Tag Archives: Misty water colored memories

On Departures from Our Corner of the Web

MMOs are a strange sub-genre of video games.  As noted this month… and just about every month… it is tough to even define what an MMO is.  People claim some things are MMOs that meet almost none of what I would consider the baseline requirements, while Smed was trying to tell us that H1Z1 wasn’t an MMO despite the fact that it seems to meet nearly all the criteria I would use to make that determination.

And how many video game sub-genres get this much focus?

If you want to find video game news sites, they are plentiful, as are sites that narrow that down to games on a specific platform.

Or, if you want to find a site that focuses on a specific title or series of games, that seems pretty doable.

But when you start talking about video-game subgenres… action RPGs or text adventures or turn-based strategy or simulations… the sites start to get a little niche.

MMOs though… MMOs are a little different.  We have had sites and magazines and columns in major publications dedicated to just our own favorite genre.

Michael Zenke's old column at 1Up.com

Michael Zenke’s old column at 1Up.com

I started this site at the height of what I would call the golden age of MMO blogging.  It was the VirginWorlds podcast era, a show that brought a lot of people together and was, in a way, emblematic of the time.  Brent could climb into the converted sauna that served as his recording studio and bang out about an hour of content once a week that would really cover all the important news we wanted to hear.

MMOs were all about success back then, they made lots of money, and the few oddball titles that got closed were clearly going down because of bad design or bad execution.  World of Warcraft, while already wildly distorting the measure of success in the genre, seemed to herald continued growth and endless possibilities.  People wanted to talk about them, argue over them, and most of all, hear about the next great thing that was sure to come.

And I think that all of this came about because MMOs are such a social video game genre.

A lot more people played FarmVille than any MMO, and a lot more probably play Candy Crush Saga.  But if you meet somebody else who plays one of those games, there generally isn’t a ton of excitement over it.

But if I meet somebody who plays an MMO that I play, it has to become “what server, what class, what level, do you know so-and-so, how about the next update/expansion they are talking about” and so on.  (And if I meet somebody who plays EVE Online, just go away for an hour or two, because we have to figure out how we are linked… and we always are in some odd way… in New Eden.)

And the social nature of our hobby has led us to have almost an over abundance of site covering MMOs.  We have MMORPG.com, Ten Ton Hammer, MMO Champion and Massively all trying to cover all aspects of the genre as well as a host of sites that drill down and concentrate of smaller aspects.  There is such an array of choices that I cut back the MMO news site feeds to what I considered the bare essentials.  The MMO news sites in my reader today are:

  • Massively – Nearly all things MMO
  • MMO Fallout – Filled in the corners for NCsoft and Jagex and a few other topics
  • WoW Insider – Everything I needed to know about WoW
  • EQ2 Wire – Everything anybody sane needs to know about EverQuest II
  • The Mittani and EVE News 24 – All EVE Online, with comedic juxtaposition

However, as we learned today, that list is getting the chopped by two very soon.

Rumors had already been floating around about how AOL was going to shut down Joystiq and all sites under the Joystiq domain, a domain that includes both Massively and WoW Insider.  (WoW Insider was WoW.com for a brief moment in time before AOL thought the domain was better off hosting a half-assed Groupon clone… which they later closed.)

MassivelyWoWInsiderLogosAnd so it goes.  Massively came on the scene towards the end of 2007 and was staffed by a lot of names familiar to me, like Michael Zenke and Mike Schramm… and other people not named “Mike.”

If you go back to the first snapshot of the site over at the Internet Archieve, it is fun to see what they opened up with; Tabula Rasa, Echoes of Faydwer for EQ2, EVE Online, whether or not there was going to be a Knights of the Old Republic based MMO, and, of course, Second Life!  I remember people complaining about there being too damn much Second Life coverage on Massively for the first year or so.  And, of course, the Welcome to Massively post, which laid out the intentions for the site.  The first paragraph:

This is it. The design is in place, our bloggers are trained and at the ready, and the password has been lifted from the site. Our brand new blog, Massively, is now live and ready for your perusal, your comments, your tips, and your eyeballs. Here, you’ll find breaking news about MMO games both upcoming and established, insightful and wisecracking commentary about your favorite worlds, tips on how to get all your characters in all those universes the best they can be, and the high level of quality you’ve come to expect from WoW Insider, Second Life Insider, Joystiq and the Fanboy network. This is Massively, and welcome to it.

That was still in the heyday of MMO blogs and for a couple of GDCs up in San Francisco, meeting up with Brent and a couple people from Massively and other members of our blogging circle would be something of a tradition. (pictures from 2008, 2009, 2010)

So it is a sad moment as we bid farewell to both Massively and WoW Insider.  But that is the nature of life and the web and blogging.  People show up for a season, we interact, and maybe they stay longer or maybe they move on… but we all move on eventually.  And so we remember two sites about to depart.  They will both go away on February 3rd… Tuesday… Patch day.

  • WoW Insider – November 2005 to February 2015
  • Massively – November 2007 to February 2015

Others in our little corner… and outside of it as well… are also writing about Massively and WoW Insider.

Now who is going to fix all my links to both sites so they hit the Internet Archive instead of whatever doubtless horrible site will end up in their place?

And who should be in my feed now?

And, finally, the only thing I am sure AOL will be remembered for.

Addendum: The farewell posts for Massively and WoW Insider are up.

The Night the Lights Went Out in Norrath

A memory of the Great December Downtime in EverQuest II

It was just about ten years ago.

EverQuest II had be live for a little over a month.  There were troubles.  After having a couple weeks to itself in the market, World of Warcraft launched and the harsh comparisons began.  It wasn’t that EQII didn’t have some better features than WoW… for example, I have always felt that EQII’s version of in-game maps was superior… but in a market that, up until that moment, had been dominated by EverQuest, it was something of a fight to see which of the two would become EQ’s true successor.  After all, EQ was more than five years old at that point, and who plays a five year old game?  It was practically on death’s door, waiting to hand off to a new generation.

And in that fight, EverQuest II was not faring well.  Some people I knew who came from EverQuest had either gone back or moved on to WoW at that point.  EQII was down, but not out.  The game was still growing, this still being the age of the slow ramp rather than the sudden spike.

SOE was trying to fix things that were becoming a hindrance to players.  We were destined to get floating quest markers over NPCs and changes to the woefully inadequate quest log and the first of many revamps to the crafting system.  SOE knew they had to adapt.  They could see WoW.

In our guild, a mash-up of players from the EverQuest guild Knights of Force, the TorilMUD guild Shades of Twilight, and a few fellow travelers from the Old Gaming Veterans clan, things were holding on.  A few players had dropped out of the game, though they were mostly the non-MMO players from OGV who went back to playing Desert Combat.  But for the most part we were holding in there, grouping up to run through zones or crafting away.

On voice coms we mocked those who ran off to Blizzard’s cartoon MMO, though there was a feeling that maybe EQII wasn’t the true successor to EQ.  The early buzz around Brad McQuaid and Vanguard had started.  That was going to be the real deal.  But for now, EQII was the best we had, so we put up with locked encounters and experience debt and system requirements that burnt out more than a couple nVidia 6800 GT cards in our guild. (I was running with a 6600 GT card, which meant I had to keep the graphic settings modest, but I also didn’t need to replace the damn thing… or my power supply… over and over like some.  There is probably a post in “video cards I have run” some day.)

We were coming up to a good stretch of game play.  The holiday’s were coming.  Like many people in our guild, I had a stretch of time off and was looking forward to some good, solid chunks of game play time.

Then, as we were headed to that first weekend, SOE applied some updates and restarted the servers.

And they did not come back up.

Here is where the details get a bit vague.  I recall the game, or at least our server, being down pretty much Friday night through Sunday, a huge patch of premium gaming time washed away.

But concrete details are not easy to come by.

The SOE forum posts, all the status updates and such, have long since been washed away by changes to the forum software.  The conspiracy nut in me suspects that they change the forums every few years just to dump bad memories and excess baggage.

I mentioned that Massive Magazine did an article about the incident in their first issue.  That was just about two years after the event, when memories of the whole thing were sharper.  I think I still have a copy stuffed away in a box.  But we packed up and moved houses since then, so if it is in a box somewhere, it appears well hidden.

Digging around the web, I found some references to what happened.  Terra Nova mentions the event, but links the SOE forum thread, long since gone, and a site called MMORPGDOT, also a distant memory. (And looking at the internet archive only shows them making a very brief mention of the event.)

Likewise, there is a mention of the even happening at Slashdot, written by Michael Zenke, which links to a few sources, including the SOE forums, all of which are long gone save the Terra Nova post mentioned above.

Other news sites that cover MMO don’t go back that far (Massively) or went through changes or otherwise appear to have purged their archives beyond a certain point.

This is one of those points when I wish I had started blogging sooner.  Two years earlier and I would have written something about this, as I wrote about the great Sony hacking of 2011 which brought down both the PlayStation Network and SOE. (Not to be confused with the great Sony hacking of 2014.)

PSNDownSo I started nosing around at various blogs just to see what people were writing about when the downtime occurred.  A lot of the self-hosted blogs from that era have disappeared, or have had database problems, but a few still linger. (My Great Survey of Linking Blogs post helped out.  I will have to do another of those at some point.)

However, it did not seem to garner much attention.  The event coincided with Raph Koster’s book, A Theory of Fun, hitting the shelves.  There was a discussion of niche games in the MMO market, which still seems relevant today, and something about what WoW would mean to Dark Age of Camelot. (Or something of a contrary view.)

The only real mention I could find amongst the few blogs remaining from the time was by Tobold, for whom the server down time meant moving to WoW ahead of his initial plan. (Poking around also got me to this then-so-current WoW vs. EQ2 post at GameSpy.)

So here I sit, vague memories swirling, wondering how big of a deal the whole thing really was at the time.  Certainly evidence of the event has faded from the internet and worse things have happened.  Didn’t Arche Age just have a similar incident.

I think our own guild was emotionally entrenched in EQII at the time, so we just carried on once things were up again.

Do you remember the Great December Downtime of ten years ago?

Can you find anything else about it on the net?  If you find something I’ll add a link to the end of the post.

Vanguard – All Sagas Must End

Decades from now it seems likely that Vanguard: Saga of Heroes will be little more than a footnote in the history of the genre.  Facing at best lukewarm reviews and launching into the teeth of World of Warcraft’s expansion The Burning Crusade, some future investigator might not even feel the need to look into the myriad technical problems the game had or the daunting system requirements it took to run it.  As for SOE buying the game at the point when it would have otherwise shut down, I suspect that will be dismissed, along with the purchase of The Matrix Online, as a vain attempt to stay in the big leagues by trying to bulk up its offerings in the face of Blizzard’s Azerothian juggernaut.

Play Vanguard - Ride a Dragon

Play Vanguard – Ride a Dragon?

My theoretical future researcher, reviewing what passes for the Internet Archive in 2080, will probably conclude that the game should have closed down in 2007 because it could not have made enough money for SOE to be worth the diversion of resources from other projects. (Assuming said researcher doesn’t run across references to SOEmote, that EQ voice command thing, or the unified launcher and discover what SOE has a history of doing with its extra development cycles.)

And a more casual investigator might just look at the timeline of the genre and see a game that ran for seven years.  It must have been okay, good but not great, as it outlasted many other titles. While not as good as that Anarchy Online game, it certainly must have been much better than any of those NCsoft offerings that only lasted a couple of years, or even it stablemate Wizardry Online, which didn’t even make it to the two year mark.

Time and distance from events will do that.  Far down the road the timeline from Ultima Online or Meridian 59 out to whatever will be another decade hence will merge into a series of very close dates, which will wring out much of the emotion of the time from the equation.

But back in 2005 and 2006 things were different; they were different than there are now… quite palpably so… and will be practically Bizarro World alien fifty years down the road.

2006 especially was a turning point in the genre.  Before 2006, there was a series of successes, Ultima Online, which was then trumped by EverQuest, which was in turn trumped by World of Warcraft, that seemed to define a pattern.  It seemed like any MMO could make it, even if it suffered from a bad launch, and that subscription growth was a long term organic thing.  The idea of a “three monther” would have been completely foreign.

There also were not that many games.  I bemoan the long slumber of the VirginWorlds MMO podcast, but in a way it feels like perhaps its time has passed.  During its heyday, from early 2006 into late 2008, the MMORPG market what from what I would call a “knowable thing,” where you could keep track of, and develop opinions about, the majority of the titles in the genre.  WoW was big, but it didn’t seem insurmountable, and the idea of a game suffering for not being WoW would have been odd.

The genre was also evolving, in a very Darwinian, natural selection sort of way as it turns out.  Not that we saw it that was at the time.

While the genre seemed to be moving towards WoW at the time, there was a theory that was widely held in certain parts of the fanbase that WoW was but a stepping stone and that all those WoW players would, one day, desire a deeper, more fulfilling, and necessarily more hardcore MMORPG.  WoW was merely the training ground for a mass of “real” players.  If you dig around blogs and forums from the time frame, you will find that theme recurring over and over.

And in the midst of all of that strode Brad McQuaid.  I called his a “name to conjure with” back when he was kicking off Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  Back then he was a force to be reckoned with, the keeper of the secret flame, the spirit of what made EverQuest great, and the hope for the salvation of the genre.  Having left SOE in alleged disgust over the direction the company was going with EverQuest and EverQuest II, he struck out with a few like-minded individuals in order to re-imagine the MMORPG genre, steering it back to its more satisfying and hardcore roots.

That sounds like a lot of smoke, but I recall night after night being on Teamspeak with my Knights of the Cataclysm guild mates, a group made up mostly of people from EverQuest or TorilMUD… both training grounds for hardcore purists… and hearing them go on and on with Dorfman-like “this is going to be great!” enthusiasm as to how Brad McQuaid… Brad, who understood us and who rejected easy death penalties and instancing… and his game, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, was going drain players from all of these other pretend, pre-school MMOs.

I had not even heard of Vanguard up until then.  In my post-EverQuest “can’t get broadband in the middle of Silicon Valley” era, I had lost touch with the genre, so that first year in EverQuest II included a lot of catching up on what had happened.

Vanguard was going to be it.  The antidote.  The next coming.  The savior.

Of course, all of that talk was based on forum chatter and rosy statements from Sigil about their vision.

Later, when the game was in closed beta, and then in open beta, feelings started to change.

Not that there wasn’t hope.  Not that the vision was seen as wrong or that Sigil had deviated from it.  But it did start to seem like the company might not have the capital to cash all the checks written by their vision.

I first got into Telon, the world of Vanguard, back in open beta, and things were a mess.  Or a relative mess at least.  The 16GB download, quite a chore in early 2007, was just the start.

If it had been 1997… or even 2002… people might have stuck with the game and its myriad of technical problems and huge system requirements.  But by the time it launched at the end of January 2007, the world was proving to be a different place with many options for those who wanted to swing a virtual sword.

Sigil was working hard fixing and polishing the game well into January.  That helped some, but it wasn’t enough.  At the same time SOE decided to jack up the price of its all-you-can-eat Station Access subscription plan, effectively making it more expensive than subscribing to two SOE MMOs directly, which couldn’t have helped.

What looked like a respectable start, with something like 200K players buying a box and joining the game, quickly turned into a route as game issues large and small soured people.  By April Brad was issuing updates about the problems and how they were going to address them and how 2008 Vanguard would be much better than the 2007 version.  But you were still going to need a bigger processor as well as a current graphics card to play the game very well.

The big problem that remains is that you still pretty much need a new system as opposed to, say, simply a new graphics card…

The game is simply not CPU bound, nor just graphics card bound, but rather mostly bound by the data that it needs to constantly move from the CPU to main memory to the graphics card, and then all the way back again.  It’s all about the various bus speeds and caches – moving data around efficiently is arguably more important than processing that data on the CPU or GPU…

-Brad McQuaid, SOE Vanguard forums

Things were clearly not going well.  As April 2007 came to a close, there were rumors and speculation as to what might happen as subscription numbers sagged while technical issues persisted.  SOE started to get mentioned as possibly taking a bigger role with the game.

I came up with my own list of possible future avenues for Vanguard, at least two of which eventually came to pass.

Then came the parking lot layoffs as SOE officially announced it was taking over Sigil and Vanguard.

Then came the SOE years.  They were heroes initially at least, but hard work and hard choices remained.  Servers were merged shortly to try and make the most of Telons dwindling population.  The quiet years began, where SOE spent resources stabilizing the game, fixing the crashes, simplifying the character models, and generally making it run well.  And, as always happens, the march of time and improvements in computer performance washed away many of the woes of 2007.

There was the long, long neglect, as Vanguard sat, barely tended, home to a few dedicated players.  People like Karen at Journeys with Jaye kept the Vanguard spirit alive.  Her blog is home to a wealth of information and images related to the game.

Then, in late 2011, much to everybody’s surprise, SOE suddenly took an interest in Vanguard again.  This led to the game following its SOE stablemates in going free to play in 2012, leaving the original PlanetSide as the only subscription MMO at SOE.

The cash shop in Vanguard sold all sorts of things, especially equipment, that would had raised howls of protest in EverQuest II.  But there wasn’t much protest.  I couldn’t tell if Vanguard players didn’t care, or if there just were not enough of them left for their complaints to be audible.

Free lasted less than two years before the end was announced.  Smed said that the game had not been paying its own way for a few months by then, even after it was put back in benign neglect mode.  Vanguard, along with Free Realms, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, and Wizardry Online were to be closed in 2014.  The kids games went faster, done by the end of March, while Vanguard and Wizardry Online were left to run until yesterday.

And so the end has come.  At 6pm Pacific Time last night the servers were shut down.  Vanguard has passed into history, joining many other titles in the genre.

In the end, for me, the ending doesn’t mean much.  I never played the game much.  I gave it a shot early on, I actually still have the retail box on my bookshelf, and then again when it went free to play.

Vanguard Box

Vanguard Box

I did not spend much time playing at either point.  I barely took any screen shots, which is odd for me.  In digging through them, I found a couple of characters.

Fomu from 2007

Fomu from 2007

Teresten from 2013

Teresten from 2013

Both look a bit awkward, as character models in Vanguard tended to.  Neither brought back any memories of adventure.

Instead of a game I played, like EverQuest or LOTRO or whatever, Vanguard is more like a signpost in the history of the genre for me.  Its creation was a sign of its times, and its demise a warning to all who would come later.  The dream that WoW players would evolve and seek greater challenges in games that were more hardcore was debunked, and the idea that WoW could be eclipsed started to slip.

Yes, it wasn’t until Star Wars: The Old Republic that the industry as a whole finally agreed that WoW was an outlier rather than the next hurdle to clear to claim success.  But Vanguard was a warning, a sign that in a world with popular choices that work, the “I’m different” card wasn’t enough.

And so it goes.  Vanguard, which was going to bring back the EverQuest vision, look good, and be all things to all people failed to materialize, ending up a small niche game with too much overhead to survive.  And now we’re looking at a series of lean, niche games pursuing the old school MMO feel; Camelot Unchained, Shroud of the Avatar, Project Gorgon, and of course Brad McQuaid’s own Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  Small is back, and they are targeting audiences of a size that Blizzard gains or loses between the average quarterly report.

And, in its way, Vanguard was sort of the end of innocence in the genre.  As I said above, before Vanguard the genre seemed small and knowable by a single person.  Since then it has sprawled, with games coming and going at a rapid pace.  The world has changed since we were sitting on TeamSpeak telling ourselves how great the game was going to be.

What an aptly named game, if nothing else.  It was in the vanguard of the genre, in its own failing way, and its tale is certainly a saga.

Other posts remembering Vanguard around the blogesphere:

Memories, Timelines, and the Bigger Picture

There is a horribly worn out old book on the book shelf in my office.  It is a soft-bound copy of The Twentieth Century – An Almanac.

The Twentieth Century: An Almanac

The cover in good condition

I used to pick up that book and read through sections all of the time, to the point that the book looks very worn out.  There wasn’t anything particularly startling or new or exciting about the content of the book, except that it was history, which I enjoy.

What drew me to the book was the format.

At its heart, the book is a simple listing of details, year by year, decade by decade, in chronological order, without breaking them out into the usual topics.  So rather than reading just about WWII or the Great Depression or any other events that we tend to look at in a vacuum, everything is woven together, giving a better sense, to my mind, of the complexity and parallel nature of history.

There are always a lot of things going on at once.  Just because the Korean War was going on did not stop politics, the arts, diplomacy, and a whole host of other conflicts, brewing, in progress, or otherwise, from continuing apace.  The world never stops.

Of course, the book’s title is a bit misleading.  As it was published in 1985, it was only an almanac of roughly 84% of the 20th century.  And since no update or revision was ever done, the 20th century ends with Reagan’s re-election, while the Cold War continues on.

Still, I enjoyed the book immensely.  I have never found another work that combined the detail and parallel flows of history so well.

And to a certain degree, that book influences what I have ended up trying to do with this blog.  Part of the blog is a chronicle of my own gaming adventures.  But I also try to include bigger events, things that are landmarks in the time stream of gaming, not because I aspire to be a news site, but because they indicate what else was going on in the field.

It is an attempt to make my own almanac of gaming I suppose.

After the cut, there are lots of words about the distortion of memory, old games, and what I was playing when in a general sense, along with some charts.  The charts are an attempt to provide a framework for memory, and are a work in progress themselves.

You have been warned.

Continue reading

EVE Online and the Age of the Cormorant…

Here I am, just about five years after first jumping into EVE Online.  As I said previously, I feel in my gut that when my subscription lapses in a few day, it will be a long time before I return to New Eden.  My capsuleer will be headed for a long sleep.

And the reason is that nothing about the game really inspires me at this time.

EVE requires inspiration.  Being a sandbox, you have to set your own goals and pursue them.  I have managed to create my own modest goals at various times.  Some were simple, like aspirations to fly certain ships.  Others were more complicated, like delving into manufacturing and tech II blueprint production.

Most came to fruition, some quite profitably.  My days as a minor tycoon, buying and selling in EVE’s dynamic market, made me about double the ISK that all my other activities combined.

A few failed or came to no real net benefit.  Tech II turned out to be a money sink, at least the way I went about it.  The cost of getting into a freighter never really benefited me that much.  And the W-space station plan failed, ironically in the huge volume of space, for lack of a place to raise our control tower.

But there was a point, early on, when just playing the game, just being in space and flying around, was inspiration enough.  I tend to think of that time as the age of the Cormorant.

The Cormorant, the Caldari destroyer, was the first ship I really flew on a regular basis.  This was primarily prompted by the fact that the very first mission I drew post-tutorial was “Worlds Collide.”

That mission and I have a history.

After losing my Ibis frigate, I decided to work my way towards the biggest ship I could potentially afford.  For me, that was the Cormorant.

I managed to scrape together the ISK to get the skills and buy the ship and fittings.  For the tier 1 version of “Worlds Collide,” this proved to just about adequate for a complete noob.  And so began the run with the first ship I really considered to be mine.

And today I can bring back a glimmer of that feeling, that sense of sheer joy for the hell of it, that sensation I got when playing EVE Online early on in my career, but just looking at some of the screen shots I took at the time.

This is why I take so many screen shots.

And so I give you images from the age of the Cormorant, with a little commentary after each.

Cormorant Docking

That was what EVE seemed like to me early one.  I was a tiny ship in a land of giant objects, my tiny little trails marking my path across space.

Cormorant Classic

The classic graphics version of the Cormorant.  Back then, this was the only ship model.

Asteroid Pass

Again, a small ship in the giant sea of space.

Guns Blazing!

My Cormorant cutting loose.  This has to be the mission “Avenge a Fallen Comrade.”  I was probably at the part where you must destroy the station, which allowed me to go into an orbit, turn on weapons, and then work on getting a screen shot.  The dust discharge from the rail guns in the wake of the ship is a nice touch.  I cannot recall if that effect is still in.

Scratch one frigate!

Explosions were both more and less dramatic back then.  I am pretty sure that this was a missile kill, just given the range.  The six rail guns would chew up a target over time, but a standard missile was close to a one shot kill and could reach out a long ways.  I would target the missile launcher separately at more distant targets while I would close for the guns.

Swooping Cormorant

Again, back in the mission “Avenge a Fallen Comrade.”  That odd-shaped asteroid is always the key.  Here are trails, a feature long since removed from the game, describing the arcing flight of the ship.  Of course, I probably have some screen shots buried some place that show the flaws in trails.  You could get very odd kinks in your trails and once in a while your ship would appear to be about 15 degrees off center from the trails.

But when trails were behaving, they were quite pretty.  I miss them.

Those are my Cormorant screen shots.  They represent a simpler time for me in the game.

Those pictures, and many more, are available at my “other” site, EVE Online Pictures.