Tag Archives: Just Rambling

The Apology

The cynical side of me was betting that Blizz would just ignore this and hope it went away.  And, given that there were 40,000+ hardcore cheering fans inside the convention center and about 40 protesters outside as the opening ceremony began, they probably could have pulled it off in the short term.

Instead, the first thing that happened was J. Allen Brack got up and read his apology for what happened.  You can read the text here.

Reading from the teleprompter

As one would expect, the reactions to this were many and varied.  Ars Technica called the apology vague.   Massively OP put the word “apology” in quotes, so I guess they were not buying it.  But they have taken a hard editorial line against Blizzard.  I don’t recall them putting in little editorial apologies for covering other badly behaving companies like Riot.

Others seemed to take the apology as enough.  SynCaine declared victory for the protest.  They certainly got a response.

My own reaction remains somewhat mixed.  The apology was actually fairly vague, though this was a speech at a fan even and not a courtroom elocution, so it was probably too much to expect a rehash of every detail.  Brack said he was sorry for what happened and didn’t shift blame or claim extenuating circumstances.  He didn’t say that the Chinese or Bobby Kotick or whoever made him do it or go the NBA route and try to cast himself as a hero by going on about on how he talked the Chinese down from an even harsher penalty.  He didn’t mention China or Hong Kong at all.  The only thing he did seem clear on was that Blizzard did not live up to the standards to which it claims to aspire.

But what are those standards?

You have to parse things carefully to figure out what he was sorry for, and even then it is pretty opaque.  He said Blizz was too fast to pass judgement then too slow to respond to the outcry that judgement caused.  I think the latter at least is correct.  Going more than a day made things worse certainly.

As for not living up to the purpose of the company, there was some hand waving about bringing people together across the world through video games.  The promise was to do better on that as well, though I am not sure what better or worse really looks like.

He did not announce any specific changes either, nor hold up a “Free Hong Kong” sign, nor put the flag of Hong Kong or the guy walking around dressed up as Winnie the Pooh up on the big screen behind the stage.  Going openly and loudly against China was all that would appease some people, and that was never going to happen.  Blizz was never going to jump into the political ring.

And he didn’t let Blitzchung, or the two teams that were banned for showing support for Hong Kong, off the hook.  Their suspensions stand, and I am okay with that.  There were rules about that, Blitzchung knew them, knew he would likely face sanction, and chose to disobey them for a higher cause.

Blizz, in my opinion, still has to penalize him for what he did, because he did do something wrong and he knew it.  Blizz rescinding the ban would just send the message that it is okay to bring your politics into the tournament.

Most people seem worked up about the ban because they support Blitzchung’s message.  I am sure those people would be fine suspending somebody who said something that didn’t align with their world view, which is the typical free speech hypocrisy we see every day.  Blizz isn’t the government.  They don’t have to allow free speech in their tournament.  So as long as Blizz applies bans in such circumstances independent of the message, I think they’re acting correctly.

It would be different if Blizz were to go after somebody for political statements they made on their own time or tried to lecture people about the situation in Hong Kong.  That would be a whole different kettle of fish.  But participating in their tournaments on their dime you have to play by their rules.

Given that, I am not really sure what the promise to do better really means.  I guess it will mean being consistent with a six month ban for similar violations, applied regardless of message, that taking away prize money earned is wrong, and that penalties should be more slowly deliberated on and more quickly communicated. Maybe?  As anybody who has watched (and understood) the show BoJack Horseman knows, apologizing or feeling bad about what you’ve done doesn’t matter if you don’t change your behavior.  So is that the behavior change?  If not, what is?

For the most part I liked that Brack got up first thing and spoke about this issue, rather than ignoring it or downplaying it or waiting until after 5pm on a Friday to post it to their site.  And the apology had some good aspects, as I mentioned.   But the promise to do better didn’t leave me all that reassured as I am still not clear as to how that translates into action going forward.

So it is complicated.  I am no fan of China.  I haven’t forgiven then for Tienanmen Square.  They are a totalitarian, repressive regime and are engaged in ethnic cleansing as I noted previously.  Letting them into the WTO was a mistake to my mind, given how they abuse it.  The idea has always been that a free market will infect China and force it to liberalize. (Though the real plan has always been simply to make money, because we’re like that.)

The problem is that China doesn’t have a free market.  Every company in China operates only at the sufferance of the government and must be expected to act as agents of the government on deemand.  Any foreign company that does business in China has to partner up with one of those government approved entities, give it control in a joint venture, and be ready appease the Chinese government on demand.  So I would have rather Blizz avoided that altogether.  But that ship sailed years ago and they are hardly alone in doing business in China and to sanction them while giving Apple, Google, GM, the NBA, or whoever a pass doesn’t work for me.  And should you even punish a US company when many of its main competitors are owned in part or in whole by companies like Tencent and NetEase? Doesn’t that essentially help China more?

This is me thinking too much about the whole thing.

If after the apology you’re still on the #BoycottBlizzard bandwagon, I get it.  I don’t think you’ll get what you want, and you really aren’t doing anything to hurt China, or even support Hong Kong, but if Blizzard disappointed you then withholding your support is reasonable.

As for my own reaction, I didn’t rush off to renew my WoW subscription or pre-order Shadowlands.  My financial support remains withheld for now.  But it seems much more likely that I will do both when I feel the time is ripe.  I still have a good amount of time left before I need to do either.   This incident won’t stand in my way, but I will remain sensitive to how Blizz may behave in similar circumstances going forward.  And I wonder who will push the boundaries next and how Blizz will respond.  They could still mess this up.

On this topic:

Interdiction Nullification and Warp Core Stabilizers and Absolutes

I am going to wander into this minefield in the way that only the uncaring can.

Interdiction nullification and warp core stabilizers are twins in that they are hated by subgroups of New Eden.  They are hated because they make getting kills more difficult.  There are plenty of wandering excuses as to why they are bad game play or how the lore shouldn’t support them or whatever, but in the end it comes down to people angry that they missed a kill.

Interdiction nullification is a null sec and wormhole thing, a feature of certain interceptors, a strategic cruiser subsystem, and luxury yachts which allows them to bypass warp disruption fields as though they were not there.  Basically, it allows you to fly through bubbles.

A field of bubbles… they are everywhere in null sec

Bubble come in a few flavors, which are mostly covered over at the EVE Uni Wiki.  But it is pretty safe to say that bubbles are the primary method of holding down hostiles outside of empire space.  They have the advantage of being an area effect tackle method when launched from an interdictor, so if deployed correctly they can hold down a whole fleet.   A null sec fleet commander that undocks without some interdictors isn’t looking for kills.

So, in null sec or wormholes, a ship with interdiction nullification is an exception to what is otherwise a hard and fast rule, that what gets caught in the bubble can’t warp off.  That it is a somewhat recent addition, that many of can remember a time when interdiction nullification wasn’t a thing, makes it all the more contentious and even CCP has seen fit to make changes, removing the feature from combat interceptors last October, ending the reign of the Fozzie Claw.  But it still remains an aspect of fleet interceptors, such as my Ares.

Ares on the move still

And, while people may moan about Slippery Pete Tengus or, more recently, nullified Lokis ranging around space, passing through stop bubbles with impunity, you can still stop them the old fashioned way, the way people have to in low sec.

Which brings us to the warp core stabilizer.  The stab, as the module tends to be abbreviated, fits in the low slot of any ship and adds one to the strength of the warp core of the ship for each stab you add.  That number, warp core strength, is used in the calculation of tackling.  A few subcaps like deep space transports and the Venture have a bonus to warp core that reflects their role, and capital ships have the own bonuses, but for the most part one is the basic number.

A Thanatos getting the tackle treatment

That number gets used against the tackler trying to keep you from warping.  They are likely fitting a warp disruptor or a warp scrambler with which they are trying to keep you from warping away.  The disruptor applies one point of stopping power, while the scramble applies two along with having some side benefits, like shutting down microwarp drives.  There is also the infinite disruptor that HICs can fit and some other details which the EVE Uni wiki covers, but those are the basics.

The simple arithmetic of the encounter is if the tackler applies points equal to or greater than your warp core strength, your ship won’t warp.  If you want to defeat a disruptor you need one stab, while a scrambler requires two.  If somebody has fit two scramblers and your ship only has three low slots, you’re not getting away.

Stabs are not a get out of jail free card however, despite the way they have been cast at times.  They do eat up valuable low slots and they come with a penalty when fit in the form of a hit to scan resolution and targeting range, as this chart indicated. (Chart source)

Warp Core Stab Variations

So fitting a pair of stabs drops your lock range rather dramatically and increases your lock time as well.

The reason I have lumped these two items together is that they have a couple things in common.

First, and most loudly complained about, is that both of them are absolute counters.  If you have interdiction nullification no bubble is going to catch you ever.  If you have warp core strength one greater than the person trying to tackle you, then you absolutely get to warp off, end of story.

It is my read that it is the absolute nature of these counters which gets people worked up.  There are just situations where the prey is going to get away no matter how on your game you are.

That brings me to the second thing that these two things have in common; they both counter mechanics that are themselves absolute.  If you are in a bubble and lack nullification, you won’t be warping anywhere unless you motor out of range or kill the bubble.  Likewise, if you apply points greater than or equal to your target, they don’t get to warp off.  You can argue that they can fight you to get away, but if somebody is trying to get away it probably means the fight is going to you regardless.

There used to be a way to counter getting tackled with a disruptor or scrambler in the form of ECM.  However, people complained loudly about ECM being “cancer” and CCP decided that ECM was not fun or engaging game play, so with that patch last October they made a change so that you can always target the person who is applying ECM.  With that change you could no longer break tackle via ECM.  It was already an unreliable mechanic with a chance to fail, but it was pretty much eliminated as an option at that point.

You can carry ECM drones.  Those have been nerfed as well, but they still have a chance of working.  You better have a a drone bay, no need for other drone types unless your drone bay is large, and a big enough tank that you can wait around aligned to warp while the game rolls the dice to see if the drones will land a hit and break the lock on you.  Your ECM drones also have to live that long, since blowing them up is an option for the tackler.

And yes, you can go reductio ad absurdum listing out all the ways the target could have avoided the situation before they landed in the bubble or were pointed, but you might as well just start with “don’t undock” and save us all the bother.

I am reluctant to endorse any idea that leaves absolute mechanics in place without a counter.

In fact, if it isn’t obvious by now, I am not fond of absolutes like this as mechanics, and even less so as fixes to mechanics.  So when somebody brings up the often discussed on Reddit idea of changing it so stabs simply won’t allow you to lock targets at all, I sigh with dismay at yet another absolute fix that serves the specific needs of one group. (I am also suspicious of simple “just do this…” solutions, as they are almost always faulty, so add that in as well.)

What to do?

I don’t have an answer, but I feel as though people are not asking the right questions around these.  The assumption that warp bubbles, warp disruptors, and warp scrambles ought to be absolute mechanics seems baked into the discussion, so the ongoing drive by some to remove or render useless anything that mitigates these mechanics feels like people bitching about not getting enough kills.

Was Cataclysm a Required Prerequisite for WoW Classic?

We got the date this week.  WoW Classic is coming on August 27th.

Classic is as Classic does

With that things felt… more real.  People started making plans.  I got an email from one of the old instance group, which we formed back in 2006 at just about the same patch level that WoW Classic is planned to launch with, indicating that we may yet again get the band back together.

I also started thinking about what class I might play.  Do I want to go back again as a pally with an offensive spell that is only good against demons or undead, along with auras and judgements and five minute buffs?

And do I go straight for consecrate on the holy tree?

You too can play with the talent calculator again.

I know Earl will go warrior and Skronk with a priest.  Maybe a druid this time, so I can do the run across the wetlands just like back in the day?

More on that as it develops.

And, of course, with the date announcement there was an unleashing of negative responses, often in the J. Allen Brack vein that nobody really wants WoW Classic, that it will flop, or that even if it starts strong people will soon realize it sucks and walk away.

I would have thought the ongoing success of EverQuest retro servers would have answered this question.  They form a part of the ongoing viability of the 20 year old game.  I suppose you do have to believe that Blizzard will learn from that, which is always a dubious proposition.  But even if Blizz thrashes about and moves at its usual glacial pace it should be able to make a success of selling nostalgia.  It certainly has a larger installed base to work with than EQ, and they are already suggesting that The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King variations on these servers could be in the works if WoW Classic does well, though Mr. Brack does remain the doubter in chief on that.

All this also got me thinking again on the Cataclysm expansion.

A date that will live in infamy…

Oh Cataclysm.  If there were thirteen expansions, this one would cost 30 pieces of silver.

I have many negative thoughts about that expansion.  Even in hindsight, where I take in other factors, like having played WotLK straight through from launch until Cata launched may have worn me out on WoW or that I followed Cata development more closely than any other WoW expansion which left me few surprises, there are still a lot of sins there.

And not the least among those sins was the reworking of the old world.

I get that Blizz was trying to improve the flow through the game to the current expansion, facing the problem of levels both with that and by limiting the expansion to just five more.  It was a first, if not very effective, cut at the levels issue.

And I will admit that many of the redone zones are actually better.  They have coherent focus and quests that further the story rather than the sometimes random series of of unrelated tasks that seemed to make up much of the content.

But MMORPG players seem to be an oddly nostalgic lot.  In a game that you don’t pick up, play for a few weeks, or maybe months if it is a particularly excellent game, but play for years, the history matters.  This was part of my “no good expansions” theory of the world, that expansion bring change, even to areas that otherwise remain untouched, which in turn leads to people pining for how things used to be.

In EverQuest many of the original zones have sat untouched for years, looking little different than they did back at launch, and yet Project 1999 is a thing, trying to bring back an original, untainted version of the early game, while purists decry the Daybreak progression servers as they include post-launch changes to the game.  The purists are small in number however, and Daybreak’s nostalgia farming continues to do well.

So I wonder if Blizzard had dialed back their plans a decade back, decided not redo the world, perhaps opting just tune it up to allow flying, tacking on the starter zones for the two new races the same way they did with TBC, and then just focusing on the new zones and dungeons and raids, if we would even be talking about a launch date for something like WoW Classic today?

The strongest argument for WoW Classic is that you cannot simply go back to old zones and see places as they used to be.  There is no was to easily simulate the old days, the way things used to be back at launch, because Blizzard changed it all.  Some zones didn’t get hit too hard, but others were changed drastically.

Once I ran a raceway… now it is under water

In doing that, in removing the easy out option of telling people that the old game still exists if they want to visit places like the Mirage Raceway, did Blizzard set themselves up to eventually have to create something like WoW Classic?

I still feel like MMORPGs are new ground for Blizzard in some ways, even almost 15 years in.  SOE launched it first nostalgia driven progression server a dozen years back when Blizzard was still trying to come to grips with WoW, the game that took over the whole company.

It feels like WoW Classic is them finally discovering yet another facet of the genre that makes it different from their stand alone games of the past, where you released something, maybe did an expansion, released a few patches, then moved on to other things.

MMORPGs are long term commitments.

The Time Zones of New Eden

This isn’t a particularly insightful post, at least not is you’re really into EVE Online.  This is more of a reflection and maybe a bit of info for those who do not play or to somebody years down the road researching the game I suppose.

It is one of the quirks of there being one EVE Online server for the whole world that the time of day plays into what opportunities you have.

Okay, there is another server.  But the population on the Serenity server in China is small enough that it doesn’t really count.  The current count on the relaunched server is frankly tiny.  And the players in China have ways of slipping through the Great Firewall to play on Tranquility with the rest of the world in any case.

Anyway, there is a pretty consistent ebb and flow of population over the course of the average day on Tranquility, or TQ.  You can see it repeated ad nauseum on the charts over at EVE Offline, the same hills and valleys over and over.

A typical week in New Eden

The deepest valley in the day is down time, the daily restart of the server that hits at 11:00 UTC and kicks everybody offline for a few minutes most days, though it can be longer from time to time.

Since downtime hits at 3:00 am or 4:00 am local time for me, depending on whether or not we have daylight savings time in effect, I’ve never been up and awake and online when downtime has hit.  I’ve been logged in.  I left my ship drifting during B-R5RB and went to bed, getting logged out at downtime, but I was fast asleep.

That, however, is mid-morning for for those in Europe, early afternoon for the Russians, and passing midnight for those in Australia, with the former two already starting to ramp up the online population.  There is something of a daily ski jump in the chart every day before downtime.

From there things keep ramping up as the Euros get into their evening and day breaks in the US, peaking at around 20:00 UTC.  That is still a bit early for me on the west coast of the US, being about lunch time.  The Russians, then the Euros, start logging off as the US and Canada hit their prime time.  I’m usually not able to get on before 00:00 UTC, by which time all the sensible people in Europe have gone to bed.

The steep downward slope flattens just a bit as US prime time hits, but continues on down to the daily nadir around 06:00 UTC, when the population begins to ramp up again for another day.

Exciting though all of that is… sarcasm, sorry…the real impact is what it means for those playing the game at any given time.

And it just isn’t PvP.  Yes, if you want to blow other people’s ships, you’re better off logging in when the population is at its peak.  Likewise, if you want to stage a million dollar battle, it should probably be timed to commence in the evening European time to let the US players get in on it… though, honestly, experience says that a bunch of us in the US will call in sick or find a way to be home for these things if they are early in the day.

But the population count also has an impact all all sorts of PvE tasks.

If I am playing World of Warcraft, the current server population doesn’t have a lot of impact on me.  In part that is because I play on a US timezone server, so the population is likely to be peaking when I am on in any case.  But even if I have insomnia and log in way off-peak, unless I want to use the dungeon finder or queue up for a battleground.  And, even then, the fact that those work cross server means that I am not totally without hope of getting a group of the fellow sleepless together.  But running around doing quests in the open world isn’t much changed regardless of when I am on, give or take running into a few people out in the world.

In EVE there is the obvious effect that, when more people are online, there are also likely more people likely to be hunting you as you go about your business.  There are more gankers waiting for you in Niarja, more followers of James waiting to bump your mining ship, more gangs on gates while you’re trying to haul your PI or minerals back from low sec, and more scouts looking to get you while you’re running anomalies.

But it also affects you even when somebody isn’t looking to shoot you.  I’ve been out doing a bit of ratting with an alt after taking over a year off.  I’m back to running the much beloved Blood Raider’s Forsaken Hubs.  I have a post about that brewing, once I hit a particular milestone.

I make a point of doing that as far from peak hours as I can possibly manage.  That is, in part, for safety.  I’m usually tabbed out as my drones take care of the rats for me, so I pretty much never dock up when a hostile shows up in system and my response time when I get jumped can be comically slow.  Again, there is a tale behind that.  So being on when there are fewer hunters is probably a good thing.

But there is also a competitive need for that.  In a world where the easy and cheap solution to subcap ratting is a Vexor Navy Issue running forsaken hubs, there are only so many such sites to go around in a given system.  When I have tried to do a bit of ratting closer to peak hours it becomes a task finding a system where you can reliably land in a hub and not find somebody’s VNI already feasting on Blood Raiders.  You end up either having to watch the probe scanner to try and jump on a fresh pop or you have to find a system where there isn’t so much competition.

And, of course, the systems without so much competition tend to be pipe systems with lots of hostiles passing through looking for targets or those near NPC Delve where hunters stage.  I’ve actually fewer encounters hanging out in a pipe system, most likely because the hunters probably expect you to be more on your guard, but lots of non-blue traffic coming and going does put you on edge.

I recall, back in the day, that when I was running missions in high sec, that the population of the current mission hub I was hanging out in was also had an effect on how things played out.  There seemed to be a limit to the number of mission spaces the game would allocate in a given system, so at peak hours you could end up being sent out of system, often more than just a jump or two.  I recall one of the reasons for packing up and moving to Amarr space was being in a seemingly safe mission hub system only to have the agent assign me missions half a dozen jumps away in low sec.  At the time I was still figuring out how to deal with NPCs, so having players show up to shoot me discouraged taking those missions.

Anyway, I’m not sure I’ve arrived at the point I set out to make.  That is the problem with just thinking about a topic and setting it to write before you’ve really nailed down where you want to go with it.  But I’ve used up my writing time and I’ve got nothing else on tap, so this is what you get.

Quote of the Day – Activities in Mordor!

This new end-game system allows players to pledge their allegiance to one faction at a time. Pledge yourself to the Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits, or Men, and unlock rewards through activities in Mordor, including a unique story arc! Players will accrue Allegiance Points which advance your character along a given Allegiance. These points can be earned through acquiring items found in Mordor, completing repeatable quests, and more.

-Allegiance Mechanic, Mordor Release Notes

Here we sit, waiting for the Mordor expansion to go live.

Keep an eye open for Mordor!

The launch was planned for Monday, but was postponed until today.  Now we have entered the period of downtime, after which the expansion should be available.

Nothing left to do but wait and wonder and look at the patch notes for Update 21, which covers the expansion.

Of course, that leads me back to what we’re going to be doing in Mordor, how we’ll be interacting with the main story, and just how far we might be asked to stretch canon.

Mucking about with the core of the stories has been, as has been brought up elsewhere, has been a concern of mine since Lord of the Rings Online was announced.  Almost eleven years back, about ten posts into this blog, I was already writing about those concerns.  How was Turbine going to handle building an MMORPG with thousands of people wandering around while keeping the linear framework that is the story itself?

The team has done a pretty good job so far.  The player sees the story advance.  You get to interact with some of the key actors in the story, but they aren’t strewn about the landscape to bump into over and over again… except in Rivendell… no matter how far you progress you can still go back to Rivendell and find everybody still hanging about.

Most of the time as a player you are occupied with subordinate tasks, things that move the story along behind the scenes, but which wouldn’t get you a mention in the book.  And so it is that you spend a lot of time helping the quartermaster corps of the local Dunedain contingent by slaying bears, boars, wolves, and the occasional servant of Sauron.

So while there was no chapter about the brave battle against the tomb robbers of Esteldin, if there had been my character would have figured prominently.

Once in a while you get to be an uncredited extra in a key scene in the story.

Of course, the flaws of the MMORPG genre are manifest in the game.  The servants of Sauron pop up again as soon as you wander off… as does the mass of wildlife you spent all that time slaughtering to help provision the various outposts of the free peoples.

And their outposts are many.  It was a bit much in the early part of the game.  I don’t recall Eriador being that densely populated.  And the game moved along, the population density became more out of character.

While Moria was a delight to explore, the dwarves did seem to be devoting a lot of time and resources to fixing up their old home when there was a war raging.  But at least they had a reason to be there.  I’m not sure why Mirkwood has so many people wandering about.  If any place was more barren of life… save the odd dark squirrel… and spiders and elves at the far end… it was Mirkwood.  But you cannot run an MMORPG zone without a half dozen quest hubs.

So I do wonder what we will encounter in Mordor, and when in the timeline of things we shall be doing that.  There is, after all, no time between the battle at the Black Gate and the destruction of the one ring (spoiler), the former only ending with the latter.  The up front promise of the release notes…

Witness the fate of the One Ring and Sauron! The Epic quest line reaches a major milestone, and remains free to all players.

…is pretty much the end of the tale save for the cleaning up afterwards.  We can’t even go find Frodo and Sam, really, as the eagles arrive and whisk them off to rejoin the remains of the fellowship.

Still, I am keen to see Mordor, even if the tale there is going to be another series of supply runs for the free peoples and some sort of post-war favor buying system.  Tourist of Middle-earth, that’s me.

I still have yet to decide which character is going to get that level boost into the expansion.  I had best decide soon.

BB80 – Oh That Crazy CSM Thing!

This is where most people would list their myriad reasons they are running for CSM. Maybe they would write out long platform statements with some overarching narrative. Their dreams of how to make EVE great again.

I am not going to do any of those things because I don’t need your votes you terrible pubbies.

-Aryth for CSM 12 campaign forum post

You weren’t going to vote for Aryth anyway, were you?

Here we are at the latest Blog Banter, number 80 in the series, and this time around the topic is the CSM.  Specifically:

CCP Seagull ecourages you to get involved in CSM12 and put your name forward to be a Space-Politician. On his blog Neville Smit noted that CSM11 had done a good job with minimum of drama. However he said he’d not be covering CSM12 like he has in previous years as he sees no point. The power-blocs will vote on who they want and unless Steve Ronuken manages to get on CSM12 it is almost certainly going to have every seat taken by the big null-sec blocs.

Is Neville right? Is the CSM moving more and more into just a voice for 0.0? Is this a bad thing? Are the hi-sec, low-sec and WH players going to lose out badly or is it really not an issue as its the same game? Could a totally null-sec dominated CSM 12 give a balanced voice for everyone?

I get to quote Aryth, pick on Neville Smit, and complain about the CSM?  Trifecta!

Anyway, in my usual style, I am going to spew forth a bunch of text and I hope, somewhere at the far side, to reach a conclusion.  I think I know what it will be, but won’t be sure until I get there!  The CSM 12 election is coming soon, so lets ramble.

Look at that CONCORD police Captain trying to suppress the vote!

Look at that CONCORD police Captain trying to suppress the vote!

I will start with the fact that I think electing what is essentially a focus group by having the player base vote is pretty silly.  You want to select by competence and core knowledge, not popularity for this sort of position.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way.  If you go look at the CCP historical timeline (preserved here) you will see this tidbit for 2003.

The historical record of sorts

The historical record of sorts from 2003

Yes, players were chosen by CCP.  That is the way things are generally done in the MMO domain when you want a focus group or player advisory board. (SOE, Blizz, and Turbine all did it that way.)  But five years into the game and one T20 scandal later, CCP decided that elections would… I don’t know really.  Transparency?  Here is what they said:

During their six-month term, delegates to the council will deliberate on issues of importance to the EVE community and work with representatives of CCP on the future evolution of EVE Online.

Oh yeah, and the terms were for six months back then… more elections… and there were nine members of the council and five alternates.

Anyway, an election gets popular people and not necessarily competent people on the CSM.

That, of course, leads us to who is really popular in New Eden.  There are a few people in the EVE Online population that have achieved space fame and who could thus get elected on their own.  To get there you usually have to take things out of game by starting a blog, running a news site, being particularly notable on Reddit, or by creating some sort of additional functionality for the game.  And that is no guarantee you will get the votes.  Riverini took a couple of shots, but his EN24 fame wasn’t enough.

For the most part though elections go to large, organized groups, and there are no larger nor more organized groups than the null sec blocs.  The nature of the game is that to survive and thrive and hold space in null sec you have to be organized.

I spent five years bopping around in high sec and was never in a corp that had more than a dozen people and probably didn’t know what an alliance really was.  That didn’t harm my play style at all.  In the back woods of Amarr space, far from Jita, life was peaceful.  The one and only time I was suicide ganked involved traveling from Jita to our little pocket in Amarr space via Niarja, which is the gank pipe.  I interacted with more EVE bloggers on their blogs out of game than I did with players in the game.

And then I moved to null sec and am currently in one of the small alliances in our coalition, having only ~1,600 members, while the senior partner is Goonswarm Federation with 24K members.  Yes, the member count is probably between half and two-thirds alts, but every paying account gets a vote.  So when an official ballot is put out for the coalition… which we mostly vote for, though Goon uniformity is largely a myth and candidates like Xenuria have been controversial on the official ballot… that provides a pretty strong base of votes.  The question is never about whether somebody from the ballot will get on the CSM but rather how many on the list will make it.

So if you’re not in null sec, how do you break into what is now the top 10 of votes?

It isn’t easy.  There have been various attempts to get a wider group or play style to back a candidate from, say, wormhole space or faction warfare.  That has worked a few times, but often there isn’t a clear choice as multiple candidates vie for the same demographic.

And if identify with a nebulous group like high sec, and your space blog is only getting 30 page views a day on average, and you are in competition with a ludicrous number of opponents (64 total candidates this year) for those coveted ten seats,  you don’t have many options.

You try to get on everybody’s review list or podcast and you promise to do things in the classic quid pro quo of politics.  You promise to represent this community or that community or several communities or all communities.  You promise to champion certain features or resist others.  If you’re really crazy, you promise to get CCP to do something.  You have to stand out, and just saying your knowledgeable isn’t enough.

I quoted Aryth at the top for a reason.  He doesn’t have to promise anything.  If you’re not in a null sec bloc, you’re running against somebody who doesn’t really need a campaign to win.  And he’ll get on the next CSM because he’ll be the top slot on the Imperium ballot and there is nothing you can post on Reddit to stop that.

Unfortunately, promises are a show of weakness, a sign of desperation to stand out.  When I first mentioned the elected CSM on this blog, back in April of 2008, I called it the Galactic Student Council.  Just like the student council back in high school, candidates can promise all sorts of thing, but in the end the school administration controls the situation and can ignore or veto the student council at will.  Likewise, the CSM serves at the pleasure of CCP and, as we have seen in the past, can be ignored with impunity.

To have any power on its own, the CSM has to bypass CCP and cause players to follow them rather than the company.  That has happened exactly once, after the Incarna expansion, and was an extraordinary set of circumstances the root causes of which people disagree with to this day. (But it wasn’t about the price of monocles, I guarantee you that.)

Sion Kumitomo tried to do this again, tried to take his issues out of school, during CSM 10.  However, he faced two problems.  Well, three problems.  The first was being in GSF, which sets some people against him automatically, but that was really the least of his problems and could have been overcome with the right issue.

The second problem was his communication style, which is long and ponderous, and I write this with a straight face as I pass the 1,200 word mark on this post without reaching my point.  I am good at burying the lede, and often do it deliberately just to see who is paying attention.  But when Sion writes, he doesn’t just bury the lede, he kills it, buries it in an unmarked grave deep in the forest, evades the detection of the authorities, and only gives up the location 40 years later on his death bed.  But that really wasn’t his biggest problem either.

No, his biggest problem was that he was attempting champion an issue about which almost nobody gave a shit about, the CSM.  The dirty not-really-a-secret of the CSM is that, judging by voter turn out, most people simply don’t know or don’t care about it.  I mean, if go back and read my Galactic Student Council post from 2008, you can see that I had missed a lot of what was going on, and I cared enough to write a blog post about it.

And CCP can talk about the election all it wants, encourage people to get involved, put info up on the launcher, post on Twitter and Facebook, and it isn’t going to change much.  Even the highest voted turnout ever for the CSM was still a depressingly small slice of the New Eden population.  Part of that people will mind their own business because they just want to log in after work and manage their PI or run a mission or see what their corp mates are up to, while the CSM is this thing that we only hear about when things go wrong.

And even if they do decide to vote, they haven’t been listening to the podcasts or reading candidate summaries or review… the alleged “EVE Media” and those who pay attention are a tiny part of the game… you load up that voting screen and see that grid array of 64 candidates, none of whom you have likely heard of (unless you saw the Xenuria ad running in stations, then you might remember him… he does have a memorable avatar) and what do you do?  How do you pick one candidate, much less ten, out of a list of random strangers whose avatars (aside from Xenuria’s) mostly blur together in a mass of plainness?

So barriers to an informed electorate are huge and the benefits are nebulous at best.  And after the train wreck that was CSM 10, I was predicting that the institution of the elected CSM might become more of a liability than CCP was willing to put up with.  The end seemed nigh.

And then CSM 11 happened.  CCP Guard and CCP Logibro took over the CCP side of the relationship with the group and met with the mostly null sec members of the newly elected CSM and got to work.  Everything was mostly quiet, there were no controversies, the meeting minutes seemed to indicate that people mostly got along and that it wasn’t a null sec plot to turn the whole game into their favored play style.  As noted way up at the top, even Neville Smit, who was out agitating for the alleged 85% with his Occupy New Eden plan seemed pleased enough to simply vote for any CSM 11 incumbent that ran again.

So what happened?

I think CCP finally “got” what the CSM ought to be and how to handle it.  They listened, they didn’t take every piece of advice offered, sometimes to their regret, but no members of CSM 11 are out there raging about how CCP dropped the ball by ignoring the CSM or how CCP claimed CSM approval around things that the CSM never really endorsed.  CCP didn’t screw up.

Meanwhile, the null sec blocs seemed to have burned through most of their prima donna candidates who just wanted to be on the CSM for a forum badge, an ego boost, and a free trip to Iceland and elected a group that seems to care about the overall health of the game.  Somebody like Aryth understands the essential symbiotic relationship that exists between null sec and high sec and knows he has to protect both for either to thrive.  And somebody like Xenuria is there to get you new shoes. (He needs to work on hats though.)

So even the skeptic in me, who has long derided the CSM, has to admit that things are pretty good with the institution right now, in part because CCP decided that the relationship was important, and in part because CCP still goes outside the CSM to get opinions.

Of course, it could all go to hell with CSM 12, but we’ll see.  Right now the CSM is about the best we can hope for given the various issues and limitations I have rambled about above, even if it clearly isn’t covering all voices.  But you’ve seen that “things to do in New Eden” chart.  How could you get all of that covered, even in broad strokes, on a panel with only 10 seats?

So I suppose we should enjoy this happy period while it lasts.

Anyway, there are others who have picked up the topic as well who probably have more cogent points to make.  Find some of them here:

At Loose Ends on the Fantasy Front

I seem to have fallen off the fantasy MMORPG wagon once again.  This seems to happen every so often.

I stopped playing WoW a couple months after the Legion expansion hit.  My Winter foray into EverQuest II kept my interest for about a month, which seems to about par for the course.  I poked my nose into Lord of the Rings Online long enough to buy the level 95 Blessing of the Valar upgrade.

Two blessings, depending on your need

Two blessings, depending on your need

That got me a pile of stuff and whisked me off into a different place where I met up with Eowyn.

Yeah, about you and Strider... he's not that into you

Yeah, about you and Strider… he’s not that into you

However I soon lost interest there.  Well, “lost interest” might imply I logged in again after that, and I did not.  Of course, I might have been influenced by wanting to start out on something only to be hamstrung by the legendary weapon system.  I had to choose a weapon, which I then received.  But you cannot just use the weapon yet.  You have to find the special NPC to identify it and then choose a bonus and then something else.  I forget.  I am sure, as with every aspect of every MMO, that legendary weapons are somebody’s favorite part of LOTRO.  But it ain’t mine. I just wanted to grab it and run not worry about reforging.

So that fell apart.  I might go back, but the fact that I haven’t felt any need to do so for a couple weeks is pretty telling.

At some point in the last few weeks… erm, months… I also made a RuneScape account, played for a couple of hours, then never went back.

The fantasy MMORPG thing just isn’t holding me at the moment.  But the habit of at least the last decade and a half… or more if you count the TorilMUD, in which case we start to reach back past 20 years… makes something inside of me think something is missing if I am not playing one.

So my eye wanders down the list of possible other choices.  Do I try out The Elder Scrolls Online, which just added in housing and seems to be doing well enough to be secure?  Do I give GuildWars 2 another try?  Is there something still in Rift that I might enjoy?  Is it time to start digging into Project: Gorgon yet?  What titles on my 2017 MMO Outlook post are even live yet?

But should I bother.

EVE Online doesn’t fill that niche for me certainly.  But I continue to play Minecraft, which does much to fill the world and building and housing drive I might have.  And right now Pokemon Sun seems to have a lock on the RPG… or maybe just the collecting and achievement… aspect.

And there is also something I will call “virtual world weariness” in me that feels the essential sameness of all of these games so that they blur together into a gray, uninteresting mass.  It might be time for a longer break from such games.

Kickstarter MMO Metaphor

There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane.

Francis Ford Coppola, not at all describing Star Citizen

There is, even as I write this, a Kickstarer campaign running for a video game based on the movie Apocalypse Now.

ansplash

I have no real opinion when it comes to the game itself.  It might be the best game ever or allow one unique depth and perspective into the movie.  It might be all they promise and more.  I just know that it looks pretty sure that the campaign is not going to make its $900,000 funding goal.

Wilhelm’s Rule of Kickstarter campaigns is that if you don’t make 20% of your funding goal in the first 24 hours, you might as well go home.  You haven’t rallied your base or given enough notice or come up with the right pitch or simply just don’t have the draw to get there.

The campaign sits at 18% and is at day 14 of 30.  The prospects look grim.  They even have a backer in at the $10,000 mark, but not nearly enough backers in at the sane funding levels.

I didn’t even hear about the title through the gaming news media.  I stumbled on it by mistake on the Kickstarter site, and I was only there because I saw Bob Cringley had time to do another post on his blog so was wondering if he might have also found time to update people on when the hell their Mineservers might be showing up. (If ever.)

Still, when I found the campaign I had to laugh.

I wasn’t laughing at the campaign or what it was trying to accomplish.  Like I said, the intent there might be pure.

Rather, I was laughing at what a perfect metaphor the movie was for the big ticket, grandiose plans, uncontrolled feature creeping, perennially behind schedule, and always over budget crowdfunded MMORPG market.

And lets face it, the grand champion poster child for all of that is Star Citizen. You could make this it several others, but Star Citizen is the big fish, so let’s just go straight for the jugular on that one.

Every Star Citizen fan boy about to tell me Chris Roberts is a great man...

Every Star Citizen fan boy about to tell me Chris Roberts is a great man…

How can you have this thought… this mixing of media minds… and not put Chris Roberts up there in the role of Colonel Kurtz?  Surrounded by loyal followers who continue to give him money to driving a project that seems to have gone beyond being a viable venture.

I suppose if he could keep his posts a little more terse I might have to cast Derek Smart as Captain Willard.

They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.

-Capt. Willard, on meeting Col. Kurtz

That is a fun mental image to play with, but it is too much.  The movie is too large, too dramatic, too bloody, too wrought with peril to really be a metaphor for Star Citizen.  The real metaphor requires you to pull back a level, to consider the making of Apocalypse Now.

There is a great documentary about the making of the movie, Hearts of Darkness.  It illustrates the parallel between the theme of the movie and the reality of making the movie, with Coppola himself taking on the Kurtzian role, out in the jungle, making a movie that nearly grew beyond his ability to shape.

I can picture Chris Roberts in that situation as well.  He had a vision, but the scope may well have grown beyond his ability to shape and bring to fruition.  Some of the problem is letting things grow because the wider scope is what he really wants.  But not every problem is of his making.  Coppola in the jungle face expensive problems with sets, actors unprepared (Brando) or ill (Sheen had a heart attack) and a range of studio execs back in the states wondering what he was doing with all the money and reminding him that he was past his deadline.

For Chris Roberts you can substitute in technology not up to his vision, the need to build some things from scratch, the need to change engines, and of course a whole range of people wondering what he is doing with the money and pointing out that the promised November 2014 ship date disappeared in the rear view mirror quite a ways back.

Coppola got an enduring classic for all his problems, explosions, and a million feet of film.  We are still waiting to see what Chris Roberts will deliver.

And the irony is that the game that inspired this metaphor in my head, it isn’t going anywhere if it is depending on its crowdfunding run.  But it has been a down time for video game crowdfunding, so they might have to go back to more traditional methods.

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.

Five Years in Null Sec

Back in December of 2011, even as Hilmar was telling the CSM that the era of the “Jesus Feature” was over, I was again subscribed to EVE Online.  Having unsubscribed after the debacle that was Incarna, I was back to see what CCP had done since then as they launched Crucible, an expansion that promised to get back to the nuts and bolts of the game and start a trend of fixing stuff that people had been complaining about for years.

I had to admit that it was pretty, with new nebulae and start gates that appears to be lined up to shoot you at the correct star even.

Jump Gate in Action

Jump Gate in Action

But as pretty as the update was, it wasn’t holding me.  I was back and looking at all the stuff I had in my hangar, leftovers from the various paths I had trod over the previous half decade in New Eden… mission, mining, production, arbitrage… along with 70 million skill points in training and felt no inspiration.  I was subscribed for a month and figured I would spend it toddling about looking at pretty things and then let my account lapse.

Even my friends, the people who came and went from our little corp, were all gone… all save Gaff.  Gaff was back and playing, but he was out in null sec where he had gone a year or so previously, and there was not getting there to visit, though he did stop by in high sec for the occasional romp.

He had tried to get me to join him in null sec in the past, but I am one of those people who gets stuck on “things,” and all of my things were in a station in Amarr space and I couldn’t imagine trying to get them all up to where he lived in Deklein.

This time, however, my commitment to the game was waning such that I was up to take a chance.  I filled out an application to join BSCL, got accepted, changed my home station, and self-destructed.

I was revived in the station at CU9-T0, the headquarters of my new alliance, TNT, but quickly scooted off to 0P-F3K, the system that BSCL mostly called home.  It was December 18, 2011 and a conflict had just broken out.  After the great VFK headshot Goonswarm had taken what was once DekCo, transformed into the Clusterfuck Coalition, or the CFC, once its boarders expanded, on the road after some neighbors to the northeast that were seen as threats.  The CFC struck out at them and these foes, White Noise and Raiden, announced they were set to come get us, promising to rid Deklein of Goons, a statement which was turned into the infamous cry of “VFK by February!”

It was war and I had to figure out what was what in a hurry.

I got to our staging system in VFK-IV, got on coms, got myself a doctrine ship, and was soon bumbling my way through fleets trying to figure out what was going on and not screw up.  But by December 21 I had already bridged off of a titan, been in a fleet fight, done a structure shoot, and had seen all sorts of new things in the game.  And probably more importantly I became part of the ongoing story that is null sec space.

Null Sec Sov. December 27

Null Sec Sov. December 27, 2011

Long after seeing a titan was no longer special and I had trained up skill points to fly in every subcap doctrine the coalition could come up with, being part of the sweep and story of null sec space has kept me interested in the game.  Before I came to null sec I used to drop my subscription and take a break every so often, usually after I wore out whatever goal or project I had been working on.  Since I came to null sec I have remained subscribed and logging in.

As something of an MMO tourist, being in a null sec alliance and part of a contentious coalition has afforded me the opportunity to witness many of the noteworthy events that have sometimes made it to the mainstream news.  To abuse a former CCP advertising catch phrase, “I was there” for:

  • My first “big” fleet fight in EWN-2U which saw the newly released time dilation mechanism in play (post)
  • Burn Jita of various flavors (Burn Jita tag)
  • Z9PP-H when CCP fumbled the node and saved TEST (Post, though I left just before that happened)
  • The Lazamo at 3WE-KY (post)
  • 6VTD-H at the end of the Fountain War (Post with lots of links about the battle)
  • HED-GP when we were killing nodes with drone assist (Post)
  • B-R5RB, which remains the most expensive battle in New Eden history (B-R5RB tag with several related posts)
  • M-OEE8 and the great betrayal of the Casino War (Post)
  • Defeat in the Casino War and the great migration to Delve (Delve 2016 tag)
  • M-OEE8 Keepstar fight with the most pilots ever to pile into a single system (Post)

Those are points in time that a lot of people will remember.  I think the one big event I totally missed was Asakai, which happened while I was at work and was done before I got home.  And these are just peak events.  For each great clash there are many smaller battles.

And even when there isn’t a wider war going on… which is usually when some vocal non-null sec players start chanting about “blue donuts” and “stagnation”… there is always something going on, even if it is just planning and building for the next conflict.  We can’t sustain constant war, it takes too much out of people.

And the story continues.  That series of discreet events I listed out are just points on the arc of a much wider and ongoing tale of which so many people have been a part.   Some actors and organizations come and go, others change sides or become part of new organizations.  If you read Andrew Groen’s book Empires of EVE, that is just part of the story, a great snapshot from null sec, but only a snippet from the ongoing saga of 0.0 space.  War, alliances, spies, betrayal, conquest, victories, defeats, old hands, bitter vets, new bros, null sec has it all.

Null sec sov Dec. 20, 2016

Null sec sov Dec. 20, 2016

Granted, null sec isn’t a game niche for everybody, and there are aspects of it that do get tiring.  After a couple of years of mostly being in the blob of main fleet, the whole effort was starting to wear on me.  If you look back at January of 2014, when B-R5RB happened, I am only on six kill mails.  They were six titans from that battle, but I wasn’t doing much else and my Dominix got left behind in the system after the Russians collapsed and lost all of that space.

And then Reavers came along with ops where 100 ships is a big turn out for an op and got to do all sorts of different sorts of fights all over New Eden.  And that isn’t a constant activity.  We deploy for a bit, have some fights, then come back home to do other things.

All in all though, being part of null sec is pretty much what made EVE Online finally “stick” for me.  Every time I think maybe it is time for a break, something new comes up in the story and I decide to stick around a bit longer just to see how that plays out.