Tag Archives: Rambling Detected

EVE Online and the Return to Expansions

There is a joke about business consultants that says if they go to a company that has a diversified portfolio of products that they will say the company should focus on its core competencies, but if they go to a company that is focused on their core competencies they will say the company should diversify their portfolio.

Distilled down, consultants often get paid to tell you that the grass is measurable greener, complete with supporting data, case studies, and customer interviews, on the other side of the fence.

But some times we don’t need a consultant to make us change course.  Sometimes we run off in pursuit of that greener grass all on our own.

Which brings me, in a round about way, to CCP’s decision to return to the idea of expansions, which was something that CCP announced at Fanfest.  Expansions are back.

Those who have been around for a long time remember that twice annual expansions used to be part of the EVE Online experience, and many of us remember those expansion names with a mixture of fondness and dread. (I have a bunch of those splash screens here if you want a ride down memory lane.)

Incarna – June 2011 – That guy looks more skeptical every time I see him

But back in 2014 CCP decided that expansions were not the thing anymore.  The era of the Jesus feature was over. Instead they attempted to go to a ten release a year cadence.  Incredibly, in hindsight, they tried to give each of those ten update a name… and theme music.

A new musical theme used to be a feature of every expansion or update for a long stretch.  those were the days.  It was a time of many things.

That proved to be too much work… names fell away and music stopped being a thing… but at least we were getting timely updates.  One of the downsides of the expansion era was often large gaps between any fixes as the company preferred the expansion to be the release vehicle.  And once the expansion hit, updates were often focused on fixing things broken in the expansion as opposed to other areas of the game.  And not every expansion was a big splash feature event.  I think we ended up with Revelations II because it was mostly fixing what was shipped with Revelations.

Revelations II – June 2007

CCP eventually opted for the quadrants idea, where each quarter of the year would have a theme and would feature updates based on that theme.  That was a bit more reasonable, better suited a modern development cadence, and still delivered fixes and updates on a regular basis.

And it wasn’t like we didn’t have some expansion-like releases.  I called the Invasion update an expansion, as it introduced the Triglavians to New Eden.  Kind of a big deal.

The Invasion was May 2019

So, in my way, I get why CCP wants to go back to the twice annual big expansion format.  It hearkens back to the peak years of the game, when growth was continuing and it seemed like CCP had the potential to conquer the world.

And believe me, some part of me wants to relive that era.  Amazing things were happening.  Huge wars, new features, crazy new ships, new areas of space, it seemed an endless bounty if you just squint hard enough through those rose tinted lenses.

But there was a lot going wrong, a lot of dropping features and moving on, a lot of broken things left unfixed, and not a lot of focus on quality of life.  The end of the expansion era saw a team show up dedicated to just fixing things, and we liked that a lot too.

Finally, while I haven’t gone and done a study of the time between announcements and launches like I have done with WoW, even years later I am left with the distinct impression that the time frames there were short, that we got 6-8 weeks build up before an expansion.  That is almost nothing compared to a WoW expansion or a new Pokemon game release, which we might be fed tidbits and updates about for a year of more.

Which is pretty similar to the build up for big features we’ve had since the end of the expansion era, so I fail to see much of a difference… unless they plan to announce things much earlier.

Anyway, I don’t have a hard point to drive home here.  It is more of a question as to whether or not CCP can recapture player enthusiasm with expansions again.  If nothing else, an expansion implies the company is bringing something big to the game.  You can get away with tuning and adjustments with quadrants, but for an expansion to land it needs to bring something new.

We shall see.  It was another of the things at Fanfest about the future rather than the present.

The TL;DR

  • The expansion era had its own set of issues.
  • CCP has been able to deliver expansion-like content with full fanfare since that era.
  • So what are we solving for by going back?

Is EVE Anywhere Anything to Care About?

I like the idea of being able to just play any game in a browser rather than having a dedicated client, but are the limitations worth the effort of building such a client?

This, of course, is related to CCP’s EVE Anywhere implementation, which was announced quite a while back and has been out in a limited beta version since March of 2021.

EVE Anywhere as long as you accept the limitations

I bring this up again because CCP released a dev blog yesterday announcing that EVE Anywhere was now available for Alpha accounts, which are those who haven’t opted for the monthly subscription plan.  The free players.

(As an aside, to whoever wrote the headline for that dev blog, it sounds like EVE Anywhere is ready for alpha testing, though it has been in beta for over a year.  I can’t tell if that was poor phrasing or a warning about the state of the implementation… though why not both?)

I tried it out when it was first available and I tried it out again this past week and… almost everything I complained about back then is still true now.

  • Fixed resolution (1920×1080)

Not the worst sin possible in and of itself, but if your monitor is not that resolution things may not look right.

  • Can only be run in full screen

This, on the other hand, is a pain in the ass, and all the more so as the app makes you think you can run it in a window or some mode besides full screen.

The lies the client tells me

But no, as soon as you get out of full screen the window is obscured by the banner that required you to click to get back to full screen.

No, you must play full screen

Oh well.

  • Doesn’t remember any settings client settings

I could probably live with the first two and find some utility in being able to log in with a web client, but then there is this.  This is the deal breaker.

Basically, any setting that the standard client stores locally… which is pretty much all of your UI choices and your overviews and such… are not picked up by the web client.

You might expect that.  The real problem is that it doesn’t remember any changes you make in the web client either.  Every time you log in it is the new unconfigured client experience.  I don’t like fiddling with my overview on the best of days, so I certainly don’t want to do it every time I log in and undock.

I will say that at least it does run in Firefox now.  It wouldn’t work for me last time, though I will admit I have my copy of Firefox locked down pretty tight.  Now it will run… it just doesn’t work very well.  Keyboard short cuts don’t work so you need to mouse and click on everything, including quitting the client.

I know, you’re going to tell me it is in beta.  It says so right there on the launch button, so it is a work in progress, and I should be charitable.  And, even a year in, I can buy into that idea.  It still isn’t very useful to me, but nobody is forcing me to use it, so its problems do not have my problems.

The little red beta flag is there to deflect criticism

And I wouldn’t have bothered with this post at all save for one detail in the dev blog.

They did, indeed, make it available to Alpha clone players, but those Alphas have to pay to use it.

Every 24 hour period required you to pay 30 PLEX which, assuming you buy the 3,000 PLEX package, means you have to pony up $1.25 a day to play.  And that just blows be away.

There are, in my world view, only two reasons you would bother making a web client version of EVE Online.

The first is that CCP is concerned that some portion of their player base, real or potential, don’t have machines that can run the client in a way that makes the game look good.  A cloud based thin client, something about which I wrote about previously, puts all the processing and rendering on the server side of the equation and the end user can just look at the pretty space pictures on their Chromebook or whatever.

And maybe that is the aim of the feature.

But the other reason you would do all of this work on a thin client so that players could run your game in a web browser is to reduce the friction that keeps new players from trying your game.  Remember that chart CCP showed us back in 2019?

How many new players log back in as time passes

CCP has been focused on the 10K or so players who log into the game to keep them logging in.  But you could argue that the stand-out number on that chart is the gap between the number of accounts registered versus how many actually log into the game.  Half of the potential players don’t even make it to the point where the game is confusing and the UI is indecipherable.  They fail somewhere between making their account and clicking “play” on the client, and I would guess that most of those fall off somewhere around download and install of the client.

Downloading and installing and configuring, those all represent friction that can keep players from getting into your game.

Ideally you could find a way… like a web based client… that would remove that friction and allow a player to just create an account and then click a button to start playing.  So the web client should at least push more new players into the game so they can hate it for what it is rather than for making them download and run an installer.

Except, of course, that new player cannot do that with EVE Online because in order to use the web client you need to spend some money to get some PLEX, and if you think downloading and installing a client is friction, getting people to pull out their wallet will dwarf that.

Back when MMORPGs were making the transition to free to play en masse, one of the primary arguments was that not forcing people to pay up front would get more players to try the game and that some percentage of those who wouldn’t pay up front would pony up once they experienced the game.

And, just because I feel like piling on a bit more, I am also very much of the opinion that if you charge for something, “it’s in beta” is not a defense.  If I’m paying you can call it whatever you want, but I am going to treat it like a finished product because what else is it at that point?

But wait… what if it isn’t actually still in beta?

CCP also ran a press release on their corporate site that said that EVE Anywhere launched yesterday.  That was enough to get some gaming sites who did more than copy and paste what they had been emailed to point out that the service is live.  Game Developer (formerly Gamesutra) took that to mean that it was out of beta.  They should have tried logging I guess.

Or maybe CCP should just be clear in their freaking press communications, because the dev blog headline sounds like it is in alpha, the dev blog itself doesn’t say it has left beta, and the corporate press release says it has launched.

I am this close to making unfavorable comparisons to Daybreak when it comes to communications here.

So what are you going to do?  As I said, it something that doesn’t affect me really, so I can safely ignore it, but it still managed to irk me and serves as an example of a poor product being handled badly.  And I can’t even start in on the fact that EVE Anywhere is not available everywhere, but still in a limited number of countries. You can’t make this up.

All of which makes the answer to my question in the headline a pretty definite “No!”

Related:

EVE Online and Damage Meters

One of the long time gripes about EVE Online is that CCP does not allow any addons or mods to the game’s UI.

I am not sure I have mentioned this in the past, except briefly in passing, but this is kind of a big hairy deal for a bunch of people because of the notorious nature of the default EVE Online UI.  There are few things EVE players agree on as much as how awkward and often impenetrable the game’s interface can be, especially to new players.

To be fair, it is working in an environment more complicated than a standard fantasy MMORPG, where a player is standing on the ground, sword in hand, and pressing an attack button to smack an orc.  But still, the design philosophy for EVE has mutated over the years and there are times when you can feel the design paradigm shifting under your feet as you attempt to do something out of your usual daily routine.

So the argument is that a mod-able UI that allowed addons and the like would help solve that.  For a game that literally survives on third party tools… for example, the two in-game maps would struggle to be the 4th and 5th best maps of the game, with DOTLAN logical and navigation maps probably being 1st and 2nd… harnessing the proven ingenuity and resourcefulness of the community seems to be a no brainer.

Except, of course, CCP rightfully fears the outcome.  They fear that if they allow modification of the UI that the community will come up with changes that lend distinct advantage to specific users.  They have been smacked around for nearly 20 years by the wisdom of the crowd that flows like water through all of their carefully laid plans to find the optimum solution.

And in a game that is, at its heart, PvP focused, that is death.  Something like HealBot in WoW doesn’t spark much real ire because, in a PvE situation, it only helps fellow players.  A similar addon in New Eden, where an addon would lock up ships in your fleet needing reps and highlight the repair module for you, that could be game breaking.

So we soldier on with the old UI, with the promise of something maybe better in the future in the form of the Proton UI, which they have spoken about in the past.  I remain dubious about the new UI and expect it will be the map situation all over again, where the new map wasn’t much better than the old map, and less useful in some cases, so they ended up with two in-game maps.

We shall see.

So that is almost 500 words about the EVE Online UI and mods.  What does this have to do with damage meters?  Can I get to the point already?

Elsewhere in the genre of late, and in FFXIV and WoW specifically I gather, there has been some community flare up about damage meters yet again. (See Kaylriene and Belghast, they link out further on that.)  The argument is that they turn people into toxic aholes and should not be allowed.  FFXIV specifically does not allow them, though peeling back some of the rhetoric, that seems to be at least in part because they support PC and console and they don’t want console players to be second class citizens.

I generally run damage meters in MMOs if I am going to group up because it is an handy way to analyze what you’re doing in a genre where feedback can be huge numbers flying around without context.  I hit for 20,000, is that a lot or a little?  So I view them as a tool for self-improvement.

But the meta community views of FFXIV and WoW, can be summed up respectively as “you don’t pay my subscription” and “git gud” when it comes dungeon performance with others, both of which I find obnoxious in a grouping context.   There is a lot of emotion in there.

Whatever, I don’t play either currently and find neither community a draw to play their respective games.

But that led me to think about EVE Online, which I am sure both communities would look down upon, if they knew the game existed, as a toxic swamp based on its PvP focus alone.

As it does not allow mods or addons, EVE Online does not, strictly speaking, have damage meters.

Strange days.

There is nothing I can slap onto the game that will put up a UI like Recount, the only damage meter addon I can recall at the moment, to give me immediate feedback on how much damage I am applying against which targets and all the fun data that comes with that.  (I also run damage meters just to see the data.)

But EVE Online does have a pretty healthy relationship with data and allowing users access to it.  But it kind of needs to, just to overcome the amount of options available to players.

I’ll use 425mm railguns as an example, a battleship weapon that happens to be fitted on a Megathron in my hangar, which is the ship I last flew on an operation.

Megathrons out and about

There are ten variations of that particular weapon available in the game, each with some different parameters, and nearly 60 different ammo variations that can be loaded into them, with differences in range, damage, capacitor use, and other modifiers.  That is a lot of combinations to play with.

For fleet ops the choices are generally winnowed down to some specific loads and the weapon is generally the tech II version.  But there has been a graphic going around for ages to illustrate what to do with your Megathron.  (It goes in a fleet doctrine called “Baltec Fleet,” named after Baltec1, who used to fit out Megathrons so they would work with other doctrines and I remember being on cruiser fleets with him in a fast warping Mega.  He moved on to an alliance hostile to us ages ago, but his legend remains.)

The “How To” of Baltec Fleet

And the game gives you your base damage output fairly readily.  For the seven 425mm guns on my Megathron it says:

Damage, range, and such

So the base damage of my volley is about 1,400 points, divided between thermal and kinetic damage type.  That is about 200 points per gun.  With firing rate calculated in, that is a little over 300 points of damage per second output.

I have spike loaded, which is the very long range ammo, and it gains that range by sacrificing some damage output.  There is a correlation between range and damage, with shorter range ammo tending to hit harder.

(Also, as an aside that shows the scale of EVE Online, that can hit out to 160km, or about 100 miles.  That is far enough away that all but the most massive ships or structures become too tiny to discern.  On earth, out at sea, you would have to be 2,000m in the air for the horizon to appear to be that far away.  Distances in space are kind of daunting at times.)

Strictly for comparison, here is the same ship and guns loaded with antimatter, which is a shorter ranged ammo.

Damage and range again

There are, of course, things that can affect the base damage, such as if the target is outside the optimal range or the falloff range, which will see damage reduced and eventually stop landing hits.

And then there are the resistances to damage types that a ship can have.  I’ll use my Megathron as an example again.  From the ship fitting window:

Offense, defense, and targeting

If somebody is shooting me with a kinetic… the damage types are electromagnetic, thermal, kinetic, and explosive (blue, red, grey, gold)… my shields deflects 48% of incoming damage, my armor armor layer deflects 58% of incoming damage, and my hull deflects 60% of incoming damage, fit as I am.

So while my hit points add up to just under 60K total, the effective hit points (EHP) is closer to 130K due to the resistances. (That is an estimate, it could be more or less depending on incoming damage type.)

Some other ships that were around while I was on that op

There are other things that affect damage application, such as implants, signature radius, and drugs, but I will skip past that for now because I am once again wandering far afield from the idea of damage meters.

So, when it comes down to it, do you get to see how much damage you applied to a target?  Of course you do.  It is all there in the kill mail notification that the person who gets in the final blow receives in game as well as the kill report that appears over on zKillboard, if it gets captured there.

So, for example, there is a Claymore that we blew up on an op this past weekend and I was on the kill mail.  You can see the kill report over at zKillboard.

The record of the dead Claymore

And along the side it shows how much damage each of the involved parties applied… net damage, after resists.

I’m #6 on damage

The difference between the list is likely related to lock speed, drugs consumed, being optimally positioned, and just paying attention. (Oh, and skills trained.  I said I was working on Large Railgun Specialization V in my last skill training update.  Every level of that gets me 2% more damage out of the tech II guns I have mounted.)

And here is where we diverge from WoW or other titles where DPS is judged by their damage output.

Nobody cares how much damage you did.

I mean, it is cool if you got top damage.  And I know when we do structure shoots there are people who will show up in bling fit, polarized high DPS ships to compete to see who gets top damage.  There are some bragging rights associated with that.  But I have never been on a fleet where somebody got called out for being down the damage list.

Seriously.  I might live in a rarefied arena of the game, but it just isn’t a thing where I have played.  I am sure it might be in some elite PvP orgs.  Toxicity will find a way.  But it never seems to bubble up in r/eve or the forums, which is often where complaints about that sort of thing find an outlet.

I remember when Gevlon tried to make damage output a thing, his way of rating the value of pilots on a fleet op, because he couldn’t quite let go of the WoW raider mentality.  But it was an absolutely garbage idea.  By his logic logi ship, the space priests that repair damage, had no value at all, nor did tackle or electronic warfare ships.

Now, I will say, life in a null sec coalition means getting recommended fits handed to you, so most everybody in a Megathron on that operation was likely fit the same way I was and firing the same ammo as the fleet commander called for.  Coordination like that is what makes fleet doctrines work as it gets a critical mass of players with the same engagement envelope and damage type to hit targets in a coordinate fashion.  As it says on that chart above, always shoot the primary.

I have seen people get mocked in less organized groups for having a poor fit, and there is a list of fitting sins you can commit as far as the fitting theory crafters are concerned.  But the general result from that is to go back to the drawing board for a better fit.  Ships and equipment are expendable so you just go buy some more.

Meanwhile, the game does record your own damage application in its log files, down in the gamelogs directory.  You can take that and tease out your own damage, or you can use one of the file parsers out there… and of course there are a few, the EVE community loves to make tools… to see what you did.  I went to one called EVE Combat Log Analyzer to see how I did on that op I mentioned above.

My combat record for the May 8th op

There is a gate rat in the mix there, the Angel Warlord, but otherwise all player stuff.  So you can get something of a damage meter after the fact.  But it doesn’t really have  the same impact/influence as something you might get after a dungeon or raid in WoW.

Here, at the end, I will say that this post doesn’t have any sort of dramatic point to make, other than to illustrate how damage and its measurement in EVE Online compare to the more traditional fantasy MMORPG counterparts.  Just something of a Friday text ramble.

Something About Twitter

Elon Musk is buying Twitter because… reasons.  He likes free speech, or he doesn’t like content moderation, or he likes to show off for his fans, or he wants to stroke his ego in front of us all, or he wants to prove that the ultra rich can do whatever they damn well please, pick your poison.

Tweet, tweet motherfuckers

And this has caused a bit of a panic in some.  If you simply don’t like Elon that is certainly a good enough reason to dump the platform.  And if you’re worried that he’s going to turn it into a toxic stew of harassment by entitled assholes… more so… then you might at least be eyeing the exits, looking for alternatives.

The whole state of affairs hasn’t exactly put a spring in my step.

But I am not running for the exits myself.  Not yet at least.

To start with I am not sure where I would even go, except for “away.”

What am I going to do, move to Facebook?  That would be a leap from the frying pan into a toxic waste fueled fire.  Instagram… Facebook lite… is garbage except for cat and old car pictures (Fiat 124 Coupes for the win), Tumblr is garbage in general whether it is mostly porn this week or not, Google+ is long gone (and was garbage), LinkedIn is business Facebook and, unless you’re looking for a job, is a lot of self-promoting garbage.

Frankly, part of what appeals to me about Twitter is that people are limited to 280 characters.  That keeps the amount of noise in one post down to a manageable level.

Of course, there are a bunch of “We’re going to make a better Twitter” alternatives out there, some of which planned to go full free speech relative to Twitter’s rather modest content moderation scheme… who really either planned to moderate even more harshly Twitter or found out the hard way that content moderation isn’t optional and free speech is a dubious proposition on social media for all sorts of legal, moral, and financial reasons.

Also we’re all a bunch of jerks really, and seem to remain so no matter where we go.

I do not subscribe to the “anonymity + audience = raging idiocy” school of thought, if only because I’ve been to Facebook and know full well that anonymity does even enter into it.  People will say the most ignorant, offensive things you can imagine and post it with not only their name but their real life picture on it.  And if there are even the most minor of consequences… which there so rarely are… they’ll be flabbergasted and complain about being censored and bring up the first amendment and what not.  Sometimes I think we deserve all of this.

Anyway, I digress.  I am not going to leave Twitter mostly because I am comfortable there and have, over the last dozen years, honed a list of people to follow who keep me informed on the things that interest me.

I am loathe to give up on that list.  I wouldn’t even know where to find most of those people elsewhere on the internet.  How would I ever get by not knowing how Alikchi’s epic year and a half long so far game of War in the Pacific turns out?  Priorities man.

I am also not in the panic some are in.

Elon Musk can be a chaotic, immature, mercurial, self-absorbed, egotistical twat, but he isn’t a complete idiot.  He was born rich, sure, but he has made himself obscenely rich since then, so he has something going for him.  He hasn’t, like certain ex-presidents of the United States, blown his father’s fortune on bad investments and only pretends to be a billionaire.

As such I don’t think he’ll burn Twitter to the ground by removing all moderation or whatever people think will happen.  Rich people don’t stay rich that way.  They stay rich by getting their good investments, like Tesla, to buy out their bad investments, like Solar City, to stick the bad decisions on the stock holders.

Also, he is financing $25 billion of the deal… again, rich people don’t need to spend their money because banks are sure they’re worth it… so there will be lenders who will be able to pressure him to not make a mess of the whole thing.  The worry should probably be that they’ll insist that he monetize the crap out of Twitter to pay them off sooner, because the deal will leave the company heavily leveraged and one of Twitter’s larger problems has been generating revenue relative to its perceived influence.

And the deal might not even come to pass.  Things could happen.  He might not get the financing lined up.  Tesla or Twitter… or both… might fall in value enough to make the deal non-viable.  Or some new shiny object might grab his attention.

Anyway, I am following my usual course of laziness and sticking around for now.  This post was mostly to remind myself in a year that this was a thing so I can see what happened.

Five Bad EVE Online Ideas that will Never Die

EVE Online can be a divisive game.  People tend to love it or hate it, with the latter being the larger group if comment threads on gaming sites are any indication, though the largest group of all seems to be those who watch it from afar to be entertained.  And all three groups probably add up to fewer people that the active subscribed WoW population right now, though I suspect those numbers might have gotten a bit closer since the Shadowlands expansion.

And in such an environment, there are a wide range of ideas as to what the game should be, and everybody seems to have a plan that would improve the game and, naturally, boost player numbers because we all seem to believe that the majority of the universe shares our exact likes and dislikes and are shocked that these few outlier weirdos who see things differently from us seem to run all these games.  It is like some sort of conspiracy.

But there are a few ideas that seem to persist.  They pop back up again with a regularity that begins to grate if you’ve been around the community for a while.  Here are the ones I see that just won’t die the death they deserve.

1 – Walking in Stations

At the top of the list because CCP dabbled in this with Incarna. The company, after neglecting the core of EVE Online for a few years and plundering the efforts of the teams working on Dust 514 and World of Darkness, proudly launched what I heard one wag call “walking in a closet.”

Captain’s Quarters

I will admit that I was among those who thought the game needed avatar play when I started playing.  EVE Online has the curse of many vehicle games in that everybody is alone in the spaceship and you can’t wave or jump ceaselessly or dance on the mailbox in your underwear, which can give the game a sterile, impersonal feel.  Forza Horizon 5 has the same impersonal feel out in its shared world too.  Every car focused title does.  Are there people demanding “walking in Forza” as loudly as the walking in stations crowd does for EVE? (Seriously, are there?)

The problem here is that nothing in the core of the game is improved by having to walk around and I have yet to hear a suggestion from anybody that didn’t either make current functionality more awkward (e.g. you should have to walk to your agent in a station and speak to them face to face) or required CCP to essentially build a new game within EVE Online to accommodate avatar play.  That adds up to making things worse or development time spent away from the core of the game.

It has been made clear over the years that CCP struggles at times to keep up with the “flying in space” aspect of the game that is its core, so having them ignore that again for a multi-year stretch in order to build a feature of dubious value seems like a really bad business plan.

But people ask for this feature a couple of times a month on Reddit, though the request seems to rotate through the same small group of people.  And then there is Hilmar, who said they might bring it back at some point, which just cemented in my mind the fact that he might be head of the studio, but he has no clue about the game and just likes to say things that get attention.

Walking in stations is bad for EVE Online.  I will die on this hill.

2 – Dogfighter

This is the almost prototypical response from somebody who came to play EVE Online and happens to own a flight stick.  They go away disappointed that combat isn’t maneuver based, that they cannot used the tricks they developed playing X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter or whatever, often dropping by Reddit to announce their displeasure.  The reaction range between “this sucks” to long design documents about how the game should be rebuilt into a space flight sim.

But the core is always the same, that the combat is too simple, that you just press F1 and you’re done.

The first issue here is  the idea that every game must be built to meet their personal preferences.  If you want a space flight sim, I get that EVE Online isn’t for you.  But there are a lot of other options, so coming in and declaring that the game should be rewritten to meet your personal needs is a bit over the top don’t you think?  And that leaves aside the herculean effort that it would take to remake the game.  Get over yourself.

Second is that if you think combat in EVE Online is simple it is because you haven’t spent enough time with it.  Yes, you don’t have to get on somebody’s tail or calculate deflection in your head, but range and engagement envelopes and transversal and tracking and damage types and reload times and a host of other small details enter into each engagement.  That you are not thinking about this when you press F1 doesn’t mean it isn’t all in play, it is just likely to explain why your ship is a wreck and the other person has a fresh kill mark on his hull.

3 – Safe Space

There are a lot of flavors to this one, ranging from the idea that high sec should be completely safe (and sometimes that low sec should be like high sec is now) to being able to flag PvP on and off like you do in World of Warcraft to make yourself immune from all player attacks.

This seems to stem from people wanting to just be left alone to tinker with whatever space project they have going on.  And I get that.  It is a sandbox and some people want to play in their own corner where kicking over sand castles isn’t allowed.

The problem is that any safety will be exploited.  Any source of income that is unassailable will be overrun.  ISK per hour is a primary motivator for many, but the safety factor comes into it as well.

And you may ask who would even bother tracking down high sec alts, and I have an answer; all of us.  EVE Online has a rich history of wars in low or null sec finding their way into high sec.  In World War Bee there was a whole shadow war fought in and around Jita and Amarr with both sides trying to track down alts in NPC corps that were being used to ship supplies into the war zone.

So, leaving aside the usual argument about safety breaking the theme of the game, there are some more immediate ways in which it would break actual game play and the economy, and we don’t want to give CCP any more reason to go in and manipulate the in-game economy.  They are hamfisted enough going after imaginary problems, lets not make some real ones.

EVE Online is just a PvP game.  It has been since 2003 and that is the way it is going to be.  End of story, time to move on.

As an aside, I am always interested in how angry people get when another player blows up their ship, which glows white hot compare to the response to dying to an NPC.  I dream of an experiment where CCP mocks up a slightly different UI and tells an experimental audience that EVE is a single player game with advanced AI based on real world behavior in order to see if the anger is the same when your hauler gets blown up by a gang of suicide Catalysts if you believe them to be NPCs.

4 – Another Server

There are a few flavors of this one as well.  There are, of course, the people who just want a PvE server.  See above, plus I am not sure how sovereign null sec or faction warfare even work in the minds of those suggesting this, but there it is.

Others want EVE Classic.  They want to go back to the good old days, which correspond to the point in time when they were most enthusiastic about the game, or when some change in mechanics didn’t ruin things. (I still occasionally hear somebody angry about CCP adding in “warp to 0” as the thing that killed PvP, which was a change that happened in 2006 not long after I started playing.)  And, as somebody who is a big fan of the whole retro server idea, it is hard for me to not pine as well for some past fun.

The usual problems apply.  When would you set such a server?  What patch level?  What bug fixes do you retain and which are part of the flavor of the time?

But the enterprise will never get that far because CCP knows that two servers are not twice as good as one.  EVE Online needs a critical mass of players willing to take on the different roles in the ecosystem for it to function smoothly.  I am a bit sad I didn’t play at launch mostly because I wonder what the game was like with no established player market.  EVE can seem annoying because it feels like as soon as you decide what you want to do, you need to do six other things first to get ready.  But at least you don’t have to buy the blueprints for a hull, mine the ore, and build the ship.  The economy is the core lubricant that makes the game manageable.  Splitting the game into two servers threatens that.  The main fear for EVE is that someday the population will fall below a critical mass and the economy will fall into chaos.

So no second server will ever compete with Tranquility.

(And yes, I know there is a second server in mainland China.  But even now many players who used to play on that server are able to VPN into Tranquility to play with the rest of us.  In fact, one of the reason that the game turns in the concurrency numbers it still manages these days is because it has managed to attract many of the core players who fled the bad days of the Serenity server.)

5 – Better PvE

I am going to have to qualify this one because I don’t think any player, new or old, would have a real problem with something that led to a better PvE game in New Eden.  Better PvE isn’t a bad idea at its core.  But it is almost always expressed badly… and by badly, I mean people generally just demand better PvE and stop there, leaving what that even means to the interpretation of those hearing the demand.  Or, if they provide details, it generally describes much worse PvE.

Basically, it easy to say “better PvE,” but it is tough even describe it, much less make it happen.  What is better anyway?

Making it harder isn’t better.  If I’ve learned anything over the years, it is that players want PvE that is just difficult enough to give them a sense of accomplishment without any real risk of them failing.

You can make things like missions interesting for the first run.  But they don’t stay interesting after a few passed.  You can then make more missions… I think CCP has more than six thousand missions of various types in the game… but they tend to fall into a few simple categories.  In the end, PvE quickly becomes a solved problem.  You can add more missions, but is that really better PvE?

CCP has seemingly had some luck with randomizing PvE in Abyssal pockets.  The mechanic requires you to commit your ship before you know the foes and puts a 20 minute timer on the mission.  If you don’t make it in time you lose your ship and your pod.  But even with randomness, if it is still a 90% solved problem (fly a Gila) and they have had to make the rewards worthwhile to keep people running them.  All those muliplasmids to modify ship modules keep a lot of players going back to get the one that will give them the right MWD or stasis webifier or hardener for a fit they have in mind.

But I still find Abyssal pockets boring.  In the end it is the same thing over and over and some variation in foes barely qualifies as interesting unless I get a bad draw and die.  And then it is annoyingly expensive.

I have yet to hear a viable idea from anybody that would make PvE more interesting in New Eden.  But I think that says more about the nature of PvE in general than anything about us or CCP.  There might be an idea out there, and maybe it will find the right ear some day.  But for now, just saying “better PvE” isn’t very helpful and the suggestions that come with it generally involve making it harder or making people go through more hoops, neither of which really meet the “better” bar.

Honorable mentions

Those are my five.  But those are not the only ones that rattle around, so I have a few honorable mentions that I want to tack onto the end of this post.

Things Were Better When…

This is the person who doesn’t want a new server, they just want CCP to roll back to some past feature state that was “more fun” for very specific definitions of the term.  They want it in the current game, and it can be anything from removing “warp to 0” to going back to Dominion sovereignty to giving titans AOE doomsday weapons that can blow up a whole subcap fleet in another system through a cyno… again.

The problem is that, for the most part, much of what has changed over the years has been changed for a reason.  We bitch about Aegis sovereignty, but we bitched about Dominion sovereignty before that, and people certainly bitched about the tower/moon sovereignty system that came before Dominion.

In the end, even if CCP went back and changed the sov system back or removed warp to 0, it wouldn’t recreate the game and the fun times you were having back when they were a thing.  Dunk Dinkle likes to say “nostalgia is a trap.”  As somebody who likes to remember the good times, I take umbrage with that at times.  We can’t ignore the past because all we are is what the past has made us up until this very moment.  But when we gaze too far abroad with our rose colored glasses or think that doing something we did ten or fifteen years ago will do more than just rekindle some fond memories, then I have to agree with Dunk.  I want to be young again too, but removing “warp to 0” won’t get me there.

Subscriptions only

This is a specific subset of the “Things were better when…” crowd who would like to roll back skill injectors, PLEX, and free to play.  All of these are viewed as bad to various degrees… though we have had PLEX in the game for well over half the life of the game at this point.  The first big PLEX loss was back in late 2010.

This just isn’t going to happen.  It probably can’t happen and keep the game being developed at its current pace.  I have been down this path before, but to put it simply, the price of a subscription remains locked in 2003 while the price of everything else has gone up over the last 19 years.

Also, people playing EVE Online… that peaked in 2013, before either free to play or skill injectors showed up, so there is scant chance that going subscription only will end up in any scenario besides “EVE Online now makes much less money.”

Yes, I hate the cash shop mentality of MMOs.  I just want to pay my flat fee and play the game.  But the reality is most everything now has some sort of free option, so demanding cash up front just limits your options as a game.  That is just the reality of the market now.

Breaking up corps and alliances

This is the go to solution for people who don’t like null sec or who are trying to solve the “n+1” problem of sovereignty warfare.  Are null sec battles growing too large for the servers?  Are big null sec alliances keeping you and you five friends from holding space?  Then just put a cap on corp or alliance sizes!  That will put everybody on an even playing field!

The suggestion rarely include a number at which organizations should be capped, just that 30K Goons is too many Goons and we need to put a stop to that right now.  But that doesn’t really matter as there is no correct answer.

Let us say that CCP picks 1,000 as the cap for an alliance or corp or combination thereof.  What happens next?  Two things.

First, we go back to the bad old days when null sec groups were very selective of members.  I know there are some who long for those days, the era of the small, elite PvP groups holding vast areas of space.  But organizations like Brave, Pandemic Horde, or KarmaFleet, which have been highways into null sec for new players, they dry up and die.  Everything goes back to needing to justify why you get a spot in an alliance rather than one of the CEO’s alts.

Second, we find out it doesn’t change much.  Unless CCP also disallows standings, EVE Online players have shown that they can create meta organizations that exist outside of the structure of the game.  There is no in-game mechanism specifically for coalitions, yet they exist and have existed for as long as null sec has been a thing.

The limit just ends up turning the null sec clock back to 2011 or so when small groups ran big rental empires and formed coalitions to defend their holdings.  As we have seen elsewhere in the game, when CCP enforces scarcity, players change their behavior in predictable ways.  Well, predictable to most people besides CCP.

Banning people you don’t like

This seems to be the knee jerk reaction to many issues in EVE Online, that CCP just needs to ban more people.  Botters (which is anybody who repeats a game play loop in a game with a lot of repetitive game play loops), gankers, cheaters, scammers, exploiters, bumpers, whales, ratters, miners, Alpha clones, people with more than n accounts, scary wormhole people, under cutters, specific nationalities, play styles you don’t like, Goons… there was practically a “Ban Goons” subculture at one point in the game… and mean people in general. Basically, whatever is annoying you, CCP should just ban them.

Here’s the thing… somebody probably wants to ban you and whatever you are doing as well.  Also, CCP would like to stay in business and have a viable video game that pays the salaries and keeps the servers running and up to date.  While the EULA and terms of service give CCP the right to ban your ass for anything they want, becoming the game that bans people is a good way to become a game mentioned in the history of MMOs rather than in the current stable of running MMOs.

Player made SKINs

This comes up every time somebody posts a pretty JPEG of a ship they colored up themselves.  Somebody will see this and declare that CCP should allow players to make ship SKINs.  And, superficially, this seems like a good idea.  More SKINs in the store, the better, right?  And many of us like pretty SKINs… or at least SKINs with obnoxiously bright colors.  And CCP at least strongly implied that we would be able to make SKINs back in 2016.

This falls apart on a couple fronts.

For openers, being able to make what looks like a nice SKIN on you PC isn’t likely to be at all comparable to what it takes to make one usable in the game.  There are probably a dozen players out there with the skill, knowledge, and motivation to make decent SKINs, but they still don’t have the tools that the CCP art team has in order to make something usable by the game.  Those are, no doubt, in-house developed tools and not suitable for distribution outside of their environment.

Second, dealing with user made content is a lot more work than you think.  There is a reason that companies that try to leverage user made content either shut it down eventually (Cryptic, Daybreak) or just give up any attempts at moderation (Roblox).

The thought that comes up a lot is that CCP could just let the community vote on SKINs.  But have you met us?  Enough people would upvote penis SKINs to make this completely unviable.  Also, it assumes that SKINs are like mods, and that the whole thing could be treated like Steam’s Workshop, with little or no supervision.  This is completely wrong.

That brings me to the next issue, which is that SKINs are part of the game.  They are in the build, part of the client, and nothing at all like a player mod.  That means CCP would need to spend a lot of time vetting every submission, testing it thoroughly and examining it for hidden images, words, and penises, because once it is in the game it gets pushed out and placed on every system that has the game installed.

Which brings me to the final point on this, which is whether or not all the work would be worth it.  I don’t think it would.  The hubris in this is that players would automatically make cooler, more popular, better selling SKINs than the CCP art team.  The reality of user created content is that 99% of it is garbage.  Game mods and things like Steam Workshop let people experiment and get better, but that allows players to opt-in.  But putting something in the game that everybody will see, that is a step well beyond.

And, in the end, I am not sure more SKINs are better anyway.  The in-game store is already a pain to use… something it shares with online storefronts every where, which pretty much require you to know what you want because simply browsing is an awful experience… so fewer, high quality SKINs seems to be the reasonable plan that CCP is trying to follow.  It is probably no coincidence that the best SKINs are the ones on a few hulls while the ones that try to cover a whole faction or every ship in the game tend to be a bit “meh.” (The Biosecurity Responder SKINs are the exception there.)

Anyway, that is a lot of words.  I guess this could have been “Ten Bad EVE Online Ideas” rather than five, since I just kept on going with the honorable mentions.  But the first five are really “never go there” ideas that CCP might consider, while the latter five I think we’re pretty safe from.

And I didn’t even get into blockchain, crypto, and NFTs.  Those are bad ideas as well, but I am waiting for Pearl Abyss to tell CCP to do them before I jump back on that thread.

The Company isn’t bad, it’s just Staffed that Way

I have mentioned in the past that I occasionally have to remind myself that various game companies and studios are not, in fact, my friends. It isn’t that they like me or dislike me, it is that they are not people and are incapable of anything of the sort.

Yet I think that many gamers, myself included, struggle with this because of our emotional investment in the games we play.  I have no problem understanding that the utility company doesn’t care about me… to say it only sees me as an account number probably oversells our relationship… but video game studios, whose decisions have such an impact on my leisure pursuits, the line is harder to draw.

This is all the more a problem because developers and community reps and studio heads are often out there interacting with the community, which helps personify the company.  CCP is the most problematic for me because they, as a team, are out there in the community and they host live fan events, so I interact with the team online regularly and have met many of them, from Hilmar on down, in person.

Other studios get out there as well.  If you’re deep into EQ or EQII you probably know who Holly Longdale was at Daybreak.  If you’re into WoW you probably have opinions about Ion Hazzikostas and how he compares to, say, Greg Street.  There are lots of names out there from various studios that personify the companies and the games.

In the end though, those are individuals.  They may represent the company to you in some way, but they are not the company.  The company is just a name, an idea, a construct of our imagination, a consensual illusion that we all share that binds a select group of people together, and no amount of vision statements or employee handbooks can make it feel for you in any way.

Saying you hate Activision is like saying you hate the color blue if you think too hard about it.

And yet… and yet… even though they are not people and cannot care, a corporation is made up of people, dozens, hundreds, thousands of people, each with their own life, story, likes, fears, motivations, and emotions.  To paraphrase a famous movie quote, “Corporations are people!”

As a collection of people, corporations tend to develop a culture.  I’ve worked at companies with a strong central culture and at companies where every group or team or office has their own distinct flavor.  And culture, once it sets in, can be as difficult as crabgrass to be rid of.

Culture tends to be set by the leadership of the group, and once the group buys in it tends to be self-reinforcing.  Changing it requires constant affirmative effort.  The CEO or some VP saying they want to change the culture of a company is an exercise in futility.  Unless there are policies and rule back it up, and unless those policies and rules are enforced as expected, any statement about changing a company’s culture is just window dressing.  The CEO may aspire to it, but without effort it is nothing more than that.

Which finally, 500 words into this ramble, brings me around to Blizzard.

Lots of problems there, mostly culture related.  If the CEO and senior management say it is okay to harass and discriminate, if they visibly engage in that sort of behavior, that sets the tone for the company, the defines what is acceptable, no matter what HR’s employee handbook says.  HR, in the end, reports to senior management and they either get on board with the culture, as they did at Blizzard, or they get the axe next time a record setting financial report leads to layoffs.

Eventually the State of California showed up due to employee complaints about the culture.  But the state is interested in the corporate entity known as Blizzard.  That is who they will sanction, unless an employee files criminal charges against an individual.  Otherwise they will just make the company pay, and the company isn’t a person, can’t care, doesn’t set or define culture.  Likely the state will also require all employees to take some sort of mandatory training about how to behave in the work place.  But that sort of training has been mandatory in California for more than 20 years for anybody in a supervisory role in a company over a specific size.  I know, I had to take that training when I was in management.  You can see how well it worked at Blizzard.  If the ideas within that sort of training aren’t part of the culture, the training won’t stick.

Blizzard has stated that they are going to fix the culture.  They have, admittedly, fired some people.  Many were fired way too late, but at least they were let go, from J. Allen Brack on down.

Unfortunately, the line seems to be drawn somewhere below executive management.

Bobby Kotick has vowed to fix the company, but he is clearly part of the problem.  He has known about the allegations, helped in covering them up, and has been problematic on his own.

In theory, when you’re the boss, everything is supposed to be your fault.  In practice, at Blizzard… and in a lot of other companies… leadership doesn’t confer responsibility, it shields you from responsibility.  This all happened on Bobby’s watch with Bobby’s full knowledge.

Blizzard is a large company, and part of an even larger organization.  There are without a doubt many good people working there.  But so long as the company has Bobby Kotick as its head the company won’t change.  Making the executive suite immune from any culture change, when culture flows from leadership and the examples it sets, is doomed to fail.

Watching Dune 1984

The new Dune movie landed this weekend and my wife and I are both considering seeing it in the theater.  We’re not James Bond worked up about it, like we were for No Time to Die, but going to the theater was still in contention.

Dune from another era

And, of course, we decided we might like to do a bit of build-up for it, so we decided to watch the first attempt at a Dune movie, the David Lynch film from 1984, which we happened to have on DVD right there on our shelf in the family room.

Two things right off the bat.

First, I have/had very strong positive memories of that version of Dune.  It had actors I liked, an extremely strong visual style, and I had read the book not too soon before it came out… though later, in digging through my memories, I might have read the book after it came out.  It is kind of a blur.

Second, I am not sure if I have watched the movie since I saw it in the theater when it came out.  Yes, we have the DVD, but who among us hasn’t bought a DVD then never watched it.  I know I considered it back when the SciFi channel, now SyFy, made their own mini-series… which I also only vaguely remember and which wasn’t available anywhere to watch or we might have given it a go as well… but I think I bought the DVD from the CompUSA that used to be down the street from us when they were fail cascading, whenever that was.  They went hard into DVDs one month, then were getting rid of them the next.

So, with that I booted up the PlayStation 3 once more, inserted the DVD, and off we went.

And… wow, that movie is a mess.

I mean, it is still visually stunning, and my having seen it in the theater back when it was new meant that those visuals left a lasting impression on me.  It was, and remains, unique in that regard.

Also the fact that I had not read the book before I saw the movie, something I am prone to at times, no doubt helped me some.  It is often easier to let the visuals wash over you as the dialog tries to keep up and not have to worry about whether or not it is actually getting the story right.  The movie version of a book is a work that has to stand on its own, should stand on its own, and while you can compare the translation from one medium to another and debate as to whether or not the essence of the story was captured, they will always different experiences.

Still, I am a bit surprised how positive my impression of the movie was going into this view was.   Sure, the visuals had a lasting impression and there is the whole passage of time to account for.

It suffers from what many movie adaptations stumble over, which is the need to condense a 400+ page science fiction novel… and one that eschews many of the easy tropes of the genre… into a movie experience that needs to be well under three hours from coming attractions to the end of the credits.

In order to catch viewers up the first hour of the movie is filled with exposition.  And when characters aren’t just filling us in by telling somebody else something they likely already knew in more detail than would be required in a conversation between anybody besides complete strangers, we’re hearing their thoughts, once again running through details that probably wouldn’t bear consideration if they were really part of the universe in which they are projected.  It would be rather like a fish being constantly concerned about the fact that it lives in water and going over all the details of that existence for the first 20 minutes or so of Finding Nemo.

Though, to be fair, the book does the same damn thing.  You can pick up a copy and find that the film grabbed the internal monologues almost verbatim from what Frank Herbert wrote.  The movie even tries to play the whole thing as being a history to explain the fact that it isn’t being seen through any one person’s eyes, once again, as the book does, though it doesn’t give you a lot to hang onto in that regard.  (I was ruined by a high school lit teacher and now my brain demands to know who is telling any story, whose perspective I am viewing, something that the entire Dune series, and the Brian Herbert prequels especially, are not very concerned with.)

Anyway, once you get past the “tell the story by voice overs of people’s thoughts” section of the movie… which I am sure I didn’t mind back in 1984 because I didn’t mind them in the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner either… the film hits one of the other problems of the translation to another media, the fact that it has spent a huge chunk of its run time setting up the story such that it doesn’t have a lot to waste on the middle of the tale and the build up for the finale.  And so we enter the “greatest hits” potion of the show, which even includes a montage of scenes meant to convey the rise of the Fremen under the leadership of Paul and how they are disrupting the flow of the spice.  You could splice in film clips of the French resistance or Russian partisans and they would fit.

And then everything comes to a head and everybody is on Arrakis including the emperor, who we at one point see sitting at a four seat periscope viewer device that I swear was a left over prop from the 1966 Batman film, spiffed up a bit and spray painted gold, and there is a little girl with a strange voice who later is Zelda in Orange is the New Black, and Kyle MacLachlan fights Sting, and then the emperor’s daughter is telling us about what happened and we’re in the credits and the whole thing is over.

A bit of a wild ride, though in hindsight I think my biggest problem with the whole thing was the plan from the book itself.  Was putting House Atreides on Arrakis to replace House Harkonnen only to have the Harkonnen’s come back almost immediately really the best plan they could come up with?  Seems a bit dodgy.

Overall, it is very much a piece of its time.  It is stylistically unique in a David Lynch sort of way… Patrick Stewart charging into battle shouting and carrying a pug cradled in his arm springs to mind… with a very talented cast tasked to carry too much story in too little time.  Our DVD is the original theatrical release, though there are other cuts available, some of which have David Lynch’s name removed as director by his request.  I am not sure the different cuts make a difference.  I doubt this is like Brazil, where the studio cut has a dramatically different ending from the Terry Gilliam cut.

I am a bit torn as to whether it is better to watch the movie having read the book and have it not translate into what your mind’s eye pictured, or whether it is best to go in blind and let its bizarre nature overwhelm.

Basically, it probably isn’t as bad as you’ve been told nor as good as you might remember.

And with that groundwork in place we’re keen to the new Dune.  I am already aware, in part through the wailing I have seen online, that it is a two part series and that  we’re only getting the first part now.  The marketing has been very low key on that, which reminds me a bit of the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings animated film that hit theaters back in 1978, which omitted the fact that it was only part of the story. (Excellent review of that fiasco here.)  If you’re not up front about the fact that people are not getting the full story they will be angry.

Be more like Mel Brooks with History of the World: Part I.  You can then get to the second part whenever.

Addendum: There are a bunch of re-reviews of this version of Dune out there, but my wife just pointed me to this one over at Ars Technica that might be the best ever.

Immersion in the Blocks of Minecraft

This one should be fun.  I am back on the immersion hobby horse and I am going to dive into Minecraft next… survival mode… which I am sure is going to be a breaking point for somebody because… well… the game looks like this:

fountain time

Villagers congregate at the town center in a world made up of one meter cubes

That was kind of a random screen shot I had to hand, but there are plenty more on this site and the web in general, that will illustrate that nobody in their right mind is going to be fooled into thinking that is the real world or anything like it.

And yet… and yet… I have experience various physiological reactions to the game that indicates that my brain can indeed be fooled into reacting to a world made up of unconvincing one meter cubes.  That, for me, is the purest form of immersion.  My body taking the input from my eyes and reacting cannot be faked.

So when I feel a tinge of acrophobia when I unwittingly walk up to the edge of a high cliff and realize how far up I am or when I am digging around in the roof of the nether and find myself in a thin portion and break through to find myself many meters above a lake of lava and just shy of stepping into this air, that means my brain is somehow convinced at a base level that this might be real, even if at higher level my brain knows this is all just images rendered on a screen and isn’t a threat at all.

But what gets my brain there?

I am going to skip ahead a bit on this one and, rather than meandering through a half a dozen tales… most of which I have probably written about here already in any case if you’re interested… and jump straight on what has become the through line for this series, which is a sense of place.  I think that is what helps convince my brain that it should flutter up my guts a bit when I loom over a cliff.

Now, “sense of place” is its own can of worms.  I’m in my fourth post and I am going to spin that in a fourth way.  With LOTRO is was the familiarity of Middle-earth.  With EverQuest it was the sense of worldliness and danger.  With EVE Online it was the overlay of player events on locations in the game that gave then meaning and history… and danger.

So what is it with Minecraft?

Well, it certainly has worldliness going for it.  There is all the world you could care to find and more over the next hill or across the next ocean.  Procedural generation for the win.

And, naturally, there is a sense of danger at night, where the world presses back against you.  You don’t get it all your own way and eventually some creeper is going to slip in and you’ll just hear that dreaded “hissssss” sound before it blows up and wrecks something you’re been working on… or kills you.

But I think more than either of those, there is the mutability of the world, the fact that you can make it your own, shape it as you will… if you have the time and patience… to be what you want.  You can build a house, a castle, or an Italian city.

The work of Skronk and Enaldi

The fact that you have changed the world, created something within it, transforms it and gives it a sense of place that the bare wilderness lacked.  And the effort of gathering the resources and building something grand or complex only ads to that.

In that was Minecraft is different from LOTRO or EQ.  Those worlds are essentially immutable.  You must take them as they are and find the place that they offer.

And EVE Online, where you can own space, build structures, influence resources, and fight wars over territory, even that only lets you build essentially temporary little sand castles in the vastness of space.  I live in Delve now, and the system of 1DQ1-A, the capital of the Imperium, shows the influence and power of that coalition, with Keepstars and Fortizars strewn about a grid as a show of power.

But we haven’t always lived there and we won’t always live there.  The tides of diplomacy and war have washed over Delve many times, scouring clean any sign of past residents.  And someday we too will no doubt decline and be washed away.  So goes the history of New Eden.

So Minecraft has a more permanent state of change.  I mean sure, somebody can come by and undo what you have done.  Creepers can blow up your stuff.  But it takes a lot of time and even in destruction the land remains changed.  Your impact remains even in ruins or a hole in the ground.

But Minecraft has its downside as well.  Having built castles, fortified towns, thrown up towers, build water spanning bridges, and laid down many kilometers of minecart track to create a transportation network both in the nether and on the main world, in the end I always end up feeling a bit empty at the end of a project.  The joy and the purpose is in the creation, but when you build a huge structure you quickly find yourself with not much left to do when it is done.

You have changed the face of the world, but then what?  There just isn’t a lot to “do” in Minecraft once you’ve built all your structures, explored as far as you care to, made your way through the nether and the end.

I have often felt pride in what I have built and, at the same time, a sense of emptiness in being done.  You only need one room and a bed and a bit of storage, so I’ll have a multi-story castle and all my stuff in one room off the main door.  It feels like there should be more.  Mojang has tried to address that a bit.  We have the ravagers now wandering the world.  But that becomes more of a maintenance routine after a while.

And then there is the world itself.  While there is a variety of biomes and no two places are exactly the same, there remains a tiring sameness in the world all the same.  There are only so many types of trees and hills and mountains all have similar essential elements.

Finally, there is the day/night cycle, which gives you the sense of danger in the world, but also becomes quite oppressive over time.  When you’re working on a big project, especially a rail project where you are moving along the world, leveling terrain, digging tunnels, laying track, and carrying supplies forward from your most recent base, the daytime starts to feel very short.

You get up and start working and soon that big square sun is past its zenith and you have to start planning what you’re going to do when night comes.  Do you roll on back down to your last camp?  Do you start working on a new camp?  Do you dig a quick hole in the side of a hill and set up a bed and carry on?

It really cuts both ways.  I wouldn’t want to do away with the night cycle.  It is part of the game pushing back on you which makes your accomplishments fulfilling.  But even with the night quickly over when you hit your bed, I still find the day too short to the point that it hinders getting things done.

Pro immersion:

  • Feeling of place within the world
  • A wide world to explore with many biomes
  • New things being added regularly
  • Ability to change the world, to leave your mark
  • Able to share your creation with friends in a shared world
  • A sense of danger, or the world pushing back against your efforts
  • The fulfillment of effort in creation

Immersion breaking:

  • A world of sameness until you’ve made your mark
  • New things usually don’t apply to areas already generated
  • Few real “game like” things to do
  • Having created feels less fulfilling than it should
  • Lack of a sense of purpose
  • Resource management can become a grind
  • The world pushes back in a very “samey” way
  • The oppression of the day/night cycle

And some of those latter are not unique to Minecraft.  There isn’t a lot you can “do” with towns or towers or encampments in LOTRO or EQ.  But there is also a game with a story and advancement and other activity built into the mix.  I can admire the Bree or the run down Forsaken Inn out in the Lone Lands or Hobbiton, but I also have a series of tasks to take care of, levels to gain, monsters to slay who drop loot and coin and which earn me status and what not.

If I went and created Bree in Minecraft I’d just have a town where not much was happening.  It would be neat to look at, but once I was done it wouldn’t be useful for much and I’d go on to work on something else.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Minecraft, which reflect the way I have chosen to play it.  I prefer survival mode and haven’t done anything with mods.  I just explore and build and farm and mine in the randomly generated world and look for meaning.

So four posts and four variations on a feeling or sense of place.  I suppose, ideally, this series would end with me finding the ideal mix of ingredients when it comes to that.  I think that will be a long journey though as no such destination is anywhere on my map so far.

The immersion series so far:

Maui Driving Adventures

My daughter complained to me a few years back that she had never been to Disneyland.

This was not true.  I pointed out pictures hanging on the wall the proved we had been not just to Disneyland, but to Disney World AND on a Disney cruise.  She pointed out that she was 3 and 4 years old in those pictures, making that was long enough ago to not count.

I had to fall back on my usual defense, which is Hawaii.  She had been to Hawaii more times before she was 8 than most people will go in their entire lives.  We have family there, including my mother, so we tend to fly there for vacations.  This tends to defuse my daughter a bit, but she is still a bit surly when her friends talk about the magic kingdom.

Maui is the usual destination for us.  Again, family.  I’ve been going there since the late 70s and my wife and I for our whole relationship, so the island is both pleasant and familiar.  So it was a natural choice for our first trip in what seemed like the post-COVID era.  When we booked back in June it seemed like we were done with that.

Then came the delta variant and by the time we were ready to fly earlier this month the governor of Hawaii was asking tourists to stay home again.  We were “visiting family” so didn’t have any problems on that front, though the state was also requiring vaccine cards and health statements and a visual check before letting anybody in.

We even found the pre-check queue at the airport before we got on our flight, which got us a “cleared” wristband to get through inspection on arrival.  Getting into Hawaii was like getting into a club, you needed a wristband to bypass the line or something.

We also had a rental car lined up.  We ended up doing that at the last minute because, back in June, rental cars were in short supply and thus very expensive… like the cost of our lodgings expensive.   The rental car companies stopped buying them because nobody was traveling, which also impacted the used car market because rental car companies break even on rentals and make their profits selling the cars when they’re done, which is a huge supply flow in the car market that suddenly dried up and now finding a used car is a bit of a chore.  Also, when people went back to traveling in May and June when the CDC prematurely said everything was good demand for rental cars drove prices through the roof.

We debated going without.  There have been trips where we have rented a car, driven it to the hotel, stayed a week, then driven it back to the airport without a trip in between.   We also looked into some other options, including one service where you rent a car from a local ala AirBnB for a day or two, which we would have needed to visit my mom who live up country, far from the shore where we were staying.

Then the delta variant put a crimp in the travel plans of many and demand dropped, bringing prices down as well.  A week before our flight the price of a car was still a bit pricey, but about a third of what it had been in June.  We reserved a compact from Sixt, which was new on the island since we last visited, so we thought we would give them a try.

After some rather poorly targeted attempts at an upsell… how about a Mercedes for more than double what you’re paying, or a convertible Mustang for triple… we were handed a slip to take to the lot that would get us a Kia Optima.  It was a bit of a beater.  The pre-listed damage sheet was a page long… but at least they gave us that because I’ve had Avis/Budget come after me for damages they signed off on… and the car had 30K miles on it, which is old for a rental, but it seemed to otherwise be passable.  Only later did I find that the Optima was considered an upgrade and that Sixt slipped in a daily upgrade charge on the invoice.  All rental car companies are horrible.

I was a bit confused at first.  The guy in the dispatch shack handed me what looked like a fob, the whole keyless proximity thing becoming more common.

It sure looks like a fob

However, when I went to look for the start button I noticed the usual steering column key receptacle.  But where was the key?  Examining the fob, I found that the little silver button on it would extend the key out like a switchblade.

The key extended

It was about a day that I was asked to stop saying, “I will cut you!” every time I flicked the key out of its recess.

The car also made some strange sounds on the highway.  If you remember the pod racing scenes from The Phantom Menace, the sound that Sebulba’s pod racer made… that was what this car sounded like.  Not obnoxiously, but reliably.

Anyway, to get to the heart of the tale after rambling up to this point, being on the island for seven nights without much of an itinerary beyond “hanging out” and visiting my mom, we decided to take a drive.

We have driven around two of the other islands, Oahu and the big island of Hawaii, both of which you can easily manage in a day with a few stops along the way.  The big island has the best roads and goes from dry badlands around Kona to rain forests around Hilo to the volcano and then the vineyards as you come back around again.  Oahu is a lot more crowded, it being the main tourist destination.  Two thirds of the way around is semi-rural and then other third is huge hotels, a naval base, and airport, and all the traffic that goes with it.

But we had never driven around Maui.

There is a reason for that.  Technically there is a stretch of east Maui where rental cars are not allowed.  Maui is smaller than the big island… duh… and larger than Oahu, but is much less developed than either.

I tend to think of Maui as an eight laying on its side, with the west end of the island being the small, upper loop, and the east side being the larger, lower loop.

Maui main highways – greatly simplified.

Kahului, where the airport is (code: OGG) is the middle of the two loops.  That is also where the harbor is… everything has to go to Honolulu first, get unloaded from the big container ships, then stacked on a barge and sailed over to Maui… the Costco and most of the main non-tourist large businesses.  It is as much of a city as the island has.

We generally stay in Kaanapali, which is past Lahaina there on the map.  It is very touristy, has decent beaches, and it a great spot to watch whales in February, when we usually go.  We have also stayed in Kihei, which is more condo rental focused.  It has better beaches than Lahaina, but the condos aren’t as pretty.  You get a couple of streets back from the beach and it feels like any apartment dense part of the country.

Further down from Kihei is Wailea and Makena where the rich people live.  Oprah has a place down there.

We had drive all of those places many times.

We had also driven the road to Hana, which I have marked in orange.  It beautiful and windy and will make children throw up. (Google “road to Hana”)  I went with my family when I was young and have no desire to make the trip again.  My wife and daughter went with my cousin about ten years back, while my aunt and I sat by the pool and read.  Our daughter threw up on the way down, as I predicted.

The red stretch on the map is dirt and gravel roads and your rental car agreement explicitly warns you that you are not allowed to drive there.

So we had been on all the roads I have marked in black and each down the orange road to Hana individually.  But we realized that we had never been all the way around the back side of the west end of Maui, the yellow stretch on the map.  So that was where we headed.  We got on Highway 30 and headed north and around the tip of the island.

It is very pretty up there.  The resorts end past Kapalua and as you round the northern tip there are bays there are excellent for snorkeling.  It is one of those places where you can see all the fish on those charts they sell about the island.  The road there is narrow and winds along the coast, but is still two lanes wide, well maintained, with a freshly painted double yellow line down the middle.  As you go further the turns become more sharp, and you are advised to honk your horn when going around some of the blind turns, but it is otherwise a solid road.

And then, as you come around the tip of the island and start heading down the back side you come to a large sign that says, “END OF STATE HIGHWAY” and it is like a zone line in a poorly joined MMORPG.  Right up to the sign is this well maintained all weather two land road, and then at the sign it suddenly changes.  You can see that a stripe had been painted down the middle at some point, but it has faded away.  The road is crumbling at the edges and has more than its share of cracks and divots.

But it is still a two land road, if a less well maintained one.  So we carried on.

This put us on the north coast of the island, which faces the open ocean.  This is where the waves and the wind happen.  Between Kahuliu and Haiku on the road that ends goes to Hana you will see lots of windsurfers on the open water.  The airport is there for a reason; the wind blows strong and continuously, making landings a bit of a “seat belts required” part of many flights.  The big waves are also along that stretch with Paia being about the center of that zone.

This is not a place of nice sandy beaches like the sheltered side of the island.  This is cliffs and volcanic rock and the power of the ocean beating against the shore.  We stopped a couple of times to take pictures.

We kept on going and after a while the road started to get a little more ragged and little more narrow.  Not a lot of people live out there and those that do tend to be outdoorsy types.  We came around a bend to be surprised by a pack of riders on ATVs roaring up the road, a pickup tailing behind.

Then the occasional signs start warning you that the road is narrow and windy ahead.  The road has to follow the coast, which has many inlets and so my nice yellow line on the map hardly represents the actual route.  Still, we were fine until a sign announced that we would be facing a single lane road ahead.

This might have been a good time to turn around, except that the road was already down to one and a half lanes between a cliff on the right side of the car and a drop off into the roiling ocean on the left, which meant turning around might be a bit dicey.  So we carried on.

The signs were very serious about the whole “one lane” business.  I became very conscious of wide spots in the road where two vehicles could pass.  As we went into each inlet we could look across the gap to see if a car was coming the other way so as to be prepared for the dance of who gets to back up when we meet.

I had to back up a number of times, nearly a quarter of a mile at one point, in order to get to a point where the car coming the other way could get around us.

Gone was any pretense of a line painted down the middle of the road.  Instead there was… now and then… a white line painted at each shoulder of the road, defining the space in which you had to stay to keep moving forward safely.  I wouldn’t want to try this whole thing at night.

We also started to see signs asking people not to honk when coming around blind corners.  Apparently tourist take those signs on the state highway very seriously and the locals have gotten sick of all the horns going off.

So I asked my wife if she had gotten a picture of one of those signs, then looked over and discovered that she was not having a good time.  I had been very focused on the road, it being the sort of drive that really requires full attention to everything going on, but had been feeling okay about things because I could see a full sized Jeep Wrangle about a half a mild ahead of us.  That thing was a good couple of feet wider than our Kia and, while it had the whole four wheel drive thing going for it, I was pretty convinced that being narrow and nimble and sounding like a pod racer was the more advantageous configuration.

My wife was a little more focused on the edge of the road and the deep blue see way down the cliff below us, so she was a bit more into gripping the arm rest and not really about taking pictures with her phone.  This caused her to make what I will call a couple of declarations against interest along the way.

We’ve been together for about 25 years at this point and, being an old married couple, bicker about stupid little things, like where things go in the cupboards or refrigerator as well as each other’s skill as a driver.  She likes to kibitz and will grab onto the arm rest when going into turn at anything over 15 mph, while I am prone to mutterings of “Oh God” and have a habit of just closing my eyes and letting my body go limp when I am sure we’re on the verge of disaster.

It is a wonder we get in the car with each other some days.  And neither of us will back down from our positions.

But here, in our rental car, going “whomp whomp whomp” down a one lane road between a mountain side and a cliff in a rural area with no cell phone reception facing locals coming the other way in full size pickup trucks barreling along with no fear, she conceded that she might not always be the best passenger and that I am a good driver.

This pair of admissions caused me to laugh out loud, which was probably the wrong thing to do, but it broke the tension of the drive.  I had been kind of quiet, focused on the road, and she had been just gripping the arm rest, but with that we felt a little better.  I started talking about my strategy for getting through this, spotting outlets, while she kept and eye out for cars and trucks coming towards us, and we both focused our scorn on this horrible one lane road.

This was a classic vacation situation for us.  We have a long tradition of going off on a lark and getting in over our heads.  Often it involves a seemingly easy hike in places like Lake Tahoe or Muir Woods or up Diamond Head on Oahu, where we get too far in to back out and realize we’re out of our depth.  I spent a good portion of time lying to her on a trail up a mountain in Marin, telling her it was downhill after the next turn, only to have her get there and see that we still had more climbing to do.

But we always managed to get through it together and then we go some place and have several drinks and curse our naivety and how sore we’ll be in the morning and swear we’ll be smarter next time.

So after a couple of moments of false hope, where the road seemed to be widening for good, only to narrow down to one lane for another few miles, and a few too many minivans coming the other way for comfort, we hit the start of the state highway again, with the road once again well paved and wide enough for two lanes with a solid double yellow line painted down the middle.

And that was our big adventure for this trip.  We contented ourselves by sitting on the beach or next to the pool for most of the rest of the time before we headed home.

35 Years of Connected Computers

I realized the other day that at some point 35 years ago, during the latter half of the summer of 1986, Potshot… or Skronk or Fergorin or whatever names I’ve used to identify him on the blog over the years… sold me a modem.

I think it was in August, but honestly it could have been July or September.  It was a cash deal and no receipts were kept.  It was an Apple 1200 bps modem and I took it home, then went over to the used computer store that was close by… because used computers were a business then… and bought a Super Serial Card for my Apple //e so I could hook the modem up to it.

Apple and Zoom modem pictures gleaned from the internet, the latter being me second modem

At that point I had to do something with it.  I dialed up a BBS or two with some primitive terminal emulation software, then I started looking at online services, landing on GEnie.

There I ended up playing Stellar Emperor almost right away.  Somebody there told me to go buy the Apple ][ terminal emulator that CompuServe sold which was light, emulated well, and had ten macro keys, which would become all important in playing Stellar Emperor and Stellar Warrior. (I did a recap of my 80s online gaming a while back.)

I also never had to go sit in the computer lab in college anymore.  They had a dial up number I could log in through.  I still had to walk across campus to pick up my printouts for projects, usually from SPSS, a software package I am continually surprised to find still exists.  It is almost as old as I am.

I’ve told those tales before here.  I’ve even charted out timelines for various things, including platforms and connectivity.  I’ve written a lot down on the blog over the last 15 years.

Game Platforms

I should probably update that one a bit.  I can add iPhone to it, and a Nintendo Switch.  But mostly it has been Windows PC gaming since Y2K.

Connectivity

That one I really need to update.  I think it was about 2015 that we swapped over to Comcast for a cable modem connection.  That runs at 100 MBits.

100 megabits per second.  One hundred million bits per second.  That is a long way from 1,200 bits per second back in 1986.  I would need more than 80,000 little Apple modems humming along in parallel to even come close to my throughput today.  1986 me would be impressed.

Hell, 2006 me would be impressed.  We’ve come a long way.

Back in 1986 I was kind of an oddball, demographically speaking.  I mean, just having a personal computer was still kind of odd, though growing increasingly common.  But having one that connected to other computers, that was really not a thing for many people.

For a long time the idea of a computer being connected to other computers was kind of niche.  One of the jobs I had there were several Apple ][s hooked up to a central Corvus drive that would share accounting data and output reports.  And the stuff in the lab at school was all wired up, but for most people a computer was a stand alone unit.  If you wanted to send somebody data you printed it out or saved it to a floppy disk.

In 1991, when I was working for a company that specialized in hard drives I got a call from a guy who had moved from there to a data recovery firm asking me about modems.  I was the recognized “modem expert” largely because I ran a BBS at the time, which made me the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.  He had a client down in LA who really needed the data from a drive they had recovered and wanted to know how long it would take to send to him via modem.  They had a 2,400 bps modem handy to transfer the 40mb of data.

I told him it would be quicker to drive down to LA and hand him the drive in person.  I didn’t even get into the complexity of queuing up however many files and sending the one by one and then sorting through them at the far end.  He was discouraged, but understood when I did the math.  It was kind of a surprise that the client at the far end had a modem, even in 1991.

Modems didn’t really become a thing to have until 1994 or so when the World Wide Web suddenly hove into view for many people.  I moved from the hard drive company to a modem manufacturer… again based on the fact that I ran a BBS so knew something about modems… where our big selling point was that you could send a fax from your Apple PowerBook.  Hard copies were still a thing.  Remember faxing lunch orders into a restaurant or getting fax spam ads?  No?  You’re kind of young, aren’t you?

But with the web, the internet became a thing for everybody.  The rush to get online began and here in Silicon Valley there was a good year to 18 months when on a typical weeknight you could lift up the handset on your home phone and not be sure you would get a dial tone.  The phone company, built on the idea that most people make a few five minute calls, was suddenly faced with a bunch of people who would dial up to their ISP when they got home from work and leave their connection pinned up until they went to bed.   Checking your email was kind of a big deal.

There was an transition point from where a computer went from being a stand alone device, to being something that could connect to an online service, to a device whose whole existence revolves around connectivity.

Back in the 80s and 90s having a computer online meant you could be some sort of cyber ninja computer hacker.  Now having a computer not connected has a special mystic.  We have a special term for it even, an “air gapped” computer.

I mean think about how much you do every day that required connectivity.  My job, which has been work from home for 18 months now, pretty much required online connectivity all the time for the last 20 years.  The network being down meant no work was getting done.  And now I am at home and that connection is work, commerce, and entertainment.  I have a 10 channel package from Comcast for my cable TV service because they want so badly to demonstrate that people are not cord cutting.

So far this year we have watched live TV on January 6th and during the Olympics.

Meanwhile, “always on” internet is essential.  All my many screens, and screens have proliferated in the last decade, seem to now demand some sort of internet access.  I remember back in the day when my daughter and I got our Nintendo DS Lites.  Internet connectivity was kind of a rare thing.  Setting up Nintendo WiFi for Pokemon was a pain.  I think only Mario Kart really worked well with it.

Now if I pick up the Switch Lite somewhere out of WiFi range is starts acting like a junkie in withdraw.

And I suspect the trend will continue in that direction.  I’ve resisted wifi enabled appliances and stuff, given their legendary security vulnerabilities, but I am sure some day they will become mandatory.