Obtaining the Odyssey

This weekend is Star Trek Online’s Second Anniversary Event.  As part of the event, STO is giving away the new Odyssey class Starship for free.

Having returned to STO since it went free to play, it was an opportunity not to pass up.  Although the Odyssey requires Vice Admiral (currently Level 50, the top rank), players that have reached at least level 5 can obtain one.

STO ranks have 10 grades, so for example, my current main Lieutenant Commander Hardinian Skronk Gaz (aka Skronk) is currently LC (18), or 8 ranks into Lieutentant Commander.  Initially you start the game as an Ensign and then almost immediately become Lieutenant.  To complicate things, the Ensign/Lieutenant tier is combined into one tier.  Suffice it to say, you need to be LT(5) to be able to access the quest for the Odyssey.

To obtain the quest, go see Engineer Kani by the fountain (next to the door to Admiral Quinn’s office) on Earth Spacedock.  Kani will send you on the quest to take the new Odyssey on its shakedown cruise out of its spacedock.

While its not quite classic Star Trek Enterporn, once the mission starts, you’re treated to a brief cinematic pan of the new ship which is quite impressive.

Without giving away any spoilers, the mission isn’t terribly long or difficult, but it does give you a chance to pilot the new beast.

Take her out Mr. Saavik
Mind the curb feelers
Odyssey, the Galaxie 500 of Starships
Onward to Destiny! or at least the end of the test drive...

Finally, mission accomplished, you are rewarded with an item in your inventory which can be redeemed for the ship.  Of course, if you’re not Vice Admiral yet, you can pack it away in your bank until that happy day.  The event ends at 10 am PST on Monday, February 6, so get them while they’re available.

Time is Money

Tobold asks the question when will WoW go free to play and how that might be implemented. Blizzard has certainly learned the lesson all good gym owners know– the neglected subscription is the ticket to success. Who among us hasn’t joined a gym or health club with a monthly fee and ahem how shall we say… neglected to make full use of it?

I have no idea what the average is, but it must be a significant percentage of members continue to pay but, even with the best of intentions, stop going to the gym regularly or at all. Call it guilt, call it taking a wee break, call it preserving your access should you want to play, it’s still recurring income.

Blizz may get there, but I don’t think they’ve lost enough people to justify going F2P yet.

For other games that, in Tobold’s words, don’t justify a subscription when compared to many players’ level of interest or commitment, F2P is just the ticket. DDO, LotRO and now STO are three that have come back on my radar specifically because they went free to play. Being able to match my spend with my level of enthusiasm and or time commitment is a boon to me.

Even with a traditional sub though, in theory I could maximize my return on the sub by consuming as much content as my time budget would permit. If I were only interested in the leveling game in SWTOR, and played obsessively since launch, I might have consumed all the storylines for all the classes/factions by now. I could see SWTOR going free to play at some point following the path others have taken– pay for fluff, utility items, progress enhances and or access to content areas/modules for progression.

Eve however remains the anomaly. One can legally buy characters, and effectively in game currency as well, but one cannot buy progression. Eve progression is skill based and skill training is time based. The only way to continue to progress is to continue to subscribe.

So why doesn’t Eve just sell time?

If I really want to spend the next year working through a skill training plan (not an unheard of amount of time) why not let me buy the time now, apply it to those skills I want to train and be done with it? If I’m going to spend $180 to learn to fly a Titan, why spend it over twelve months?

One of Eve’s major barriers for new comers is never being able to catch up skillpoint wise to friends who have played much longer. Granted that progression can go in any number of directions, but to switch from a hardcore miner industrialist to a 0.0 capital ship pilot would take a very long time.

Seems like a natural progression for Eve. Eliminate subscriptions, sell a time equivalent for skill training, or just skill points out right to be applied to skills of a players choice, make that freely tradeable like PLEX and you would have the most flexible model in the universe. Players could truly exchange time for money in whatever proportion they wish.

Earn isk by playing, purchase training and it’s truly free to play. Buy isk or training and your time budget is preserved. Of course the one element that likely prevents this from upsetting the games balance is that to survive in Eve, you still need to learn how to be a good pilot. Something that you just can’t buy.

Space: Still the Final Frontier

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enjoying Rift quite a bit with the instance group, but I still get that Space MMO itch that just doesn’t get scratched very well. Something about the long nights of winter (even here in Northern California) calls me back to space.

Eve Offline

Over the holidays, I resubbed my Eve accounts having been sucked in by the exploits of Wilhelm and Gaff.  The intent was to play it “casually” with an alt that I had rolled up for solo piracy.  Rolling an alt in Eve is a bit of a challenge since you can only have one character training skills at a time, so although I have two accounts, I would have to forego progress on one of the “main” characters on that account to learn skills on the alt.

Also, I didn’t want to screw up the standings of our regular high sec PvE corp, so I put the alt in a separate corp.  In a fit of foggy memory, I managed to resub the wrong account, so I ended up resubbing both of my accounts.

I knew my horizon for the game wouldn’t likely extend beyond a month or so, so there was really no point in going through the rigamarole to go join Gaff and Wilhelm in 0.0.  After reading about the logistics and timing challenges, not the least of which is time zone based, I decided that was probably a wise decision for me.

Of course, that left pretty much either “dueling” pvp, high sec social engineering piracy (e.g., can flipping) or attempts at low sec piracy.  I loath all dueling and as an explorer/industrialist at heart, I really couldn’t take to can flipping unless I was going to go heavy RP.

So that’s left low sec piracy and/or ratting.  Diving into low sec, and learning the skills to survive there, has been pretty interesting.  One really never knows what could happen, so there is some excitement even when there are only a few people in a system.  You have to get used to looking over your shoulder quite a bit.

Of course, the hardest part of solo piracy is finding a mark.  Something that I’ve not been terribly good at, and given the challenges of low sec (i.e., the conventional wisdom that its “broken”) and the time required to do a good roam, I’m losing interest.

On the other hand, with my other account, I took the opportunity to check out Planetary Interaction which was introduced just as I was concluding my last visit to New Eden.  Its been reworked some, but I’ve been producing some goods off high sec worlds to get the hang of it.  So far, its a decent if minor source of passive income.  High sec worlds don’t have the density of rarer materials on them, so overall output is lower.

Nonetheless, in the course of looking for the best place to sell my PI manufactured goods, I discovered a few arbitrage opportunities which I’ve been exploiting fairly regularly.  At the moment, I have just enough isk lying around to acquire enough of a particular commodity to fill my fully rigged Iteron V industrial and make a run to Jita where it typically sells within an hour.  I’ve typically been able to make 15-30 million ISK per run which isn’t bad for sitting on the couch with a crappy laptop while watching the Daily Show/Colbert Report.

Fun in its own way, but I’m not drawn into the way other goals in Eve have caught my attention.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Having done the beta, I’m sure that our little group would find it amusing enough.  From my own experience and what I’ve been reading, Bioware is slowly addressing some of the bugs and issues that were present in the beta.  I’ve no doubt the game will be a better experience after the first few weeks and months.  One of the main reasons we aren’t playing this as a group right now, is simply the fact that there are five of us and small group content is made for 4 people.

Even with companions, that makes for some difficult math and even more difficult shared experiences.  We could conceivably do a group of 3 with one companion and a group of two with two companions, but that kind of flies in the face of the whole group play thing.

So while I’m still very interested in SWTOR, I’d like to figure out a way (or wait for Bioware to come up with a way) for all of us to have a shared experience.  I suspect we’ll have similar problems with Diablo III.

Star Trek Online

I did the beta, I even bought the collector’s edition, but in the end, I couldn’t justify a subscription beyond the initial 30-days.  Not that there wasn’t fun to be had there, there definitely was, but there were issues that I wasn’t willing to pay for while waiting to solve.

But, STO is going free to play Tuesday, so I thought I’d at least get patched and see what has transcribed since launch.  One thing that intrigues me is the user generated content creator.  STO, like SWTOR, was always so story driven, I think I may enjoy exploring both what has been added by way of the periodic season/episode content which was added after I left as well as user generated missions.

Heck, its been quite some time since I played with a UGC module in a game– probably not since map editors for shooter games– so I may experiment and see whether that dimension is satisfying.

Like LotRO, I suspect that STO will benefit greatly from going F2P.  Its certainly a game that I would have been looking at over the last year had it not required a sub to check out.

Finally a happy accident, it turns out that former subscribers can log in this weekend.  I expected to download and patch, but not be able to log in.  Much to my surprise, there was Lieutenant Commander Skronk aboard the U.S.S. Frinault drifting in Sector Space.

As is typical with re-entering a game world, there is an almost paralyzing amount of information to reassimilate.  Even more so when the game has been patched and tweaked for more than a year AND has gone F2P.  Fortunately, I spotted the Transwarp to Earth Spacedock button (I can’t remember whether that was there before) and beamed down to Starfleet Academy (which I don’t remember existing before either, let alone being in Marin County).

Either Starfleet moved to Marin, or Marin finally went "Pro Growth"...

So, with a three-day weekend, it will be a convenient time to explore STO again and see what’s new.  Stay tuned.

Graduation Day

For then-Lieutentant, now Lieutenant Commander Skronk that is.  Actually it was last week, but I’ve been sufficiently busy in RL that I haven’t had the time to commemorate the event.

I had advanced along nicely with a combination of the story line missions, the patrol missions and a few of the exploration missions where I was finally in striking distance of the elusive “level 11” aka Lieutenant Commander that I had resolved to push through late one Sunday night.

In addition to the rank change and opening the second tier of skills, it also meant that I could qualify to fly the second tier ships.  In my case, I was eyeing a Science Vessel.

After completing a few longer missions– some of them seem quite long, a post for later– I hailed Star Fleet to complete the mission and my expected promotion.  Surprisingly, I was awarded the rewards from my mission which advanced me to Lieutenant rank 11.

Huh?  For those of you scoring at home, STO leveling is divided into 5 “ranks” with 10 “grades” within each rank, i.e. there are 50 levels.  Having completed Lieutentant, grade 10, I fully expected to end up as Lieutenant Commander, grade 1, hence my confusion.

Well, as it turns out, one must actually spend their skill points to a sufficient level to gain passage into the next rank.  In my case, believe I had to have spent 6700 or 6800 skill points in order to qualify for Lt. Comm.  After I dinged Lt. 11, I hadn’t spent my new skill points, hence no advancement.  A bit confusing, but eventually I deployed my points and was awarded my new rank.

Of course, I couldn’t get back to earth spacedock quickly enough to get my new ship.  A brief chat with Admiral Quinn who directed me to Lt. Laurel at the shipyard and I was quickly customizing my new science vessel, the USS Frinault.

Not content with my own accolades, I shared the wealth and promoted my loyal bridge officers to Lt. as well.  Everybody moves up.  Of course, with the new ship, I needed a second science officer to man the second science station.  A quick trip to Personnel and I had a shiny new Bolian ensign on board.

While I had received my new rank and vessel, I was surprised to notice that I had also obtained an optional “Attend Lieutenant Commander Ceremony (Optional)” mission.  I sauntered over to the state room on the earth space dock which was alread abuzz with anticipation as I entered the room.

Ten Hut! Officer on deck!

All the usual attendant sycophants and hangers on there snapped to attention and saluted my new royal badness.  A few choice words at the podium and voila, the ceremony complete.  All in all, a very nice touch.

Anyone ever say you look nothing like Lou Gossett, Jr.?

With new vessel in hand and kitted out, all that was left was to take her out on a shakedown cruise, but first a quick visit to my new useless spacious bridge.

Imagine how hard it is to sit in TWO chairs...
Helm, set a course for adventure, set your mind on a new romance. Make it so.
We play hacky sack in here during Warp.

Certainly more roomy and a distinctly “Next Generation” feel about it.  A few routine checks and it was off to the Argelius system to conduct a routine “safety” inspection of a Ferengi bar…

Captain's log supplemental: Sensors indicate we have beamed on to a stereotype.

Packing serious heat, my away team was more than able to identify workplace hazards and, um, issue a few “citations” to six or ten bar patrons who don’t understand that “Safety is NO Accident.”

Of course, all things in the seedy world of Argelius II seem to revolve around Klingons and green chicks in bikinis, so it was inevitable that we would need to liberate Marta and the information she had obtained about the secret Klingon war plans.

This force field is here for my protection.

Talk about beauty and the beast, she was both.  No wonder the Klingons kept her behind a force field.  Klingon forces subdued, we were able to liberate Marta and deliver the critical information to the Federation.

Although friends and I have yet to connect for an extended period, I must say I’ve finding the main storyline missions to be quite satisfying in a purely Star Trek on TV sort of way.  They have an episodey essence about them and unlike the exploration or patrol missions, I come away with the sense that a plot is unfolding in a coherent way infront of me as I progress.  I think the storyline missions would provide a nice backbone for a dedicated small group experience.

Yes, maybe that feels a little more single playerish rather than true MMO-ish, but its a welcome departure and whats not to love about the ship combat?  Progression does seem to take some time assuming you are not grinding missions 24/7 so I think I will need to pace myself to avoid either burning out or getting bored.  As it stands right now, though I’ve not been able to really give it the time I want, STO in the right measure remains quite enjoyable.