Blizzard Wants to Lock You In with a Flying Rat

A different sort of Room 101.

With Tuesday’s post about the Visions of N’Zoth update for Battle for Azeroth, there was a short bit of discussion as to what else Blizz might do to keep people subscribed between now and the launch of the Shadowlands expansion.  I suggested that they might do another “free mount with a six month subscription” offer.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when less that 48 hours later Blizzard announced a “free mount with a six month subscription” offer.

Welcome Squeakers

The deal itself is the same as the usual 6 month subscription deal, which averages out to $12.99 a month in the US, saving you a bit over the usual $14.99 when you pay by the month.  You just get a free mount, which is a $25 value, because that is what Blizzard charges for mounts and the fans have established that they will pay that much.

Now with free rat

I don’t think you can get Squeakers on his own, but why would you want to? [Edit: Yes you can, though it is tough to find on the web site.]  And certainly Blizz wants to keep you on the books until the 9.0 patch and the warm up to Shadowlands.  And this will no doubt play well in Asia where the lunar new year is approaching, and with it the year of the rat.

The mount and subscription deal is a limited time offer.  You have until February 23rd to take advantage of this deal.  If you bought it on the  last day that would get you into August on your subscription, when I suspect we will see the Shadowlands expansion launch.

Of course, the mount does not apply to WoW Classic, where I have been spending my time, so I am not particularly interested.  I already have enough mounts in WoW retail and, due to the last six month deal mis-firing, I am still subscribed out until June anyway.

EVE Online Gets Heavy Missile Buffs, Shield Slaves, and a New Event

CCP was keeping us in the dark.  They announced a new “Quadrants” plan, which sounded like quarterly releases, and which was said to start with something called “Fight or Flight,” but then did not go into much detail.  They even took the test server down to keep people from being able to see what was coming.  This did not pass without comment after the “Chaos Era” summer of “surprises.”

This image was not without information

It turns out that there were some hints… like what is the Drake spewing in that picture?  Yeah, Heavy missiles.  So today the update is live and the top item on the list is:

  • +5% to damage and explosion velocity of all Heavy Missiles

This is to encourage the use of heavy missiles, especially in PvP.  Heavy missiles ruled the roost for a while, early in the last decade, with the Drake being the platform of choice, before firewall tactics and nerfs combined to put the Drake and its weapon system on the shelf for fleet doctrines.

But that is not all.

Once again there is a Drake up front

In addition, the long asked for “shield slaves” implant sets have finally been added to the game.  I mean, the requests/demands for “shield slaves” have been a meme for years now. Naturally, they are not actually called “shield slaves,” but the set the armor versions are no longer called “slaves” either, but once something gets a name it tends to stick.

So we have the new Nirvana implant set, and I must admit that is a pretty good name choice.  Shield super pilots are no doubt soon to be in Nirvana.

The mid grade set looks like this:

  • Mid-grade Nirvana Alpha +3 Perception 1% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 10% set bonus
  • Mid-grade Nirvana Beta +3 Memory 2% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 10% set bonus
  • Mid-grade Nirvana Gamma +3 Willpower 3% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 10% set bonus
  • Mid-grade Nirvana Delta +3 Intelligence 4% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 10% set bonus
  • Mid-grade Nirvana Epsilon +3 Charisma 5% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 10% set bonus
  • Mid-grade Nirvana Omega 25% set bonus

And the high grade set looks like this:

  • High-grade Nirvana Alpha +4 Perception 1% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 15% set bonus
  • High-grade Nirvana Beta +4 Memory 2% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 15% set bonus
  • High-grade Nirvana Gamma +4 Willpower 3% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 15% set bonus
  • High-grade Nirvana Delta +4 Intelligence 4% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 15% set bonus
  • High-grade Nirvana Epsilon +4 Charisma 5% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 15% set bonus
  • High-grade Nirvana Omega 50% set bonus

A low grade set is promised for the future, but for now it is just those two.

The next question is, naturally enough, how do we get these new implants?

There is an event for that.

Dragonaur Blitz Event

Between now and January 27th there will be sites in low sec that will drop blueprint copies for the various Nirvana implants.

The catch is that the site are only accessible in ships that have a bonus to heavy missiles, so you have to be flying one of the ships from this list.

  • Bellicose
  • Caracal
  • Caracal Navy Issue
  • Gila
  • Orthrus
  • Osprey Navy Issue
  • Scythe Fleet Issue
  • Cerberus
  • Sacrilege
  • Vangel
  • Enforcer
  • Rapier
  • Chameleon
  • Rook
  • Onyx
  • Cyclone
  • Drake
  • Drake Navy Issue
  • Gnosis
  • Claymore
  • Nighthawk
  • Damnation
  • Barghest
  • Praxis
  • Rattlesnake
  • Raven
  • Raven State Issue
  • Scorpion Navy Issue
  • Typhoon
  • Typhoon Fleet Issue
  • Marshal
  • Widow
  • Golem

That gives you 33 choices… mostly Caldari… to pick from.  But if you plan to use one of the remaining Raven State Issue ships, be sure let us all know!  I want to be on that kill mail.

Those are the big items on the list for the update, though there are some lesser items of note.

The first is a tiericide pass… color me surprised that they’re still working on this as I had thought CCP gave up ages ago… on shield boosters.  This means that shield boosters everywhere will have new names and such.  Be aware.  The patch notes have a list.

And the filaments from the Yoiul Holiday Festival have all been converted to calm abyssal filaments.  No more jumping fleets into random null sec locations for fun.  The conversions were:

  • DSHR-01 Filament migrated to Calm Dark Filament
  • DNCR-02 Filament migrated to Calm Dark Filament
  • PRNCR-03 Filament migrated to Calm Gamma Filament
  • VXN-04 Filament migrated to Calm Firestorm Filament
  • CMT-05 Filament migrated to Calm Gamma Filament
  • CPD-06 Filament migrated to Calm Electrical Filament
  • DNNR-07 Filament migrated to Calm Electrical Filament
  • BLTZN-08 Filament migrated to Calm Electrical Filament
  • RDLF-09 Filament migrated to Calm Exotic Filament

If you hadn’t even opened up the appropriate Yoiul crates, you will find that they now contain abyssal filaments.

And, in an ongoing series of nerfs for carriers, Siren fighters have had their microwarp drives replaced with afterburners, so their new speed boosts are:

  • Tech I Siren now has 200% speed bonus from Afterburner
  • Tech II Siren now has 250% speed bonus from Afterburner

There are, of course, a bunch of other changes and fixes, most of which are detailed in the patch notes for the January 2020 release.

The January update has been reported as successfully deployed.

Also, as a reminder, CCP also has a limited time PLEX For Good event running to raise funds to help victims of the wildfires in Australia.

PLEX for Good

The event runs through January 26th.  The cash value of PLEX submitted by players (instructions at the link) will be donated to Icelandic Red Cross for distribution to the Australian Red Cross.

The Library and the Armory

After a bit of time off around the holidays the instance group was able to form back up for another run this past Sunday.  Various holiday distractions meant that not much progress was made by anybody during the off time, which meant that we were still mostly in the level range for the library in the Scarlet Monastery, which we had previously run through.

Also, we were a group of four again, our lineup looking like this:

  • Viniki – level 34 gnome warrior
  • Skronk – level 33 dwarf priest
  • Moronae – level 33 night elf druid
  • Ula – level 32 gnome mage

I fear that Obama may have lost interest… or has other, more pressing interests… as he hasn’t logged in for quite a stretch.  Meanwhile, things have not settled down enough to get Earl on with us regularly, leaving us with the gang of four.

As the Scarlet Monastery library was still in the level range for us… maybe a level or two above our range really… we decided to take another run at that.  There was a quest in Ironforge that we had neglected to pick up previously that required us to pick up a book in the library, so at least we had a task.

We all grabbed the quest and headed for Southshore where we commenced another trot across the landscape to the Scarlet Monastery.  This time we managed to neither go completely wide of the mark nor run through the camp with the guards that wiped us out last time.  We kept to the road, swinging wide once we got past the Undercity.

Dangerous turn off

I did veer us a little bit more northward than I might have needed, but we arrived outside the Scarlet Monastery complex intact.  And we got the map update for Brill, so our Tirisfal Glades map isn’t quite so blank as before.

While it was Sunday afternoon, which can be something of a quiet time, we did have a couple other groups around, so we didn’t have to clear the whole way to the library door, though we did get in over our heads a little bit at one point before another group wandered in to help.

And once inside we nearly got a wipe on the second engagement.

The first area is corridor with four groups and a walker that comes and goes.  We cleared off the first group right away.  Then I shot the target in the second group to pull him, only to find he just wanted to sit there and cast, so I ran up to him and engaged.  Moronae followed me in cat form and got behind him, which put him just in range to proximity pull the next group.  Now we had four mobs to deal with.  As that was going on, the walked came up as well and joined in just as Skronk was dropping a heal on me.  An archer, she began pelting Skronk at range while her hound pet went chasing after him.  We were spread out down the corridor so losing aggro on somebody meant scrambling about, and I got there too late to save Skronk at one point and he went down.

Things were looking bad, but then somebody remembered that Moronae, a druid, had a combat ress, so he was able to get Skronk back up as we carried on.  I thought things were getting worse when I saw another hound engaged in the fight, but that was Ula using the dog whistle she got as a drop from Houndmaster Loksey last time.

In the end, we made it, but it was something of a mess.  At least we had cleared out most of the room.

We remained standing

That done, we took it a little more carefully going forward, clearing the courtyard and taking down Houndmaster Loksey without much in the way of drama.  Having been through the instance once already, we were somewhat aware of places we where we needed to take care, though being a few levels below some of the mobs, which range 33-37, we still managed the accidental proximity pull now and then.  But that generally happened when we were setting up for a fight anyway, so we carried on, stopping for a rest now and then.

Just enough chairs for our group

We picked up the book we were looking for along the way.  That took a couple minutes as the book disappears once somebody picks it up.  But it respawns eventually.

Ula grabbing the book

We worked our way around to the final corridor with only a few more accidental proximity pulls along the way.

Look, we won, didn’t we?

That left us with the main boss, Arcanist Doan.  The fight with him went about as well as we could have hoped.  He still sheeps the healer now and then, but we burned him down quickly enough that there wasn’t much of an issue.

Doan Down

As with our last run, he dropped the robe and the illusionary rod, the two big caster items.

There was a bit of confusion over who should get the illusionary rod.  I was sure it had dropped the last time but nobody remembered who got it.  Then Ula found it in her bag.  The problem was that it requires level 34 to use and neither she nor Skronk were there yet.

Skronk’s reward this time

At that point we were done with the instance, but we still had some time.  Both casters had the boss drops they wanted, so there wasn’t much point in doing the library again, so we decided to poke our noses into the armory wing of the Scarlet Monastery.  We were well below level for that, but we wanted to see how far we could get, so we started to run back to the entrance of the library… and ran unwittingly into a bunch of mobs and promptly wiped.

About where we picked up that book

Now, I remembered that instances in vanilla WoW respawned.  There was always that hanging over a group’s head back in the day if the run was going too slowly.  But in my mind respawns were something like a 2 hour thing.  We ran into respawned mobs at the location where we had taken them down about 30 minutes previously.  These instances are small, so maybe that accounts for the quicker timer, but it came as a surprise.

Still, we were out and nobody was keen to fight our way through the library in both directions.  So we ran back as ghosts, revived in the library, then exited to go next door to the armory.

Like most of the complex, the armory isn’t a big instance.  You work your way through the courtyard and then the open plan office area where most of the mobs hang out, to the the long corridor, finally ending up with Herod and the Scarlet Monastery floor show at the end.

The armory layout

We were definitely a little paranoid going in.  For some reason I had a bad feeling lurking in the back of my head about the open archery range, like there was some event or such that gets triggered there.

Are we the targets?

However, that might be something from the post-Cataclysm revamp in my head.  It proved to require just a careful clear to get through it, and only careful due to the rising level of the mobs and the possibility of more proximity pulls.  Mob levels were running 36-38 and, while Ula and Moronae had both leveled up, we were still punching up with a short group.

Once inside the armory we managed to keep things mostly under control.  The open space plan means that fleeing mobs can run straight to the next group if you are unlucky.  But we seemed to do okay.

The armory layout

Our first problem came at the top of the stairs in the room with the cannons, where we managed to get a patrol and proximity adds due to the closeness of the groups.  Things again looked like they might fall apart as mobs took down Skronk while I was trying to taunt them off.  Mobs resisting taunts and spells and polymorph were becoming much more common.

But Moronae’s combat ress was off cool down and Skronk was alive again and we managed to get through the fight.  We carefully moved forward, arriving at the fireworks stockpile after a few careful fights.

There we were facing a pair of level 38 mobs off to the right down the corridor.  There was also another pair of level 38 mobs on the left side of the corridor, which I thought everybody saw, but when I pulled the right pair somebody stepped into proximity range of the left pair and we suddenly had four mobs that were very resistant to our efforts to deal with.  It did not end well.

Ula throwing ice in the last moments

We wiped.

And, when we ran back we found that the instance had begun to respawn as the library had.  Also, we got too close to the first two mobs and pulled them by proximity… again… and had to flee the instance for the dark anteroom outside.  That happened to have another group hanging out in it.  We decided that we had gone about as far as we were likely to get… there was no way we were going to be able to take on the boss encounter with most of the group six levels below him.  So we recalled.

Stoning out in the dark anteroom

Three of us had our stones set in Ironforge, where we landed comfortably back at the bar.

We needed a drink

Along the way Skronk made it to 34, so was able to wield the illusionary rod.  Ula still has a ways to go for hers.

From the bar we ran first to repair, then across Ironforge to turn in the one quest we had.  The reward for that was a +6 stamina +6 spirit item for the neck slot.  Given that was empty for all of us, we were happy to have it.  Now we only have empty trinket slots, and it might be a while for that.  You don’t get the carrot on a stick until ZF.

We might have to spend a bit of time leveling up between instance runs.  We’re clearly shy of being able to do the armory wing, and nowhere close to the cathedral.  Also, we might have to work on a plan to fill out that lingering empty spot in our group.

Addendum:  Ula did a video of our run through the library where you can see, among other things, our near wipe at the start of the instance.

As always, amazing work by Ula with a fun sound track.  If you watch it on her channel you can see it in full 1440p.

Battle for Azeroth Enters the Final Lap

Today we get the 8.3 patch for Battle for Azeroth.  At least it is today in the US and related regions.  Europe gets it tomorrow and I gather Asia will get it the day after that.

Titled Visions of N’Zoth, it is, if not the final patch, then likely the final bit of content the expansion will be able to call its own.

Visions of N’Zoth arrives

The list of things coming with this update is quite impressive.  It includes:

  • Corrupted Zones: Uldum and Vale of Eternal Blossoms
  • New Raid: Ny’alotha, the Waking City
  • Awakened Assaults: The Servants of N’Zoth
  • Horrific Visions
  • New Legendary Cloak: Ashjra’kamas, Shroud of Resolve
  • New Corrupted Items and Rewards
  • Deepwind Gorge Redesign
  • New Pet Battle Dungeon: Blackrock Depths
  • New Allied Races: Vulpera and Mechagnomes
  • Death Knights for All
  • Auction House Overhaul
  • New Quests
  • New Warfront: Heroic Darkshore
  • New Brawl: Teeming Islands
  • Darkmoon Faire Arcade
  • New Mounts
  • Updates to classes, dungeons, raids, items, etc.

That is a serious list, though it is probably the final list, the list of features that will close out the legacy of the Battle for Azeroth expansion.  There has been quite a bit of discussion by the dedicated aboutmany of the features, though I think the most buzz has been around the allied races… and specifically the Vulpera.

The Vulpera arrive

From the allied race announcement:

Clever and resourceful, the vulpera of Vol’dun have survived amidst the sands for generations. Eager to join the ranks of the Horde, their caravans have departed from the dunes in search of adventure.

The serpentine sethrak have taken to subjugating anyone they can as slaves, and the vulpera are an easy target for their machinations. If you’ve taken steps to liberate the vulpera from these overseers, they’ll join the Horde on the battlefield.

  • Available Classes: Hunter, Mage, Monk, Priest, Rogue, Shaman, Warlock, Warrior, and Death Knight
  • Racial Traits:
    • Bag of Tricks – Use a trick on an enemy to damage them, or an ally to heal them.
    • Rummage Your Bag – Change the contents of your Bag of Tricks. Now where did you put that…?
    • Make Camp – Set your camp location outdoors.
    • Return to Camp – Teleport back to your camp location.
    • Nose for Trouble – Take less damage from the first strike inflicted by an enemy.
    • Vulpera Survival Kit – Find extra goods when you loot humanoids.
    • Fire Resistance – Take less damage from fire.

The unique/cute/fun look of the Vulpera, along with their racial traits have led some to forecast how things will end up looking on the Horde side of the game soon.

By the weekend surely…

The new Alliance allied race, the Mechagnomes, pale by comparison.  I mean, sure, there are some out there for whom “more gnomes!” is an incentive, but how many are there?  From the announcement:

Though they once sought to mechanize themselves completely, the mechagnomes now seek a balance between flesh and steel. Emerging from years of isolation on Mechagon, they bring both ingenuity and aptitude to the Alliance.

They left Gnomeregan to construct a metal metropolis, Mechagon. However, their once wise and ambitious ruler King Mechagon now ruthlessly rules over them with an iron fist.

Work together with the Rustbolt Resistance to overthrow their tyrant so these mechanical mavericks will join the Alliance.

  • Available Classes: Hunter, Mage, Monk, Priest, Rogue, Warlock, Warrior, and Death Knight
  • Racial Traits:
    • Re-Arm – Automatically heal yourself when your health drops to a low life total.
    • Combat Analysis – Get stronger as you fight the same enemy.
    • Hyper Organic Light Originator – Summon decoys of yourself to distract foes.
    • Skeleton Pinkie – Open locked chests.
    • Mastercraft – Function as a personal set of crafting tools for professions.

Both allied races have a faction grind you must complete and a list of achievements you must obtain before they can be unlocked.  But we’ve known about the requirements for a few months now, so I am sure people are prepped to get there.

The downside, for me at least, and I have unlocked most of the previous allied races, is that you end up with a level 20 character and a 100 levels between you can the cap.  But Blizz has discounted race and faction changes by 30% in anticipation of this.  Discount available through February 3rd.

And that will be the end of Battle for Azeroth.  There are reportedly no plans for something like an 8.3.5 patch.  This will be where the expansion is done and we’ll have been given all it has to offer.  Work by the WoW team will no doubt be focused on the upcoming Shadowlands expansion.

Battle for Azeroth will depart with something of a mixed legacy.  There was a lot there to like.  Kul’Tiras and Zandalar were both cool and interesting areas.  But it also seemed to include something to irk just about everybody.  From the burning of Teldrassil to the counter-intuitive level scaling to the dissatisfaction with classes to the simple, unfavorable comparisons with how things worked in Legion.

I had great hopes going in.  I had Horde and Alliance characters lined up so as to experience both sides of the story.  But the expansion just wore me down.  Playing a pally in WoW Classic felt better than playing one in Battle for Azeroth.

And the legacy of the expansion will be short lived.  By the time summer rolls around Blizzard will be getting ready to roll out the pre-Shadowlands patches, which will include the risky level squish.  That will make everybody at the cap level 50 and turn all of the past expansions into parallel paths to get players from level 10 to 50.

The new leveling flow from BlizzCon

I am waiting for Blizz to come out with their final plan on the squish… they could still make every expansion annoying by putting the BFA level scaling scheme into them… but it will let you pick your favorite expansions to level in, and even swap between them mid-way, while allowing you to avoid the ones you did not like.  I am not sure Battle for Azeroth would be on my list were I to level up another alt.

Anyway, today begins the final round of the expansion.  For its fans, I hope it will add up to a good send off.  I remain mixed on the whole thing, which has made me skeptical about Shadowlands as well.  But we have months left before I need to worry about that and WoW Classic is still running along just fine for me.

Leveling up Your Crafting Without Actually Crafting

Another one of those EverQuest II posts.  This time I ramble on about crafting.

Crafting has changed over the years in EQII, and the best route for leveling up your crafting as much as anything.

As with my running off at the keyboard about gear the other day, I want to start off with how crafting in EQII differs from WoW.

But there is a twist this time.  WoW crafting is very much the child of crafting in EverQuest, with skill points you get by crafting and recipes going gray and not giving skill ups after a while and all of that.  The WoW version of this was much streamlined from EQ, and took something of a departure in how much stuff any particular trade would let you craft.  You cannot/could not outfit yourself fully at any point when crafting in WoW.  You could sort of manage that with EQ, but I am not sure it was worth the effort, at least back in the early days.

EQII took a completely different tack on the crafting idea which stems, as I understand it, from a plan at one point to make crafting a parallel character class to the adventure classes.  I think Kendricke mentioned that once or twice in comments here back in the day.  (I wonder where he ended up.  Also, I found the comment on this post, where I was writing about crafting gripes back in 2007.)

While that idea got ditched at some point in beta, the basic structure of crafting was set and crafting had levels the way adventure classes had levels.  This led to some odd situations, since either your adventure level or your crafting level seemed good enough to unlock level gated content.  I recall figuring out quite by accident that I could get to The Enchanted Lands or Zek with my level 25 templar because he was already a level 35 alchemist.  Of course, I only figured that out after the guild got out and helped me do the access quest for Zek, but that is the way these things go.

Anyway, the evolution of crafting in EQII.  Back in the early days you leveled up by grinding away.  But there was lots of grinding to be done as getting to a finished product required you to start with raw materials and then go through several stages of production.  And there was the whole interdependence thing where to get to a finished product you needed something from one of the other crafting professions… unless you were an alchemist or a provisioner.

Fortunately I went down the alchemist path, so my various products… inks and washes and whatever else… were in high demand, at least from my guild mates.  This is how my crafting level got well ahead of my adventure level early on.  Higher level guildies would go out and harvest the stuff I needed to keep going if I would just stay in the crafting hall and crank out what they or their alts needed.

At some point along the way the concept of “vitality” was introduced.  This was/is essentially the EQII version of WoW rested experience or “blue bar.”  SOE wisely waited until Blizz changed the perspective from a penalty on people for playing too much to a bonus for people who were had been away before copying the idea.  Having that sped things up a bit, especially if you were an obsessive like me and have a trade skill going on each of your characters.  You could optimize by rotating to the character with the most vitality.

Meanwhile, crafting when through some convulsions as SOE first added auxiliary trade skills that let people craft their own secondary parts from other professions and then just did away with the idea of interdependence altogether, revamping the materials needed for recipes, removing intermediate production stages, killing off the quality levels in production, and somewhat simplifying the whole range of harvestables.

At the end of all of that you could just harvest some raw materiel, buy the fuel required, and craft a finished item in one go.  While people still moan about the removal of crafting interdependence, being able to just make stuff in one pass felt pretty damn good.  Your pet theories about complex cross-profession crafting can suck it.

You still leveled up the same way, though somewhere in the mix we got a new benefit.  We got some super bonus experience for the first time we crafted a particular recipe.  So leveling up your crafting profession began to involve crafting one of every single recipe in every level you unlocked… ideally while you had a good portion of vitality running… to move yourself along.

And then that first time bonus went away.  I don’t recall why, though I seem to associate it in the back of my brain with the return of Domino to the EQII crafting team and another round of changes overall.  It may have been a balance or fairness thing… some professions get a lot more new recipes per level than others… or it might have simply been to contain recipe profusion.

As a replacement we got crafting writs.

Crafting writs are small crafting quests that cover your fuel costs, take your crafting output, and gives you a small monetary award, some bonus crafting experience, and some status.

Level 87 provisioner writ

It was a decent system.  With your vitality full you could get a couple of crafting levels with five or six writs.

That gets us up to about the EverQuest II Extended era and the experiment of trying to bring the instance group to Norrath.  The former worked out well for SOE, while the latter was something of a fiasco.  We made a guild, which persists to this day (there is likely a “joys of having a guild hall” post in me somewhere) and worked on crafting, but the game still didn’t stick with group.  But while we were there a bunch of work went into leveling up the guild, a lot of it via Gaff doing trade skill writs. Between those and some heritage quests done as group efforts, we got the guild to level 40.

A cut from the guild event log…

That is about where my knowledge of crafting stayed.  It was 2011, the level cap was 90, and I only played sporadically after that, coming back for brief visits every year or two.  Writs worked okay once the level cap went to 95 and were even still viable, if a bit slow, when the cap hit 100.  But from level 100 onward the xp slope went way up and writ rewards took a big hit.

Level 106 armor writ… not much status…

You theoretically could use writs, but the xp ramp up was so big… as it was with adventure xp… that just crafting or doing writs would be a very long road forward.  The company clearly wanted to push people away from that. (All of those 100% bonus to adventure and trade xp potions I have in the bank are now useless.  I saved them until they had no value at all.)

That is where I had to go back and learn about the now standard trade skill quest line that comes with each expansion.  I first ran into this in the Tranquil Sea, which I believe came in with the Altar of Malice expansion.

Reward from the FSTC… that effect is useless now as well…

I did the trade skill quest line for the Terrors of Thalumbra expansion with Sigwerd as part of trying to get languages and past expansion pre-requisites setup to unlock more current content and get access to ascension levels to help me in the Plane of Magic.

That set and the Plane of Magic signature quest line done, I found myself at level 110 for adventure levels, so decided to pursue the trade skill quest line as well.

This was an odd diversion, in part because it looks like a adventure/combat series of quests at time, but it most assuredly is not.  I quickly learned that no matter how green the mobs looked to me, they are meant to be avoided and not fought.  They cannot be defeated except through special means that are part of the quest lines.

It sure looks like I could beat him…

It is, I suspect, meant to be level independent.  I am not sure I would want to try it with a really low level character, but in the instances your mercenary is removed and you are not expected to fight. (EQII remains inconsistent in telling you how tough a mob is even in their over-wrought, too much detail consider system.)

Also, aspects of it are kind of expensive.  The end of the quest line in the Plane of Magic requires six rare harvest items and, while you could hang out and harvest them yourself, that might take quite a while.

That pricey final combine

Also, you really need to know about what the quest lines require in advance to not spend a lot of time running back and forth.  At points there  will be items to harvest in the quest instances or you will need a special fuel that you can only find there.  But at other times you will need a pile of raw materials and fuel with you.  And it can be critical that you have it all.  At one point I was most of the way through an instance on Luclin, but forgot one of the raws I needed, so ended up engaged in the quest but without the sprayer I needed to engage the next two mobs in the instance.

I recalled back home, got the items, but then found that the quest was stuck in place, so I had to delete it and start it over again.  However, on the second run I was now out of materials to make the first item.  I already had it though, so could get to the two mobs and spray them, but the quest wouldn’t advance because it hadn’t recognized that I had made the first item.  So I recalled again, got fresh supplies, deleted everything, went back in the instance, made both items, got to the two mobs… and found that since I had already sprayed them they were now in the state for the next part of the quest, but I couldn’t advance the quest because I could no longer spray them.

So I left again, but I couldn’t reset the instance until the next day for whatever reason, at which point I ran through it again and got it right.

Some of you may know where I am

But I seriously suggest you go to the wiki and come prepared with all the stuff you need, because the quest chains can be a bit brittle.  The wiki even warns you now and again to bring double portions for this stage or that because of known issues.

Anyway, I have managed to run through the Plane of Magic and Luclin trade skill quest lines twice now, so have two characters at max level for their respective professions.

The kicker is, and this wraps us back around to the title of the post, at no time during my advancement through 20 levels of trade skills did I actually need to craft anything that was related to either profession.  I have a max level armorer and woodworker.  Not once were the skills for either needed.

That makes some sense.  These quests are for ALL professions and, as such, when you do craft… and you actually do craft some things now and then… you end up using a set of independent reaction skills with icons borrowed from other skills in order to make required items.

These are not my skill icons

This means that now, at level 120, my actual crafting skills are still where they were when I was at level 100.  EQII still has skills that need to be raised up through usage, going up five points every level, which was never a problem when we were banging out a few writs per level.  You can get those five points in two runs if you work at it.

Now though my skills are all at 500, but the skill cap for 120 is 600.  I am going to have to crafts a lot of stuff to bring those up to spec… or not.  I am not sure they matter all that much beyond a certain point.

So the way all this works in EQII is… as I keep saying… different.  It is not necessarily bad… I am pretty sure running the trade skill quests that come with each expansion now is more fun than grinding out writs or what not… but I did advance 20 levels as an armorer without needing to make a single item of armor.  I feel like I got my armorer’s GED or something.

Anyway, I keep going.  With two players at the level cap I now have a 40% veteran’s bonus for trade skills… which probably does me zero good for levels 100 to 120, but I have a couple of alts at lower levels, down where writs still mean something and crafting xp isn’t meaningless, that might benefit.

Bhagpuss posted his own bit of reflection on the state of crafting in EQII, which overlaps a bit with my own, but not that much.  I was already well past the 1,500 word mark when it was posted, so his chances of influencing or attenuating my output was minimal.

Tales from New Eden – The Ghost Training GDC Presentation

Back at GDC 2018 up in San Francisco, CCP gave a presentation about the “ghost training” exploit that was introduced into EVE Online with free to play.  At the time this got some coverage, including over at Massively OP.  But to actually see the talk you had to be there or pay for access to the GDC recorded archives.

However, the GDC organizers post older presentations to their YouTube channel on a regular basis, and this session was posted in December so we are all free to watch it.

 

The presentation is just under an hour and opens with a few minutes of describing EVE Online before getting to the exploit.  It then unfolds with what the problem was and how CCP went to address it.

Interesting, and relatable to anybody in enterprise software, is how critical accurate and detailed steps to reproduce are, how unexpected results can come from interactions in complex and often aging systems, how the simple “just do this!” fix may not actually fix the issue (in this case it made things worse), and how assumptions about players/customers need to be validated.  That latter was especially important as the mood was “ban them all” both inside and outside of CCP because it was assumed this was primarily and deliberately being exploited by skill farm operators.

Some people were still banned, but the lighter approach the company chose to take meant that a range quite a few people remained customers after having their ghost training gains pointed out to them and given options to correct the situation.  In a game… in a genre… in an industry… where customer retention is vital for ongoing success, this seems like a wise approach.

My ManicTime Numbers for 2019

We have finally arrived at what I believe to be my final end of year post.  I have nothing else on my list.  So after this it will likely be a return to my more common ramblings and complaints.

I mentioned back in January of 2019 that I was going to track my game time with ManicTime.

The idea came from Endgame Viable and landing as it did right at the end of the year it seemed like the perfect time to give it a try.  And so with every month in review post for 2019 I added a short entry that listed out which games were tracked at what percentage of my play time they represented.

But, of course, I kept all those numbers in a spreadsheet so I could trot out the numbers for the full year once it was done.  And here we are with the list of all the games tracked.

  1. World of Warcraft – 44.49%
  2. EVE Online – 20.22%
  3. EverQuest II – 9.38%
  4. RimWorld – 8.46%
  5. LOTRO – 4.83%
  6. Minecraft – 3.96%
  7. EverQuest – 3.81%
  8. Path of Exile – 0.84%
  9. Dota Underlords – 0.82%
  10. Civilization V – 0.60%
  11. Diablo – 0.46%
  12. Defense Grid – 0.44%
  13. StarCraft – 0.43%
  14. MS Solitaire – 0.33%
  15. New World – 0.31%
  16. Teamfight Tactics – 0.19%
  17. EVE Aether Wars – 0.14%
  18. Combat Mission – 0.10%
  19. Age of Empires 2 – 0.09%
  20. GTA V – 0.08%

That list is pretty easily parsed into two sections.  There are the first seven games, which are measured in full percentage points, and everything else, which are in fractional percentage points.  That, in turn, lines up pretty nicely with this chart from a previous end of year post, where I graphed the games I recorded playing every month in the month in review posts.

2019 games played by month

Yes, that list is slightly different… WoW Classic is its own thing while a couple of the ManicTime measured games are not listed… but basically, the top seven on the list are games I played for more than a single month or so.

  1. World of Warcraft – 44.49%
  2. EVE Online – 20.22%
  3. EverQuest II – 9.38%
  4. RimWorld – 8.46%
  5. LOTRO – 4.83%
  6. Minecraft – 3.96%
  7. EverQuest – 3.81%

So what makes those seven games so special.  That six of the seven are MMORPGs is the most obvious.

World of Warcraft was always going to be a player on that list, but the launch of WoW Classic was what made it a lock for the top spot.  The first couple months I binged a lot on that.  And, as I mentioned in the December month in review, Blizz changed the name of the WoW Classic executable and ManicTime now tracks that independent of retail WoW, so we will get to see how those two diverge in 2020.

EVE Online is the static regular.  It isn’t the monthly top of the list unless there is a war… and, honestly it suffers somewhat from the fact that it is the game I spend the most time tabbed out of and in another window while playing and ManicTime stops the clock when the game isn’t the window of focus… but zKillboard has me recorded for every month of 2019 with a kill mail, though for August the kill mail was me.

EverQuest II is probably the biggest surprise on the list.  I wander back into it every year or so for a bit of time, and expected to again this year due to the 15th anniversary thing.  What I did not expect was to find the stars aligned just right for me to get hooked and lined up to run into a new expansion.  It ought to have been down with EverQuest.  Instead it banked nearly 10% of my play time for the year mostly in the last two months.

LOTRO was kind of the hangover game in the new year.  It was in kind of the EverQuest II position for 2018, where the LOTRO Legacy server thing saw it get a lot of binge play.  However that tapered off as I wrapped up the initial content, and did not pick up when Mines of Moria was unlocked.  It got a bit of time as I poked my nose in now and then to try out things like the new 64–bit client.  But for the  most part things ended when Moria began.

Minecraft saw a burst of activity when Microsoft released a big new update, the Village & Pillage thing.  However, once that wore off, things tapered off and I eventually backed up the world and turned off the Minecraft Realms server.

And then there is EverQuest with just under 4% of my time, which ended up being about 45 hours of play time.  That is more than I thought I might spend with the game.  Despite updates and expansions and all that, it is still a 20 year old title and I have been away from it for so long that it can be tough to find my way when I jump back in.  But I found a path to follow for a bit and got to be around for the anniversary.

Which leaves us with RimWorld, the sole single player game on the list.  How did that happen?

RimWorld is a very good combo of elements that appeal to me.  It isn’t constantly demanding.  You spend time adjusting or setting priorities rather than directly doing things.  It has that compelling “I just want to see what happens next” aspect to it, akin to the “just one more turn” thing that a good Civilization title gives you.  And it is pretty compatible with listening to podcasts or audio books.  Something I pick the game I want to play because I want to listen to something while I am doing it.

The question really is why I didn’t play more RimWorld if it has a feature set that appeals to me.  And the answer to that is “mid-game.”  Just like Civilization and some other titles, eventually you solve your critical problems and your path forward becomes clear and you end up just tuning and adapting a bit and solving little issues and pushing back on random attacks, but things are otherwise so in the bag that you know you’ll get there.

Looking at the numbers so far for 2020, EverQuest II is well ahead of the pack.  It is my current focus title for solo play.  That doesn’t mean it will stay there.  I have a habit of being into it for a stretch, the dropping it to return to WoW.  And WoW Classic is still a thing and the instance group has many dungeons ahead of it in the new year.  The interesting question will be if some new or unexpected title makes it into the full percentage point, multi-month play category for 2020.

But now, one final question.  Did ManicTime alter my game play habits?  This might seem a silly question to some, but it has long been proven that observation and measurement of people’s behavior will change that behavior, and it is something that I felt I needed to bring up at the six month mark of using ManicTime.  I am going to say yes, and unequivocally so, that ManicTime did influence my game choices and play time in some way.  The question is only how much.

I am pretty sure, for example, that my games played list for 2019 is only 20 games deep due to the knowledge in my head that I was tracking and  reporting on games played.  How significant was that I cannot say.  I would guess that the list might have had from two to five more titles on it otherwise.  There are probably a few games I might have launched had something in the back of my head not said, “Do you want to have to write about that in the monthly wrap up?”  I was determined to mention every game tracked early on, though I relented on that as time passed.  But it still sits there in my brain.

On the flip side, I am going to say that GTA V might not have even been launched had I not been measuring.  There may have been some internal mental pressure to get it on the list after having said I bought it during the Steam Summer Sale.  (We’ll see if my buying The Witcher during the Winter sale does the same thing!  I’ve already thought about it.)

So without ManicTime the list might have been as low as 19 or as high as 25 possibly.  And a “made from memory” end of year list might have even been much shorter.  That month to month chart above only has 17 titles from the ManicTime list.

That said, I suspect that the changes would have been confined to the “less than a full percentage point” part of the list.  I can attest to being tracked having made small changes to my behavior, but I doubt it was going to suddenly make me start playing something I didn’t already have a mind to play, nor keep me playing a game that had grown  stale.  I said nice things about RimWorld a couple paragraphs up, but it hasn’t gotten any play time recently.

And so it goes.  Heisenberg was right.  But people will over think so many things that I find it difficult to worry about, even as I over think it.