Thursday, November 15, 2018

Why Fan Expectations for Blizzard are Hopeless

Fallout from BlizzCon and the Diablo Immortal announcement continues and some fans who feel betrayed by it are now looking at every Blizzard word and action trying to find new reasons to be angry at the company.

Time for the daily minute of hate

There was that whole statement made, then retracted, about Blizzard having planned to show a trailer for Diablo IV at BlizzCon.  Blizzard keeps coyly stating that they have “multiple” Diablo project ongoing, but their refusal to give us a hint as to what is really in the bag just gets more frustrating every time they repeat it.  It is feeling less like a reassurance and more like a taunt every time they say it.

And then there was Allen Adham’s statement at a press conference:

Many of us over the last few years have shifted from playing primarily desktop to playing many hours on mobile, and we have many of our best developers now working on new mobile titles across all of our IPs. Some of them are with external partners like Diablo Immortal. Many of them are being developed internally only, and we’ll have information to share on those in the future.

That practically the hair of enraged on fire.

The statement was quickly interpreted and repeated as Blizzard moving on to only doing mobile titles, with all their good developers are working exclusively on mobile, and that Blizzard is essentially abandoning PC and console games to whatever interns happen to be handy to take over the reigns.

This panicked point of view both accepts and ignores the long history of Blizzard.  Ben Kuchera did an excellent article over at Polygon about how Diablo Immortal broke the “rules” of Blizzard.  The essence is that Blizzard only ever makes games that are improvements of existing titles, trotting out the evidence with which many of us are already familiar, summed up in this list:

  • World of Warcraft: Blizzard does Everquest!
  • Warcraft: Blizzard does Dune!
  • Overwatch: Blizzard does Team Fortress 2!
  • Hearthstone: Blizzard does Magic: The Gathering!
  • Heroes of the Storm: Blizzard does Dota 2!

Unfortunately, he missed a key aspect of the Blizzard story.

While it is absolutely true that Blizzard does this, they also only do this whole improvement cycle for games they are actively playing.

I was just reading David Craddock’s Stay Awhile and Listen Vol. I, received as part of my Kickstarter pledge for Vol. II, which details the early days of both Blizzard and Condor.  Blizzard’s first big title was the original Warcraft, which was, as note above, an improvement over the game Dune, which the team had played and loved.  Condor, which was purchased and became Blizzard North, was working on the original Diablo, which was a graphical version of Rogue, incorporating the random levels and monsters and loot ideas from the text game, which the key people at Condor had played to death in college.

Ben Kuchura, while mentioning David Brevik and his plans for an action RPG in his article, missed the whole Rogue angle.  It should be on that bullet point list above as “Blizzard does Rogue-like RPGs!”

So Blizzard doesn’t just improve games that are already out there, they improve games they actively playing and enjoy.  So you can see from the list above not just what they did, but the games they were playing and passionate about that got them on track to make the Blizzard versions.

And we’ve had ample evidence of this, up to and including not only tales of the Blizzard dev team recruiting from their EverQuest guild but a full on homage to EverQuest as their inspiration for WoW as part of the keynote of a past BlizzCon.

So you can see the problem here.  Blizzard devs play a game, love it, then make their own improved version.  And what happens after that?

Sure, sometimes they play their own game and realize they can do better.  Warcraft begat Warcraft II which begat Warcraft III as the tech and the team capabilities improved.  Likewise, Diablo led to Diablo II.

But when the game is good and the devs aren’t inspired to improve it because they like it as it is or have moved on, where do you go?

You get things like StarCraft II.

StarCraft II isn’t a bad game.  But the design is so close to StarCraft in so many ways that is feels like it was made just to get the original on a better engine rather than evolve the franchise in any significant way.

Likewise Diablo III, also a decent game, started off with some bad ideas likely because it was made by people who didn’t get the core of Diablo II.  When your core fans are complaining about the game being too light and colorful and that the itemization sucks… and that the cash money auction house is killing the game and looks like a cash grab… it might be better to pay attention rather than dismiss them.

But Blizzard rarely pays attention to fans.  They make the games they want to make because those are versions of the games they already play.  Clearly there wasn’t a big Diablo contingent left at Blizzard when Blizzard North left the building over a dispute with how Vivendi was pushing them towards things they didn’t want to do.

And we see it with World of Warcraft with every expansion.  In 2004 they launched something based off of the EverQuest template.  Since they they have fumbled about looking for ways to improve things.  When you’re making a product, you have free reign over ideas.  But when you have a product in production you suddenly have to listen to the customer support team and the GMs and IT team and whoever else has to keep things going every day.  You stop being as focused on innovation and start solving complaints to keep people from tying up the support line.

World of Warcraft was an improvement for MMOs the way the mini-van was for family transportation, replacing EverQuest the way the mini-van replaced the station wagon.   But after that you just refine.  The Blizzard team is adding cup holders and such.  And it isn’t because of the live team, B-list developer rumor perpetuated by angry fans.  It is because Blizzard mostly got what they wanted on the first pass, but the game made, and continues to make, so much money they felt they had to keep extending it.  You don’t walk away from a billion dollar a year game.

And so it goes.  Blizzard is never going to make another MMORPG because what would they copy?  They are never going to make another RTS because what would they copy?  It isn’t even a matter of competing against themselves as, say, another collectable card game would inevitably do.  It is simply that once you’ve made the game you really want and refined it a bit, you’re done.  After that you just fiddle and add some content or features to generate some more revenue.

So what does Blizzard do now?

They find a new game to copy and refine.  In this case, as Allen Adham stated above, the senior developers have been playing a lot of mobile games.  What does Blizzard do historically?  They copy and improve the games they are currently playing.  So this statement is a clear indicator where Blizzard is going.

The odd bit is the deal with NetEase.  That is not something Blizzard does.  So my guess on that front is that Diablo Immortal is a move more to sate the board of directors and the large investor groups than what they really want to do.  Blizzard is part of a publicly held corporation and has to bow to the whims of the shareholders, and we know rule by the masses rarely leads anywhere fruitful.  The only mistake was thinking Diablo fans would give a shit about it.

I suspect that, at best, this is Blizzard setting their mobile baseline and learning the ropes from NetEase while they work on the mobile game they really want to make… and grab some of the China market along the way, since the Chinese government is no longer approving foreign video games for domestic consumption.  But the end result, given what Allen Adham said, is that the next real Blizzard title… not Diablo Immortal, but whatever it is they are actually working on down in Irvine… will be a mobile title.

It isn’t a cash grab or a betrayal, it is just the way Blizzard works.  It is how they harness their passion for what they do best.  It is following the same system that made them the company they are today.  You can’t put a gun to their heads and force them to be passionate about WoW or Diablo again.  It just isn’t possible.  The moment has passed.

The actual cash grab is the stuff that likely interests fans more.  StarCraft RemasteredWarcraft III ReforgedWorld of Warcraft Classic.  Those are milking the fans by attempting to relive past glories.   Remastering an old title to stoke nostalgia is an excellent way to get money from your installed base.

I am not saying Blizzard doesn’t love those titles, that there isn’t a ton of affection for the days when WoW or WC3 were fresh and new.  You could see that passion at BlizzCon, when the devs on those projects… often devs who started at Blizz working on those titles… were talking about them.  But there isn’t a long and successful and lucrative tradition where Blizzard remakes one of their own titles fifteen years later.

So we will eventually get a “real” Blizzard mobile game… because, again, Diablo Immortal isn’t it… that might make people rethink mobile games.  And we will get the remakes and remasters, which will make the old school happy.

And maybe we’ll get a Diablo IV.  But it won’t be anything new.  At best it will be a good refinement based on lessons learned from Diablo III, the same way all the other games Blizzard has essentially “finished” keep going.  At least that is the way it looks to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Fall Movie League – Overlord or be Overlorded

Week ten of our Fall Fantasy Movie League is in the past as we head straight into the teeth of the holiday season in the US.

For week ten the lineup looked like this:

The Grinch                   $800
Bohemian Rhapsody            $372
The Girl in the Spider's Web $150
The Nutcracker               $126
Overlord                     $107
A Star is Born               $100
Nobody's Fool                $80
Venom                        $65
Halloween                    $59
Thugs of Hindostan           $40
Goosebumps 2                 $22
The Hate U Give              $25
Smallfoot                    $26
Hunter Killer                $25
Can You Ever Forgive Me?     $21

The Grinch was pretty much a dead-on lock to lead the three day box office.  The question was whether it would lead the pack by enough to justify the $800 price, or if some combo of cheaper titles would be better suited the task.

As I tend to do, I got fixated on the anchor and ignore the filler aspect of my lineup.  I played with variations of Bohemian Rhapsody, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, and The Nutcracker, but none of those played out in my simulations well enough to be worth the effort.

So by Friday morning I was still sitting on my Monday Hot Takes pick of 1x The Grinch, 1x Venom, 1x The Hate U Give, and 4x Goosebumps 2.  I wasn’t in love with that pick, but I couldn’t come up with a list.

In chat, less than an hour before the leagues locked, Corr and Ben were talking about going all in with 8x Overlord on the assumption that it would be best performer for the week.  That was interesting, but left a lot of budget on the table, Overlord not being priced high enough to be an anchor pick.

I played around with a lineup anchored on Bohemian Rhapsody, with 5x Overlord, and two more filler, and even left that lineup in the Seasonal Showdown league, where I often leave my experiments just to see how they play out.  If only I had copied that to all my other leagues.

But I did not.  On Saturday, when The Hate U Give looked to be up for best performer, it wasn’t a big deal.  But on Sunday Overlord took that spot and kept it through the final numbers, with the perfect pick being Bohemian Rhapsody, with 5x Overlord, 1x Venom, and 1x The Hate U Give.

That left the top ten for the week looking like this:

  1. Goat Water Picture Palace – $104,178,849
  2. Paks’ Pancakes & Pics – $98,635,588
  3. Corr’s Carefully Curated Cineplex – $97,616,864
  4. Ben’s X-Wing Express – $97,616,864
  5. grannanj’s Cineplex – $94,467,870
  6. Vigo Grimborne’s Medieval Screening Complex – $82,810,191
  7. Too Orangey For Crows – $82,360,647
  8. SynCaine’s Dark Room of Delights – $81,142,765
  9. Po Huit’s Sweet Movie Suite – $81,105,889
  10. Darren’s Unwatched Cineplex – $80,030,515

Goat got the perfect pick this week, while Pak was not too far behind with a lineup that had Smallfoot rather than The Hate U Give.  Corr and Ben took the next two spots with their all-in Overlord picks.

I did not make the top ten cut again this week, sitting at 11th place about two million behind Darren.

That left the overall season scores looking like this:

  1. Goat Water Picture Palace – $747,092,730
  2. Wilhelm’s Kul Tiras Kino – $735,363,014
  3. Corr’s Carefully Curated Cineplex – $719,810,825
  4. Too Orangey For Crows – $712,594,660
  5. I HAS BAD TASTE – $700,102,116
  6. Ben’s X-Wing Express – $690,847,847
  7. grannanj’s Cineplex – $678,310,666
  8. Paks’ Pancakes & Pics – $669,436,834
  9. Po Huit’s Sweet Movie Suite – $668,739,930
  10. Darren’s Unwatched Cineplex – $665,921,504

Goat’s strong finish jumped him past me into first place by $12 million.

The alternate scoring scheme showed its volatility this week though.

  1. Goat Water Picture Palace – 58
  2. Corr’s Carefully Curated Cineplex- 55
  3. Wilhelm’s Kul Tiras Kino – 49
  4. Too Orangey For Crows – 48
  5. Vigo Grimborne’s Medieval Screening Complex – 41
  6. I HAS BAD TASTE – 37
  7. Po Huit’s Sweet Movie Suite – 35
  8. Darren’s Unwatched Cineplex – 35
  9. Paks’ Pancakes & Pics – 32
  10. Ben’s X-Wing Express – 30

Not getting anything for the alternate scoring this week, Goat and Corr passed me while Bhagpuss caught right up.  Ben and Pak also climbed into the top ten, knocking Cyanbane (28 points) and SynCaine (27 points) into into 11th and 12th spots respectively.

So there it stands, with three weeks left to go it is still an open fight for first place with both scoring schemes.

That leads us to week eleven, where the choices will be:

Fantastic Beasts 2            $699
The Grinch                    $387
Bohemian Rhapsody             $203
Instant Family                $180
Windows                       $167
A Star is Born                $55
The Nutcracker                $54
Overlord                      $49
Nobody's Fool                 $36
The Girl in the Spider's Web  $36
Venom                         $27
Boy Erased                    $19
Halloween                     $14
The Hate U Give               $12
Can You Ever Forgive Me?      $12

Dropping off the list this week are Smallfoot, Goosebumps 2 , Hunter Killer, and Thugs of Hindostan.

Replacing them are Fantastic Beasts 2, Instant Family, Window, and Boy Erased.

Fantastic Beasts 2, or Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald to get out the full name… at least they dropped the “and Where to Find Them” part… is the big deal this week.  Harry Potter movies apparently do pretty well, even without Harry Potter around, though the Harry Potter movies based on actual books in our world are still significantly more popular than Harry Potter movies based on fictional books mentioned in passing within the actual books.

Or something.

It will still make its money back, but likely won’t be a crazy box office.  The first Fantastic Beasts did $74 million its opening weekend and long range forecasts have the sequel hitting $70 million.  I don’t see any reason to dispute that.  It will be in a theater near you and everybody you know.

Instant Family.  It stars Mark Wahlberg.  I’m not saying Marky Mark hasn’t done some good work, but he has also signed on for more than his share of disappointing productions and cringe worthy cardboard cut-out characters.  Also I think the premise of the film was lifted directly from 90s sitcom Horsin’ Around, making it the second rip-off of the show after Mr. Peanutbutter’s House.  It is currently pegged at $18 million for the weekend.  We shall see.

Windows was a tough one.  Googling “Windows” gets you Microsoft, while “Windows film” gets you tinting options for your home and car.  There is no Wikipedia article on it yet, so I had to go to the IMDB… and even that steered me to a 1950’s TV series, a 1980’s movie, and the 2014 film Open Windows before I could finally pin it down.  Not an auspicious sign.

Eventually though I found it, though I am still not sure I get what the movie is about.  But it does have a few big names in it like Liam Neeson, Viola Davis, Robert Duvall, and Colin Farrell.  The forecast for it currently stands at about $16 million, putting it close to Instant Family.

And finally there is Boy Erased, which is coming up on its third week in theaters, but which is getting an expansion of venues I assume.  It is the story of Baptist parents sending their son to gay conversion therapy.   I haven’t seen a forecast for it yet, but given its pricing it would seem to be set for around $2 million maybe.

So there we go.

For the Monday Hot Takes League the Cineplex Builder is giving me 1x Fantastic Beasts, 1x Bohemian Rhapsody, 1x Nobody’s Fool, 1x Halloween, and 4x The Hate U Give.  But given how it fared for me last week, I will be doing more research before I commit for Friday.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

EverQuest II Launches Chaos Descending and Celebrates Another Anniversary

The regular pattern of annual autumnal launches for EverQuest II expansions fits in nicely with the history of the game as they tend to hit pretty close to the original launch date, so you get some new content and a celebration of the history of the game all at once.

And so it goes this year, with today being the launch date for Chaos Descending, the fifteenth full expansion for EQII, and that doesn’t include the various adventure packs that SOE and Daybreak have tried now and again.

Chaos Descending the Library Staircase

While I wrote a bit about the expansion before, along with the various purchasing options, the bullet point summary from Daybreak is:

  • New Adventure Quests
  • New Signature Tradeskill Quests
  • New Signature Adventure Quests
  • New Achievements
  • New Zones
    • One Quest and Services Zone (Myrist)
    • 4 Outdoor Zones (Doomfire, Vegarlson, Eryslai, Detroxxulous)
    • 4 Dungeon Themes (Doomfire, Vegarlson, Eryslai, Awuidor)
    • 13 Solo Instances
    • 12 Heroic Instances
    • 7 Raid Instances
    • 1 Contested Raid Dungeon
  • Mount Equipment Feature
  • Mount Equipment Bundle
  • New Mercenary Equipment

That is a pretty nice chunk of new content being delivered, and on par with what the combined EverQuest & EverQuest II team delivers annually.  There is none of this “every other year” talk for expansions, and they still deliver a sizable mid-year update along the way as well.  They might be the hardest working team in the genre.

In addition, EverQuest II just celebrated its 14th anniversary last week.  The official launch date was November 9, 2004, with the Europeans getting their launch two days later, on the 11th.  And the anniversary brings out the Hero’s Festival for players in Qeynos and Freeport.

No Firiona Vie on EQII boxes

But wait, there’s more!

While the game launched on November 9th, my own anniversary with the game actually falls on November 13th.  That is when SOE, no doubt expecting the same rush for servers that they experienced with the EverQuest launch back in 1999, rolled out their second wave of servers for US players.  So on that date the Crushbone server went up and and what ended up being our guild, a mix of players from EverQuest and TorilMUD, started making plans for how we were going to attack post-cataclysm Norrath.  We were the Knights of the Cataclysm.

Our day two guild on Crushbone… I left in 2005 and came back in 2006

And so began a year of playing… and fighting with… the new game as both we and the in-game systems evolved.

My earliest screen shot of EQ2 – Nov. 14, 2004

It was a strange time.  I have fond memories of it, though I am sure I have blocked out many of the problems and irritations that plagued the game back at launch.

Well, I can certainly recall some of them.  I could go on about crafting, no off-line selling at the broker, locked encounters, dupe bugs, experience debt, five minute buffs, the tiny quest log, having only four character slots, guild leveling, mounts, the experiments with risky boat travel, and that graphical processing bug in Qeynos Harbor that made you machine slow to a crawl as you came and went from using the bell positioned out at the end of the dock.

So yeah, if I remember all of those right off the top of my head then there were probably a lot more I’ve forgotten.

But it was still exciting and new and probably all the more so since I had stopped playing EverQuest actively a couple years before, only popping in to visit now and again, so there was very much a new to MMOs again aspect to it.  And having Meclin along, who had skipped EQ so was really in his first MMO experience made it a pretty special time.

Meclin swinging for gnoll necks… original gnoll models

And the game looked good.  Well, it looked better than EverQuest in any case, if you could run it with the graphics settings turned up enough to appreciate it.  I recall tales of people coming for EverQuest and finding the system requirements for the new game so onerous that they had to turn down the settings to the point that they couldn’t see the faces on character models.

I think this was called “future proofing” or some such, but it seems to sacrifice the necessary today in favor of a theoretical tomorrow.

Fortunately I had a decent rig… a big purple Alienware box with an okay nVidia card in it… so I could appreciate some of the graphical quality of the game.  I couldn’t go full settings, but enough to get a decent screen shot.

The catacombs under Qeynos back in the day…

It was also an awkward time for video cards, with the horrible, power hungry nVidia 6800 GT series ruling the roost and burning out motherboards and power supplies in the name of graphical fidelity.  The 6800 design stayed around for ages, being continuously improved as time went along.  I never went for the initial mode due to its horrible reputation, but had a couple of the follow-on 8800 GT boards (LOTRO burned out two of those), then a GTS 250 and a GTS 450, both of which had their roots in the old 6800.  At the time though I stayed with the more reliable 6600 GT and then an ATi 800XL.

It is amazing the amount of little details that lurk in my brain and yet I still can’t remember somebody’s name ten seconds after they’ve been introduced to me.  And I’d have to check the settings to tell you which video card I have installed now.

So it is something of a triple, the 15th expansion drops, the game celebrating its 14th year, and I celebrating my 14th anniversary of joining the game.  Though, if I look at my character, it actually puts me in line for the 15th anniversary present in another ten days.  I wonder what we’ll get.

SOE gave me time

Of course, the timing is all off as well.  Last month I was playing and writing about EverQuest II.  Now LOTRO has captured my fickle heart with its Legendary server.  Still, I might have a post or two left in me this year about Norrath.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The EVE Online Onslaught Expansion to Bring Big Changes

The expansion arrives tomorrow, and usually I would have the post go live then, but I have a post already set for tomorrow, so you’re getting this today.  I’m busy this week and a year from now it won’t matter that I posted this a day early.

Anyway.

One of the recurring comments that came out of EVE Vegas was the lack of a named winter expansion for EVE Online.  While there are updates pretty much every month, the tradition is to have a named update twice a year, one close to the beginning of summer, the other close to the start of winter.

However, it appears that CCP was keeping the name under wraps… or didn’t present it very clearly… or realized they forgot, I don’t really know… because the news finally came along that we would be getting EVE Online: Onslaught as our next big update.

Onslaught, with frigates!

For null sec, the biggest change is the new Upwell Consortium navigation structures that will be showing up with the patch.  There is a dev blog about them here.  Those will be replacing the cyno jammer, cyno beacon, and jump bridge functionalities that were previously part of the player owned starbase (POS) mechanics.

I have already written about the impact of the jump bridge replacement.  And while the capital ship loophole has been closed, it will still mean the ability to bring subcap fleets across long stretches of territory without jump fatigue.

The new Ansiblex Jump Gate

But that isn’t all that will impact the null sect meta.  The new Tenebrex Cyno Jammer will have a big impact as well.

Tenebrex Cyno Jammer

Back in the Keepstar War over the summer, much of the battle in the Fade region was over the cyno jammer protecting the CO2 Keepstar in DW-T2I.  Cyno jammer mechanics thwarted the first Imperium assault on the Keepstar and led to a drawn out fight over ihub that took weeks to settle.

That will be all different starting tomorrow.  The POS based system was subject to dynamics that made systems vulnerable to things like dropping lots of dreads on the jammer and killing it quickly.  The new FLEX structure will have a damage cap and will take 27 minutes to kill whether you drop every titan in creation or a few dozen bombers on it.  This will change the dynamics of these sort of fights dramatically.

And, of course, with the change tomorrow the logistical arms of all null sec entities will be scrambling to get these structures in place as the current cyno jammers and jump bridge networks go away with the expansion.

Also affecting the capital meta is a rebalance of force auxiliaries… well, a nerf to faxes if we’re being honest… to reign in their effectiveness.  The changes will be:

  • All capital remote repair modules duration increased by 25%
  • All capital remote shield booster modules duration increased by 25%
  • Capital Emergency Hull Energizer duration decreased by approximately 25%
  • Capital Emergency Hull Energizer active resistance bonus reduced to 95% (was 99.9%)
  • Capital Ancillary Shield Boosters limited to 1 per ship (goes for all capital ships)
  • Apostle and Minokawa bonus to capacitor pool removed
  • Lif and Ninazu bonus to capital cap injector amount removed

We will see if this just ends up people just bringing more faxes or not.

Abyssal deadspace is also getting an expansion with the Onslaught release.  As was shown at EVE Vegas, co-op play will now be possible for Abyssal pockets as you will be able to enter them with three frigates as opposed to with just a single cruiser.

There will also be an optional PvP mode, where an extra gateway will appear offering up extra loot.  However, you will have to fight anybody else who uses that same gate from their pocket.  Only one can leave.

There will also be two more Triglavian ships.  There is the Kikimora, a destroyer, and the Drekavac, which is a battlecruiser hull.

The Kikimora destroyer

In addition there will also be updates to loot.  All of this is covered in a dev blog, which includes the spec for the new ships.

Another new feature that CCP has been talking about since EVE Fanfest is the Activity Tracker.

Activity Tracker

There is a dev blog that goes into detail about this, but essentially it will let you know what you’ve been spending your time on in New Eden.  While I applaud this idea, I have to admit that my enthusiasm is somewhat tempered by the fact that tracking was only recently turned on, so most of my twelve years playing the game is unrecorded.  Such is life.

There is also further changes to ECM following up the changes that went in with the October update.  These are detailed in a forum thread, but sum up as:

  • All ECM modules jam strength increased by 10%
  • All ECM modules optimal range increased by 20%
  • Signature Radius reduced for several ECM Bonused ships
    ** Griffin reduced to 40 (was 42)
    ** Kitsune reduced to 42 (was 47)
    ** Griffin Navy Issue reduced to 38 (was 40)
    ** Blackbird reduced to 135 (was 150)
    ** Rook reduced to 158 (was 170)
    ** Falcon reduced to 165 (was 175)
    ** Scorpion reduced to 440 (was 480)
    ** Widow reduced to 405 (was 432)
  • Fitting has been adjusted for some ECM bonused ships to allow more room for tank
    ** Griffin powergrid increased to 28 (was 24)
    ** Kitsune powergrid increased to 30 (was 26)
    ** Rook powergrid increased to 740 (was 680)
    ** Falcon powergrid increased to 760 (was 700)
    ** Scorpion powergrid increased 9500 (was 9000)
    ** Widow powergrid increased to 9800 (was 8800)
    ** Widow CPU increased to 800 (was 760)

Also on the list of new things are a new global search function, so you can find your shit scattered all over New Eden, a new compact Planetary Interaction view, and an update to the graphics on gates.  They will show details like sovereignty, some status about the connecting system, and will have the same awesome travel effects that the Ansiblex Jump Gates are getting, which means people will be gawking at them for days I expect.  I know I will.  The busy gates in Jita should be fun.

a sample of the gate information graphics

And, while there are a number of the usual bug fixes, I want to highlight one in particular:

A ship’s modules will no longer be offline after it has been contracted.

This one took me by surprise and almost got me in trouble last month.  I contracted a ship between alts and then undocked without checking, only to find everything offline.  Glad that is fixed.

The update is planned to be deployed tomorrow, November 13th, at 11:00 UTC, which is 3am for me, so I plan to be asleep.  In addition to the dev blogs I have linked to above, there are also the usual Patch Notes to go through and the EVE Updates page to explore.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

LOTRO Legendary and the Quirks of Middle-earth

Of course, after getting my champion up past level 10 I immediately started an alt.  And not even an original alt.  I made a dwarf guardian named Nomu on Friday night and started out with him.  I am working on legendary breadth rather than depth I guess.  The usual story for me.

Look, I’m just going to keep using this graphic until I find something better

I won’t say that I rolled up another character because I wanted some overlap in trade skills… but I wouldn’t strictly deny that was a factor either.  One of the many quirks of LOTRO, quirks that tend to make the game endearing or repellent depending on your point of view, is how trade skills are handled.  You can’t pick them onsie, twosie.  You have to pick a vocation, which is a bundle of three trade skills together.

Your vocation choices

The tradition here is that you tend to have two that go together, like prospector and metalsmith, weaponsmith, or jeweller, and then the odd one out.  For Sigwerd I picked Armsman, because weaponsmith and prospector go together.  And, technically, woodworker fits in because you make wooden weapons.  But you need to be a forester to collect wood, and you don’t get that.

If I had remembered, I would have rolled up a hunter and picked the Explorer vocation, since it includes tailor, which makes leather and cloth armor which a hunter can use, because the source for leather is mobs, making leather one of the few harvestable trade items not in short supply.

But I didn’t, I made guardian instead and ran with him.  I rolled along with Nomu on Friday night and picked back up with him yesterday, running though the starting areas.

Another quirk of LOTRO is the dynamic layers mechanic, the little layers of glass icon in the bottom right corner, that lets you know that there are multiple versions of a given zone running.

Dynamic Layers tip

I could tell that the bulk of the initial player base was progressing through the game because by Saturday the early areas on the dwarf starting path were not spawning multiple versions.  But, like a capybara moving through the guts of a python, that mass of players was still visible.

Already groups for Weathertop… and Germans

Somehow I managed to fall off the prologue story path of the epic story line.  Well, not somehow, I know how.  The quest tracker on the right side of the screen only shows five quests, and drops old ones off as you add new ones, so the epic story line was pushed off as I chased quests and I didn’t notice it until I was past level ten, at which point I had to run back to get roll it up.

That meant some traveling back and forth between Gondomon, which was still full of players, and Thorin’s Hall, which had pretty much emptied out.  And I could spot the zone line between the crowed and the empty parts because every time you move across an invisible line into a dynamic layered area, the game stops and throws a loading screen at you.  It can be jarring at times to be riding along a road and then, suddenly, loading screen for no discernible reason!

But I was set to be diligent about rolling up as many of the quest lines in the dwarven area as I could.  I even managed to collect the five gears and finish that up, a quest line that traditionally gets pushed off the tracker and forgotten about until I am too far down the road to care.  I honestly think this might be the first time I finished that quest line.

I also worked on the deeds as well, making sure I had Enmity of the Goblins and Enmity of the Dourhands, the latter of which grants you the ability to add the headbutt skill.

When you score big on a deed

Eventually though, I had rolled up all the quests I could, save one that had gone gray and which involved shooting a dozen of a specie of birds that had been cleared from the lands by the thundering horde of players.  Dropping that only left me with quests that require I moved on to Bree.

When Bree is the only option

Bree was, of course, busy.  Bree and its vicinity form the hub of questing until you get stuck into the Lone Lands.

The introduction to Bree was… not how I remembered it.  There are a few distinct paths you go down initially from Bree and there used to be, if I recall correctly, a set of quests that sent you down each one in turn.  Now, however, there is one quest that just tells you to go talk to the three NPCs that head off each string and assumed you’ll do them in order.  I failed, going to the wrong NPC first and ending up in quests that were a few levels above me.  But the place was buzzing and people were moving around in informal groups to hit the mobs made scarce by over hunting.

Along the way the game threw this tidbit up on my screen.

Tapping will get you far

I think this is just straight up wrong now.  I believe they have changed it so that everybody who puts some damage on a mob gets credit and loot.  That is at least my observation as to how things work now.  But SSG has left this notice in the game just to make people rush to get mobs.  I wonder how many people think they are just the luckiest in the world because they somehow manage to be the first tap on every mob?

And speaking of getting loot, I cannot recall when the current looting method went into the game.  After slaying a mob loot just goes into a pending state that you can collect from a window at your leisure.

The loot just waits for you

It is handy, never having to click on a mob again, so I am not complaining about it.  And things change.  I have a post from eight years ago exploring how the quests around Bree had changed from launch.  It is just different enough from other games that it counts on the list of quirks now that make LOTRO what it is today.

I figured out I was on the wrong path and circled back up the north road to run down the quests up there before moving back along towards Buckland.  That involves killing a lot of wildlife, so my leather supplies runneth over.

I also went back and did the epic story line, taking my usual screen shot along the way.

Amdir, always Amdir

At some point I noticed that I somehow managed to grab a screen shot of that very moment with almost every character, so now it is pretty much tradition to grab another and post it.  The torments of Amdir are never ending.  That and Lalia saying that something looks familiar.

After far too much running up and down the road between Bree and Buckland, which is mercifully much shorter than the 75 miles that the Lord of the Rings Atlas pegs the distance between the two place at, Strider finally set me on the path to meet up with Tom Bombadil, which means adventures in the Old Forest.  At that point I was just a bit into level 17 and already with a set of forgotten quests in my log.

And that is where it stands.  On arriving in Bree I also saw the real estate quest mobs and at level 15 got the pop up encouraging me to go buy a home in Middle-earth.

Housing ads

Housing is one thing I won’t be expending effort on this time around.  I’ll spend a couple hours playing with the music system, but LOTRO housing brings me no joy.  The housing in the game should stand as an warning to those who feel that every game should have such a feature that done badly housing is a waste of time and resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.  But, as with all things, I am sure that housing in LOTRO is somebody’s favorite feature.  To me though, it is pretty but completely useless.

Fortunately, since housing doesn’t play any role in the game, I won’t be missing anything by giving it a pass.  I’ll be in the Old Forest if you need me.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Friday, November 9, 2018

LOTRO and a Legendary Launch

Yesterday was the launch of the Lord of the Rings Online Legendary server, and it was quite an event for a game that otherwise has felt a little tired to me of late.

The legend live on

Yesterday I posted a list of potential events that might happen with this launch.  I was right on a few, but off base with even more, including my first one.  The server was pretty much up on time.  Somebody tell Daybreak about that.

I was working from home yesterday due to being on call for jury duty… again… so was able to kick off the launcher to see if the server was up on time.  And sure enough, it was there.

Anor up at 17:00 UTC

It was a good thing I patched earlier in the week.  I heard that patching was going really slow at times.  But at least it did not die.

And within five minutes it had gone from red to green.  People could log in.

Anor live at 17:05 UTC

I figured I would log in, create a character, then log out and come back later.  The server had other ideas however.  While I missed the mark on the server being late, I was spot on in there being a queue.

Well, I guess I will just wait

Being in the queue I put that in the background and went back to work.

I checked back in about an hour and found my position hadn’t changed.  Thinking something was wrong, I closed the launcher and opened it up again, only to find my position in the queue had doubled with this maneuver.  I was at spot 3,335.  It was going to be a long wait.  So I put it in the background and continued on with my day.

Four hours later, as my work day was coming to a close, I found myself still in the same spot in the queue.

Meanwhile, the LOTRO team had put out an update.  They knew about the queue problem and that the overwhelming response was going to get them to put up a second server the next day, so we would have Anor and Ithil, sun and moon, with free transfers available between the two for a limited time.

A later follow up pulled the Ithil server launch in to 23:00 UTC yesterday.  I am not sure if there had been calls for a second server in the forums, but I was surprised they were ready to go on this.  Yay for planning.  The second server was online early even.

Red 5 standing by

The update also said that they had fixed the queue problem, but I am not sure that the concept of a queue was really clear to them.  It still seemed completely broken by the time I was done with work and ready to play.  Logging out and back in put me as high as 4,800 in the queue.

However, adding up tidbits from the forums and some advice from Roger of Contains Moderate Peril, who was in and playing already, I was able to come up with my own queue beating method.

I opened up two launchers.  I logged in and got in the queue with the first launcher.  Then I logged in and got in the queue with the second.  If the queue number was the same or higher, I used the “logout” option from the menu and logged in again.  If the number was lower, I swapped to the first launcher, logged out, and logged back in until I got a lower number.

This seems insane, or at least just dumb.  Yet, somehow, this worked.  As I ping ponged back and forth between the two launchers the numbers kept going down.  It was slow at first, but I would say after about ten minutes the numbers started to drop.  When I hit triple digits I was very happy, and double digits were not that far off.  And then, finally, the launcher logged me in!

Then I had to figure out what I wanted to play.  I hadn’t actually thought much on that.  But, when in doubt, I tend to have a class that I feel is the default in most games.  In this case I went with a man champion, which is the most ret pally class in LOTRO I think.  Plus I know those skill icons so well!  I didn’t even fiddle with his appearance, I just wanted to jump into the game and play, so I was quickly in the tutorial.

This was when the weight of years began to tell.  The first thing you do is get a weapon out of a pack on the floor, though in my case it was worse than the default weapon I started with.  But in getting it out of my bags, I realized that they were already full of stuff.

What is all of this stuff?

There is the ring from the pre-order and the Glass of Aglaral from the special edition along with anniversary gifts, years 1 through 11 inclusive, plus bonus items from various expansion pre-orders and specials.

One of the nice things about LOTRO is you get bags right away.  The downside is that is all you get for inventory space.  And with over a third of my bag space taken up, I was feeling the need to get to a bank.  But first I had to do the intro.

That went smoothly enough, and I exited into what I thought was Bree.  I thought that because it was so full of people.  But no, I was not yet at Bree.  This was Archet, the starting area outside of Bree.  It was full up, and had multiple instances of itself running.

Dynamic layers for all my friends!

Like so much else, I had forgotten about dynamic layers, the phasing/sharding technique that Turbine put into the game at some point after launch.  I suppose I just haven’t been in a zone that needed it for a long time.  So that spread people out some, but the starting zone was still pretty packed.  I was glad to see that somewhere along the way they also changed how mob credit worked.  Everybody who tags a mob now gets credit for the kill, which was helpful because the local fauna was being hunted to extinction.

Archet hasn’t changed much, but it has been years since I was there, so it was a series of “Oh yeah, this quest!” moments as I ran through.  I was interested to see that they had even restored a few quests specifically for the server.

The blue text declares this a restored quest

The above example actually gave out duplicate rewards when compared to the quest that replaced it. (The objectives were pretty close as well.)  But that suited me.  I got the Protector’s Helm for the stats and the Plumed Hat for the style.

The fashionable champion about Bree

I had also forgotten how pretty the world is.  I know I mention that from time to time, but it had still been diminished in my memory, so seeing the flora and the reflections in the water and all that was still surprising.  My current rig lets me have all the graphics cranked up.

Character models are still what they are though, even after the improvements.  If there was any more clipping they’d have to open a barber shop.

I carried on got that “specialization needed” alert, meaning it was time to pick my class traits.

Champion Choices

I went with the martial champion option this time on the theory that DPS would still be good but being able to tank at some point might be helpful.  I still moan about these skill trees.

I also unlocked my riding skill, and had a selection of mounts in my bag ready to choose from.  I saw a lot of people riding, though I was surprised it wasn’t more.

After Archet I headed to Combe to continue on down the quest chain, though not before riding off to Bree and the bank to empty out as much of my inventory as possible.

Back in Combe I also stopped for a bit to remember how to play music in LOTRO, one of the all time great features of the game.  I bought some instruments.  I played Istanbul (Not Constantinople) on my lute and got some applause.  I also fiddled around with a fiddle, a new instrument since I last played.  It is very good for classical music.

Playing some Vivaldi

Then it was back to the quest chain.  There were occasional problems with mobs being cleared.  No wolves in the wolf den, no Blackwolds and Bauman’s farm, no bears to find a stolen pack from.  But most of the time it wasn’t an issue.  And there are a number of quests where the constant traffic thinned out an otherwise grindy level of mob clearing one might otherwise have to do in order to reach a quest objective.

The main pain was harvesting.  I, of course, had to pick a crafting profession.  I went with weaponsmith, which means mining ore.  But ore nodes were heavily contested as people ran or rode to them as soon as they popped.  I won’t be making many bronze weapons in the near future.

I finished up my evening closing in on level 11.  I am not sure if my champion is really going to be my main.  I’ve done that class more than a few times, so I might try something else.  But it was good fun to be in the early game again.  It is fun and brings back lots of good memories, so I feel good playing.

And we’ll see what the queue is like tonight.

Others writing about the launch: