Tag Archives: Landmark

On to 64-Bit Gaming

A long tale that is vaguely related to video games and recent news that has been sitting half finished in my drafts folder for over 18 months.

What were you doing in 1997?

One of the tasks I had at work during that year was “WinLogo certification” for our software.  That was the term used at the time for going through the process of getting Microsoft to declare you compatible with their operating system.

Anybody could, of course, claim that they were  Windows 95 compatible.  But to get the official Microsoft Windows compatible logo on your software, Microsoft had to affirm that your software was indeed up to spec.

win95_designI think it says something that in searching for that logo the best one I could come up with was in .gif format… is there anything in that format these days that isn’t also animated?  I feel cheated that the logo isn’t moving.  Also, I feel old.

I was installing Windows 95, which was the style at the time

I was installing Windows 95, which was the style at the time

Moving on.

For logo you had to go through a Microsoft approved testing lab.  The closest one to us was down in Los Angeles because the Microsoft position has nearly always been, “Screw Silicon Valley.”

Getting that logo on our product was my job for a couple months, and it was kind of a big deal for the company.  We made most of our money through OEM agreements with computer manufacturers like HP, Dell, Compaq, Micron and a few other, and for them to keep their Windows logo (and be able to sell the Windows OS) they had to make sure that all of the crap shovelware fine software they included on your new computer was also Win logo certified.  So that was dropped in my lap, which was kind of odd.  I was the new guy, so I understood getting the crap assignment.  But given how much of our income was riding on it, I am not sure that “stick it to the new guy” was the optimum strategy for success.

In the end I did succeed, so I guess their trust was well founded.  And I actually enjoyed the whole thing in a perverse way sort of way.  It involved a lot of minutia and making sure everything was “just so.”  And while I have forgotten most of the arcana involved with the process over the years… I moved to enterprise level software on Windows shortly thereafter, and enterprise doesn’t really care about that sort of thing, then eventually to Linux based enterprise level software, which double-double doesn’t care about that stuff… two things stand out in my mind fourteen years later.

First, I had to fly down to LAX, rent a car, and drive out to the certifying lab because could not figure out how to run our installer.  And, seriously, it wasn’t hard.  It was in freaking InstallShield.  And we had sent them a computer all setup with the right hardware.  All they had to do was put the CD-ROM in the drive.  I don’t know how they managed to mess that up.

Anyway, I had to travel about a thousand miles round trip in a day to pretty much press “Next,” “Next,” “Next,” and “OK.”  Not the biggest travel fiasco I ever had… there was that one trip down to New Mexico with another company to figure out why we were having so many hardware defects only to find out that the guy soldering on the power connector was Red/Green colorblind… but it certainly wasn’t the most efficient method.  And it worked, so blunt force method for the win I guess.

Second was the 32-bit requirement for the certification.  In order to get that Win logo approval, your application had to be 32-bit.  No 16-bit executables or DLLs or whatever were allowed.

Which seemed kind of silly at the time, since Windows 95 would run 16-bit software just fine.  There was a ton of 16-bit software laying around, left over from the Windows 3.1 days.  Hell, Microsoft was installing some 16-bit code with the Windows 95 operating system.  And it shouldn’t have been an issue because our software was all 32-bit already.

Unfortunately, the version of InstallShield we were using was not.

Here is how the software check worked.  The lab would run a program that would scan and catalog everything on the hard drive.  Then you would run your installer.  After that, they would run their scan again, it would identify all changes to the system and list out all of the components installed.  They gave you the software so you could run it yourself in preparation for the certification.  I ran it many times.

And every time I ran it, it came back with several items highlighted in red because they contained 16-bit code.

I was quickly able to identify the offending DLLs as being part of InstallShield.  And, since there was a process for getting an exemption for 16-bit code under certain circumstances, it was deemed a better use of the company’s time to have me get the exemption than to upgrade our version of InstallShield.  Given the number of hoops we had to jump through in order to get through each computer manufacturer’s OEM process and that the installer had to support both Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 95, both of which included a number of special OEM requirements, and had to do so in seven languages (I could install Windows NT 4.0 in Japanese without a hitch… eventually) I could see the point.

Of course, that didn’t make the exception process any easier.  One of the rules of any sort of exception procedure seems to be to say “No” to any first request on the theory that it will weed out those looking for an easy exit and then only those with a real need will move forward.  So on we went with that process, with Microsoft making it extremely frustrating to complete, with them responding with rejections that seemed to indicate that they had not bothered to actually read our submission.  As I recall, one of the acceptable reasons for an exception was third party DLLs that were not used during run time.  We would point out that it was just the uninstall that had a couple of 16-bit DLLs and that our software was all 32-bit.

This was made all the more frustrating by the fact that Windows 95, by necessity, had to run 16-bit software.  There was a huge library of software available and Microsoft was not at all keen to piss off its installed base… and maybe save IBM from itself on the OS/2 front along the way… by turning its back on that foundation.  So it wasn’t as though we were shipping something that didn’t work.  Our software did not even violate the rules, it was just the installer… an installer that almost no customer would ever use because our software came pre-installed.

Eventually we hit some sort of persistence threshold and were granted our logo certification.  By that point I had moved on to another company, but I was friends with the person who took over for me so got to hear the ongoing tale of getting Microsoft to grant us our exemption.

And then, for at least the next decade, actually being a 32-bit application was not all that meaningful.  I went on playing the original, 16-bit version of Civilization II for a long time on Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000 Professional, and then on Windows XP.  16 bit applications were supported, and remain so, on Microsoft’s 32-bit operating systems… at least to the extent that they support anything.  A lot of apps have been broken by changes and updates over the years, 16 and 32-bit alike.

16-bit apps didn’t lose support until Microsoft got to 64-bit operating systems.  But almost nobody went there initially.  It wasn’t even practical until Windows Vista… which had its own serious problems and which was effectively rejected by the marketplace… and didn’t really start becoming a popular choice until Windows 7 came along about five years back.

By which time the market had probably weaned itself off of 16-bit applications.  Even I had to finally give up the 16-bit version of Civilization II and go with the 32-bit version, the Civilization II Gold Edition, that could at least be patched to work with Windows 7 64-bit.

That is basically the inertia of the market.  Getting millions of people to upgrade both their computer and get onto a 64-bit operating system took a while, and the groundwork for that started way back with Windows 95 and the push to get developers onto 32-bit apps.  What I was doing in 1997 was part of the many steps to get to the point where companies could make these sorts of system requirement announcements:

It is almost a requirement to have a 64-bit client to play in the big leagues these day.  The bleeding edge gamers all have 64-bit systems and lots of memory and get kind of antsy if you don’t support their hardware to its fullest extent.

But it was a bit of a surprise to find somebody actually dropping support for their 32-bit client.  Daybreak just announced that 32-bit support is on its way out for PlanetSide 2.

We wanted to let you know that with the next Game Update (tentatively scheduled for next week), PlanetSide 2 will no longer support the use of the 32-bit Operating System client. We do note, based on our internal metrics, that a very small group of folks are still using this client. We hope this doesn’t prove too inconvenient to anyone impacted, and we appreciate your understanding.

That is actually a big step and I would be interested to know how big “a very small group of folks” really is.  And I wonder if we’ll hear anything else like that at E3 this week. (Topical!)

I suppose by the time most mainstream software finally becomes 64-bit only we’ll be about ready for 128-bit operating systems.

Quote of the Day – If You’re Selling it, We’re Reviewing it

If I had paid money for H1Z1, I’d be pretty pissed off right now. Some players have already taken to demanding refunds. And I can’t blame them.

Polygon review of H1Z1

I laughed out loud when I saw that Polygon put up a review of H1Z1 on their site this morning.  But I have to admit that a review is a fitting response to Daybreak Game Company selling the game on Steam.  Not that Polygon hasn’t been on the H1Z1 beat already.

H1Z1Disaster

Yeah, yeah, cry me a river about that “Early Access” disclaimer.

I wouldn’t dream of endorsing a review of a product that was in alpha or beta and testing with volunteers.  But my view, and this is an opinion that I hold pretty strongly, is that once you are charging money and have a cash shop setup, trying to hide behind words like “Beta” (the long time Zynga ploy… do you want to be like Zynga?) or “Early Access” is a bullshit move.

The “Early Access” disclaimer has to compete with the pie-in-the-sky marketing vision about what the game might be some day way down the road when it is finished.

Tell me about H1Z1 please...

Tell me about the reality of H1Z1 please… I hear it isn’t actually an MMO

A “fully transparent” approach to game design would require the equivalent of “Warning: Lark’s Vomit” on the Steam store page and the SOE web site. (Since there is no Daybreak web site yet.)

And Daybreak Game Company is out there with not one but two early access events, with Landmark having mucked about in some sort of limbo for over a year at this point.  And to echo the quote at the top of the page, after my free time in Landmark I was pretty happy I didn’t pay any money for it.  And don’t get me started on the irony of a company whose motto is “Free to Play Your Way” and has a subscription program called “All Access” that doesn’t actually give you access to all of their games.

Yeah, I am on a bit of a rant here over what is probably a pretty small item in the grand scheme of things.  And it would certainly be fair game to ask how I reconcile this with Kickstarter campaigns and pre-orders and whatever other industry practices I don’t seem to take issue with that share some similarities with early access.  My primary goal in all things of late is the finished game, something I even mentioned in the earlier post about Crowfall.  I already have a day job in software development, I don’t need/want to keep fretting about code when I get home at night.

And who knows, the whole early access thing might work out.  I’m just not convinced right now that paid early access is a good thing for the industry, and it is Smed’s handiwork with Landmark and H1Z1 that has pushed me in that direction.

Anyway, cheers to Polygon for having a policy about reviewing early access games so people know what they are getting for their money.  How do you feel about that?

Is Paid Early Access a Good Thing for MMOs?

We just had the launch of early access for H1Z1 this past Thursday and it was not an unqualified success.

H1Z1DisasterIt started with delays as bringing servers up and getting out last minute patches ran through the 11 am PST kick off target and well into the afternoon.  Then when things were finally up there were G29 errors and G99 errors and “you do not own this game” errors and “no servers visible” problems and the overwhelming of the login servers, which actually affected other SOE games.  And, of course, this being based on PlanetSide 2, the hacking seems likely to commence.

That was all exacerbated by the fact that SOE was clearly trying to make this a big deal, an event, and was hyping the whole thing up, making sure people who wanted to stream the game had access, and that there were hundreds of servers online, so the whole thing was rather a public spectacle.  I tried watching LazTel stream the game over at the TMC feed and every time I checked in there was an error on his screen.

And that leaves aside Smed riling up the carebears earlier in the week and the whole controversy over “pay to win” air drops that was brewing as well where, despite early statements on how H1Z1 would be financed through cosmetic items, things changed. Smed was taking a tough line in defending the air drop scheme.  (Plus air drops seemed to be having their own issues.)

anyone that wants to “complain” about H1Z1 being P2W shouldn’t buy it. In fact I encourage you not to. Let’s not let facts get in the way.

John Smedley, Twitter

Scathing quotation marks around the word “complain” there from Smed.  Feel the burn.

(Also, in looking at some older posts this past weekend, I see that I need to quote Smed rather than simply embedding his tweets.  He appears to go back and clean up his feed, deleting quotable items later on.)

Cooler heads were apologizing about the change in views on buying things like guns and ammo in the game on the H1Z1 Reddit, SOE’s favorite forum of the moment.

And then, I gather, at some point over the weekend, the game started working more reliably… or people gave up on it.   Either way, I pretty much stopped hearing about it, except for Smed on Twitter assuring people that things would be fixed and posting links to posts on Reddit detailing what the latest patch would include.  Maybe the Massively post More Boredom than Terror rings true?

Either way, I was happy I was only reading about it.  The whole thing seemed not ready for prime time.

Of course, it was “early access,” so that much is to be expected I suppose.  Certainly that is the line that Smed, and SOE, and their more ardent defenders will stick to.  SOE had to offer up refunds again, as they did with Landmark, for people who were expecting a bit more.

So SOE has themselves covered by that “early access” label.  But it does feel like SOE was trying to be on both sides of the fence.  The whole thing was built up like a game launch.  But is it reasonable to set those sorts of expectations, with that many people piling in and all those servers being put online, along with charging money for the box and running your cash shop from day one, for something a company is running under “early access?”

My own view is that if you are charging money and have worked to get a cash shop in the game, your ability to hide behind words like “early access” and “beta” is somewhat diminished, an opinion I have held since the FarmVille days, when Zynga products seemed to be in eternal beta even as they earned buckets of money.

Anyway, while what SOE does with H1Z1 is of some interest to me, I had no interest in being part of their “pay to test while we develop the game” agenda.  That is pretty much the same song I have sung about Landmark, which has been in early access for nearly a year now.

My cynicism on display

My cynicism on display

At the end of the day though, I have to ask myself how these sorts of early access routines affect my desire to play a given game.  And the answer isn’t exactly favorable.  I am happy enough to have passed on an early investment in both games, but the drawn out nature of even watching from the sidelines has diminished Landmark for me, while H1Z1 running through what looks like PlanetSide 2 problems… which PlanetSide 2 is still having two years after launch… makes me willing to wait for a long, long time before I will bother trying.  Add in the fact that pwipes will be unlikely after a very early point in order to keep the hardcore fans invested and sweet in both games, where it certainly seems like location will matter, and it feels like SOE is selling advantage on top of charging people to test their incomplete visions over the long haul.  Both make me less likely to buy in.

And at some point in the middle-to-distant future, we will be getting EverQuest Next and the current pattern from SOE indicates that it will go through the whole early access routine as well, which gets something of an eye rolling frowny face from me.  Certainly the way Landmark has gone and the way H1Z1 has started has not endeared me to the early access idea.

I am not convinced that early access is a good thing, even when it is done better.  Over in the realm of Lord British, Shroud of the Avatar is also up on Steam for early access.  It is still in a rough state, too rough at least for me to want to devote much time to it.  I log in once in a while to see what it looks like, but am otherwise biding my time.

However, I feel differently about Shroud of the Avatar.  I bid on the Kickstarter to get a copy of the game, which was expected to cost money at some future date anyway.  And, despite the real estate focus of the game, I feel less like I will be missing out by not getting in early, there being a whole campaign to follow.

So maybe it is just the type of games that SOE has been launching of late, where there is contention over location.  Or maybe it is just the way they have gone about things in the traditional SOE way, where there are intense moments of hype and energy followed by long periods of quiet.

I think early access has worked well enough for other games.  At least I can point and some good examples, like Minecraft or Kerbal Space Program, where early access delivered something worthwhile, made people happy, and kept on evolving.  But for MMOs I feel less certain.  Is there a good early access story for an MMO? Should we avoid judging based on SOE?  How about ArcheAge or Trove?

What do you think about early access for MMOs?

 

Anyway, at some point H1Z1 will actually launch, at which point maybe I will give it a peek.  Until then the eager supports are welcome to it.

SOE Live 2014 – What Are You Wishing For?

Currently I am not very invested in any SOE games.  I pay some attention to changes in EverQuest, with occasional glaces towards EverQuest II, based mostly on nostalgia for the “good old days,” but otherwise there isn’t much in their current lineup that thrills me.  Landmark has some potential once it gets closer to being feature complete.  EverQuest Next has raised some enthusiasm, but exists only as a blur on the horizon at this point.  And the other remaining titles aren’t really my thing.

But here it is, the week of SOE Live, the time for announcements big and small.  Yes, whatever Smed says during the Thursday night keynote will likely be overwhelmed in the news cycle by Blizzard’s big Warlords of Draenor announcement planned for earlier in the day… I think the timing was more to head off the subscription numbers news than to stick it to SOE, but they seem to have gotten a threefer on that one if you include the SWTOR hit as well… plus there is Gamescom this week as well… but some of us will still be paying attention to SOE.

SOELiveLogo

And because it is that time, I am asking myself what I would like to see and what I expect come out of the event.  SOE Live can bring with it some very big news.  Last year had a lot of people talking about EverQuest Next.  What will we get year?

What I Expect

  • Some firming up of the Landmark timeline, with some more details about specific features, but no real “go live” information
  • Expansion announcements around EverQuest and EverQuest II, though as the F2P years roll along I am not sure expansions have all that much impact any more unless they raise the level cap or add new AA features
  • An open/paid beta plan for H1Z1 with an estimated date for access that will be off by at least a month
  • Something about fixing whatever woes are currently afflicting PlanetSide 2
  • Some more screenshots and in-game video from EverQuest Next, but nothing playable and no concrete details

Things I Would Like to See

  • A date for Landmark to be feature complete and generally available for those who didn’t pony up for a pay-to-test package. (Even if it is off by 3-6 months.)
  • Something solid, tangible, and new about EverQuest Next
  • Or just something that ignites some hope that EverQuest Next will be a game I want to play

Things I Fear Might Be Communicated

  • Closing down PlanetSide… well, that might not be a fear for me, but I do wonder how it is still running
  • Little or nothing about EverQuest Next
  • A draw down of content for EverQuest, no more expansions, limited content updates on a vaguely expressed timeline
  • That some new game is dedicated to the dispossessed players of another SOE title that has been shut down (e.g. The planned science fiction biome in Landmark is really dedicated to former players of Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures)
  • Some new technological dead end like SOEmote or SOE Launcher to eat up dev cycles for no real benefit or follow through (cue Sony Olfactory Enhancements or some such)

Dreams Likely to be Unfulfilled

  • Something about the next EverQuest nostalgia focused server, progression, classic, or otherwise
  • An announcement that an EverQuest II nostalgia focused server… original content, steeper leveling curve, more difficult mobs, or whatever… is in the offing
  • Something that might otherwise revive my interest in either EverQuest or EverQuest II… but I don’t know what… what is the “fix these games for Wilhelm” plan?
  • An open/paid beta plan for EverQuest Next with an estimated date for access… this I might pay for… maybe
  • Something about hats… no… wait…

From Left Field on Bizarro World Unlikely

  • The Agency being revived on the PlanetSide 2 platform ala H1Z1
  • The return of any dead SOE game
  • A new game announcement
  • The EverQuest Next plan being completely revised from last year’s announcement
  • EverQuest Next being cancelled
  • A ship date for EverQuest Next

So those are my various lists.  What do you want to see, expect to see, or fear might come from this year’s SOE Live?

 

Landmark and the Price of a Badly Defined Beta

There has been an argument over what “beta” means when it comes to software for as long as I have been part of the industry, which is pushing on 25 years now.

The baseline definition for me has always been that your software is feature complete and you feel it is ready to ship, but now you are going to take some time to get people outside the development group to look at things.  This can be surprisingly important and an eye opening experience, as when you have worked with a piece of software for months at a stretch, your brain becomes adjusted to the way it works.  You stop seeing the flaws and you become invested in the project vision.

And then you hand it to some fresh eyes who will, often almost immediately, tell if what you have been slaving over makes a lick of sense.  It can be a sobering moment when somebody, after five minutes with your product, makes a suggestion for a fundamental change that, upon reflection, seems obvious.  Plus they tend to catch all those quirks that the team has simply learned to work around to the point of developing a blind spot, those bugs that “everybody” knows about yet somehow never quite made it to the bug tracking database.

That is the idea in my book.  I have fought for that ideal now and then.  But I have been through the wringer enough times to know that fight can be futile.  So I have been through internal betas (where we learn how little the rest of the company cares) schedule betas (the schedule says we’re beta as of today so we are) political betas (we’re going beta today because if we don’t, somebody in senior management will look bad) survival betas (we’re going beta because if we don’t they’ll cancel the project and lay us all off) and the occasional investor beta (I gave your company money so install your product on my son’s laptop… and put more RAM in there as well… I don’t care, strip your lab machines if you have to).

But in all of that there is still a certain level feature availability before we hand the software over to fresh eyes, if for no other reason that a fresh perspective is a perishable commodity and you don’t want to waste it on things you should have caught yourself.  Once people have been in your beta a bit they will become fixated on things that are important to them and tend to not notice anything else.  Long betas introduce beta fatigue, as I am going to guess SOE is finding out with Landmark.

Landmark was in alpha for a stretch and then went into “closed beta” a few months back, which meant “paid beta” so far as I could tell.  I was invited in for a couple of seven day runs at the product and, as the joke goes, there wasn’t much “there” there.  I suspect that SOE is feeling interest wain as the software goes on and on with small but important changes but no real end in sight.  So while they fleeced convinced some people to pay money to get into the software early, I am going to guess that even the most hard core fan has some limit and really need more people online and active to test.

Which is why I suspect we got this sale today over at Steam.

LandmarkSteamSale

Yes, Landmark has been marked down to Steam Summer Sale levels of discount.  That is the basic Settler Pack, but the other tiers are available too, including upgrades if you are already invested.

All packages marked down

All packages marked down

I was a tad miffed that people were getting Planetary Annihilation for three bucks less than my Kickstarter pledge back during the Steam Summer Sale.  How would I feel if I was in for a hundred for the top tier Trailblazer Pack and then, still during closed beta, they offered up the same deal for $33.99?  I wonder if any of those early adopters will pipe up?

And given the caveats, I am not sure that $33.99 is a good deal from where I sit.  The warning on Steam as part of their Early Access disclaimer:

ATTENTION: Landmark is in Closed Beta. That means we are still adding core feature sets and that updates are happening weekly. Everything in the game is currently subject to change, which includes the possibility of wipes.

Please make sure to read the Landmark Blueprint, which provides a list of planned feature updates and timing estimates.

We are using an Open Development process to create this game, which means that you are encouraged to interact directly with the development team via the Steam Community, Twitter, Reddit, Twitch and our Forums. If you are interested in helping to create a game from the ground up, Landmark offers that opportunity.

For more information on the Landmark development process, click here.

The Landmark blueprint forum thread shows a list of features and says that they will be unveiling some new things at SOE Live in a couple of weeks.  But there is a long list of features, including almost everything that might turn Landmark into a game as opposed to a wanna-be Minecraft prototype, waiting to be implemented. (But they got the Station Cash store running muy pronto!)  There is certainly no obvious “okay, it is worth my time” point on their blueprint as yet.

While I am sure that for the devs actually working on the project, these changes are coming as fast as they can manage them, from the outside the pace can feel very different.  If you’ve been playing around with Landmark for six months or more at this point there is probably a good chance that your interest has faded somewhat, or that your focus has narrowed to a few things.  There certainly haven’t been a lot of blog posts about Landmark lately, and bloggers as a group tend to be more enthusiastic about their games than the average play.  SOE has gotten a mention here and there due to handing out seven day passes, but people who were on fire early on have been pretty quiet these days.

So, while I am not ready to claim that Landmark is DOA, it could be easily inferred that SOE needs some more people actually coming in to play, to start from scratch, to get involved, and to be enthusiastic about the game.  And for just under seven bucks I am slightly tempted.  But there still doesn’t seem to be enough there yet, and the game is going to be free to play eventually anyway.  So I will probably pass.

SOE has a chance to revive interest at SOE Live, though that can be a double edged sword as well.  They got a lot of people interested in EverQuest Next at the last SOE Live but haven’t said much about it since, and SOE has something of a history of sporadically building up enthusiasm with their customer base only to go silent for long stretches.

You Get to Decorate the House You Have, Not the House You Might Want

Housing is one of the great line-item features that a lot of people think every MMO should have.  There is a strong desire to have a place to call your own in what tends to be an unchanging and unalterable virtual world.  There is some need within us to leave our mark somewhere in the game.  I get that.

And companies have responded to that over the years, offering up various forms of housing.  Housing was a big part of Ultima Online back in the day.  Housing was part of the attraction of WildStar, which just launched a few weeks back.  And over the years I have explored various implementations.  If I play a game long enough, and it has housing, I am usually there to give it a try.

But how well it sticks for me… well, that is another story.

Rift offered up housing with the Storm Legion expansion, but it was so free form that I barely did anything with it.

Dimension by the Sea

Unfurnished Dimension by the Sea

People have done amazing things with dimensions in Rift… they were even doing so back during the Storm Legion beta… but, like most of Storm Legion, it just didn’t hook me.

Lord of the Rings Online, by comparison, offered some very pretty housing that was, in fact, a house.  A house on a lot even.

A house in Bree

A house in Bree

But the options for it were so limited that I ended up letting it lapse.  There wasn’t much advantage to having the house and the customizations were limited to just a few locations within the house.  You could hang up things from the world… taxidermied monsters or fishing trophies… but it still felt very generic.

And then clipping issues...

And then clipping issues…

And while I liked the idea of there being a yard, the instanced neighborhoods were somewhat awkward.

Elves and their damn monuments

Elves and their damn monuments

And it was tough to find a neighborhood where all of us could find a house we could afford.  In the end, the minor storage benefit of my house in LOTRO meant I let the lease lapse.

EverQuest actually threw down and added housing with the House of Thule expansion.  It borrowed a lot from its younger brother, EverQuest II, while using the instanced neighborhood model similar to LOTRO.  And I was reasonably impressed with SOE’s ability to overlay yet another complex interface onto the aging EverQuest client.  Plus the houses looked good.

A more complete development

A Norrathian housing development

The problem there was that I was pretty much done with EverQuest as a main game by that point.  I like to visit old Norrath, so I had to go try it out, but I had nothing really to put in the house and the upkeep, which was aimed at those who had kept up with inflation, was well beyond my means.

And there have been others.  Runes of Magic offered housing that gave you some form of storage, along with a woman in a skimpy French maid outfit.

Go Google the outfit

Go Google the outfit

Landmark seems to be all housing.  It is about as free form as you can get. no game at this point.

Behold Zuul's Sky Altar

Behold Zuul’s Sky Altar

The pity is that there is no actual game around it yet.

Meanwhile, in EVE Online, the Captain’s quarters… the start (and probably the end) of housing in New Eden… allowed you to see your full body at last, and then park that body on a couch to watch something boring on a screen.

What is on Space TV today?

What is on Space TV today?

That might be too meta for me.

And since I am on about different flavors of housing, I will mention Star Wars Galaxies before some fan comes in to remind us all that this was the greatest housing ever.  We will have to agree to disagree on that point.  Yes, it gave you your own little spot in the real world where you could open a store or whatever.  But it was a visual blight on the game,  with huge clumps of houses strewn across the open landscape, encroaching right up to the edge of any in-game landmark.  It made the game look like a Tatooine trailer park.

Looks like a Star Wars trailer park

Literally a Tatooine trailer park

But after having gone through so much in-game housing over the years, I have to say that there has only been one housing model that has really suited me.  And that is the EverQuest II model.

Yes, you do not get your own house in the midst of the world.  At best you share a door to a stately home or guild hall with everybody else who has rented the same facility, so you all live there in parallel in your own instances.  I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing.  It keeps away the blight problem, and while there is the problem of finding somebody’s house from a listing at a door, one of the bragging points I have heard about the SWG model was that finding people was difficult so that knowing where a given person lived and set up a store gave you power.  I’ll take the less blight version.

But the key for me was that EQII housing gave me exactly what I wanted, which was a simple house where I could hang trophies and other rewards from my travels.  I had the option to decorate, and at times Gaff, who had a carpenter, would send me some neat furniture to spiff up my home, but mostly I just decorated with things picked up as I played.  And the important part was that somebody at SOE foresaw that need and provided me with plenty of items to stick in my home.  In fact, whoever came up with the reward of a weapon you could mount on your wall for the Lore & Legend quests was a genius, followed by the person who decided to make heritage quest rewards displayable in your home.  I went through and looked at every character I had played past level 20 the other night, and every single one of them has a house and has at least some Lore & Legend quest rewards hung on the wall.

Weapons on the wall

Weapons on the wall

There are other aspects about it that make EQII housing good.  The interface is simple.  The house models themselves come in a variety of designs, from simple box flats to a whole island if you want a big guild hall.  And the base models are cheap.  You can have a house in any city for five silver a week, which was inexpensive back at launch when SOE was working very hard to keep a lid on inflation and no mob in the game dropped actual coin.

EverQuest II housing is really ideal for my desires. It is just a pity that it is in EQII.

It is a pity because I do not play EQII.  I don’t play it because, for all the little things it does right, I don’t enjoy the main game.  I don’t enjoy the main game, the character progression and zones and levels and what not for various reasons.  Some of the reasons are pretty concrete, such as the fact that none of my close friends play the game anymore.  It is on the official “never again” list for the instance group.  Some of the reasons are very subjective.  I really don’t like the 50-70 zones all that much.  Everything after Desert of Flames makes me yawn, and even that expansion still strikes me as “the new stuff.”

After all of the above, I am finally getting to my point.

Despite the fact that EverQuest II has pretty much the ideal housing setup for me, I do not play EverQuest II.  I don’t play EverQuest II because I don’t play MMOs for the side features, I play them because I enjoy the overall game.

So I love housing in EverQuest II and the music system in Lord of the Rings Online and the old world of EverQuest and the OCD inducing find all the points of interest apects of GuildWars 2 and… hrmm… I am sure sure there is something I could inject here about Rift if I thought about it… but I don’t play those game because the main game just doesn’t click with me.

I play World of Warcraft and EVE Online which, respectively, ten years in has no housing at all and possibly the most useless housing in the genre.  I play them because I enjoy the main game, or the part of the main game in which I indulge.

So if you are out there trolling for page views by raging about garrisons in one breath because they didn’t meet your unrealistic and unsubstantiated expectations, after making it clear you never cared about housing being brought to WoW in the previous breath, in an environment where housing was probably a slip of the tongue to describe the feature, because Blizzard has been pretty clear in the past about their views on housing in WoW… well… I guess I got the punch line at the start of this sentence, didn’t I?  Those who get paid by the page view…

Would I like garrisons to be EQII housing brought to Azeroth?  You bet!  That would be a dream come true.

But unless you have a compelling argument that garrisons are so bad that they are going to ruin the main game, there isn’t much drama to be had in my opinion.  We can talk about how better the developers might have spent their time I suppose.  But this is a pet battles sort of feature.

In the end, I am buying Warlords of Draenor for ten more levels of World of Warcraft and all the zones and stories and pop culture references and silly shenanigans that goes with it.  And I suspect that will be the story for most people.

If garrisons have any merit, people will play with them and maybe even stay subscribed a bit longer.  Or if they have any achievements… and of course they will have achievements… people will play with them for that.  And if garrisons are truly the waste of time and effort as described, then people will use them to the extent that they need to in order to get to level cap and grab the achievements, at which point they will be forgotten like many a feature in the past.

Is somebody going to try to convince me that this was a make or break feature for Warlords of Draenor?

Or, if you want, just tell me about your favorite MMO housing.  Somebody will anyway, so I might as well invite it!

The tl;dr version: If housing really is a must-have important feature for you, you probably aren’t playing WoW now and you probably won’t be playing it in the future.

Anyway, back to happy pictures.  I put a gallery of my housing collections in EQII, plus a bit of the Revelry & Honor guild hall (which is huge), after the cut, because it really is my ideal housing plan.

Continue reading

Landmark – Another Quick Peek Week

Sony dropped me an email Firday letting me know that they had activated my Landmark account for another seven days.  They seem to be trying to drum up interest by handing these seven day invites out.  I am not sure that this is the opportune time for such handouts.  The game… or what game there is… is still very raw right now and pretty much focused solely on resource gathering and building.  My daughter looked over my should at one point and said, “Oh, is that adult Minecraft?

Landmark_450px

Even the current logo just shows mining and building… though I haven’t seen anything as sophisticated as that water wheel as yet… though there is water of a sort in Landmark now.

Since I was able to amuse myself some the last time around, I decided to give the game another look in its closed beta (for specific definitions of “beta”) state.

Unfortunately, back when I first looked into things, there was a meager five day limit on how far out you could pay up the rent on your claim, so I knew my previous location and everything I had done would be gone.  SOE even sent me an in-game message telling me what happened to my claim.

Helpful yet unavailable mail message

Helpful yet unavailable mail message

And that message would have been very useful, had the game not crashed as I was trying to access it.

Something changed… not sure if it was on my side or on SOE’s… but I was getting a lot of video card related crash to desktop events in the first couple of hours I was back this past weekend, despite a couple reboots.  The joy of being in a pre-alpha closed beta I suppose.

Anyway, that left me running around on Saturday unaware that I hadn’t lost all of my stuff, it was just stored away some place I couldn’t access.  The game, however, was keen to let me know I had a template of my old structure, so I tried to figure out what to do with that.

I attempted to just lay it out, but it told me I needed a claim.  I ran off and created a new claim flag, my old one being stored away with everything else, and started looking around for a place to plant it.  I was able to find something not too far from the spires, at the junction of a couple of buffer zones.

A little spot of my own

A little spot of my own

I grabbed the spot and started fiddling with the template again, trying to use it on my new location.  This time it started telling me I was grossly short of materials to recreate such a structure.  I thought that you got refunded all of your building material when you lost your claim (which was true, and which I would have known had I been able to open up that mail and attachment mentioned above), so I was a bit annoyed to find myself short on mats.  I tried fiddling with the template, deleting it just in case the raw materials were somehow locked up as part of it.  No luck.

That might have put me in a sour mood for a while.

And that will be... December?

And that will be… December?

I tinkered with the remove tool on my claim, then went off to do something else.

The next day I returned for a bit and was actually able to access the mail message above and access the attachment, so was suddenly flush with resources again.  I took all of that and built a sacrificial altar dedicated to Zuul up in the sky above my claim.  I was originally thinking about some sort of swimming pool in the sky, until I found that water was a thing, but not yet a thing you could do anything with… plus the ocean was miles away… so a sacrificial altar in the sky became the choice.

Behold Zuul's Sky Altar

Behold Zuul’s Sky Altar

There is a platform extending behind the altar that allows one to dispose of the bodies by dropping them into the deepest pit the game will allow.  Seriously, I got out the removal tool, dialed it up to maximum size, and then started digging until it would let me dig no further.  You eventually hit a hard stop rather than, say, falling through the world.  Falling through the world doesn’t require any digging at all.  I managed to do that by just stepping off the ramp to the altar at an odd angle.

Lower than the deepest pit...

Lower than the deepest pit…

After digging my pit, I decided that I had better leave a way out, so I jumped into it and carved out a series of ascending caves leading back up to the surface.  The removal tool is my current favorite, as you can make a large impact on your claim with a relatively small effort.  Other potential building plans I had for my claim petered out when I started running low on materials again.  That served to remind me that any effort I expended in gathering would be for naught once the big pre-open beta wipe came.  Losing the results of all of ones efforts looms large over Landmark for me.

So I remain interested in where Landmark might end up… and, of course, what it might presage for the distant promise of EverQuest Next… but I am reluctant to expend a lot of effort on something that is going to be taken away.

So, yes, call me for open beta.  I’ll be ready to invest then.