January 16, 2007, B.C.– The Launch

Snow Day

Tuesday turned out to be a snow day. Where we live, it doesn’t really snow, so almost any snow causes a general metropolitan shutdown. After the long weekend, I had expected a slow Tuesday, but about midday we all got an email saying that the office wasn’t going to remain closed because of the weather. Of course, I was already in the office.

So, I figured I’d get home early, log on to WoW and see what hijinx were happening with the launch of Burning Crusade since midnight. Rumors of the seas boiling and fire raining from the skies along with 1000 persons server queues, lag and incessant crashes would be something to behold. Feel the wrath of 8 million enraged players all focusing on their mental energies on Irvine, CA. No company could sustain itself in the face of such bad juju.

My wife and I play WoW with a static group of long time friends. We’ve played since release and have some 60s on another server, but we recently formed a new five person group on another server, so we aren’t near BC level yet. We hadn’t really planned on “getting ready for launch day” as we were having too much fun with our little group and, quite frankly, would be more than willing to sit out launch day and all that we feared it would entail. Nonetheless, my wife ordered a couple copies of BC from Amazon last week and assumed we’d get them “whenever.”

As I got home from early snow day, there it was. The brown box. The temptation was just too much to pass up. I had read a few entries from the MMOGosphere on the pessimism surrounding the release and a few regarding the install so I was actually more interested in comparing notes on how the mechanics would work that actually diving into the new content. I didn’t expect to get to BC-proper for a while when our group advanced.

The Install

I started the install about 4 p.m. Pacific. Not really prime time, but certainly getting there for east coast servers (and one on which we play). Out of the box, 4 cds. Pop in #1 and we’re off. All installed without a hitch. A few minutes later I see the game launch and voila!, a dialog popsup asking whether I want to upgrade my account for BC. I click yes, enter my cd key and the patcher launches.

As MMO veterans know, “launch” day means “patch” day. In Blizzard’s case, the patcher has been notoriously slow. To Blizzard’s credit, they had warned us that the most recent substantial patch would have to be reapply after the install, so it would be faster if you didn’t delete it. I let it run, it found my 2.0.2 to 2.0.3 patch file, paused at 99% for a minute, then applied the patch. I launched the game again and prepared to wait for the “real” patch I knew was coming. The patcher launched again to download a surprisingly short patch of about 3MB which took a few minutes. This was more Blizzard speed– 5 minutes for a 5 second dl– but I was still pretty impressed so far. It was still only about 25 minutes since I opened the box.

The patcher finished and I clicked “play.”

I watched the cinematic trailer. Nice, but hey, its a trailer. They’ve been nice since Ms. Pac-man. You can’t play a trailer. Password, no queue (!) and boom, I’m at the character screen. Just about 30 minutes from cardboard to Azeroth. Now I’m very impressed.

I quickly logged on to my dwarf priest in Ironforge to see if there were any obvious issues. In game, folks running to a fro outside the bank and auction house, the occasional naked dancing gnome/dwarf/elf/human. No lag, nothing out of the ordinary. Since I didn’t have any high level characters on that server, I thought I’d roll up a Dranei and see how the new starting area looked and how the Dranei played. I’ll post my initial impressions of that separately.

The Score

My bottom line. Blizzard 1, pessimism 0. Great job Blizzard.

I’m sure there will be other stories and issues as more folks dive in, but I’ve got to put this up there with the Y2K as one of the greatest nonevents I’ve had the chance to experience.

Welcome to pΘtshΘt

Welcome to pΘtshΘt, a blog mostly about online gaming.

I hope to add some semi-cogent thoughts to the computer gaming blogosphere based on about 30 years of growing up with computers and video games. A little of what I’m playing, reviews of games, thoughts on design and random social comment.

Some basic facts about me. I’m an adult gamer with a real life. I grew up in Silicon Valley when it was still filled with fruit orchards. My first real job was cutting apricots for drying one summer in an orchard near the intersection of DeAnza Boulevard and Stevens Creek Road in Cupertino, the cradle of the home computer. Rumor has it that in high school my sister turned down the offer of a date from a dork named Steve Wozniak…

Always a fan of science and science fiction, I became enamored with computers after an elementary school field trip to Lawrence-Berkeley Labs where they had these exciting teletype terminals with a few simple games. The computer asked a few simple questions like your name and some other questions and then generated a simple story based on your responses on fan-fold greenbar computer paper. Magic! A thinking machine! From then I was hooked.

From an early age I got hooked on the pong craze, through the early consoles and finally to the age of the home computer. Several friends had a TRS-80 that you could manually key in various programs that did, well, not very much but it was cool. Finally with the arrival of the Apple II, I was thoroughly hooked– mesmerized at the amazing possibilities for game play.

Of course, graphics were, well, not that much back then and sound consisted mostly of buzzes, joysticks were mostly two paddles (one for x, one for y) but somehow games were still captivating. What developers were capable of pushing that little system to do was truly amazing. A trip through the old catalog will reveal the primeval roots of most of today’s games.

Aside from the simple arcade style games which were fun because they were “free” (when pinball and video arcades still existed), the fantasy titles were most captivating to me. Games like Zork, Wizardry, Castle Wolfenstein, Ultima I through V and of course Adventure provided countless hours of wonderful imaginitive play.

Unlike my friend Wilhelm2451 to whom I sold my old modem (and a damned fine modem it was), pc online gaming would wait a few years to catch up to me. During college, text based muds, strategy games on the university’s system and pen and paper RPGs were the rage and the Internet, then the arpanet, was not yet the gaming medium of choice.

During the 90’s, sandboxes like SimCity and the first RTS games caught my attention. Fortunately, my roomates at the time were equally enamored and the era of multiplayer RTS games for us was born. Warcraft, Starcraft, Red Alert, Age of Empires/Kings, Diablo as well as FPS multiplayers like UT, Descent and others. All over phone lines and eventually a few hundred feet of coaxial cable strung about the house.

Finally, MMOs caught my attention with the original Everquest though I couldn’t quite stick with it. Finally, Blizzard’s long awaited World of Warcraft launched and our old multiplayer group which had grown idle took the leap primarily based on Blizzard’s reputation for top notch releases.

Currently, I’m mostly casually playing WoW with a static group of long time friends and my spouse (read the other side of the story at Whitekitten), but I’m also playing EQ2, doing a beta of an MMO targeted for release later in 2007, dabbling with Eve Online and looking forward to what 2007’s games will bring.

Damned lies and statistics

Continuing the theme of WAR XP weirdness…

Our regular “Saturday” group also convenes informally on Thursdays to do whatever– gather, quest, craft, etc.  So with WAR being pretty flexible in that regard, four of us we thought we’d head off and do some Tier 2 PQs while waiting for scenarios to pop.  For a while there were four of us, and then just three and it was then that I noticed how much xp we were getting (or not getting) as we continued working through the PQs in Barack Varr.

Two of us were at Rank 12 and one at Rank 16.  The mobs in those areas were generally 13-14, white con or “equal” to the two lowbies and green con or “easy” to the highbie.  There were a few in the 15-16 range.  Each of us were getting about 96 xp per kill (3 x 96 = 288 xp total).  When the Rank 16 retired for the evening, the other 12 and I decide to plug away a bit more since we were only a few percent from Rank 13 and not too far from completing that stage of the PQ which would mean extra bonus.

As a party of two, we were each getting something like 296 xp per kill for the same mobs (2 x 296 = 592 xp total) or slightly more than 3 times the amount received when the third higher rank party member was there.  We were killing them a bit faster as a threesome, but not 3 times faster versus a twosome.

Ouch.  Now granted, there was a slight level disparity, but wow, that realy trivialized the experience.  It wasn’t hard, but it wasn’t run in, AoE nuke, loot, repeat either.  I was hoping that we wouldnt have to be so close in rank to avoid such a penalty.

This is just one off the cuff impression, but I’m sure there are those out there making a study of these PvE/group/warband xp issues.  Any thoughts?

To continue the theme from my last post, it was precisely these sorts of disincentives that has killed group collaboration in WoW outside of instances and raids.