Tag Archives: Station Launcher

Quote of the Day – Hearthstone, SOE, and Historical Inevitability

Actually after seeing what Blizzard did with Hearthstone it’s given us some other ideas…. LoN is an awesome card game. We can take that to the next level.

John Smedley, Reddit AMA on plans for Legends of Norrath

Okay, that is actually a quote from a few days back, but the Reddit Ask Me Anything that John Smedley did last Friday is a gold mine of quotes.  I have to salute Feldon at EQ2 Wire for picking out some of the prime samples for his post.

And I have to hand it to Smed for not flinching from some tough question and answering things the way he did.  He laid out a lot things there, and not all of them were flattering to SOE.  He also left a lot of meat on the table to discuss, from SOE operating Vanguard at a loss for “a long time” to consolidation of IPs plan (again, is DC Universe Online safe with that going on?) to EverQuest Next being headed for the PlayStation 4 (not good news in my book, at least when it comes to a ship date… or user interface choices).  You could get a month’s worth of blog posts out of that AMA.  I am sure bloggers will be feeding on this all week.

But the item quoted at the top… I think speaks volumes in just two sentences.

The online collectible card game Legends of Norrath was launched back in late 2007, when it was integrated with EverQuest and EverQuest II, giving players a game to play within a game.  No mixed message in that.  Later it got its own stand-alone client, but the integration with the EverQuest games was still prime.  Legends of Norrath borrowed the stories and metaphors of the EverQuest games for theme and mechanics, and offered up in-game goodies for players of the two MMOs along with throwing out the occasional reward to the community by including somebody on a card.

Brent from VirginWorlds got a card

Brent from VirginWorlds got a card

And, as far as I know, the game has been a success.  It survived the great purge of the Denver and Tuscon studios that seemed to spell the end of online card games being anything like a focus at SOE. (There are some good historical Smed quotes on the old SOE Blog, and some interesting posts from others about company plans. I am surprised it hasn’t all been sent down the memory hole yet.)  Legends of Norrath survived along with Magic The Gathering: Tactics, though the latter is slated to be shut down at the end of March.  Another aspect of the recent blood bath I guess.

And then along came Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.

HearthstoneWhite_450

Actually, it hasn’t really come along yet.  It just got out of closed beta and is now downloadable by anybody who wants to be in the open beta (Europe too now) and who has a Battle.net account.

Hearthstone compares directly to Legends of Norrath.  It is an online collectable card game based on the lore of a popular MMO, it is free to play with its own client, you can buy cards, play against other online, and so on.

However, unlike Legends of Norrath, Hearthstone isn’t integrated into World of Warcraft.  For now the linkage is only in lore and sharing a Battle.net login with WoW and your other current Blizzard games.  Also unlike Legends of Norrath, Hearthstone has gotten a lot of praise from both inside and out of the MMO player community.

Not that I have heard people slam Legends of Norrath, but it never seemed like a big deal either, not the way Hearthstone has been hailed.  Part of that is no doubt the fact that Blizzard games are much more visible, popular, and highly rated than games from SOE.  A lot of people will try anything Blizzard ships.  Simple truth: Blizzard has a lot more fans than SOE.

And part of that is no doubt the application of Blizzard magic to the Legends of Norrath idea, which made Hearthstone shinier, easier to get into, and more appealing to players for whom collectible card games were never really a thing to do.  Plus there is the promise of an iOS and Android version of the game.  The iPad will likely be the Hearthstone platform for me.

This is, of course, pretty much a parallel to EverQuest and World of Warcraft.  SOE got out there first and succeeded, but then Blizzard took what they saw SOE doing and created something an order of magnitude more successful.  And so I suspect will be the case with Hearthstone.

Of course, not everybody loves Hearthstone.  As the hardcore early EverQuest players derided World of Warcraft (even as EverQuest tried to become more and more like WoW ), so some serious CCG players have declared that Hearthstone is a shallow game only fit for casual scrubs, bitter that people are not playing “more deserving” games.  And so it goes.

But the generally favorable reviews of the game got even me to download the Hearthstone open beta, and I am well into the “CCGs are not for me” camp. (I tried the Pokemon CCG a few times, but never enjoyed it.)  I haven’t actually played it yet… or even launched the app… but I have it downloaded.  And that brings me to yet another SOE vs. Blizzard parallel.

In downloading and installing Hearthstone, I found out that to use it required the still-in-beta Battle.net launcher… erm, excuse me… the Battle.net Desktop App.  Oh, and that replaced the launcher for all of the current Blizzard games, including World of Warcraft and Diablo III.

The Hearthstone install did not warn me about that and I was PISSED!

I was pissed because I have been through the single, unified launcher/updater wringer before.  Of course, that was with SOE which was trying to push their version of that sort of thing quite a while back.

Station Launcher of yore...

Station Launcher of yore…

The fact that Station Launcher never quite worked right was compounded by the fact that the SOE website kept telling people to use it after they had stopped supporting and it had ceased to function.  I had to open a support ticket to get the response of “don’t use that” from SOE.  So my anger was entirely based on having problems with this sort of thing before.  I would have avoided downloading Hearthstone had I known what it meant.

Only, in the ongoing parallel between SOE and Blizzard, the new Battle.net launcher… Desktop App… just works.  I log into Battle.net through it and can kick off World of Warcraft just fine.  It shows me all the news tidbits that the WoW launcher did and, in addition, shows which of my Battle Tag friends are online and in which game.  No problems at all.

My anger was thus short lived, which brings me back around to the quote at the top of this post.  SOE deciding to copy Blizzard, who copied SOE in the first place seems to be the natural order of things.  I am sure somebody can make quite a list of the things that SOE copied back from Blizzard.  So it is no surprise to me that, upon seeing what Blizzard has done with Hearthstone, that SOE has been moved to action.  Because, when left to their own devices, SOE can come up with some clunkers. (Not to mention being a bit tone deaf at times.)

I suppose the only thing wrong with Station Launcher was that SOE didn’t leaving hanging around long enough for the Blizzard version to appear so that they would know what to do.

Lost in Norrath

Not the post-cataclysm Norrath of EverQuest II, but the original Norrath.

We are talking EverQuest.

I opted for 30 days of Station Access so I could visit both games and because if I didn’t get Station Access I would be way over my character limit in EQII.

And while it is easy to find all your characters in EverQuest II, in EverQuest it can be a bit of a challenge if you’ve forgotten the name of the server.  And was recently merged.  Again.  So the name no longer appears in the merged name.

Ah well.

I learned from my trial downloading EQII to avoid the soon-to-be-defunct Station Launcher and downloaded the new launch pad for EverQuest.

The new launch pad is every bit as slick as the EQII version when it comes to style and patching.

The Latest EQ Launcher

The starry part of the picture is my desktop pattern in the background.

I ran that and went to bed while it downloaded and patched away.

The next day I went past the launcher to find that the old server interface for EverQuest is still there in its muddled glory.

Good enough for 1999

And I was able to find Luclin right away, where a while back I was in Nostalgia the Guild.

Tistann in Surefall Glade

Ironically, Nostalgia the Guild is now something of a subject for nostalgia.  I had forgotten how far back that was, back during the Living Legacy promotion.  Nobody in the guild has been on for quite a while it seems.

Nostalgia for Nostalgia

I am probably in violation of some rule of the guild charter for posting a screen shot of part of the guild roster, but who is going to call me on it?  Somebody would have to re-subscribe to do so.

Anyway, once I remastered… or at least remembered… some of the controls for EverQuest, I got to look around a bit.  Surefall Glade is where my first character, a half elf ranger, started out.

I should have rolled a druid.

After some poking around there, I went to see what my other characters were up to.  I have characters on three servers.

Luclin was, as I said, easy enough to find.

The remains of E’ci was less so.  I found it eventually, and probably could again.  Tunare.  That was the server it got folded into a merger or two ago.

But the last server? I cannot for the life of me remember, and I wasn’t inclined to log on to each and every server to check, even if there are characters.  So somewhere there are a couple of characters lost in Norrath.  But they are probably in good company.  I wonder how many characters are in the EQ database here past the 11 and a half year mark.

I will probably spend some time looking around this weekend.  I should probably go to Halas, just to see how it compares to New Halas.  And I should see if I can find the new in-game player housing and how that stacks up.

I’ll probably have to go watch Sayonara Norrath to get a few more ideas.

SOE, You’re Losing Me

With a fresh new system, less than a month old, I have been naturally keen to try old games as well as new.

World of Warcraft, runs like a champ.

Lord of the Rings Online, a fresh download install from Turbine runs flawlessly.

Likewise, grabbing the latest installer for EVE Online yielded a fine experience.

Heck, even Civilization V runs well on the new system.  Very well indeed.

And then I decided to try EverQuest II.  It is autumn after all, about time to go visit Norrath once again.

I did the digital download for the last expansion, so I decided not to drag out old CDs, but rather just let Station Launcher install it for me.

A foolish choice I suppose.

I let the install run over night earlier in the week.  10+ GB of data to download.

I went to try and run the game after that and I ended up with this.


And the Station launcher does try again… and again… and again ad infinitum probably if I let it.

Fine.  Maybe something went wrong with the download and install.  I let it download fresh again.

Another 10+ GB download overnight.

The next day, the same thing.

Okay, the backup plan with Station Launcher is just to launch the game executable directly.  So I went and found EverQuest2.exe and tried to launch from there.

That got me a new error.


Bleh.  This is because they felt they needed to build a browser into the game.  And you cannot just go and borrow that DLL from Firefox because it will then just say the next DLL it is looking for is missing.  And once you chase down the final DLL, it will become clear that these are not the DLLs you are looking for.

So I head off to the Station.com EQII Knowledge Base.

I search on “eq2ui_mainhud_tutorial.xml”,  no matches found for my problem.  There is an entry on what to do if I install customer UI elements and it screws things up, but I am not that far along.

I search on “xul.dll”, and again, no matches found at all.

This isn’t a problem SOE know about, or at least hasn’t gotten around to documenting.

Looking at general installation issues yields some information on what to do if I have a bad CD or DVD, but nothing to about my problem.

So I submitted a ticket explaining my issue, including the screen shots I have here.

That was, of course, and example of pure optimism.  Over the last decade I have gotten a response to about half of such tickets.  Not that I submit many, but that makes the fact that they seem to get routed to dev/null half the time more noticeable, not less.  And I hesitate to guess at what the percentage would be if I only counted responses that were at all helpful.

Searching for answers via Google was not all that helpful.  I ran into a couple of people who had similar issues, but there were no resolutions that I had not tried, aside from the standard response to all Windows 7 issues, which is to run the executable as the administrator.

No luck with that either.

I suppose I should learn that the idea of nostalgia is often better than the reality.

I think I’ll see if I can get ZMud to work under Windows 7.  If I’m going to face failure, I might as well do it against real odds with a program that is categorically not supported under the new OS.

Blizzard Real ID vs. My Privacy

So part two in the three part series on Blizzard really cheesing me off this week has to do with another new offering called Real ID.

This is only tangentially connected to my initial screed on how Blizzard compromised the security of parental controls by bypassing their own authenticator scheme because I only became aware of Real ID as part of the email message announcing the new and improved parental controls.

That message had two new features listed, one was not having to remember a password for parental controls and the other was the ability to turn on Real ID for your child’s account.

And my gut reaction to that second item was, “If I wanted my child’s real identity out there, I wouldn’t be using parental controls, now would I?”

But then I remembered another “might be real” item in the big folder of account phishing attempts.  And there it was, titled “Real ID Coming to World of Warcraft!”

And who is the poster boy for Real ID?  Why, Arthas!

Arthas Commands It!

And really, I could stop right there, since Arthas trying to sell me on Real ID digs right at my streak of paranoia.  It would be like Darth Vader hawking the NINA mortgages… or becoming the new spokesman for the IRS… just a little too close to a natural fit.

I mean the great luxury of the internet is that we can all go out and play together and I don’t have to worry about you asking to crash on my couch when you’ve lost your job, wife, and home due to your being unable to stop playing online games.

Sure, there are costs associated with this anonymity, with only the most obvious illustrated over at Penny Arcade, but they are (mostly, in my opinion) worth the price.

Still, I should go forward and mention what Real ID is supposed to offer, quoting for truth and such.

Soon, World of Warcraft players will have access to a brand-new feature called Real ID, a completely voluntary and optional level of identity that will keep players connected across all of Battle.net.

When you and a friend mutually agree to become Real ID friends, you’ll have access to a number of additional features that will enrich your social gaming experience in new and exciting ways:

-Real Names for Friends: Your Real ID friends will appear under their real-life names on your friends list, when chatting, communicating in-game, or viewing a character’s profile. Real ID friends can also see who’s on each other’s Real ID friends list, making it easy for players to connect with other people they know.

-Cross-Realm and Cross-Game Chat: With Real ID, friends can chat cross-realm and cross-faction in World of Warcraft, and will be able to chat across future Blizzard games such as StarCraft II.

-Rich Presence: See additional info on your friends list about what your Real ID friends are up to in World of Warcraft and upcoming games like StarCraft II in real time.

-Broadcasts: Broadcast a short status message for all of your Real ID friends to see, whether you want to issue a call-to-arms or let your friends know about an important change of plans.

-Friend Once, See All Characters: Real ID friends will automatically see all of each other’s characters on their friends list – even characters created in future Blizzard games – helping players stay connected with the people they enjoy playing with most.

A nice feature set.  An attempt to go beyond what SOE has done with their Station Launcher friend’s list.

Of course, I should mention that they opened this up with a salutation that included my real name.

But why should I care about that, about using my real name?

I must admit is, in an odd turn for a blogger, that I do value my privacy and the privacy of my family.  And I care all the more so while involved in a job search.  Being a gamer carries a stigma which may not endear you to prospective employers, especially in a state where the unemployment rate is around 12%.

And it isn’t even that I write anything about which I would be ashamed.  My mother reads my blog.

But given a choice between equally qualified candidates, somebody who blogs about online gaming is likely to lose out. (It might help me with that SOE QA Manager position for which I applied.  Then again, it might not.  Wasn’t I just bagging on SOE marketing the other day?  Oops.)

So I get a bit squeamish when Blizzard starts talking about using my real name in the game in any way, and all the more so because I see the value in what they are offering.  Blizzard says, in the Real ID FAQ:

Real ID is a system designed to be used with people you know and trust in real life — friends, co-workers and family — though it’s ultimately up to you to determine who you wish to interact with in this fashion.

And certainly I wouldn’t share my Real ID with anybody I did not trust or know in real life, but this rings of the classic “drink responsibly” sort of message.  Who knows how this is going to develop.  Will people start exchanging IDs casually in game?  Will raiding guilds start demanding Real IDs from members?

I am going to watch this feature carefully.  Right now there are less than ten people with whom I would consider sharing Real IDs, and even then I like to have a secret alt or two stashed away for when I just want to run around solo and not seem like I am snubbing anybody.

Everything Blizzard offers has a price, but I’m not sure I’m ready to pay for this one.

And I am certainly not enabling this feature on my daughter’s account!

Back to Battle.net

I noticed on the World of Warcraft start page that Blizzard was letting people opt-in for the StarCraft II beta.

BNetOptIn

For a long period StarCraft was THE game at the office and so while I have not played much in the RTS genre for quite some time (the genre being somewhat stagnant in my opinion) I thought I would like to go back to StarCraft.  In fact, if the original StarCraft played in a resolution higher than 640×480 I might consider loading up the original again.  But it is painful to look at the game blown up on a 1600×1200 LCD monitor.  So on to the beta.

But to opt-in for a chance to be in the beta I had to go create an account on the latest version of Blizzard’s Battle.net.

Battle.net has been around for almost 12 years, coming out in conjunction with Diablo.  I have made a number of accounts on the service over the years, but they used to expire if left inactive for a set duration, so they were all long gone.

With Blizzard not shipping a new game besides World of Warcraft in almost seven years, and with WoW not requiring Battle.net, it seemed to me that the service was set to wither away eventually. (Though with StarCraft, Diablo II, and Warcraft III all showing up regularly on the X-Fire monthly stats, that eventuality might have been pretty distant.)

But now with two new games announced, StarCraft II and Diablo III (okay, new sequels as opposed to new games I suppose), Battle.net seems to be getting a new lease on life.  Blizzard wants it to become the unified logon for its games, including World of Warcraft.

So I headed to Battle.net site to create an account.

One of the first things I noticed was that your account name has to be an email address.  I have mixed feelings about this.  An email address is probably something people will remember.  On the other hand, and email address is also something other people are likely to know, so there is a bit of a security concern.

Myself, I have enough email addresses that I could pick out an obscure one that I use only to deflect spam for my logon, which was actually an improvement for me from the aspect of security.  When I made my WoW account I didn’t think I would stick with the game, so used a rather easy to guess (if you know me) user name.  Now that is gone.  And, in an experiment, I saw that Blizzard lets you change your email address… and thus your logon… relatively easily.  Perhaps a bit too easily.

And Blizzard has their authenticator option available if security is a concern.  I may look into that.

Still, with that in mind, an unified account for Blizzard products still seemed like a good idea to me.  I created the Battle.net account then merged my WoW account with it, which changed the logon for WoW immediately.

Then I noticed that I could add more games to the unified account.  So I grabbed some CDs off the shelf an added Diablo II, the Diablo II expansion, and StarCraft.

The Games

The Games

Akin to how SOE handles games with their  Station Launcher (which has been in beta long enough for me to think that Google must have created it) and somewhat reminiscent of Steam, Battle.net keeps all your game keys so you can access them online at any time as well as download the associated game if you need.

Now if it would just keep me from having to stick the physical CD in the PC I would be happy.  Of course, I would think that would be the case if they are letting your download the software.  It doesn’t make much sense to let you download and then require you to find the physical disk.  Maybe I should give it a try.

And, after all that, I went to the beta profile settings to opt-in for the StarCraft II beta.  You actually have to download and run a little utility that profiles you system.  I did that, checked the appropriate boxes, and went on my way.

Of course, the actual likelyhood of my getting into the StarCraft II beta is microscopic, but we shall see.  Maybe I will download StarCraft from Battle.net, just to see if I need the CD.

Level 58 in Kunark

I was going to lay low on EverQuest II for a while.

I did actually resist for a bit.  I stayed away for the first few days after Rise of Kunark came out.  I did not want to go through the same routine as last year, when Echoes of Faydwer came out, of waiting for patches and updates on that first night.

I certainly would never take time off work for the first day of a release. (*cough* Kendricke *cough*)  I learned that lesson back when Gemstone went live on GEnie back in 1988.

I also have a new computer on order and figured I would be doing a whole bunch of re-installs anyway, so why download stuff twice, right?

But then I started playing around with the new SOE Station Launcher on Thursday after work.  I downloaded the beta, got it up and running, and started chatting with Gaff while he was in-game.

He told me where to catch the boat to Kunark (at docks in Antonica or the Commonlands) and said he was running around in game exploring.

I let the beta Station Launcher patch me while I was having dinner and came back to it to find EQ2 all patched and Rise of Kunark installed.  (There were still no copies of either Rise of Kunark or Secrets of Faydwer on the shelf at Fry’s on Friday morning, but I did the digital pre-order for RoK this time around, so I was set.)

The beta Station Launcher wouldn’t launch EQ2 however, so I had to start the old launcher, patch it, and launch via that. (The new Station Launcher has not had that problem since.  I don’t know if it was a “doesn’t work the first time” bug, or if patching the old launcher changed anything, but it seems fine now.)

I logged on with Blintz, saw that he was closer to level 58 than I thought, and started him on a trip from Kelethin to Antonica to catch the boat to Kunark.

I thought they might have used the dock to nowhere at the Northwest corner of Antonica, but they did not.  The ship for Kunark pull up at the dock with the bell used for travel in Qeynos. (And the same is true in the Commonlands, the dock with the bell for travel in Freeport is the spot.)

There were a lot of people hanging around the dock when the boat arrived, and there were six instances of the initial Kunark zone, Kylong Plains, when I got there.  A busy place!

No new ship model though.  We are stuck with the same ship they always use.  However, if I were going to list out priorities for the game, a new ship model would be pretty low down the list.

They did spruce it up with new sails.

Here is Blintz on the Freeport boat in Kunark.

The boat to the Commonlands

The boat to the Commonlands

And Blintz on the Freeport bound ship looking at the Qeynos ship pulling out of the docks at Kunark.

The boat to Antonica

The boat to Antonica

I took Blintz around and hit some discovery experience near the docks, getting to my goal pretty quickly.

Level58Kunark2007But then I took the boat back to Antonica, headed to Qeynos Harbor, and then road the carpet out to the Desert of Flames to work on a quest or two out there.

Unfortunately, there is nothing in Kunark for Blintz yet.  The smallest mob I saw was 10 levels above him.  So if I want to do much with this new expansion, I either have to create another alt or level one of my characters up to level 70.