Tag Archives: Rambling Friday

Do You Wear the Mask or does the Mask Wear You?

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be

-Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball. You’re not being the ball Danny.

-Ty Webb, Caddyshack

One of the problematic aspects of talking about video games is how differently two people can perceive and interact with them.  This goes double in writing, where the reader can inject tone and choose to define words in a way the author did not intend.  I’m sure we’ve all run into somebody online who defines a word in a very specific way and then pedantically defends that definition against all evidence or logic.

Take “immersion” for example.  There is a ticklish concept that I have concluded means something different to everybody.  I have had people in the comments here argue that immersion is literally not possible in a video game, or that certain things, from pop-culture references to graphic detail, prevent or break immersion universally, or that you’re not really immersed unless you’re role playing and literally believe that is your reality.

But it isn’t so easy, so black and white.

I find immersion in a video game totally possible and quite independent of a lot of things that might break it for other people.  It certainly has nothing to do with role playing in my case.  But I couldn’t tell you how I get there any more than I could say how I go to sleep.  One moment I am not there and then I slip across some invisible barrier and arrive.  And, as with sleep, I don’t even know I am there until the spell has been broken.

Or so it goes for me.  It is a fairly rare experience for me and, as with sleep, has become less likely and more fleeting as I have grown older.  But I know when I have been there.

Anyway, this all comes to mind because of an article The Mittani posted over at INN, The Masks of Cyber-Purgatory.  I saw several people praising it on Twitter and went to read it myself.

My reactions were… mixed.  There are truths in the post, but also things I found at odds with my own personal voyage through New Eden over the last decade.  For example I can’t recall hearing anybody saying that the only way to win EVE Online is to quit often enough to make that a point of universal agreement.  I’m pretty sure if it were as universal as all that people would be responding to posts on /r/eve with, “Look forward to you winning the game!”  And the whole “slave name” thing was just bizarre.  Never heard that before, would scoff at it if I had.

Perhaps that is a sign that New Eden is less purgatory and more full-on Dante’s Inferno, where each of us ends up stratified in our of circle of the alleged hell that is internet spaceships.  Because clearly The Mittani and I are in different spheres.

But I could have told you that before this article.

And then there is the whole concept of masks, the adopted identities that we use in the game.  I get that, and then again I don’t.  Or, rather, I see it, have seen it, will no doubt see it again in other people, but it isn’t me.

Among my many personal issues is a sense of detachment from things, including video games.  I almost always see the game itself and its workings, they are almost always in my thoughts and calculations.  And, as I have said in the past, when I make and play a character in a video game, I am almost always playing myself.  There is no mask, there is just me.  Me playing a video game.

Or at least me in the constructs of the video game in question.  I’m pretty sure real me would get shiv’d by the first kobold he met in Norrath or Azeroth and would never climb into that pod in New Eden.  And, up to this point at least, I have never take part in a murder for hire scheme to kill ten or a dozen strangers for a few pieces of gold.

So I never don a mask because I am never “in” the game, any game, enough for my character or avatar to be anything apart from myself in any deep sense.

Is it cosplay or just me wearing a jacket?

Going back to immersion, for me it is passing into a brief state where I don’t see the mechanics, where I am not looking at the map or planning how best to fulfill this latest task, but am in the moment in the game, doing what I am doing without it being a part of a plan or a goal.

But there are masks and there are masks.

What I think of me on my side of the screen is only universally applicable if I am playing a single player game.

Out in the world of multiplayer games… or out in the world dealing with other people in general… what goes on inside your head is invisible.  It is how others see you and their own filters and biases that turn you into what they think you are.  You can wear any mask you want, or no mask at all, and somebody else will put a mask of their choosing over that all the same and claim that this is the real you.

I am brimming with examples of this, in video games, in reactions to things I write here, and of course, in real life.

I used to sit across the way from a guy who used to get really angry at email that came from HR about company policies.

Something like that would pop up in both of our email inboxes simultaneously.  I would look at it, try to figure if it had any impact on me, and generally get back to what I was doing without spending too much time on it.

On the other hand, I could hear him getting angry, spouting expletives, and generally fuming about the email.  And, of course, he would have to call over to me for the inevitable, “Can you believe this?” routine.

He would ask if I saw the email that just came in and I would acknowledge that I had, adding the “what are you going to do?” shrug to show my indifference.  But he would have to make sure I could see his point, reading from the email in question using tone and inflection to give it the worst possible spin he could.  As he framed it, this was the most unreasonable, insulting thing they had done yet… today at least.  And I could not talk him down off of that cliff.

Of course, I saw myself as in possession of the facts and had the email in question read in a neutral tone in my head.  But that was just my own spin on it, the parameters put upon the whole thing by my own perception.  While I’d like to say I was more likely to be write, or at least closer to reality, than my co-worker, I couldn’t really prove it any more than he could.

We all put masks on other people through our perceptions, biased by the filters and experiences that are genuinely our own alone.  We all like to think we’re in possession of the truth.  I know I imagine myself being reasonable by simply not getting excited or indignant about things that seem like matters of interpretation.  But even that point of view could be wrong.

And I am prone to put my own spin on things, to apply masks to others even when I know I might be yielding to my own personal bias.  Even in humor… or especially in humor… playing to that puts a mask on somebody else.

As an EVE Online illustration… also, I made this and wanted to share it

All of which doesn’t roll up to a nice tidy point and set of suggested behaviors I suppose.  I started out here with a point to make, but as I drove along down the path, I seemed as unlikely to be in a position to give guidance as anybody else.  I apply masks, or labels, or whatever metaphor you care to choose, on others as much as anyone.  That I tend towards what I think is a charitable view of others doesn’t make them any more accurate than my co-worker who would work himself into a lather about email messages from HQ.

Anyway, this many words in this late in the evening and I am committed to this post.  So I suppose the only thing to say is to be mindful of both the masks you wear, as nobody can see the inner you, as well as the masks you apply to other people, because you sure as hell can’t see the inner reality of others.

Disney Checks EA Over Battlefront Microtransactions and Other Hilarity

As it turns out, all of that firestorm about Star Wars: Battlefront II did not change EA’s mind.  Electronic Arts was fine just staying the course and going all-in on pay to win in the name of boosting revenues.  They were willing to move the dials some, but actually turn it off? Nah!

I don’t directly have a horse in this race since I’ve written off EA as a horrible company and don’t give them money in any form any more, but I figured I ought to follow up last week’s post and also note the state of affairs so I can come back to it a year from now and see how things played out.  Also, my daughter, cringing at my childish artistic efforts, made me a new “EA is Hell” graphic for such posts.  I’d feel bad not using it.

Electronic Arts – Fun is Made Here

Anyway, as it turns out Disney had to step in and yank EA’s chain to get them to stop shitting all over the Star Wars franchise just before a big movie launch next month.  So I suspect we won’t see EA suspend their temporary moratorium on predatory practices and straight up pay to win until Star Wars: The Last Jedi makes its billions in screen revenues and toy sales.

Then there was the analyst who, displaying all the depth the profession is known for, like a true Scooby-do villain, blamed the whole fiasco on “those meddling kids,” in the form of Reddit and a momentarily not subservient gaming press.  Can’t they see that EA needs that extra revenues to stay alive?  Games are so much more expensive to make these days, or so we’re told, so if gamers can’t be milked for more revenue the whole industry will collapse.

Oh, wait, EA says that shutting off its Star Wars Battlefront II whale exploiting program won’t affect earnings.  So which is it?  Are these all a necessary evil in order to ensure games keeping getting made or just another unconscionable way to boost revenues?

Anyway, all of that nerd rage has buoyed the FIFA fan base to demand EA fix the exploitative nature of that franchise as well, to which I can only respond with a hearty Nelson Muntz “Haw, haw!”

Or I would if this sort of thing wasn’t on the rise everywhere it seems.  Your dollar votes make this possible.  I know, we all just want to play our video games with our friends, and it is easy for me because EA literally makes no games right now that I care to play, but at least give this some thought now and again will you?  Spending $60 on the box for a game that contains a blatantly, unarguably vulgar straight up pay to win mechanic just makes that more likely to happen again in the future, even if you don’t participate in the most crass aspects of the money grab.

Did I get enough adjectives in that last paragraph?  I think there is room for a few more.  Would more change your mind?  Or are you just going to buy the games anyway?  You’re just going to buy them anyway, aren’t you?  Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you way too late!

Meanwhile various small time government officials are trying to ride this storm for some publicity.  The Nosy Gamer has a post about some of this.  The gambling commission in Belgium, a French senator, a Hawaiian state representative, and now a state gambling commission in the Australian state of Victoria have weighed in, all looking to play this for some press to further their careers.

I mean, I have some mild hope given the direction some of this is going.  There seems to be a line of thought that random chance plus real money alone is sufficient to declare something, if not real gambling, at least a predatory practice that targets the young, without having to open the can of worms that would come from declaring virtual goods to have real world value.

But even with virtual goods being worth cash money, the whole idea that random chance and money are predatory causes me to see how this could immediately bleed over into collectable card games (I don’t care if adults play Magic: The Gathering, it is still viewed in the mainstream as the domain of 13 year old boys, while the Pokemon TCG is straight up aimed at kids), baseball cards, the gumball machine in front of the drug store that drops out random toys in little plastic capsules, and McDonald’s Happy Meals.

There is a long and lamentable history of laws being written with a specific intent and then being expanded to include semi-analogous but never intended scenarios.  If “money + chance + children” is predatory do you have a green light to sue McDonald’s if you don’t get the right Star Wars toy in you Happy Meal?  I’m sure some lawyer will take that case and try to make new law if you’re willing to pay his many billable hours and expenses.

Anyway, the potential for a law that might get expanded into various other venues will cause a cross-industry alliance against any such changes to be formed.  They will battle directly by making up numbers about how many jobs would be lost by such regulation and promises of self-policing in the industry while at the same time innocuous sounding industry groups will donate to the campaign funds of politicians… or directly to politicians… to sway their minds and soon, if EA can keep itself from publicly shitting the bed again for just a little while, the whole issue will disappear.

So that is my call.  Ain’t nothing going to happen and a year from now the status quo will still be in place.  I mean, maybe EA won’t be trying to sell its pay to win so egregiously, so there will be a small win in that.  But that will have been accomplished through direct economic pressure.  No legislation or regulations will have been passed in any but the tiniest of jurisdictions.

Yes Gevlon, I read your post.  I disagree, if only because I cannot imagine the systems in the US and the EU working with such haste.  The EU only gets itself in gear if it thinks it can milk US companies like Google and Apple to punish them for being better at what they do than their European counterparts.  Somebody will point out that any changes won’t just hurt EA but Europeans as well and that will be that.  And in the US… well, the NRA and its congressional puppets have been reading from the “video games cause gun violence” script for years and that hasn’t changed anything of substance.  What chance does this have?

Anyway, we shall see.  If I remember I’ll make this one of my predictions for 2018.  I need to start thinking about that.

Until then I’ll go back to playing World of Warcraft, at least until they start selling mythic raid drops in loot boxes for cash.  After that it will just be Pokemon for me I guess.  Nintedo would never do this, right?  And they’re going to announce a Pokemon Diamond & Pearl remake next year as well, right? Right?

Top Five Problems with EVE Online

It is like New Eden editorial week here at TAGN.

With Wednesday’s rambling rant I foolishly used EVE Online as an example of focus.  It was foolish because any mention of EVE Online will seem like an invite for somebody to come and hijack the comment thread and to complain that the game is dying because CCP is neglecting their little corner of space.

Revelations - November 2006

My first EVE Online expansion

“EVE is Dying” is a favorite topic in the community, and the reason is usually, as noted above, because CCP is neglecting some corner of the current user base.  But it is a long running MMORPG and one of the ways to keep an MMO from dying is to attract new players.  CCP has launched into that with Alpha clones and a revamped new player experience.  But there are still things standing in the way of new players joining the game.

The Name

It sounds like a porn site, or maybe something to promote feminine hygiene products.  What it doesn’t sound like is an internet spaceship MMORPG.

Yes, you and I know it is a biblical reference and that is used to include “the second genesis” in the title just to make that clear.  But absent that insight, if you were looking at a list of MMORPGs and wanted to play something in outer space, which are you going to look at first, something named after a popular science fiction franchise (SWTOR or STO maybe) or something that shares a name with one of the co-defendants in Apple-gate?


That was the year that EVE Online launched.  Consoles of the time were the PlayStation 2, the original XBox, the GameCube, and the GameBoy Advance.  That was back when the first Call of Duty was launched, when Toontown Online kicked off, when EverQuest only have five expansions, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was a big deal.

That make EVE Online pretty old in gaming years.  And while it has been pretty much constantly updated over its life, the years still weigh on the game.  An outsider may dismiss it because of its age.  Some players like the game but simply wear out over time.  Bitter vets hang on, looking for one more high point, another good fight or memorable event that will make a story.  The rich get richer in ISK and skill points and new players can feel daunted entering a universe with a hierarchy often dictated by age/time with the game, where corps and alliances can easily have a decade of history under their belt.

Oh That Reputation

Where to even start on this?  Be the villain?

EVE Online is a PvP MMORPG.  There is no flagging, no care bear server, no safety once you undock your ship.  PvP games have a reputation for attracting the worst people to start with.  The joke back in early EverQuest was that SOE rolled out PvP servers to concentrate all the assholes in their own corner and away from the rest of the player base.

Of course, CCP didn’t stop at simply making their game PvP  They allow things that would get you banned in WoW, all in furtherance of the sandbox.  They push that ideal so far that they can seem unsure as to whether or not you can cross a line, as we saw with the bonus room scandal or, more recently, anti-Semitic symbolism in the alliance tournament.

So the game has a reputation built on some bad events and enhanced by a legion of people who hate the game… or who hate the idea of the game, because they’ve clearly never logged in… and who clog up comment threads on gaming sites whenever a story about the game runs.

I was in a Facebook group for old Air Warrior players and at one point somebody put up a post asking what games everybody was playing currently.  I put EVE Online on my response, and another guy in the group just lost his head about it being a horrible game where people swat you to steal your stuff.  Now, granted, this guy was a Star Citizen fan boy who was dedicated destroying all other space sims to further the cause of his God, Chris Roberts (he eventually killed the group by spamming it with Star Citizen posts), but he wasn’t going on about how horrible Elite: Dangerous players were, just that it was a shadow of what Star Citizen would eventually be.  But he knew that hitting EVE with its reputation was an easy shot, something that would scare people away from this threat to his precious.

There are a lot of people out there eager to say bad things about New Eden, and a number of them are people paying to play the game.

The User Interface

The EVE Online store features a T-shirt that says, “How do I warp to something?” that would be very funny were it not so true.

I will grant that CCP had a serious problem in trying to represent three dimensional space travel on a 2D screen where there can be dozens to hundreds to thousands of things in space and around you.  The camera, brackets, the tactical overlay, and the overview work together to try and get you what you need to know.  And sometimes it is just the right balance and it works.

And then you hit bracket overflow and it is killing your performance so you have to turn them off, which makes the camera just a source of pretty pictures.  Meanwhile the overview has 50 pages of information in it so you sort by distance, but the FC wants you to sort by name and target somebody with a name close to yours alphabetically, only your name starts with “W” so you’re trying to find that and then another hostile fleet warps in range and now you aren’t sure who to target then the FC, realizing this, tells everybody to go to a destroyer only overview, but you scroll down the long list of overviews and find you don’t have one, but you have a frigate overview which includes destroyers so you select that and the enemy completely disappears because it is an old overview and doesn’t have T3 or command destroyers selected because when CCP adds new stuff it is off by default in overviews so you’re digging in the settings trying to find the right boxes to check and the FC tells the fleet to align but you’re almost there and you check them and suddenly the overview is populated by hostiles yellow boxing you and then the FC warps you off but you’re not aligned yet and are dead before you get off grid and the FC wants to know what they hell you were doing and you say, “Sorry, phone rang” and slink off because the real story is too much to say over coms and finally somebody pods you so you can log off.

True story.  And I had been playing the game for about 8 years when that happened so I was able to tell what was wrong and try to fix it on the fly.  To paraphrase Yahtzee Croshaw “The overview is like the working class, if you cannot control it, it will seek to destroy you.”

And the overview is just one part of a UI that is often very unhelpful about telling you what you need to know to do what you want to do.  And not being able to do what you want to do because the UI isn’t helping can be hugely frustrating.

Ship and Module Complexity

I would love CCP to give us a count of how many people have that damage table about what damage type to use against which NPCs as their biography.  That so many people feel the need to put that there to remember what sort of ammo to load is a pretty clear sign of something.

As with the UI, CCP has a problem in that equipment in the game doesn’t map to most other entries in the MMORPG space.  Medieval fantasy is so popular in part because the gear is easy.  A helmet protects your head.  Some number shows you how well, and you can compare that to other helmets to see which one to wear.  A sword does damage.  Another number tells you how much and you can compare your sword against new ones.

Spaceships and the equipment for them though… a little more complex.

I consider myself lucky in that I started as Caldari back in 2006.  Missiles were a weapons option and missiles are easy.  I tinkered with rail guns, the other Caldari weapon system, but went back to missiles.  There are only four basic flavors of missiles, one for each damage type, heat, explosive, kinetic, and electro-magnetic.

Missiles have flight time, so they do not apply damage immediately like the other options, but they don’t miss due to transverse movement.  No tracking worries, just get something in range, have the right flavor loaded, and shoot.

Of course, a new player picking ammo still have a slew of choices if they look up light missiles on the market.

Not shows, defender light missiles

Not shown, defender light missiles

Then there are rockets, which are the shorter ranger but higher damage alternative to light missiles which have their own parallel ammo selection.  And then there are the various flavors of launchers, modules which can enhance missile damage, hulls with bonuses to missiles, and even implants to improve missile performance.

Such variety exists for all the basic weapon systems for each empire, and that is just offense.  There is also defense, how to beef up your ships defenses or keep them repaired as well as mobility and targeting and stealth and scanning and probing and fleet boosts and probably a few more things I am forgetting.  The idea of giving Alpha clones access only to their own empire’s ships makes more sense when you look at all of this.  At least your Gallente pilot is just going to have to learn about drones and hybrid weapons, since lasers and projectiles won’t be an option.

Now, such complexity isn’t a bad thing from one angle.  There is enough rock-paper-scissors going on that there isn’t one absolute winning doctrine we all fly.  Theory crafting fits is a viable pastime in New Eden.  But for the new player… or the player that just wants to undock and shoot something without learning the fine craft of fitting… it is a serious issue.

Bonus Item: Terminology

POS, station, starbase, outpost, citadel, complex, depot, welp, gate, jump, cyno, beacon, bridge, bomb, smart bomb, hictor, dictor, tank, alpha, Alpha, point, web, scram, tackle, bubble, drag bubble, camp, gank, FC, anchor, logi, perch, scan, probe, and so on and so on and so on.

When EVE Online players speak or write about the game, we often drop into the jargon of the game, made more dense by our own shorthand for in-game concepts, that makes understanding what is going difficult for the outsider.

And sometimes it is difficult for the insider as well.  Earlier this week CCP announced that after next week’s patch players would no longer be able to deploy outposts.  I was pretty sure that meant the deployment of what we generally call “stations” in null sec, but I went and read it carefully to be sure.  But that didn’t stop people in the forums from jumping on this announcement thinking that CCP meant Player Owned Starbases, those structures built around a tower that have been, among other things, the only way to mine moons and build capital ships up until now.

Problems versus Problems

Having removed the barrier to entry that was the subscription (sort of) and assuming that the updated new player experience is no longer going to drive people away, those are what I see as the top five problems with EVE Online because they are barriers to getting new people to try the game and to help replace the attrition that any MMORPG faces over time.  To me that trumps most bitter vet complaints that are generally balance and mechanics issues.

Some of my list can’t be fixed.  The game will always be from 2003, and changing the name would cause more problems than it would solve at this point.  Other items on my list are double edge swords.  The reputation does bring some people to the game, as a challenge if nothing else, while the complexity of ship fitting gives the game depth and does lead to interesting choices. As for the UI… well, that has been a work in progress for 13 years.  It is better now that it was when I showed up in 2006.

But the fact that you can’t fix a problem, or can’t fix it easily, or can’t fix it today, doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.

Anyway, those are my picks.  I am sure you have your own ideas about what is wrong with EVE Online.  I won’t even argue with you in the comments.

Addendum: Or maybe some new masters will change some of these points.

Addendum: Po Huit takes this list and runs with it.

The Age of the Full Zone Respawn

More memories from the depths of TorilMUD lore.

Being one of the proto-MMO MUDs, and the MUD in particular that influenced the creation of EverQuest, TorilMUD included early/crude/simplified versions of many of the MMO mechanics we have come to love/loathe.

One of these is, of course, the respawn.

Oh, the respawn, one of those quirks required of a shared world.  You can’t just kill a thing and expect it to remain dead in a game where a hundred or a thousand other people might need to kill the same thing… or ten of the same thing… as well.

And so we have grown used to respawns, spawn tables, rare spawns, and all of that in our MMORPGs.  The sight of slain mobs reappearing on the field is nothing strange.  I remember when the two hour respawn timer for mobs in WoW dungeons used to be an issue, back when WoW dungeons took longer than 20 minutes to run.

(Even the term “mob” dates from the MUD era, when it referred to a “mobile object,” which is all our orcs and dragons were back then.)

But back in the MUD era, things were less sophisticated, resources more restricted, and even drive space could be an issue.  Back then there wasn’t any process keeping track of every single trash mob in the world, respawning them one by one on individual timers.

Sure, there might be a bit of code keeping track of a very special boss mob or a rare world spawn, but for the most part respawns were handled at the zone level.

Kobold Village - Surface

Kobold Village Zone – Surface Level

A zone back in TorilMUD… back in DikuMUD… was something of an autonomous process.  I tinkered with zone creation at one point and have forgotten most of what I once knew, but I recall that they were discreet areas that contained all the data… rooms, descriptions, objects, and mobs… that they contained.  There could be a lot of zones in a MUD.  You can see a list of zones from TorilMUD on a previous post I did.

When actually playing TorilMUD, it could sometimes be difficult to tell where one zone ended and another began.  The world was seamless in its way, probably more so that WoW, where you can see the change in geography and color palette as you move from one zone to another.  You had to look at the style of the text in the zone.

Sometimes it was obvious.  An old or connecting zone might have no ANSI color characters in it or the writing style in room descriptions might change dramatically.  And, sometimes, there would be a sign announcing the area, often including a warning about dangers ahead. (See the sign on the fence outside Kobold Village for example.)

Within a zone, all the mobs would respawn at the same time.  The standard timer in TorilMUD was 20 minutes if I recall right.  When off on a experience group, grinding levels some place like Kobold Village, the buffalo fields, the pirate ship, or even on the walls of Waterdeep, where elite guards gave great experience, it was important to establish a flow that worked with the respawn timer so as to limit down time.  We used to come up with regular cycles and move from mob to mob, winding up back where we started just in time for the respawn.

Some zones were different.  There were a couple of zones that were set to not respawn.  Once they were done, they were empty until the game crashed and restarted.

Other zones… the special zones like City of Brass that required a full group of 16, correctly balanced… would not spawn until empty.  That is, nothing would respawn until there were no players left in the zone.  That could lead to difficult times if there was a full party wipe.  With everybody dead and back in their own respawn points… their class guilds in most cases… the zone would respawn and all the mobs between the players and their corpses… corpses which had all of their equipment… leading to difficult times.  It was not uncommon to bring along an extra person just to sit in the first room and “hold the zone” for the group to keep it from respawning in the event of a wipe.

And there were, of course, some oddities with the full zone respawn, like spawn order.

Any unique mobs in a zone were likely just that, unique.  There was only one and they had a specific spawn location.  But more generic mobs, guards or patrols, or other trash if you will, might be a single mob that was set to spawn at a list of points.  At respawn time the zone would then refill any missing mobs from that batch starting at the top of the list of spawn points.

This meant that if you killed a generic mob from the second spot on the list, when respawn time came it would respawn in the first spot.  The process was simple.  It didn’t check what spots were empty or keep track of which mobs had spawned in which spot.  It just checked to see how many of that mob were left and, if the count came up short, it spawned more of them to fill out the desired number.

This could be painful if somebody killed the wrong mob.  Spawn order was serious business.

For example, I mentioned the elite guards on the walls of Waterdeep.  Those were tough mobs, but they would not call for help or trigger a city-wide alarm if you attacked them.  And they were excellent experience and dropped a decent amount of cash.  But they were generic mobs and you had to be careful to kill them in spawn order.  If you didn’t follow spawn order, or missed the respawn and kept killing in order past the first spawn after a respawn, you could end up with two elites in that first room.  And while elite guards wouldn’t call for help or set off the alarm, they would assist each other, so now you faced a double spawn.  And given that you probably setup your group to maximize experience, which meant keeping it as small as possible, a double spawn would be then end of things unless you got some help.

And so it went.  As I recall, the reavers on the Pirate ship were the same way as elite guards.  You needed to kill them in the right order or you ended up with overlapping spawns.

Anyway, that is my MUD memory of the day.

Hero’s Song Returns to Crowdfund Again

You might remember Hero’s Song, the John Smedley/Pixelmage Games project in development, which launched a rather poorly thought out Kickstarter back in January of this year.  The flaws in the campaign were manifold, and by the time I wrote a list of them up the campaign had been cancelled.

Hero's must face turmoil, it is what makes them heroes, right?

Hero’s must face turmoil, it is what makes them heroes, right?

The team found other funding and carried on development of Hero’s Song, which is currently described as:

Hero’s Song is an open world rogue-like fantasy game done in a beautiful 2D pixel art style. Create epic fantasy worlds uniquely shaped by your choices, the power of the gods, and thousands of years of history. Become a legendary hero in a dangerous and mysterious world of magic and monsters. Explore endless dungeons and ancient cities in long forgotten lands in search of knowledge, treasure and the power of the gods!

Well, as the title of the post says, Pixelmage is back with a new crowdfunding effort.

This time around they the goals are more modest, the pledge tiers are better, the details are expansive, Smed isn’t using the word “hardcore” all over the place, and there is a somewhat more realistic timeline for the project.

Dates quoted for truth... again

Dates quoted for truth… again

I still think that schedule is optimistic, but more than 25 years in software development has made that my knee jerk reaction to any schedule I suppose.  Still, it is better than the last one (shown in this post), which had launch in October of this year… so I was right in calling it out on optimism that time at least.

Also different this time around is the platform they chose to run their campaign.  Rather than going with the perennial favorite, Kickstarter, PixelMage chose to go with Indiegogo.

The choice of Indiegogo gives them at least one advantage; there is no minimum threshold to allow them to collect some money.  Unlike with Kickstarter, where you have to make your goal to get paid, even if PixelMage does not make it $200,000 stated target, they get to keep any money pledged at the end of the campaign.

If you pledge it, they get it

If you pledge it, they get it

There are, however, some downsides.

First of all, while Indiegogo isn’t exactly unknown, it still isn’t Kickstarter.  Kickstarter is more famous and, I suspect, more trusted when it comes to giving them payment information.  I mean, Kickstarter has been around a while, to the point that the verb “to kickstart” has practically acquired a new meaning largely associated with them.

NOT the official drink of Kickstarter

Verb also used for motorcycles and energy drinks, which is pretty powerful

The second downside, for me at least, stems from one of the advantages, the fact that PixelMage gets the money pledged even if they do not make their stated goal.

I mean, that is GREAT… for PixelMage.  But how great is it for those pledging money?  If a company says they need a given amount to complete a project, and they only get, say, 25% of that amount, what does that mean to those who kicked in?

Now, in the case of PixelMage, I suspect that, at worst, it will mean some delay in the schedule.  I have no doubt they will deliver the game whether they make their goal or not.  But, in general, I guess I have become accustomed to the Kickstarter method where you only get your funding if you can raise the amount of money you said you needed for the project.  There is a certain logic to that.

Finally, as something an adjunct to the previous item, the lack of a hard “must meet” funding goal also takes a bit of the edge off of the campaign.  Not having an “all or nothing” goal mutes any sense of urgency.  Let’s look at where the campaign stands today, a couple of days in:

September 9, 2016 - Morning status

September 9, 2016 – Morning status

The campaign is 23% of the way to its goal… which seems to be okay.

I have to say that among its disadvantages, Indiegogo doesn’t have the range of external trend and activity tracking tools that Kickstarter does, and also seems to be a bit coy with things like the actual end date.

Anyway, Hero’s Song seems to have made my rule-of-thumb metric for campaigns, which is that if you haven’t hit 20% of your goal in the first 48 hours, you aren’t going to make it.  However, they are going to get that money whether or not they get to $200,000.  The goal is just a line in the sand, more of a “we’d like” rather than a do-or-die proposition.  You can’t really call for a last minute surge if they are short of their goal because they are still going to get something.  And even the stretch goals seem like you might get them anyway, so why throw money down now?

Races and housing

Races and housing

But that might just be me.  I am ever the cynic and/or critic.

Then again, Bree over at Massively OP put it this way in the comments of a post over there:

They get the money even if they don’t get to the soft target. They are plainly using Indiegogo as a preorder system and publicity stunt; there’s no way the “we need 200k more” thing is legit (plus they really want more than that for the hardcore housing feature).

And I think I am a cynic!  The again, there is the “Smed factor” I mentioned when the Kickstarter campaign was going.  He has a lot of history and not everybody likes him.

Anyway, the Indiegogo campaign is on and running for… a month… again, end date on that?  You can check it out here if you are interested, pledge if you want to pre-order and get a T-shirt (or limit Smed’s diet), or wait until it hits Steam about this time next year. (My needlessly pessimistic prediction there.)

Or you can go to the PixelMage site and read up about the project itself.

WoW Se7en dot Oh My!

Oh, patch day, patch day, patch day, it was time for patch day.

The big primary digit patch day always contains its share of chaos, and all the more so for me because I adamantly refuse to read about upcoming changes and features in advance.  I hate to spoil the surprise.  So when Blizzard sent me an email notification about the WoW 7.0 patch asking if I was prepared, my answer was an unequivocal, “Um… no?”

Wait, I was supposed to be prepared? What am I, a boy scout?

Wait, I was supposed to be prepared? What am I, a boy scout?

On the first day of the reign of 7.0, I logged in for just a couple of minutes simply to verify that the patch was there… and to make some more hexweave cloth.

My big end of garrison plan was to invest everything into supplies to make hexweave bags.  My tailor will be sitting in his garrison for the next few week cranking out 30 slot bags because bag space is still a good thing.

The next night I logged in for a bit to check on my main and to see how things looked.  I still wasn’t able to face the addon apocalypse that accompanies all such major updates.  I try to keep addons to a minimum simply because their authors come and go and you can never be sure as to what addon will still be around after a year of no patches.

And even still, the Curse client only reported a few of my addons were 7.0 ready, which meant I was not ready to face the game.  Plus I had stuff to move in EVE Online.

Last night however, Curse told me I had a quorum when it came to updated addons, so I ventured into the game.

Unfortunately, some addons were less prepared than I was and I had to log back out and uncheck the box that makes WoW load out of date addons.  Here I ran into one of a few bugs.  I spent some time swapping between characters and, every time I logged out to character select, the game warned me about loading out of date addons.

Warning... over and over...

Warning… over and over…

The checkbox kept getting rechecked every time I logged out.  A minor but persistent annoyance, as you get two alerts for it and then have to open up the addons interface and uncheck the option yet again.

Then there was the class resets for 7.0.  Every single character that logged in was reminded about talents and such.

And this just keeps coming up...

And this just keeps coming up…

Basically, I have to figure out all the new class stuff for every single character.  I will probably push on this for a while, except for a couple of key characters.  For Vikund, my paladin, main, and oldest character, I did go to Icy Veins to read up on the talents so as not to make the “wrong” choice… because there is ALWAYS a wrong choice.  The “wrong” choices did surprise me at times.

There is a certain irony in facing this.  I came back to WoW about a month ago in order to get back into the swing of things, so as not to be completely lost when the expansion hit.  And then, blammo, I need to relearn all the classes from scratch anyway.  At least they dropped the 7.0 patch well in advance of the pre-Legion events.  We all have some time to get up to speed.

I pottered about the Garrison a bit as well, and the 7.0 transition seemed to have left a few bugs in its wake there.  I was, for example, offered the Mastering the Menagerie quest again immediately after completing it.  But you cannot complete it again.  Ah well.

But I probably spent most of my time tinkering with the new wardrobe/transmog system.  You have to focus on the most important things first, right?

My father used to say to me
“Nando, don’t be a schnook,
It’s not how you feel,
It’s how you look!”

-Billy Crystal, You Look Marvelous

As with most everything else in the patch, I knew a change was coming but wasn’t up on the details.

The first thing I noticed was that I got a series of achievement related to transmog upon logging in.  The joy of having many alts over many years and storing away a lot of useless but cool looking items meant that I hit the achievement goal for almost every gear slot.

I wanted to see the new stuff, so I opened up collections and went to the new appearance tab to see all that I had.

A captain's hat!

A captain’s hat!

I sorted through that for a bit, eventually figuring out that, while I could see lots of cool gear, I couldn’t actually DO anything with it from the collections interface.  We can see all our options from where ever we are, but if we want to actually change them we still have to go find that Transmog NPC and pay them some gold to update our look.

Yes, we don’t have to pay the void storage fee as well any more, but I am still not clear why Blizz feels they need to be as restrictive as this when it comes to appearance.  I look at how EverQuest II and LOTRO and Rift (and even EVE Online) and how they handle this sort of thing, and it just feels like Blizz has something against the whole idea.

Particularly irksome to me was the 20 gold charge to change my tabard appearance.

I never wear this tabard

I never wear this tabard

One of the things I was looking forward to was clearing all those tabards I have out of my bank to clear up storage space.  The appearance system certainly seemed to have scooped them all up and saved them all.  If I want to change my tabard appearance, the cost is 20g.  But I can avoid that by just going over to the bank and pull the actual tabard out and change it for free… and, being an engineer, I can bring up bank access anywhere, which makes it more convenient than transmog.  I just don’t get those 35 or so bank slots back.

Yeah, yeah, I don’t actually change my tabard all that often, but I got the impression at some point that tabards were going to be more like toys than transmog.  And the cheapskate in my will likely keep the tabards in my bank.  Better make more hexweave bags.

On checking, I found that the one main transmog achievement I missed out on had to do with shirts.  I haven’t been collecting shirts.

Missing some shirts...

Missing some shirts…

Nine shirts didn’t seem like much.  I figured I could head on over to the auction house and fill out that order and get the last achievement along with the meta achievement and title.  Of course, with shirts being a thing in the transmog system, some people were attempting to make some money off of the situation.

That is an expensive shirt

That is an expensive shirt

Fortunately, once I sorted by price, I found some more reasonably priced shirts in a much more reasonable price range.  I probably could have made a few of them with my tailor.  But, with only nine on the list, I was able to scoop those up, put them on (so their appearance got captured), and hey presto, I had the final achievement.


So I have the title “the Fabulous” going for me now.

And that was about all I had the time and patience for on a week night.  I logged on a bunch of characters, found many of them had stuff in their inventory that hadn’t been picked up the new system, so there was lots of putting thing on to get them captured.  I did tinker with a few looks for lower level characters.

My mid-60s warrior in red

My mid-60s warrior in red

With the weekend I will probably get out and figure out how to play at least one character again.  There is still time before the big intro event.  Onward to the Broken Isles.

One Hundred Million Copies of Minecraft

The news popped up yesterday that Minecraft sales had exceeded 100 million copies.

Who buys which version where...

Who buys which version where…

The number, as of June 1st was actually a bit past 100 million.

Complete with delusions of sovereignty

Complete with delusions of sovereignty

Probably more surprising is that the game has sold, on average, 53K copies a day in 2016.  Not bad for a game getting to its fifth birthday.

Over on his blog SynCaine attributes this to the idea that good games simply do well.  That is underselling the achievement by a long shot.  For a cross platform title that puts Minecraft behind only Tetris, which has sold nearly 500 million copies in the last 30 years, appearing on platforms as diverse as programmable calculators, iPods, just about every gaming console ever, and whatever OS you happened to be running back in the day.

SynCaine then proceeds to bait the bear that is World of Warcraft, opining that if only Blizzard hadn’t started to make the game suck after The Burning Crusade the game would still be growing today.

This is a bad argument.  Or, at a minimum, an argument that doesn’t necessarily follow from Minecraft’s success.

To open with, the comparison appears to be subscribers versus total sales.  Total units sold would be more apt.  But we do not know how many copies of World of Warcraft Blizzard has sold.  Furthermore, even if we did, I would argue that for this measure, we should count not just copies of the base game, but also every copy of each expansion as a sale, at which point it isn’t hard to get to a number that surpasses Minecraft, at least on the back of a napkin.  WoW had already passed 100 million accounts created two and a half years ago.  (Complete with required infographic.) All of them may not have bought a copy of the game, but a lot of them bought a copy and an expansion or three.

The orc says, "Look at me!"

The orc says, “Look at me!”

WoW has been growing this whole time, if you just count people who have played as opposed to those currently subscribed.  After all, one item you can derive from that Mojang chart is that 66 million people who bought Minecraft don’t bother playing it on any given month even though it is free.

Then there is the whole pricing aspect, because WoW and every expansion has cost more than a copy of Minecraft, and then there is a subscription on top of that, something that chases some people off.

But there is really one key difference between the two games that will keep WoW from ever having a chance to do what Minecraft has done with such a small team.  You can leave aside things like price, expansions, subscriptions, and all that, because to my mind it comes down to one main item:

Mojang doesn’t make content.

They make the client and an open source version of the server… but all you need is the client… and have left nearly everything else to the community that has formed around the game.  It is all in the hands of the players.

Don’t like the default settings?  Change them!  There aren’t enough settings?  Run a third party version of the server!  Don’t like the looks or want some new feature?  There is probably a mod for that!  Don’t like the current version?  Set the client to run an old version!  Want somebody to host your server?  So many choices!  Play solo?  Check!  Play with friends on a closed server? Check!  Make an open server for anybody?  Check!  PvE?  Check!  PvP?  Check!  Creative mode?  Check!  Hardcore perma-death?  Covered!  Special maps?  All over the place!

And yes, not ALL of those options apply to the three versions of Minecraft.  Again, the PC Master Race gets the greater range of flexibility.  But even on the console version, the most limited of the three, Mojang still doesn’t make content.

Meanwhile Blizz needs to come up with new content every year… though they can only manage to do it every other year… and every new change or expansion alienates somebody from the installed base.  There was no perfect path forward that would please everybody.

And you can’t just set the client to run WoW 1.8.1 or some such because you liked how things were in 2006.  Meanwhile the market closed in as the flip side of everybody making what essentially became niche WoW clones means that the player base has other options when the current batch of content wears out.

Even League of Legends, which SynCaine also brings up, depends on Riot not screwing up balance too much and to make new variations of the game and to stage big events and the like to draw attention to the game.

Mojang has created a sandbox game that has achieved a life of its own.  Even the space-sim-sandbox of my heart, EVE Online, has to provide content for its players.  Minecraft just drops you in a fresh world and tells you to punch a tree.  You want something?  Go build it.  They don’t even care about a player economy.  Design it away?  It’s been done.

And they succeeded!

Furthermore, as far as I can tell, Mojang barely markets the game… and still they are selling 53K copies a day.  And then there is all the revenue from licensed products like shirts and foam picks and LEGO sets.  They have created something special here.  It is beyond being a game, it is practically an ecosystem.

Minecraft is one of those odd exceptions, beyond merely “good game sells well,” one of those games that was in the right time and place for success.  But then again, so was WoW.