YC119.1 Update Deployed Successfully

Changes were made and the update was deployed and the world kept on turning.

This time for sure!

This time for sure!

That last bit is quite literally so, as you will find this item in the patch notes:

Astro-Oil has been diligently applied to the rotational axes of temperate planets, allowing them to once again rotate freely.

No doubt some new religious sect has spawned somewhere in Amarr space based on this and some new tract will include a passage similar to Joshua 10:13.

As I noted on Tuesday when the patch had to be rolled back, there isn’t much in the way of new features in the drop.  It is mostly fixes and adjustments, which is fine.  I doubt anybody is going to claim there are not things in New Eden that need fixing or adjustment.  The updates page adds in a couple of SKIN lines that will be available in the New Eden Store at a later date, including the Nova SKINs for Mordu’s Legion ships.

Hot Surface Warning Markings on Mordu's Frying Pan

Hot Surface Warning Markings on Mordu’s Frying Pan

And then there is a song, because there is always a song.

I Will Play Candy Crush No More Forever

In which I finally get a post I started on about two years ago out of my drafts folder.

Five years ago we picked up an iPad 2 after Christmas with some gift cards and a bit of cash we had around the house.  The iPad was a luxury good in my opinion, not something we needed, so I wasn’t going to pull money out of the budget for one but my wife, ever the clever shopper, pointed out how we could get one without touching any of our accounts, so we went out and got one.

While it was supposed to be a device for the whole family… and I did try to share… I quickly became its primary user.

Everyone in the house has played with my iPad

I even got an app for the cats

A lot of games have come and gone on the old iPad over the last five years, but three seem to have stuck through the whole time; Ticket to Ride, DragonVale, and Candy Crush Saga.

Ticket to Ride is an example of a board game translated to the tablet just right and remains a joy to play through to this day.  I own it and all its expansions. (I still think the Windows version is crap by comparison.)

DragonVale is something my daughter wanted to play.  But then I started helping her with it, eventually becoming the sole person interested in this little “breed and collect” game.  At some point I will do a post about how this game has evolved over the last five years and how it should be a model for others who follow.

And then there is Candy Crush Saga, a horrible game from a horrible company… they literally took another company’s game, made their own version with slightly better visuals and a new name, and then, at some later point, actually tried to suppress the game they copied… that I downloaded just to see what all the fuss was about.

The game itself actually isn’t all that horrible.  It is just another minor variation in the long tradition of tile matching games that stretches back to the early days of the computer age.  Once we all had color monitors, we started matching colors to score.  And the game is actually well put together, stable, colorful, and all the things that make for success.

The horrible bit is the business model.  And the company that made it… mustn’t forget King.com, now part of the happy Activision-Blizzard family.

Candy Crush Saga uses every marginally ethical trick in the free to play book to get people to spend money on it, or at least get people to annoy their friends about it.  It is the true spiritual successor to FarmVille in my mind.  The key barrier to playing are time gates.  You only get five plays, and a play gets used up if you fail on a level.  They regenerate at a rate of one every 30 minutes, so if you’re facing a hard level.  And then, once you hit the end of a 15 level segment, you hit the 72 hour wait gate.

Pay us, bug friends, or wait...

Pay us, bug friends, or wait…

Oddly, what Candy Crush does with time gates is not radically different than what DragonVale does.  The latter has its own time gates that you can buy your way through.  However, their aggressive application differs just enough that one annoys me and one doesn’t bother me at all.

Anyway, because of their business model I made it a goal to beat the game without spending any money on it ever.

Back when I picked up Candy Crush Saga on the iPad, there was some debate as to whether or not the game was tilted to force you to pay in order to advance that far or not.  There were all sorts of hurdles and timers and levels where random chance had to fall your way to keep you from progressing.  But was that enough to deter people and make them pay?

King said it was not, pointing out that 70% of players who had gotten to the then top level, 355, had not paid them any money.  You could beat the game without paying!

Later, as the game went on King was saying that 60% of players that had beaten the game by reaching the cap, which was then level 455, had not ponied for the privilege.

With recent iOS updates for Candy Crush Saga the level count has moved past the 2,000 mark.  New levels get added regularly, I have to hand them that.  But the ability to beat the game gets harder with each new 15 level segment they add.  I mean, if you don’t pay.  I could get to the top level in an afternoon with an unlimited budget.

So King has long since stopped talking about how many people beat the game for free… I am going to guess that the percentage has continued to dwindle as the levels have increased… instead focusing on the percentage of players who chose to pay, a number that I saw reported at about 2.3%.  So 97.7% of people who play do not pay, depending on that thin slice to fork out over $20 a month on average to keep things going.

That is your free to play market place right there.  It seems to work for some companies.

My own progress towards beating the game, getting to the top level, started to lag behind.  Without spending any money the time gates and super hard levels start to hold you back.  I spent three weeks on a single level at one point, during which I think King added 30 levels to the game.  Yet I persisted.  Once I am on a quest I do tend to hang on.

However, a final problem arose.  For Christmas my wife got me a new iPad, and 32MB iPad Air 2, bringing me somewhat up to date on the iOS hardware scene.  The upgrade was due, the old iPad 2 was struggling to keep up with new apps and had developed a memory fault that caused apps to crash when they queued too much data.  So I backed it up and restored everything to the new iPad Air 2, then wiped the old one and started it up fresh as just a viewer for Netflix and Amazon Prime videos, where it still seems to be able to hold its own.

And everything ran great on the new unit.  I am quite happy with it.  However, there was one issue.  All of my progress on Candy Crush Saga was lost.  Unlike every other app on the old iPad, it didn’t store its data in a way that let me move is across to the new unit, even though it was the same Game Center ID.

So that led to a dual moment, the feeling that my quest was over before it could be fulfilled and a sense of being released from a minor obsession.  Because I was not going to start over again.

So I can report that I made it nearly to level 700.  I took screen shots now and again to mark my progress, the last one being at level 680.  I made it beyond that, but pics or it didn’t happen I guess.

Last point recorded

Last point recorded… waiting for that 72 hour timer

So we’re done with that.  Meanwhile, Candy Crush Saga continues its tenure on the top revenue generating iOS apps, and King.com keeps adding levels to make sure it stays there.  They pretty much have to since, again in the Zynga mold, they haven’t been able to remake their success through remaking the same game over and over again.

YC119.1 Update Recalled, YC118.10 Rolled Back to New Eden

Today was patch day for EVE Online, and we were supposed to get the first update of 2017, or YC119 as it is styled in the distant future of internet spaceships.

The actual official patch graphic

The actual official patch graphic

However, according to an update from CCP, the code deployed with the update was problematic.

Due to an issue with the 119.1 release which resulted in server stability issues after its deployment, we will be re-deploying the 118.10 release while we work on a fix.

This led to an extended downtime as 118.10 was restored to Tranquility.  TQ was initially taken down just before 12:00 UTC when problems were first noticed, with the roll back being completed, with the server cluster eventually back online for players as of 13:15 UTC according to the forum update.

CCP did not say exactly what caused the instability and nothing in the YC119.1 patch notes jumps out at me as a likely suspect, the update seeming to be mostly adjustments to current features as opposed to anything new.  Maybe is was those Mordu’s Legion SKINs listed on the updates page.  We haven’t had a patch day failure in ages.

So the patch has been pushed back while CCP figures out what went awry.  We can still listen to the launch theme, which carries the now mildly ironic title, “The Ones We Left Behind.”

 

Daybreak Doomsaying

Since the announcement last week that Daybreak would be shutting down Landmark, there has been quite the hum of doom and gloom and wondering what other titles in their catalog might be headed for the chop.  Over at Massively OP they turned this into two posts, one asking if you’re worried about any Daybreak titles and then a poll as to which game people think is next.

It follows you as you move about the room!

It is watching you

The articles themselves are not big thrills, but the comment sections of both are rife with wild speculation and what I would consider unfounded and counter-factual claims.  All of that got me to mentally stack ranking the titles based on what I perceive as their viability based on what we can all see in the news and the occasional rumor that has come my way.

Given that, here is my list, from least to most vulnerable.

EverQuest – Bedrock

Emotionally I am tempted to say that SOE/Daybreak without EverQuest is a ship without a rudder.  EQ is the cornerstone on which the empire was built, so widely popular and wildly profitable in the days before World of Warcraft, it spawned a port, a sequel, two false starts at a second sequel, and likely represents the most valuable IP the company holds.

Also, a lot of people still play it.  And they pay to play it.  Two of the three most popular servers require Daybreak All Access subscriptions.  Every time Daybreak stands up a nostalgia server it gets swamped, to the point that they had to write a login queue and take the zone instancing tech from EverQuest II in order to keep from having to put up overflow servers.  And as the pre-WoW subscription champ, it has a lot of former players to pitch nostalgia at.

And it isn’t just nostalgia.  The game still gets an expansion every year, which is something you don’t bother doing if people aren’t buying enough copies.  Expansions would have to stop before I would consider the game was closer than five years from being shut down.

DC Universe Online – Profit

This is sort of a blank spot for me.  I don’t play the game, not liking it on Windows.  However I have heard, throughout its life, that it is profitable… at least on PlayStation, where at one point Smed said it generated more revenue that any other F2P option on that platform.

It is also unencumbered by Station Cash/Daybreak Cash, at least on consoles, which makes its accounting all the more simple.  And DCUO is the only game to actually expand during the Daybreak era, having been ported to XBox.  I have heard that did not go as well as it could have, but a game has to be doing okay to expand its base.

EverQuest II – Stalwart

The other game that gets people to subscribe to Daybreak Access.  Never the star and not as successful selling nostalgia as its older brother, EQII still has a solid following.  It must have been doing okay for a long stretch, as it seemed to be the focus of SOE’s oddball science experiments with things like SOEmote.  And, of course, it does get an expansion every year, which I think marks it as pretty safe for the near future.

Still, I can’t mark it as solid as EQ, and I roll my eyes every time somebody in the comment sections assumes that it has many more subscribers than EQ merely because of their relative ages.  EQII also remains the one Daybreak game I play regularly so, strictly speaking, I am not even picking my favorite as safest.

H1Z1: King of the Kill – Wunderkind

I hesitated to put this below EQII as it is Daybreak’s darling, the star of Twitch, and is getting its own currency in order to break it free of the burden that is Station Cash.  But it is the new kid as well, so that decided the ordering.  Safe so long as it remains popular, it seems to be getting all the development resources when it comes to the H1Z1 duo.

PlanetSide 2 – Struggling

The favored child of former Chairman Smed, the seemingly simple sequel to the original PlanetSide has had a whole host of issues over the course of its career.  It managed to get all the aim-bot and hacking problems of its predecessor while not having as much draw as $60 shooters like Call of Duty.

The executive creative director said the game was “really struggling” a little over a year ago, unable to get people to subscribe to Daybreak All Access just to play.  The game has been shut down in South Korea and China, hasn’t come close to Smed’s old feature list, and there hasn’t been much in the way of news about the game, a danger sign at a company where silence leads to closure.

H1Z1: Just Survive – No News is Bad News

Not done, not loved, and not very high in the queue for resource, Just Survive doesn’t need a blood red mark the size of a doubloon on its cheek to cement its position at the bottom of the safety list.  SOE/Daybreak have a long tradition of neglecting titles, failing to mention them, promising some news “soon” in the run up to the point that they are canned.

Not a bad game, this base building zombie survival variation, but you have to play with a regular group on a server where there are other players but where you are not overwhelmed.  But if somebody at Columbus Nova showed up and said that their research indicates that Daybreak should only have five games, I have no doubt this is what would get cut.

Not Candidates

I keep seeing Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online come up as doomed in the dystopian  Daybreak future.  However, while we still don’t know the full extent of the relationship between Daybreak and Standing Stone Games, I doubt the team in San Diego is going to be able to shutter either title of their own accord.

Furthermore, WB isn’t spinning those games off out of the goodness of its heart and a love of the player base.  WB expects to get paid over time, and it wouldn’t have bothered setting them up as an license revenue income source if it didn’t think it would at least pay back the lawyers fees needed to setup Standing Stone.

When?

While I may have picked H1Z1: Just Survive as candidate for closure in my 2017 predictions post, I don’t think we’re going to hear anything about the game for a while, if we do hear bad news.  Its code connection with King of the Kill may be close enough still for it to get some attention.  Eventually though Daybreak will either need to do something with the game or stop wasting resources on it.  The more time that passes without any real change, the more likely it seems to me that closure will be the end result.

And then there is PlanetSide 2.  I am still stuck on that “really struggling” statement.  Then again, it is linked to King of the Kill in its code base and does seem to be getting some attention.  If Smed were still around I wouldn’t even consider PS2 for closure, as it was his baby.  Without him around and the harsh realities of being an “indie” studio nothing is strictly safe any more.

Anyway, that is my outsiders opinion on the subject.  We shall see what 2017 brings.

The End of Landmark Foretold

Well, that is part of one of my predictions for 2017 that came to pass as Daybreak announced late yesterday afternoon that their building game Landmark will shut down on February 21, 2017.

LandmarkSteam

I will quote the official announcement as it is on the Landmark site which, according to the FAQ, will be going away with the game.

To the Landmark community,

With heavy hearts, we are writing today to inform you that after much review, we have decided to close Landmark game servers on February 21, 2017. 

Since Landmark first entered Alpha, we have been impressed by the creative talents in this community. You pushed the boundaries of what Landmark could do, and we are grateful for the time and energy you shared through your creations in this game.

While there is still time to enjoy Lumeria and the many worlds you’ve built within Landmark, we wanted to let you know what you will be seeing happen between now and February. Beginning today, Player Studio items will no longer be available for listing or for purchase in the Landmark Marketplace. Landmark will also no longer be available for purchase. All items in the Marketplace with a Daybreak Cash price will have their price reduced to 1 DBC.

The game servers, as well as the accompanying forums and social media channels, will be closed at 4:00PM Pacific Time on Tuesday, February 21, 2017.

We want to thank each and every one of you for your creative contributions to Landmark.

Daybreak Game Company

There is also a FAQ which covers the same points.  The only potentially interesting item is the bit about the code, and I could have guessed the answer provided.

What happens to all the code/data from Landmark? Can someone open an emulator server for Landmark?

Daybreak Game Company will retain all of the code and data from Landmark. Daybreak Game Company will not license or authorize the operation of a Landmark emulator or a fan-operated Landmark server.

Landmark itself was the child a difficult set of circumstances.  Initially announced as a “down the list” bullet point as part of the reboot of the EverQuest Next project, it was just supposed to be a tool to allow players to help the then SOE team build EQN.  Everybody was much more interested in the whole Story Bricks connection, the emergent AI story, the sandbox nature of the game, the destructible environment, and the graphical style of EverQuest Next.

But then EverQuest Next Landmark, as it was initially known, started to gain a life of its own.  In what felt to me like something of a cash grab (successful by all accounts), with maybe a side goal of extracting some of the Station Cash that players had been hoarding, Landmark launched into what I called real estate speculation.  While some were enthusiastic about the idea…

… sorry Keen, you’re just the poster child for enthusiasm…

…others cast a more jaundiced eye on the whole thing.

Ars Technica Reports...

Ars Technica Reports…

The game was shaping up into a higher resolution Minecraft where you had to claim small plots of land and put up with neighbors.  Not an ideal scenario in my opinion, but if it helped SOE build EverQuest Next, a lot of people were willing to pitch in and pay money up front for a game we were told was eventually going to be free to play.

About six months after the big SOE Live announcement, the game shed the EverQuest Next prefix and became simply Landmark.  Early access started and there was some enthusiasm.  I ended up getting a couple of seven day free trial invites, but there wasn’t enough there for me to consider paying ever $20 to play the game, or even the $6.79 price that was available during the Steam Summer Sale in July of that year.  Rather, that price cut, the slow pace of development, and the usual SOE lack of news was making me wonder where the game was headed.

Time ambled on, as it tends to.  As 2014 dragged along SOE got busy cutting games, knocking out Wizardry Online, Vanguard, Free Realms, and Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures. SOE Live came and went with some demos (with faked AI) but no real news.  And then, as we got into 2015 the big news dropped, that SOE had been sold to the private equity firm of Columbus Nova.  That explained the cuts and probably the lack of news, but EverQuest Next and Landmark were still on the list of games.

The newly formed Daybreak Game Company told us everything would be fine, with Smed touting their new “indie” status, which would allow them all sorts of freedom to do things… like develop for the XBox.  So far that “indie” freedom has yielded a DC Universe Online port.

As the five year mark from the initial EverQuest Next announcement passed, I began to wonder if it would ever be a thing.  Six months later, EverQuest Next was officially cancelled.  But Landmark yet lived, and Daybreak was quick to announced that it would ship “soon,” which was later revised to “before summer.”  It wasn’t going to be free any more.  It would be buy to play, with a cost of $9.99, but if you spent more on an early access package, you were still covered.  If you just had one of those access codes from a buddy who put down $99 for a Trailblazer pack though, you still needed to pony up the $9.99.

Landmark officially launched on June 10, 2016, beating the first day of summer by more than a week, after which it sort of disappeared into obscurity as the small group of players devoted to the game happily toiled away… until yesterday.

And now the last day for it will be February 21… giving it a post-launch life of 8 months and 11 days… after which the last remaining piece of EverQuest Next will disappear.  The final notation in the now six year long tale.  I will save the summing up of my posts and such for the last day.  That will give me a bit of time to reflect for a final summing up of a story six and a half years in the making.

I am going to have to think about revising that post about SOE and its MMORPG history.  Out of 22 titles I listed out, just six now survive. (Not sure what the eventual relationship will be with DDO and LOTRO.)

Meanwhile, others out there are reacting to the news:

Too Fast Through Tristram!

Mistakes were made.  Also, there may be some spoilers.

When I got home from work yesterday I got to check out the new anniversary event in Diablo III, the Darkening of Tristram.  The patch had been deployed, the event was live, it was time to log in.  And, upon doing so I was greeted with the announcement.

Happy Anniversary

Happy Anniversary

At the bottom of the announcement was a button that opened up the achievement list for the event, because how else will you know you’ve done the event unless you get the T-shirt?  Yes, I know some of you will object, but I admit I like getting the T-shirt.

New Achievements under General

New Achievements under General

After that I got into my character, got into the Act I area of Tristram and looked around on the map until I found the marker for the event portal.

Event Here!

Event Here!

I immediately went there and started running around… and died.  It had been more than six months since I last played, the game was set to torment level VII, which I think was me pushing things last I played.  I decided that I ought to dial that back a bit.  So I dropped it down to level VI, then V, then down to III because I really couldn’t recall how bit the jump between torment levels was and I wasn’t sure if this event was going to be harder, easier, or the same difficulty curve as everything else.  Paranoia.

At Torment level III I was able to clear my way to the portal to the even easily enough.

The portal, complete with cursor glitch

The portal, complete with cursor glitch

The portal has a pixelated texture to indicate that you will be going back in time.  It also causes some sort of glitch with the cursor when you take a screen shot.  On my screen there was just one fist cursor, but in the screen shot it shows the six variations that make up the animation, all laid out in a row.  I went back and tried that screen shot a couple more times and always got the same result when it was over the pixelated portal to Tristram.

Glitch aside, it was time to go through the portal and see what lay on the other side.

Sudden reduction in graphic quality!

Sudden reduction in graphic quality!

Now we where the rubber meets the road and I was not sure what to expect.

There are a couple of problems with Diablo nostalgia for me.  For openers, it has been nearly 20 years since I first played it and maybe 17 since I last played it in earnest.  So I remember some bits quite clearly.  I recall going to town, piles of excess gold laying about, the Skeleton King and The Butcher, the alternate entrances to the dungeon that allowed you to pick up your quest in progress between sessions so you didn’t have to start back at the repopulated level 1 every time, and that last level with Diablo himself, where you had to clear the level around him in order to unlock his chamber to fight him.

But it is all pretty hazy and a lot of my memories are clearly Diablo II graphics and features impinging on the memories of the original game.  The problem is that, for me, Diablo II was such a good sequel that it overshadowed the original.  The way I never even considered going back to play the original Civilization once Civilization II came out, I never thought to set foot in the original Diablo after Diablo II came out.  One just eclipsed the other and that was that.

So there in old Tristram, I had to sort through mixed memories.  The event itself doesn’t have the story of the original.  It is more like a massive dungeon with that single “Kill the Dark Lord” objective.  You just have to go get him, and so off I went.

Into the Labyrinth!

Into the Labyrinth!

My feelings on the whole thing are bit mixed.

Overall I am happy.  A five year old game got some new content.  All else aside, that is a plus.

While I appreciate the work done on the graphic filter to make things feel more like 1996 than 2016, I am not sure how well that has really paid off.  The problem is that even with fuzzed up visuals, the whole thing is clearly made up of assets from the current game.  You would have to pixelate the visuals into oblivion to hide the fact that you’ve seen all these dungeon tiles and layouts before.

Without wanting to spoil the event, I sort of wish there was a “Diablo III visuals” version of the dungeon.

The pixelation also didn’t help with one memory I had of the original game, which was that of different parts of the labyrinth feeling distinctly different.  The top part was an architectural basement of sorts with lots of skeletons, and then there was the tunnels with the goat men, then magic users then demons.  The blur of everything managed to wipe out some of that feeling of distinctness.  Yes, it did progress from skeletons to goat men and so on, but was so indistinct in color/tone/visuals that they blended together.

And then I added to the problems by dropping the difficulty down to Torment III, which made everything trivially easy to kill with my current gear.  I was tearing through things like no other, to the point that even bosses were like soap bubbles.  I tried to get a screenie of The Butcher, but I clicked first and one-shotted him.

Nice cleaver

Nice cleaver

The experience was good.  I managed to get seven paragon levels running through the whole thing, which I did in one sitting.  That, too, is true enough to the original I suppose.  I remember starting new characters in the evening with friends and running through and killing Diablo before the night was through.

The loot was almost a bit too good.  Lots of stuff dropping everywhere in a game that already drops things everywhere.

Look at this mess...

Look at this mess…

I had to go back to town a few of times to clear my bags.  There were even some good old reminders of loot from days gone by, including the coveted Godly Plate of the Whale that everybody wanted.

This one is legit, I swear!

This one is legit, I swear!

I actually got six of those on the run, no doubt a nod (as is the description at the bottom) to the fact that back in the day somebody had a hack or exploit to obtain them well beyond what Blizzard expected.

Also a plus was the sounds and music, which certainly did their bit to evoke the spirit of the original.

Another item true to the old game was the ability to sort of rush on past things.  Bosses like the Skeleton King and the Butcher were optional in the old days, and if you pressed on every time you found the way down to the next level you might very well miss them.  I managed to miss the Skeleton King on my first run as I was taking every downward option, which got me down to the portal to level 16 in under an hour.

Diablo is somewhere past here... also, cursor glitch again!

Diablo is somewhere past here… also, cursor glitch again!

As with the Butcher, I clicked on Diablo before I managed to get a screen shot, so he was dead before the camera went off.

That was fast

That was fast

If you look at the time stamp at the top, I walked in at 4:19pm and Diablo was dead by 5:09pm, which left me time to go pick up my daughter by 5:30pm.  Such timing.

As I noted above, despite some issue, overall I am happy to have the new content this month.  The speediness of the run was largely my fault.  However, one of the achievements for the event is to take a level 1 character into the event and run them through to slay Diablo.  I will have to find time on the weekend to do that, during which I will give the whole thing a much more thorough examination.

On my list...

On my list…

But now I have had a preview of it, a mission, and I am back playing the game.  A success on that front.

Waiting for the Darkening of Tristram

Am I the only one who logged into the Blizzard launcher on January 2nd (I allowed them the first, a Sunday, off) wondering where the 20th Anniversary event was?

I knew it wasn’t likely to be there, but I was keen to check just in case.  Then the news came yesterday that the 20th Anniversary event update was in the 2.4.3 patch and was going live in Diablo III at midnight.  We would at last be able to play the throw back to the original Diablo that was being put in the Diablo III.

Back when 640x480 was a desktop screen size

Back when 640×480 was a desktop screen size

Of course, on a work/school night, midnight was too late for me… midnight was frankly too late for me on New Year’s Eve… so I will have to wait until after work today to check the event out.

I am actually looking forward to this enough that I even attempted to give the event a whirl while it was on the Diablo III Public Test Realm, only to find that trying load PTR build crashed for me every single time I launched it.  So I have been waiting.

This is, of course, a risky nostalgia venture, attempting to recreate the old game within the new.  It could be quite the event or it could be soundly rejected by fans.  Until I get home though I will have had to content myself with Blizzard’s anniversary retrospective video.