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Will Vanguard’s Closure Help Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen? January 27, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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11 comments

On Friday afternoon SOE chucked a huge stone into the lake of MMOs, and now we are watching how the ripples spread and wondering what they will impact.

more titles in the past than in the future

more titles in the past than in the future

What does Friday’s blood letting say about SOE’s all-in attitude on free to play, or about one company running more than a couple of MMO titles?  Should we avoid the niche titles from SOE and NCSOFT, as they appear vulnerable to closure at a whim compared to similar titles where that is all a given company has going for it? You seem safe playing in Norrath (on Windows) and in whatever the PlanetSide universe is called, but other titles… not so much.  How long does the contract for the DC Universe Online IP go?

Will people who invested a lot in cosmetic gear in Clone War Adventures or Free Realms feel burned and thus be less likely to spend money now that these two cosmetic funded titles are being shut down with 9 weeks notice?  Has SOE poisoned the well on this front?  And what does Smed’s “no more titles for kids” pronouncement mean?  I guess the myth that many MMO players were kids with daddy’s credit card has been dispelled.

Have we seen enough Asian MMOs ported to the US market only to languish and fade yet?

Can Smed be naive enough to believe that a vague promise to former Star Wars Galaxies players about SOE’s next, unannounced title being for them, that they can come “home,” means anything?  I am sure that those driven out by the stick that was the NGE are pretty sure that their home is elsewhere these days.  And as for those who remained, how many stuck with the game just because it was set in the Episodes IV-V era of Star Wars?  Is a different IP going to scratch that itch?

And then there is Vanguard and Brad McQuaid and the kickstarter for his new game, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.

PROTF04

On the one hand, part of his “trust me” appeal for the Kickstarter campaign is his leadership in producing two enduring MMORPGs, EverQuest and Vanguard.  Sure, Vanguard had a tough launch.  That was just the situation at the time and he had to roll with it.  But once it was “fixed,” the game was good.

So SOE “sunsetting” (Because that makes us all feel better than just saying “closing” or “shutting down” right?) Vanguard kind of puts a pin to the balloon of that argument.  *POP*

Because if Vanguard was good enough, popular enough, and profitable enough, SOE wouldn’t have found security updates to be too difficult.  Money talks, and enough money gets your fixes done.  So we can assume there wasn’t enough.

So Brad now has one successful, still running MMO on his resume, even if it has been drastically changed from back in the day, and one that is being shut down… the announcement for which went out during his Kickstarter.

And then there was the talk about Brad buying Vanguard from SOE.  Fine, I know a small crowd of fans were really for that, but for me that was a red flag moment.  My concern for Pantheon, should it fund successfully, is that it will end up being another case of trying to do too much and ending up launching with an unready product.  A small team really needs to pare down projects to the essentials to deliver.  I still cringe that PvP is on the stretch goals, as that seems like a distraction, something totally outside of the vision set out for the game.  And it doesn’t matter that they will likely not make it to that stretch goal, it is the fact that they even consider it an option that worries me.

So, in the middle of a campaign for a new game, sudden talk about buying up the old game seems like a moment where somebody should be saying in Brad’s ear, “Stay on target!”

On the flip side, I wonder if the timing of this announcement from SOE… delivered after lunch on Friday, the time slot chosen by PR people who hope the news will be too late to make a splash in the news cycle and will end up forgotten by Monday… might turn to something of a boon for the Pantheon Kickstarter campaign.

Certainly, there is the potential to get the news about the Kickstarter in front of a few more faces.  The coverage of the closure of Vanguard inevitably rolls around to what Brad is up to now.

And Vanguard shutting down puts paid to some of the comments I have seen about the Pantheon up to this point, which basically amount to “Why do I want this when I already have Vanguard available?”  Well, you won’t have Vanguard around for much longer.

Will these two points help boost the Kickstarter campaign?  It currently sits at just over $238,000 of the $800,000 initial goal, with 26 days left to go.  That seems like a lot, but pledges have fallen short of the daily minimum to make goal since the initial surge of support.  So the campaign clearly needs a shot in the arm.

Can this news do the job?  It looks like there was already a small uptick in people supporting the project over the weekend, and there is some sentiment about for supporting Pantheon as a replacement for Vanguard.  But is it enough?

Bloodbath at SOE – Four Titles Closing Down, PlanetSide Goes F2P January 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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12 comments

In one of those “Good news, bad news, more bad news, even more bad news, how about a tiny bit of good news, now can I bring up some more bad news” scenarios, Sony Online Entertainment announced that they had finalized their plans for their change over of all subscriptions types to the full boat SOE All Access plan, which they fumbled on earlier in the month, but which will now be just $14.99 a month and which will still come with a 500 Station Cash monthly stipend.

Once known as Station Access...

Now the plan for everybody

There is a new FAQ up in the official SOE forums describing the plan., which will be put in place “on or about” April 2, 2014.  (No April Fools Jokes for SOE!)

Down in the FAQ there are a few rather less-than-minor details, like the fact that SOE will be closing down four of their games.  Those on the list:

So SOE is going to expand their “all the MMOs you can eat” plan while at the same time cutting back on the number of MMOs on the menu.

I always say, there will be plenty of time for recriminations later.  I expect a lot to bubble up after this.  I await the SynCaine post on the F2P business model for openers.

As for the games themselves, I never really played any of them for any long duration, so my feelings on the closures are pretty subdued.

Clone Wars Adventures was an adjunct to a TV show that is no longer on the air, plus EA snagged the rights to all Star Wars video games in May of last year, so this one closing isn’t a real surprise.  It will just stand as a lesson in not investing in virtual hats.

Free Realms was never a thing for me.  My daughter played it for a bit until they broke the Mac OSX client one too many times, which weaned her from the game.  She had a lifetime membership, which I am sure means nothing.  This was SOE’s first game designed to be free to play, one Smed wanted to play with his kids.  I guess the kids grew up in the last five years.

Wizardry Online was awful in my opinion, but I came in saying I am not big on Asian imported MMOs.  I won’t miss this one at all.  I am surprised it made it this long.  I am, however, counting it towards my prediction that more than half a dozen crap Asian F2P MMOs will fold up shop this year in the US market.

And then there is Vanguard.  There is a bit of strange timing here, with Brad McQuaid launching a Kickstarter for a new game just as his last one is finally getting the axe.  I was comparing him to Mark Jacobs and Lord British in that their first MMOs were good and their second MMOs got the axe… except for Vanagurd.  Well, now the comparison is complete.

Surprisingly, the original PlanetSide did NOT get the axe.  I have no idea why.  I would have put it on that list first thing.  But it is a Smed favorite I guess.

In fact, they are going to make it a free to play title.  They are actually expending some effort on that ghost town.  Did they learn nothing when they converted Vanguard?

So, in the end, the shiny SOE All Access subscription plan to be introduced “on or about” April 2 will buy you gold memberships to:

  • EverQuest
  • EverQuest II
  • PlanetSide
  • PlanetSide 2
  • DC Universe Online

And I think with this move, SOE has stolen the crown from NCSOFT for the most closed MMOs.  Because SOE.

Addendum: Oh, and I apparently forgot about the completely forgettable Dragon’s Prophet in the SOE lineup.  When did Asian imports become a thing for SOE?  Anyway, it just opened late last year, so it was probably too soon to shut it down contractually.  But it looks like it ranks with Wizardry Online when it comes to potential.

More comments from other sources:

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter Started January 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Vanguard SOH.
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10 comments

Brad “Aradune” McQuaid has launched his Kickstarter campaign to fund his planned game Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  I did not see much build-up to it, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the right sources.

Aradune's new project

The Project

Aradune, who came through TorilMUD back in the day, is best known for being one of the primary drivers of EverQuest and Vanguard.

Of course, everybody (or everybody reading this) remembers EverQuest, while Vanguard hasn’t always been… appreciated?  I hate to say winner/loser, but one was king of the genre pre-WoW and remains influential today and the other…

So this is the third try.  Can Aradune and his cohorts at Visionary Realms, Inc. (there is that “vision” word again) take what has been learned over the years and craft an MMORPG that brings back the hardcore days of EverQuest while running well and feeling up-to-date?  That certainly seems to be the target.

Pantheon emphasizes the need to adventure with others. The world is dangerous and full of unexpected challenges making it unwise to travel alone. We feel that the best memories are those shared with fellow adventurers and friends. Thus, we are aiming to create a world where grouping is paramount.

He is asking for $800,000 in funding, which if you read my predictions for 2014, means I think he won’t make it.  I figured his name and reputation was good for half a million tops, so I guess we will see if I am wrong in the next 40 days. (The timer runs down on Saturday Feb 22, 11:40am PST.  I’m in for $75.  If the ride starts, I want to be on board.)

I expect it will be a hard fight to make it there no matter what and Brad will have to be out and about and getting people interested pretty much full time.  Remember how hard Mark Jacobs worked to get to two million dollars for Camelot Unchained?

There are the usual aspects of a Kickstarter campaign in place, including stretch goals out beyond the 6 million dollar mark.  You can find all the details on the Kickstarter page for the project.  I expect we will see interviews with Brad coming up where he will have to answer some hard questions about what he learned from the Vanguard project and where something like Pantheon fits in today’s market.

The target date for the game is pegged at three years out, January 2017.

I thought I would copy these bullet points to ponder as the campaign moves on.

Game Details

  • An MMO developed by gamers who aren’t afraid to target an audience of like-minded gamers.
  • A fantasy themed Massively Multiplayer Role Playing game (MMO) with a heavy focus on character development, an immersive world, and teamwork.
  • An MMO for players wanting a challenging and rewarding experience.
  • An open world in which you explore to obtain not only more powerful items but also new spells and abilities.
  • Travel where and when you want to in a non-linear world.
  • A huge world to explore, trade, and adventure in.
  • A complex back-story that players may gradually discover as they grow in power and explore the world.
  • A constantly expanding and evolving world.
  • Group-focused social gameplay using a class based system to encourage teamwork.
  • Customize your class by bonding with the spirits of fallen warriors.
  • Reactive combat where you can determine what the NPC is doing and react to it. (move, counter, deflect, etc.) .
  • Combat will be challenging and involved — your decisions will matter and directly affect the battle’s outcome.
  • Travel the world and profit from selling exotic items collected from distant realms. Different cities and outposts may have local Bazaars.
  • Limited and class based teleportation may get you close, but in order to reach many destinations you will have to traverse the planar scarred lands of Terminus through the use of your own two feet or on the back of your mighty steed.
  • Earning experience is only part of what it takes to level up. Exploring the world you will gain knowledge and power allowing you to overcome more powerful enemies.
  • The game will run on PC, Mac, and possibly other platforms in the future.

Game Tenents

  • An awareness that content is king
  • A belief that game economies should be predicated on delaying and minimizing item value deflation
  • A commitment to a style of play that focuses on immersive combat, and engaging group mechanics.
  • An understanding that a truly challenging game is truly rewarding
  • An expectation that the path of least resistance should also be the most entertaining
  • A mindset that Designed Downtime should be a part of the game to ensure players have time to form important social bonds.
  • A belief that an immersive world requires intelligent inhabitants
  • An understanding that faction should be an integral part of interacting with the world and its citizenry.
  • A commitment to creating a world where a focus on group play will attract those seeking a challenge
  • A belief that the greatest sense of accomplishment comes when it is shared

The Call of Aradune November 1, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Camelot Unchained, EverQuest, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Shroud of the Avatar, TorilMUD, Vanguard SOH.
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5 comments

The sword of Aradune has been drawn.  Brad McQuaid is back in play.

That sword

That sword

The word is out.  Reports are popping up around our little online neighborhood.

Brad McQuaid is putting together a project for Kickstarter, which he describes:

The game is high fantasy and if you’ve played EQ 1 and/or Vanguard, you’ve got a general idea of what the game’s about…

And part of me reads that and goes, “Whoo-haaa!” or some other loudly affirmative interjection.

After all, there was a time and place where we were clearly on the same page when it came to online gaming.  We both were playing TorilMUD back in the day and he, along with a group of talented people, many of whom also played TorilMUD, and created EverQuest.

To this day I cannot describe the combined feeling of newness and amazement mixed in with equally strong feelings of comfort and a sense of being exactly where I wanted to be when I first started playing EverQuest.

And that is what springs to mind right away when I think about Brad McQuaid.

Unfortunately, he also brings up Vanguard, which is sort of the antithesis of EverQuest to me.

Well, except for that Qeynos sewer faction...

What has he done for us lately?

There were certainly a lot of things that went wrong on that path.  The list of mistakes… with I can sort of sum up as “too much breadth, not enough depth” or “too much big picture ambition, not enough focus on the details”… was long.  And it was crowed with arrogance that I found off-putting.  It was the spiritual forefather of Tabula Rasa or Warhammer Online, the big draw based on a reputation that failed to pan out.

I suppose that Brad McQuaid can get a little satisfaction out of the fact that his creation outlasted those two titles.  But it damn near did not.  While I was happy enough for SOE to step in and save Vanguard, I couldn’t tell you if that was the best business decision for SOE.  It is certainly not obvious if SOE made much money with the game relative to the effort it took to fix it, and less certain is what SOE could have done with that money.  Finish The Agency maybe?  who knows?

Anyway, I bring up those two other titles, Warhammer Online and Tabula Rasa for a pretty obvious reason.  Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott both had initial successes in the early MMO market, turned that into big projects that failed to meet expectations, and then turned around years later to do smaller, Kickstarter focused projects allegedly based on what they learned on their respective roads through life.

That, in turn, required them to come clean on what they actually learned in their failures and how they would apply that to the current projects, Camelot Unchained in the case of Mark Jacobs and Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, which they did with mixed results.

Richard Garriott spent a lot more time blaming EA, NCSOFT, and people less talented than him along with playing the nostalgia card rather than going into much detail.   Mark Jacobs was more forthcoming, especially in terms of focus and what the Kickstarter financing really meant to the project.  But then he had to mention how Warhammer Online still had a great rating on Metacritic, which was something of a face palm moment, as well as a reminder of the value of pre-release reviews around something like an MMO.

So that time is coming for Brad McQuaid.

He is going to have to stand up and not only be able to talk about his new project and where he wants to go with it, but also what he learned from Vanguard and how those lessons will be applied to this project.  I realize that he has spoken frankly before about what he felt went wrong at Sigil Games when they were working on Vanguard.  But that is always the easy part.  Now is the time to talk about practical application of the lessons learned.  How will he keep these things from happening again.

And I am expecting to hear a lot about focus and managing expectations and keeping things small to start with and then building upon a solid foundation.

Anyway, that should make for some interesting reading when it comes to pass.

What The Hell Do You Spend Your Station Cash On? January 18, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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10 comments

As mentioned previously, in writing about eight years of EverQuest II last week, I got all nostalgic for the game and went back and played for a bit.  Such is the power of the blog.

And in going back I did go visit some places, added about 10 levels to a character, and generally did the tour.

And then the tour petered out, as these nostalgia ventures usually do, I unsubscribed and went off to other things.

But when not subscribed, SOE sends me a monthly Station Cash account balance message via email.  I am not sure why they don’t do this when I am subscribed.  Maybe they want me to stay subscribed and are afraid that bringing attention to themselves will remind me to unsubscribe?

Anyway, the last one I got said I had more that 9,000 Station Cash on my account.

Some of this was left over from a triple value event back when EverQuest II Extended was fresh and young, along with the 500 SC you get every month when you have Station Access, which I tend to subscribe to when playing SOE games.  (And then Station Access became SOE All Access, because if marketing can’t change the names of things every so often, they might as well just go home I guess.)

500 SC a month doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up when you never spend it.

And no matter how I got it, it seems like a lot of Station Cash to have hanging around.  Theoretically, that has a cash value of $90, though my actual out of pocket investment is probably $20 at the most.  Having that big of an asset sitting around seems wasteful, so I started to poke around in the to see if there was anything worth buying.

Well, you cannot buy expansions with Station Cash any more.

And you cannot buy a subscription with Station Cash.

You cannot buy any of those shiny Krono.

And you certainly cannot simply buy the in-game currency.  Not that I expected to be able to do so, but looking at my actual in-game currency balance, I might have gone that route had it been an option.

You cannot buy armor, or weapons, or crafting materials, all of which you could buy during the EverQuest II Extended experiment, when Smed was calling them “convenience” items.  I imagine a Wand of Obliteration would be very convenient to have around now and then.

One shot, one kill, no longer available

You can buy account services, but I think I have done my fill of transfers, renames, and the like.  And I have too many characters already, so I do not need any more character slots or race or class unlocks.

I might be tempted by experience boosting potions if I did not already have a giant stack of those sitting around on every character from veteran rewards.  And if I ever used them.  I don’t like the “timer” aspect of them, as they make me feel like I need to save them until I am going to be in an hour of constant combat or crafting… which is almost never.  I much prefer the way Turbine does some of there boosts, where it matches you gained exp for a given amount of exp over however much time it takes you to earn it.

Which sort of leaves cosmetic aspect of the game.  That includes cosmetic gear.

And I did buy a rabbit hat once.

Who you calling, "fuzzy?"

Who you calling, “fuzzy?”

But so far that is the only cosmetic appearance item that has appealed to me.

There is housing.   And while SOE has some stunning housing options, my housing needs are pretty simple.  I did buy that first player created housing item, the chest, just to support the person who made it.  And it looks good.  But it doesn’t do anything and it doesn’t have any particular meaning to me, so I doubt I will go down that path again.

And then there are mounts.

The setup to a "frog in a blender" joke

~sigh~

Let’s just skip over mounts before I start ranting on the many variations of ugly that SOE seems to have discovered.

Which leaves me with… what?

Well, there are bags.  I did buy one of those.  And I unlocked all the bag slots on Sigwerd so I could play him when not subscribed.  But with the removal of weight as an aspect of the game, he has that single 44 slot bag and some storage crates that give him more storage on his person that I think any three of my WoW characters have in total.

And I did that already and still have all that Station Cash.

There are some things I would pay for in Station Cash if I could.

I would pay the weekly Guild Hall fee now and again to have access to that.  That Guild Hall rent isn’t bad in currency… I think it is 4p a week… but it does eat up a lot of status, and I haven’t earned much of that in ages.

I might consider paying for access to the broker, though not via the current “per item” method SOE currently has.  Though since there is a back door way to sell without that, and selling is 99% of what I do with the broker, they could easily make that one over priced.  Still, I would be interested in buying broker access for a week as opposed to for 10 items.

One thing SOE has on its side is that you can use Station Cash in all of their games… or all of them that aren’t on FaceBook or on the PlayStation 3 at least.

So I could spend Station Cash in EverQuest… except that the choices are even more limited, the cosmetic items more grim, and the mounts even uglier.   Oh, and I am not actually playing EQ.  Details.

Likewise, PlanetSide 2 is an option.  I do log into that now and again, though my recent World of Tanks revival has eaten up all of my shooter mental bandwidth.  And I did buy an experience booster once… I think… when I was playing PlanetSide 2 early on.  It was hard to tell.  There were a lot of options and boosts and weapons and unlocks and other crap on screen which were difficult to distinguish or compare, all of which got me to skip the whole thing and just go out and die while trying to shoot at some people.

But given how freely I can spend gold at times in World of Tanks, PlanetSide 2 seems like it might be a place to spend my Station Cash some day, once they rationalize things a bit.

And, really, there are no other SOE games I play right now.  I said I might look into Vanguard at some point this year, but I suspect that the Station Cash store there will look like its EQ and EQII brethren.  So I am pretty “meh” on my Station Cash prospects.  Not that that is a big change.

Which makes me pretty much “not a customer” in SOE’s eyes, no matter how much Station Cash I have, since I do not spend it.  Idle currency has no influence.

So what should I do with 9,000 Station Cash?

(And no, I am not going to just give it to you.)

The 2013 List – This Time it is Goals January 4, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Dungeons & Dragons Online, entertainment, EVE Online, Rift, Star Trek Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Vanguard SOH, Warhammer Online, World of Tanks, World of Warcraft.
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9 comments

At the beginning of every year I write a post about the upcoming 12 months.  Sometimes it is silly predictions.  Sometimes my predictions are even correct, but not very often.  I have made demands.  I have asked questions.  Here is the story so far:

Now it is time for the 2013 version of my yearly post.

2013

This year I think I am going to set goals, which is just another way of drawing some marks in the sand to measure what happened when the year finally comes to a close.

1- Finish Rift

Well, finish Rift for a specific definition of “finish.”  MMOs are designed to never truly be finishable and Rift, with all its possible class builds, especially so.

In this case, it means hitting the level cap and running all of the five person instances with my main character, Hillmar, and the rest of the regular group.  And, just to put another parameter in the mix, I would like to see this happen before the inevitable Summer hiatus when we head out for vacations and other distractions.

2- Find a new goal in EVE

2012 was about learning to live in null sec and flying in large fleet operations.  There were large wars going on throughout most of the year and I flew all over null sec in fleet ops.  Now, however, things have quieted down.  There was no “Winter Break War” as there was last year and the prospect of any big conflict seems pretty remote right now.  We have been effectively ordered to not do anything that might result in the CFC having to deal with any more sovereignty.

Which puts me out of a job.

So I am in training mode with a little bit of ratting and selling now and again.  That can be lucrative, but it is also dull, as is mining.  (Though I hear from Gaff that with the new NPC AI, he has to actually tank all his mining ships as the rats now change targets.   And they pop drones without mercy, making drones pretty much useless for mission running and the like. So mining is dull AND annoying now!)

There are some things I could train up.  There are a few decent guides on planetary interaction out there, if I wanted to add that do my EVE resume.  There are some player skills I could work on, like scanning.  I am hopeless at scanning at the moment and, historically, every time I make an effort to figure it out, CCP changes how it works.

But as for what would essentially be a new vocation in EVE, I do not have a plan… or even a general direction.  It might be time to go back to that chart.

3- Get to Tier IX in World of Tanks

This is something of a vague goal, as I do not really have my eye on any specific Tier IX tank in WoT.  For now the Soviet heavy tanks seem to be my favorites, followed by the German tank destroyers.  But who knows, I might be mad for French self propelled guns or get the itch to nip about the field of battle in one of those Cromwells.  And then there is the Chinese tank line coming along soon.  Or so they say.

Anyway, barring any dramatic need to start up on another branch of the tree, Tier IX ought to be an obtainable goal even with my somewhat sporadic play schedule.  I just need some focus.

Good luck on that.

4- Finish that Second Instance Group Video

Almost a year back I put together a video about the first year of the regular instance group in World of Warcraft.  Fun stuff.  I like to go back and watch that video now and again.  Not quite as emotionally evocative as Sayonara Norrath, but a lot closer to home.

Originally I was going to make a video about our whole experience, but that was a huge project, so I cut it back to just the first year with the idea that I would do one for each of our six… headed into seven… years.

But while the first year was a good plan (for me at least) as it gets our origin, how do you distinguish it from year two, three, four, and so on?  So I decided I needed another specific subject.

I chose our time in Wrath of the Lich King for the next video.  I even started in on the long job of reviewing and editing pictures.  WotLK was the pinnacle of the instance group in WoW, where we finally got our act together.  It was also our downfall, the last happy time in WoW.  We got good at the game only to find that it isn’t that much fun when you are good.  When you are a random, badly equipped group running comedy specs in the wrong roles, every boss kill is a major victory.  When you are geared appropriately, using the right spec, and playing your role correctly, it starts to become a matter of just figuring out the gimmick for any given boss.

Archaedas was exaltation.  By the time we hit King Ymiron, he was just another boss on the long list.

Still, those were good times and set a standard of effort and fun that Cataclysm couldn’t match.  And it was a nice, discreet time frame.  We were there the day the expansion launched through to finishing off the last instance.

Piece of cake to put it together, right?

Except I cannot find the right music.  I need that to inspire me.  Earl’s rendition of Eleanor Rigby, with its twangy sounds and great mix of nostalgia and irony (all the lonely people indeed!) really moved me to finish the first video.  But I have not found the right music to get me excited to finish this video yet.  What will capture Northrend and the instance group, our travels, our defeats, and our victories?

So really my goal is really to find the right music.  We shall see if I can get there.

5- Retry an MMO That Didn’t Stick

There are a number of MMOs out there which I have tried and let drop after some effort.  For one reason or another the games just did not hold my attention or otherwise compel me to keep moving forward.

There are a number of options for this goal.  Possibilities include Vanguard, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, Runes of Magic, Warhammer Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and probably a few more I have forgotten.  Pirates of the Burning Sea maybe!

The trick here of course is to find a game where whatever made me stop playing has either been changed/fixed or was something that I have since changed my mind about.  And that, in turn, is something of a function of the time that has passed since I last played the game.

SWTOR, for example, is just a year gone by, and I did not like blaster combat or having dialog forced on my character. The former probably hasn’t changed, while the latter is the vaunted “fourth pillar” that was going to distinguish the game, so it seems like unlikely that I am going to like the game any more than I did the first time around.

At the other end of the spectrum is Vanguard, which I haven’t really played since late beta, and which I only recall as being an ugly, lagging, broken, resource hog of a game that was clearly not ready for prime time.  Six years down the road it is possible they may have addressed some of those issues.

6- Scout for the Next Instance Group Game

With the downfall of WoW as our default game, it has become an ongoing task to scout for the next game we might try.  We are currently settled in Rift, but since the first goal on my list is to “finish” Rift before the Summer hiatus, it seems likely that we will need something new come the end of vacation.

As always, the usual parameters are in place.  It must have content that caters to groups of five or six people.  It has to work for a variety of play time budgets. (Some of us will play all week long, others will only play on group night.)  It has to have content that we can enjoy in our standard “three hours on a Saturday night” parameter.   And it has to be something that we can all buy into.

There are a lot of options out there, even discounting things some of us have already played.  I think that, as a group, we might find a month or two of fun in PlanetSide 2.  Four of us would probably find Need for Speed: World or World of Tanks good fun, but I am not sure about all five.  And there are candidates from both the previous and the next goal that are possibilities.  Picking one though and getting everybody to download and commit, that can be a challenge.

7- Book My Autumn Nostalgia Tour Early

Every autumn I get the urge to go back and play some game from my past.  Sometimes it is EverQuest or TorilMUD.  This past year is was EverQuest II.  And given my long time attachment to the games, you can probably put WoW and Lord of the Rings Online on the list of potential candidates.

The thing is, the urge tends to hit me rather suddenly and I run off, play for the requisite month or so solo, then the urge tapers off and I am pretty much done. (Pro Tip: Always subscribe month-to-month for nostalgia based events.)

But while this is often fun, it is usually a lot more fun if I can get Gaff or Potshot in on the tour.  Nostalgia is a meal best served family style or some such.  So if I can just peer into the future and maybe decide on my target, we can get together on the plan and have a great time.  The thing is, which game?  Do I book a room in old Qeynos for the rainy season, or is the Forsaken Inn a more likely holiday spot?

8- Blog Stuff

Often when I look at the future, I will tack on something about “playing more and writing less.”  Over time though, this has increasingly looked like nonsense.  Writing here on the blog is clearly part of the process of playing games… or at least online games… for me.  The writing, the remembering, the picking of screen shots, and the clicking of the “publish” button are all part of the package.

So my goal for the blog is pretty much “stay the course.”  And maybe find a new theme.  Though I have been saying that for about six years and I am still using the same WordPress theme that I had on day one.

So those are my goals for 2013.  Not very exciting.  We shall see how they play out.

How does 2013 look to you?  And any ideas for music for that video?

Free to Play and the Implied Social Contract August 13, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Vanguard SOH, World of Warcraft.
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16 comments

I am going to start sounding like I hate free to play if I am not careful.

I do not hate free to play.

Free to play can bring a lot to a subscription game that transitions to the model.

The primary benefit is more players.

Bringing more players to a declining MMO can be a wonderful thing.  When I was playing the short-lived EverQuest II Extended, one of the best things about it was that the world seemed quite alive relative to the subscription side of the house.

It is also very nice to not be tied to a monthly subscription plan when it comes to games that you no longer play regularly, but still like to drop into now and again.  For example, I doubt I would have resubscribed to EverQuest II just to be able to see… well… whatever it was they did to Qeynos.

These are clear benefits on which I think most people can agree.

But I am also mindful that there are costs as well.

There are the inconveniences, the nagging, the intrusion of crass commercialism into an alleged escapist fantasy world, and the inevitable realization that, unless you’re buying what they have on offer in the cash shop this month, you really aren’t important to the company any more.

But you can get used to that.  Or some people can.  Probably most people can.

The problem, as I see it, is that you may have to get used to the way things are over and over again.  Currently, “free to play” is a pretty empty phrase, since it can mean so many things.

A long and winding thread of “logic” follows after the cut in order to spare the front page a wall of text.

(more…)

Vanguard Goes Free to Play Early August 8, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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4 comments

Almost six years ago the trailer for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes had the tag line “Set Yourself Free.”  Well, now the prophecy of that line has come to pass.

Vanguard was slated to go live as a free to play title on August 14th.

But instead, surprise, it is live and free as of yesterday.  Or I guess it is.  The statement over at the new Vanguard site reads:

In case you haven’t seen the news, we’ve announced the official date for the Vanguard Saga of Heroes free-to-play launch: Tuesday, August 14, 2012!

We didn’t want to keep you – our most loyal and dedicated Vanguard citizens – waiting any longer, so we’ve released all of the free-to-play features for you to experience FIRST!

Since SOE has a single, unified account system, I have to imagine that “dedicated” citizens includes anybody paying close enough attention to have noticed that post.  You certainly seem able to download the client and such at this point

SOE has also posted the final feature matrix for launch.  It remains a two tier system, eschewing the middle, or Silver tier that EverQuest and EverQuest II have, but a few details have changed since SOE originally posted about it.

First Day Feature Matrix

If you compare that with the earlier one, you will see that they have changed brokers and mail access.  You now just paying higher in-game fees to use those services.  There will also be no restrictions on chat access for free players.

Meanwhile, the standard inconvenience restrictions on things like item quality, total in-game coins, quest log entries, remain in place to push people to subscribe.

The Vanguard Marketplace is also open now and will be offering things in the categories of “Services, Mounts and Pets, Housing, Appearance and Equipment.”  I will be interested to see what ends up in the cash shop.

There is also a new FAQ up about the game.

All of which now leaves PlanetSide as the sole monthly subscription title in the SOE arsenal of online games.  SOE has bet heavily on its particular flavor of the free to play model. It is what I might call the “push to subscribe” subset.

John Smedley says that PlanetSide is not going away when PlanetSide 2 launches. (Smed’s twitter account seems to be the new official news source for PlanetSide 2. He was clearly telling the truth when he said that PS was his thing.)  But I do not think it can remain a subscription game, so I wonder what the plan is.

[Addendum: Massively has an interview with a bit more information posted.]

SOE Crosses the Streams, Mixes Vanguard, F2P, and Brad McQuaid July 5, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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13 comments

I had to check the calendar… and then double check just to make sure this wasn’t some sort of April Fools mis-fire.

Here it is, early July, and Massively was reporting that Brad McQuaid was back at SOE and working on Vanguard and pointing at an SOE developer spotlight profile of him.

The man with “the vision” is back and on the team that is reviving Vanguard and remolding to the free to play model.  It… boggles the mind.

Not that I am anti-Brad.  He was the right person at the right time to make EverQuest, something for which he has won endless respect from myself and others.

Well, except for that Qeynos sewer faction…

But the right time was… well… the late 1990s, wasn’t it?

I mean, the first time around with Vanguard… there was something of a vision vs. execution gap to be sure, which ended in tears about five years ago, the demise of his company as it was bought out, and a lot of work by SOE over the next year to make the game playable.  So bringing him back seems to trend towards the “crazy/insane” end of the spectrum at first glace.

Then again, he is back as a game designer.  Regardless of past any past vision for the game, he is there to make things work within the confines of the situation as it stands today.  As much as ones emotions want to say, “Uh oh, something wacky is going to happen here!” or make some sort of “Steve Jobs returns to Apple” analogy, it just doesn’t fly.

What we really have is a member of the MMO industry in a new position.  Everybody needs a job.  People come and go all the time.  I just wonder how things feel for him and those around him to be back at SOE after all that has happened in the last 15 years.

What do you think?  News? Not news?  Any meaning at all in this?

SOE Eschews the Middle Tier with Vanguard Free to Play Pricing July 3, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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11 comments

SOE announced back in March that Vanguard, the fantasy MMO step-child in their lineup, would be going free to play this summer.

Having been around the block with SOE titles moving from subscription to F2P at least twice before, first with EverQuest II and then EverQuest, it was probably easy enough to predict what was going to come to pass.

Both of those games ended up with a three tier subscription plan. (Yes, EverQuest II Extended had FOUR tiers, but that was clearly an experiment.)

At the bottom was “free,” which required no money changing hands.  All you had to do was create an SOE Station account, download the client, and you were set to log in and go.  Of course, there were some pretty severe restrictions on just what you could do with a free account.  These were put in place both to encourage you to upgrade and to keep abuse from gold sellers and the like to a minimum.

At the top end there was the “Gold” subscription, which was essentially the old monthly subscription plan in a new wrapper.  You could continue to give SOE $15 a month and get access to what you had before the transition.

And in the middle was the “Silver” tier where, for a fee of 500 Station Cash (which could range in value from $5.00 to 80 cents depending on various sales and incentives), some of the restrictions placed on “free” accounts were relaxed.  You got a couple more character slots, the ability to have more cash per character level, and no restrictions on chat channels.

This “Silver” tier made a lot of sense to me.  For an up front, one time payment, you were able to still dispense with the monthly fee, but got some benefits by essentially buying into the system.  Doing so probably meant you were unlikely to be a gold seller or other nefarious character likely to commit acts that might get you banned.  You had invested.

So I was somewhat surprised to see the Vanguard subscription matrix that was released today, as that “Silver” tier appears to be missing.

The two tiers of Vanguard

There is a FAQ up about the transition to F2P, which this time appears to cover most of the pertinent questions, but which makes no mention of the lack of a middle tier.

I wonder if that “Silver” level has proven ineffective in keeping the riff-raff under wraps, or if it ended up being too appealing to players, thus siphoning off potential dollars from players who might otherwise opt for a monthly subscription.

And this still leaves me wondering about PlanetSide? It will soon become SOE’s sole subscription-only title.

Reusing Images is “Green,” Right?

Smed says PlanetSide won’t be going away when PlanetSide 2 shows up.

When will it go free to play?