit in the game or finding special gear.  Sometimes called “twinking,” it makes some people very, very angry.

In this case, as mentioned over at Massively OP, Blizzard has decided to close a loophole in XP gain that allows player to turn off their XP to boost other players with whom they are grouped.  Brought up by Blizzard back in December, a change for this is now in the WoW 8.2 PTR, found by Warcraft Secrets, whose image I am going to use.

Loophole closed, go level up the right way!

Given that we now know that the WoW 8.2 pact drops this coming Tuesday we will probably see an upswing in this behavior over the weekend.  Blizzard Watch even put it on their list of things to get done before the patch drops.

Twinking is as old as online games.  Handing alts gear they couldn’t possibly obtain on their own in order to speed up the leveling process was well established when I stared playing TorilMUD (or Sojourn MUD as it was named at the time) back in 1993.

It carried on in EverQuest, where I can recall low level paladins wandering around with Ghoulbanes to smite undead to hasten their way forward, among other twinks.  It was also popular to get a friendly high level druid or cleric to buff your alt so they could run around and solo mobs that would otherwise be well beyond your capability.

This behavior has always made some people angry, with “fairness” being the general argument.  It isn’t fair that somebody has an advantage in leveling up faster than you.  I remember somebody being angry at me because I leveled up a warrior in TorilMUD from creation to level 40 in just over 8 hours of play time due to twinking him with gear I had collected over time.  They complained about it on the forums.

Over time some things were put in place to stop this sort of thing.  Gear got level requirements and was made bind on equip most places so you couldn’t dump things on your alt for power leveling.

Some games went a little too crazy.  EverQuest II at launch wouldn’t even let you buff people outside of your party and had strict rules about level differentials in a group lest you be trying to help somebody along.  I remember those calculations keeping people out of groups, especially at lower levels where the ratios made the level gaps allowed much smaller.

I have always assumed that this was very much a response to the free and easy twinking available in EverQuest, about which people would howl in the forums.

But should the developers be listening to this sort of thing?  People complain about literally everything in the forums.  Start a thread about people undercutting your sell price on the market and just watch how many people join in on complaining.

Does having some sort of advantage in leveling up hurt anybody else?  Is twinking a problem that needs to be solved?  Should developers be preventing players from leveling up the wrong way?

I am generally of the opinion that the answer to all of that is “no.”

In a game like World of Warcraft where, in the current expansion, the mobs scale with you all the way to level 120, so that one might question why there are levels at all, and where you have things like heirloom gear, it seems debatable that Blizzard should be worried about people leveling up faster than them.  And all the more so when they’re going on about a level squish, though that is another tale altogether.

Sure, there are situations where this might be bad.

I would probably agree that any path that took players out of the visible world is probably bad.  At least if you have something like a world in your game.  In EverQuest II they felt they had to remove exp from the player made dungeons feature largely because the most popular such dungeons were exp generating machines of no obvious merit otherwise.

And any time PvP is involved letting people boost up quickly, or lock levels and build a super-optimum gear set for battlegrounds, is going to end badly.

And, then there was the tale of Warhammer Online, where one theory of the failure of the game lays the blame on battlegrounds, which were the optimum method to level up.  Why would you spend time doing open world PvP content… which was what the game was supposed to be about, and was honestly a lot more fun when it happened… when instanced battleground were ready for you right now?

But that wasn’t really twinking so much as incentivizing the wrong path forward.  But PvP depends on the other side showing up when you’re ready to play, which is the main downfall of open world PvP in every game that hosts it.  Battlegrounds, with their jump in, fight, be done mechanics are not so hampered by that, so they will tend to draw people away from the open world in any case, and when they are replacing the PvP that is supposed to be the core of your game, you have at a minimum incentivized them badly.

However, short some specific situations where the path being used to level up is taking people out of the game, I am not sure that twinking is something to get all that worked up about.  I thought we’re long past the age of draconian responses to people not playing the game correctly.  But that Blizzard has now decreed that if you group with somebody who has XP turned off your own XP gain will now be “vastly reduced,” I guess I am wrong.

Welcome to Waterdeep, City of Splendors!

I might be done with Evermeet and the tribulations of the elves of Leuthilspar, but that just means I can wander farther afield in TorilMUD.  And what better place to start with that the city of Waterdeep.

As in the Forgotten Realms lore, in TorilMUD the city state of Waterdeep is at the center of things, socially and economically.  I’ve written before about how commerce used to work in the city and have mentioned repeatedly how elves, stuck on Evermeet until level 20, so longed to get there.  It has been the forming point for many an adventure, the resting place for many a corpse, and the idling location for many a hapless ranger.

Waterdeep, City of Spendors – Click on the map to make it bigger

The city itself is big enough that it is actually split up into two zones.  Theoretically, the split is between the north and south parts of the city, but there are some oddities in that, with rooms in either end that seem to belong to the other.

The city is surrounded by a high wall which my ZMud client will often send me scurrying along when traveling across the city.  As it turns out, the room count, and thus the distance traveled, can be shorter if you head up the nearest tower on the wall and run to a tower near your destination.

The wall has five gates.  Four of the gates, the north, east, west, and south gates, which are closed and locked during the night.  There are few moments of mild annoyance like arriving in the room before the north gate just as 8pm strikes and seeing it closed and locked before you.

You can always spot the new elf in town in these situations.  They’ve come out of the elf gate from Evermeet, run across the Great Northern Road, all the way down Tern Road, and up to the doorstep of Waterdeep only to find the gate closed and locked.  So they stand there saying the passwords they’ve learned on the island for such situations, only to find that the gate doesn’t work that way here.

When the north gate was closed, you were stuck.  Stuck unless somebody inside will cast “summon” to bring you inside or a friendly druid opens a moonwell into the city, or if a high enough level rogue is on hand to pick the lock on the gate and open it for you.  But for the last, be quick, because the guards will soon shut and lock the gate again.  You can shout for help to get past the gate, since most people in the game who are standing around doing nothing are probably doing that nothing in north Waterdeep.

At the south gate, if you’ve traveled up from Baldur’s Gate through the troll hills and across the plains, only to find night has fallen and the gate is locked, then you might have to wait.  There was often somebody at the south end of the city fighting mercenaries of stalking the cat burglars that hide on the roofs above the south end of the city, but those are low level options and the people involved are busy killing between spawns, so were unlikely to be able to help you and might not even notice that you needed help.

At the west gate… which I often forget is even there, since for ages it was a dead end… well, nobody came through the west gate most days as, by room count, it was closer to the north gate outside the city than going through the city, so you probably just went to the north gate.

And then there was the east gate.  Outside of town, on the southern side of the road leading to the east gate, there was the druid’s guild and, nearby, a tree stump that concealed a tunnel that led under the walls of the city.  You could move past the gate.  It was, as usual, a bunch of rooms out of your way, but the travel time was minimal if you knew the way and had enough movement points.

Yeah, movement points.

The terrain of a MUD is made up of rooms which can range in size from tiny to immense.  But traveling through a room just involved choosing one of the exits.  Done quickly… and programs like ZMud would chain together the commands for exits many rooms deep which the game would buffer and send you through… you could travel what might pass for dozens of miles in a minute.  Barriers removed, I could spam my way to Mithril Hall, well north Neverwinter, to Calimport, beyond the desert south of Baldur’s Gate, in a minute or two easily.  If you have a copy of the Forgotten Realms Atlas handy, you can probably tell me how far that is… but I assure you it is a ways.

So there are barriers along the way.  There are rivers where the only way to cross is to wait for a ferry that slowly moves from bank to bank.  There are movement points, which your character gets, and which must be expended in order to move from room to room.  Terrain, weather, and how encumbered you are dictates how many points are expended.  A strong headwind can burn your movement points pretty quickly.

And then there are things like the gates in Waterdeep, which bring traffic to a standstill during the night… unless you can find some help or are on the east side of the city.

But what is important about Waterdeep is its central location.  People congregate there because from Waterdeep the journey just about anywhere it possible.  It isn’t so much getting in the gates that matters as getting out through the gates and off to where you want to go.

And, of course, locked gates worth in both directions.

If you’re headed out of the east gate, then the tunnel can get you past the wall if it is after hours.

East side of Waterdeep

Eastbound traffic is pretty heavy, for many things lie east of the city.  The first stop is the Turning Point, marked with a sign and an announcement board.  This was a common meeting place for groups back in the day, especially if there were outcasts or others who could not enter the city, or necromancers, whose undead minions attract unwanted attention from the city guards.  Meeting at “TP” was as common as “3W” and “Fountain” for those in the city.

Back in the day eastward would take you to podville, Split Shield, the buffalo fields, the lava tubes, the southern shore of Lake Skeldrach (via which you could get to the north side of the city), and Bloodstone, before it was destroyed.

It is also the direction the game has grown the most over the years, which I guess makes sense if you’re starting from a city on the west coast.  The Black Griffon Road, the Swift Steel Company headquarters, the Inner Sea and the Pirate Isles, Zhentil Keep, Cormanthor and Myth Drannor, all of these and more lay east of Waterdeep.

North of the city are some notable locations, though expeditions north tapered off over time.  For that direction we used to meet at the crossroads, where Tern Road out of Waterdeep met the Great Northern Road.

North of Waterdeep

Every elf from Evermeet knows The Great Northern Road, since the elf gate in Leuthilspar drops you at its east end.

There are some local attractions, such as the Tower of High Sorcery, which has been there for as long as I have been playing TorilMUD.  The undead boatkeeper at the back door holds the skiff, the lightest boat in the game (at least back in the day), which was a handy thing to have if you needed to cross water.

Others are more recent, though recent is a relative term when referring to a game that is past the 25 year mark.  I think of Dragonfall Forest and the Swamps of Melich as new, but I was hunting gators in the later (at one point they were dropping platinum coins, and hides for which a nearby NPC would pay a few more platinum coins) in 2003 or so.

Heading further north brings you to the barbarian home town at Griffon’s Nest and the dwarven home town at Mithril Hall.  There is also Ice Crag Castle, which I also think of as “new” because I remember when it was added to the game.  But it was added at least 20 years ago, which shows how our brain distorts time.  But Ice Crag Castle is a place I want to revisit in another post.

For ages the road north was somewhat limited.  You passed through places marked as Neverwinter or Luskan, but there wasn’t anything really there.  Luskan was a stopping point only because there was a ferry there you had to wait for on the run to and from Waterdeep.  Those points have been fleshed out over the years though, so it might be worth my exploring the road north again at some point.

Out of the west gate of Waterdeep there isn’t much to speak of.  For years it was a dead end, a single room outside of the gate, and it could be embarrassing if you stepped out just as the gates got locked and were stuck there over night. (From 9pm to 6am, or nine minutes real time.)

Eventually a road was connected there.

West of Waterdeep

As you can see, it loops back so you can get to the north gate.  It also gets you to the dock where the pirate ship, a floating exp zone that we used to sail on for hours trying to level up, puts ashore.  But the north gate is nominally closer.  North of the pirate ship you end up in Menden on Deep, the Dragonfall Forest, and then the Great Northern Road yet again.  For a “great” road it doesn’t run very far.

Also on the west side of Waterdeep was the harbor.  It tended to be an easy place for small exp groups to go.  Farming the dockmasters was some good late 20s to mid 30s experience.  But it was also a place to catch a ship.  Tickets could be purchased to take you to the Moonshae Islands or down the coast to Baldur’s Gate and Calimport.

And with the mention of those two cities, the south gate must be mentioned.

Imediately south of Waterdeep

The road south used to be a bit of a disappointment to me.  The town crier in Waterdeep shouts out every so often that Lord Perignon wants adventurers to form up and head south to fight the trolls.

And there are indeed trolls south of Waterdeep in the troll hills.  Also two no exit tar pits and a giant skeleton with flaming eyes that would shadow step to you if you aggro’d him and harry you until you left the zone or died.  But there wasn’t a lot else.  There were the home towns for the trolls and the ogres, a few small zones, Jenna’s cottage, and placeholder locations for Baldur’s Gate and Calimport.

But over the years new zones began to appear to the south.  Calimport and Baldur’s gate were built out and are now sizable interesting towns on their own.  Havenport showed up near Jenna’s, and Viper’s Tongue Outpost was raised as a home for outcasts.  I used to live there.

And, finally, below Waterdeep is Undermountain, which I am embarrassed to say I have spent very little time exploring.

All of which has given me a long list of places I ought to write about when it comes to TorilMUD.  There are zones with history, regions to navigate, and whole towns to revisit.  So, as I said at the top, I am not done with writing about the place yet.

Players Will Optimize

I remember back to the early-ish days of TorilMUD, back when I was first getting into groups to do zones.  Doing a zone was akin to what we would call raiding now, where a max size group, sixteen characters total, would set out to fight their way through a series of rooms and bosses, culminating the in the main boss of the zone.

Specifically, I remember doing the City of Brass zone.  It was a popular zone to do for quite a while, one done almost every boot. (See an old post about how MUD crashes were a good thing back in the day.)  It was an older zone, it wasn’t too big, there were a couple of possible drops for class quest items so somebody was always keen to go, and the general loot was pretty decent if you were just starting off doing zones.  There were upgrades to be had and everybody wanted that flaming halberd for an alt.

Back then the approach to the zone was slow and plodding.  Once through the Plane of Fire (you needed flying gear or the spell plus a fire protection item to go on this run) , the group would assemble and prepare outside the first room.  Once spells were up the tanks would roll in, engage the mobs in the room, call everybody else to come in, and we would unload everything to clear the room.

We would then sit down, mem up our spells, then stand when we were done.  When the call “spell up” came again, we would hit all our targets… as a druid I would cast vitalize, a hit point boosting spell, on some of the non-melee characters and maybe barkskin on the tanks and anybody who requested it… then the tanks would move into the next room, call us to come in, and we would burn down the next room.

It was rinse and repeat, taking down every room as a set piece battle.  At boss mobs we would get special instructions.  When spell feedback was introduced, a mechanic that would damage players if two people cast the same area effect damage spell at the same time, there would be some coordinating of who would cast which spell first.  But otherwise it was the same thing every room, and it stretched out the time it took to run the City of Brass into a three hour event.

But as time went along the runs began to speed up.  First, the overall quality of people’s gear began to improve.  This made players more effective at slaying mobs as well as surviving fights.

Then there started to develop an ideal group composition.  For example, whoever was leading the zone would never take more than one druid unless there was an empty slot that they couldn’t fill.  They wanted a caster who could do the “dragon scales” spell on the tanks rather than the lesser spell “stone skin.”  There were classes with buffs that were deemed essential for a run.  Getting the right group comp made runs go more smoothly, especially at boss fights.

And the zone itself became a solved problem.  The efreeti never changed.  There were a couple of random spawns, but otherwise how to do the run was well understood.  There were no surprises, a well defined route existed, and the boss mechanics were old hat.

Finally, there was a big change in how zones were run.  Groups stopped doing each room as a set piece battle.  Clearing up the trash mobs on the way to the boss was now easier due to gear upgrades, so we would roll through all of that with the various casters just keeping critical buffs up, refreshing them at need.  To sustain this, the concept of “mem out” was introduced, where the raid leader would call “mem west” or the like to indicate where the casters could move to refresh their spells while the battle was still raging.

The latter kept everybody busy.  Rooms with trash mobs took marginally longer without everybody blowing their whole catalog of damage spells, but that was heavily outweighed by the reduction in pre and post battle activity.  Only boss fights got the big “spell up” treatment. The time to run the zone, from starting out in to returning home to Waterdeep, approached an hour if everything was going right, and it almost always did.

That is a pretty big speed up compared to three hours from the doorstep of the zone.  And the time improvement didn’t stop there.  TorilMUD, around for more than 25 years at this point, has never raised its level cap.  Instead, it has maintained some semblance of stability by adding in new, harder zones for those at the level cap while re-balancing equipment over time with an eye towards keeping most level 50 zones viable.  That generally means any gear that seems over powered, like the glowing crimson dagger or the haste enhanced grey suede boots, are likely to get a nerf sooner or later.

Still, even with that optimization happens.  Old hands who have run a thousand zones have a bag full of gear so can pull out a set perfect for each task.  I bet if I told long time zone leader Lilithelle I needed something from the City of Brass today, she’d throw together a group of eight to ten people and drag me along, finishing the zone in 30 minutes or less.

As the kids say, “Cool story bro.”  But what am I getting at here?

This is what happens to content over time.  Player optimization alone pretty much cut the run time for City of Brass by two thirds.  And that three hour number was after the “learn the zone and the bosses” part of the process.  Add it some of the usual gear inflation and that time is now down to one sixth the original time, and doable by half a raid group.

This is what happens to content over time, especially PvE content.  It becomes a solved problem.  Players learn how best to assault things and share that knowledge.

Sometimes that is okay.  In MMORPGs where expansions use levels and gear to gate content, it is pretty much expected that older content will be made obsolete.  Often, after enough time has passed, old raids become solo projects that people run to collect gear for cosmetic reasons or to fill out missed achievements.  That is certainly the accepted state of affairs in World of Warcraft.

In other games it can be problematic.  In EVE Online optimization is an ongoing battle for CCP.  Without levels as a gating mechanism any new PvE content is pretty much solved immediately.  So, despite there being something like four thousand NPC missions in the game, the PvE is generally considered boring and is subject to pretty extreme levels of optimization.  This goes especially for null sec anomaly running, where titans are the latest high yield ratting option.

Only the Abyssal deadspace content isn’t completely solved, and that is only because it has a random aspect to it.  Once you start one you are committed and cannot go back and refit if you have chosen poorly.  And even that is only an issue for the level five runs.  CCP last said that the percentage of Abyssal deadspace runs that ends in a PvE death is very, very low.  I cannot find the number at the moment, but 3% springs to my mind.

Then there is PvP content in New Eden, where The Meta constantly strives to find the optimum ship for given circumstances and CCP is constantly tweaking ships in order to try to bring balance to the force, only to find that suddenly every big alliance is now focused on a specific hull for its main doctrine while the small gang and low sec forces have a new favorite of their own.  And then there is suicide ganking in high sec.  That has become one of the few PvP solved problems at this point, something CCP needs to shake up somehow.

And so it goes.

The thing is, a game’s core player base will always optimize.   But outliers and new players tend to get left out of that.  If a studio focuses only on the core, a game can become impenetrable to new players.  But if you don’t focus on the needs of the core your most loyal fans may get bored and walk away.

25 Years of TorilMUD

About a decade back I wrote a short (by the standards of my current writing style) post celebrating the approximate fifteen year anniversary of TorilMUD.  The trigger event to get me to write that post was the 30th anniversary of MUD1 (which is now 40 I suppose).  MUD1 gets a lot of deserved credit for its position in the history of online games, but I felt that TorilMUD had been a bit overlooked.

So I wrote about how I ended up playing TorilMUD, called Sojourn MUD back in 1993, the little bit of the history and evolution of the game I could recall, its revival nearly fifteen years back, and the influence it had on EverQuest.

The influence on EverQuest is hard to overstate.  It is often said that EverQuest was the graphical translation of the DikuMUD model, but it was specifically a translation, often down to the level of item names and stats, of the mechanics of TorilMUD.  That was because a number of the key EverQuest developers, including Brad McQuaid, were TorilMUD players.

That post, a decade back, got me thinking about TorilMUD and led to a number of follow on posts.  I explored some of the EverQuest influencing things like how vendors worked (including how stuff you sold went back up for sale), how class roles evolved from TorilMUD through to WoW, how game information was treated, and how the inability of a commercial game to depend on crashes led to the epic mob camps of early EverQuest.

That post also led to a series of posts about TorilMUD itself, including how the in-game economy used to work, how questing was in the game, dealing with never raising the level cap, the idea of greater challenges, and my recently completed Leuthilspar Tales series of posts about the life and times of the Elves of Evermeet. (I wanted to get that last zone post done before I wrote this.)

By the time the twenty year anniversary rolled around I had a series of posts to which I could link, along with some tales about how people still play and a run through the zone credits.

So what do I write at the twenty-five year mark?

TorilMUD remains up and running and people are logged in and playing.  Again, that includes many of the same people I met along the way over the years, including at least one from twenty-five years back. (Mori, who rescued me back in the Faerie Forest.)  But development and change continues.  It one of my recent research explorations I ended up in over my head against a pair of very angry bugbears and died.

Back in the day, death was a chore.  The whole thing about having to go find your corpse to retrieve your gear in EverQuest, that was a mechanic lifted directly from TorilMUD.  Experience and possible level loss on death as well.

That was removed from EverQuest years ago as a mechanic too punishing on players.  TorilMUD has caught up, and now death does not have nearly the sting.  Text from the game as I died:

When you die, you are transported to Kelemvor’s realm on the Fugue Plane
with all of your equipment. As you are technically dead, you can’t do much
on the Fugue Plane. From there, you have two choices:

1) Wait for another player to resurrect you.
2) Enter a portal that allows you re-enter the game at your guild master.

However you choose to enter the game, there are two penalties for dying:

* Equipment damage. Your worn equipment will take damage that costs money
to repair. See “HELP REPAIR” for details.

* Death Fatigue. Your stats will be negatively impact for a short time after
death. See “HELP DEATH FATIGUE” for details.

You don’t lose any experience when you die, and your equipment always stays
with you. The manner in which you enter the game will determine how much damage
your equipment takes and how long you will be under the fatigue effects.
Typically, powerful spells such as resurrect will lower the penalties
significantly, while entering the game on your own will incur the highest cost,
but it the most convenient.

As with many modern MMOs, the penalty is now in the form of equipment damage and resurrection sickness.

They have also added in a maps function to the game.  It still isn’t a replacement for the world view of my aging collection of ZMud maps, but it can help you if you’re lost.

And even as I was preparing to write this piece, TorilMUD added yet more content.  The zone count went up again with the addition of Bahamut.

Bahamut, king of dragons

From the update post:

For many years, Tiamat, the Queen of Evil Dragons, has reigned supreme as the pinnacle of epic foes on TorilMUD. Today, a new challenger approaches.

The God of Dragons. The Justice Bringer. The Angel of the Seven Heavens. The Platinum Dragon. These are just some of Bahamut’s many titles.

Bahamut is the king of the good dragons, and the eternal rival of his sister, Tiamat. He can be found on Lunia, the first layer of Celestia, where he guards an enormous treasure trove. A mysterious dragonspawn has also been spotted lurking in the shadows of an old forest, with needs as dark as the most vile desires.

Bahamut is the second epic zone added to Toril and is intended for 20-30 players. It will present a challenge every bit as difficult as Tiamat, with rewards to match.

I went on a Tiamat run at one point years ago.  It took a lot of planning and coordination and whole day’s commitment and we never even got to her.  I spent most of the day dead.  But for the dedicated player, challenges still remain.

I think I am past those days myself.  When I drop in to do research and say hello… when ZMud is being cooperative… I sometimes get carried along for a zone run.  It is an interesting reminder of how things once were.  But my ability to mentally parse… or even read… so much scrolling text on screen has faded.

But while I have grown tired, the game still seems strong, with updates coming regularly, a dedicate development team tending to its needs, and a collection of regulars who still log in every day to hang out and run zones.

Wandering Castle Drulak

Back to TorilMUD and maybe the final chapter of my Leuthilspar Tales series.

Out on Evermeet, the island of the elves in TorilMUD, at the end of the long path that leads from Leuthilspar, maybe three score rooms away, one comes to a dead end, a clearing with a well.  The room description, like so many in the game, gives little away.

A Clearing
The path opens into a beautiful clearing. A well with blue, sparkling water, reflecting the sun’s light, is surrounded by a ring of young silverleaf trees. Mats of lush moss and grass grow around the well. Flowers, orchids and small bushes full with red berries add to this pleasant and peaceful scenery. A gentle wind breezes across the well and makes the trees whisper a silent song. The path ends at the well and it might be a good idea to fill your drinking containers at it. The only way back is the path leading south to the forest.

The well has water in it.  You can drink from it or, as the description suggests, fill you flagon or water skin from it.  Otherwise there isn’t much more to see.

But long trails that end many rooms in are suspicious by their very existence in a MUD.  So of course you search the room, and if your intelligence is high enough, or you persist long enough, eventually you will find something.

You find a secret exit north!

A secret exit.  Some bushes you can… um… open… MUD syntax, sorry… allowing you to pass north into the zone we called Castle Drulak.

On the list of zones in the credits it is just called “Drulak.”

Drulak ————————— levels 25-50

That is an odd level range for a zone on Evermeet.  As with the Sylvan Glades, it wasn’t a zone to solve the most immediate problems facing a young elf or half-elf.  It wasn’t a place to level up so you could get the hell off of Evermeet.  By level 25 most elves were long gone from island.  With a group of level 17 to 19 elves you might venture into the zone to hunt for experience, but you were better off in the Elder Forest or at Anna’s.

Leuthilspar and Vicinity

And despite its name, the zone isn’t just a castle like, say, the zone Ice Crag Castle is.  There is a castle in the zone, with the right name.

Outside of Castle Drulak
A large and dark looking castle towers before you. Its walls look very grim
and uncomfortable and sometimes dark figures walk on top of the castle’s walls.
What is truly amazing of the whole buidling is that it floats in the air. The
only way you see leads inside the castle through a large double stone door, of
course there is another way too, but then you had to fly through the clouds.
From where you stand you can look downwards and all you see are little houses
and a lake far below you. The wind is very cold outside the castle and seems
to blow from each direction. Surely it is much warmer inside the castle. One
or the other way.

And you can go in and explore it.  It has guards and towers and a cook and a librarian, but isn’t otherwise all that spectacular.  It seems like a side show in the zone.

Well, that isn’t really fair.  The castle is about as big a deal as most things in the zone.  But that is the issue, there are a lot of disparate things in the Drulak zone.  Let’s look at the zone.

Drulak Zone Map

You might need to click on the map to blow it up to full size in order to read everything on it.  The chaos of font sizes was going to have some meaning, but then I forgot about it half way through and now there is no meaning.  If I had done the text as its own layer, I could have fixed that easily, but I am old, from a time before layers, so I often forget to do that.

You can see Castle Drulak there in the upper left, with the distinctive castle shape, towers out at the corners.

Just south of it there is the gypsy camp.  There is a vendor there, but they carry no stock, so I imagine the camp is there to let you clear inventory.

To the east of the castle is Turtle Lake, infested with dragon turtles.  But they are not aggro, so you can move about on the lake freely if you have a boat or a spell of levitation or fly on you.  Boats are just something you carry in your inventory in TorilMUD and not a vessel you might actually sail about with.

On the lake there are two points that go down.  One leads to an old sorcerer whose purpose I have forgotten.  The other needs water breathing, which I lacked when I went to explore.  Something is down there.

Then there is the cave of Ferentybylynxaferix the dragon.  He was needed for a quest and I was occasionally asked to go scout to see if he had spawned.

In the middle of the zone there is the farm.  Out front there is the depressed elven farmer.

The way this elf is dressed and handles his weapons convinces you that
he has not been a farmer forever. An aura of strength seems to surround
him and as his eyes rest on you, you can feel it. But there is also some
kind of sadness in his eyes. His whole face is grimacing as if a great
pain would rest inside him. He is dressed with some soft leather cloths
and wears two longswords at his belt.
A farmer is a medium-sized level 41 Moon Elf.
He is in excellent condition.

<worn on body> a soft leather armor
<primary weapon> a silver longsword

He is down because his children are ill.  They are in the house behind him.  Though the fact that his description says he wears two longswords, yet hold only one might be getting him down as well.  His leather armor was worth some platinum, so I used to make a point of putting him out of his misery back in the day.

South of the farm is a hollow tree that contains a bee hive.  The guardian bees are aggro, defending their queen who wears a golden tiara.

South of that, and actually before the clearing that hides the entrance to the zone proper, is the bugbear caves.  Grumtar the bugbear chief and Markor the bugbear shaman are the bosses in the caves.

Then there is the chasm that leads down to a camp.  However, to get into the camp you need to have detect invisible cast on you as the key to get in is not only hidden, but invisible.  I had to pass on that during my tour.

But the key location I recall in the zone is the Temple of Labelas Enoreth.

It has been abandoned and is overrun by ghosts of the former caretakers and priests, cursed to haunt the grounds of the temple.  At the east end of the temple is a locked door.  To get through you must obtain the marble stone head from the hag who lives below the temple.  As in most thing, this means killing her.  You then hand the head to the headless statue who gives you the crimson key that unlocks the door.

Behind the door is a lifesized statue of Labelas Enoreth.  It lives, and when you speak to it, the statue gives you a quest.

The statue slowly turns to you and says “Have you come to redeem them?”

ask statue redeem

The statue says, “To redeem the people of this area in my eyes three things
must be done. A quest must be completed to banish the evil that this temple
has become.”

ask statue quest

The statue says, “Three items must be gained and brought to me. In return
an object of great value shall be given showing that you have redeemed
yourself and your people in my eyes.”

ask statue items

The statue says, “The three items shall come from varying parts of the world.
The first is that of a queen whose followers only duty is to her. The second
is the striped hide of a foul beast from far away. The third is an item worn
on the hands that has one of my beloved creatures worked into their make-up.”

And that is all you get.  Again, questing in the age of MUDs was a bit more cryptic.

The first item, as I recall, comes from the queen bee in the zone, while I think the second is a drop from the displacer beast, which is found in the lands east of Waterdeep, near the Lava Tubes.  I cannot think of what the third one might be, though I know our group did this quest more than a few times.

The reward was an elven blade which I had to query Katumi bot about several times until I got the right one:

Katumi tells you ‘a slender elven Moonblade (Wield) Dam:2 Hit:2 * (Weapon) Dice:2D6 * Procs: ‘labelas’ Protection of the Forest 1/week – Power Of The Stars * Magic !Dwarf !Evil !Halfling !Human !Neut * Wt:5 Val:0p * Zone: Drulak (Q) * Last ID: 2011-01-01′

Not a bad sword, though something I think we all went and collected for low level elven alts as opposed to using it on out mains.

And so it goes.  I think I have covered all the major zones on Evermeet.  I started this series back in 2009, so it has only taken me nine years to get there.

The whole series: