Back from the Tour

Author’s note: Not entirely a gaming related post, so feel free to check out here.  PS

Keeping the gaming pace up during the summer has always been a bit of a challenge in recent years.  Having the instance group around has provided a weekly anchor to gaming activities that tended to keep me tethered to something during the week in the summer months.  Still, the call of long days and warm nights makes it hard to hunker down in the game cave.

This summer has been typical in that regard with one notable exception:  No main game.  Our little group fell out of WoW post-Cataclysm and decided to try EQ2X for a bit.  Wilhelm and I knew that might be a bit of a tough sell to some in the group and if EQ2’s indiosyncracies weren’t enough, Sony’s downtime right after we started really took the wind out of some folks’ sails.  We more or less decided to take a hiatus for summer.

Not coincidentally, I’m typically distracted in July.  Mrs. P and I are cycling fans and the Tour de France occupies fully three weeks of July.  The magic of DVR permits us to feast at the trough to our hearts content.  Of course, watching 3+ hours of cycling certainly takes a bite out of gaming time.  Especially this year’s Tour with the final winner coming down to the final individual time trial yesterday.  An amazing job by Cadel Evans and reminiscent of Lemond/Fignon in 1989.

Smoke 'em if ya got 'em

Still while virtually on Tour, I have been poking around with a few gaming diversions, mostly provoked by the explorations of others.

Age of Conan

I ducked into the new FTP version of Age of Conan briefly.  Having done the beta, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the game looked and performed on my system, although it did/does seem to have a memory leak perhaps as performance seems to degrade over long sessions (on Win 7 64-bit at least).  The Tortage experience is still, in my view, quite a clever and logically consistent way to integrate and individual story line with a persistent multiplayer world.  Coming off of EQ2, the combat felt much more visceral and “connected” though I could probably live with out the fatalities.  With free to play, I could imagine checking back in from time to time.

Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising

I did the open beta for Gods and Heroes.  Sadly, I think this is a case where one company (Perpetual) managed to sink two games (STO and GNH) with their demise.  Had Gods and Heroes been given the love it needed (and needs) and released two years ago, it could have been something enjoyable.  By all accounts, it seems to be woefully lacking in content and completely unworthy of a subscription model.
That said, I hope they quickly pivot to a free to play model and bulk up the content.  The estate system is inspired and the game seems to perform reasonably well and look good on modest systems, even if a bit dated looking now.  Such lost potential.

Empires and Allies

As a rule, I rarely use my Facebook account.  With Twitter and WordPress integration, I seldom need to and that suits me fine.  I do however get sucked in to try a few games from time to time.  The latest being Empires and Allies.

I’ve always been a sucker for the sim city type empire building games and Empires and Allies has a bit of that as well as the pseudo RTS.  Its cute and generally fun, but I tend to quickly grow weary of constantly hitting the resource constraint wall– in this case the empire points if I’m recalling the name correctly.  They are earned too slowly to sustain a longer session unless you choose to pay for them (which I don’t at the moment) which is my problem with most of the FB games.  The are geared toward frequent revisits rather than infrequent longer sessions, but I had the same problem with WoW dailies too.

Need for Speed World

After Wilhelm’s post about NFSW, I got sucked in and tried it.  It is quite fun and scratches an itch I haven’t had for a racing game for some time.  Shades of lost youth and the reminiscent scent of burning rubber (and oil and antifreeze and transmission fluid and wiring insulation… English cars ftw).  Very much like World of Tanks, its a solo experience even if set in a multiplayer world.  No persistence other than progression, no meaningful “group” experience that I’ve seen yet.

Somebody make an Interstate 76 MMO please.

The Road Goes Ever On

I’ve patched up and am set to begin the chase again to catch up to Wilhelm and Gaff in Middle Earth.  Moria being the goal and a mid thirties character the vehicle.  And now with the Tour complete, I think I’ll have some time to devote to the pursuit.  Onward!

Looking Back on 2008

A few reflections on my gaming and blogging in 2008 with a few follow ups from last year’s post.

The Blog

On the stat line:

Total Hits: just over 100,000
Posts: 228
Comments: 825

My blogging has been a bit uneven this year which coincides with my equally unpredictable work pattern.  Feast or famine it seems, coupled with a few periods of just plain nothing much to say.

While the pace of my posting has remained about the same, its nice to see many more comments coming in.  Something I attribute largely to getting picked up on the VirginWorlds feeds and cross traffic from other friendly denizens of the blogosphere.

My top 5 referring sites were 1) VirginWorlds, 2) The Ancient Gaming Noob, 3) Tobold’s, 4) Kill Ten Rats and 5) Keen and Graev’s.  Many thanks to them and all who visit and comment.

Games in 2008

World of Warcraft. Our instance group slogged our way through The Burning Crusade to cap out at 70 just as burnout set in and before Warhammer released.  The group has been diligently pursuing its ultra casual, keep everyone together approach for more than two years at this point playing together just a few hours each week.  After diverting to WAR briefly, we are back in Azeroth with the Wrath of the Lich King where we’re having a good time.  I’m looking forward to continuing our weekly adventures with a great group of friends.

So far, Lich King has been much more of what I loved about the WoW 1.0 and much less of WoW 2.0.  Still, progress is fast and even for our group, we’ll likely cap long long before there is another WoW expansion on the horizon.

Eve Online. I’ve been mostly diligently pursuing my two box strategy with Eve having built my miner up to Hulk-capability and my hauler up to an Iteron V.  Along the way, I managed to get both pilots into Drake battlecruisers and have developed their social skills to the point where mission running and mining the mission spaces is a fun hybrid way to experience the game.

Wilhelm and Gaff and I were going great guns for a while but Gaff ran of to Norrath and then Middle Earth while Wil has caught the EQ2 bug on Guk.  So for now, I’ll continue to pursue my Eve objectives since it can be so forgiving of RL scheduling conflicts (the game you can play off line!).  Real time skill training FTW.

Everquest 2.  I was convinced to fire up EQ2 again as an alternative to WoW burnout and WAR disappointment.  Mrs. P and I followed multi boxing Gaff and Wilhelm to a new server and new guild where Jaye and Darren are resident.  Revelry and Honor is a wonderful group and they have a gorgeous guild hall.

Leveling is much accelerated since my last visit.  I was enjoying myself with this year’s offering The Shadow Odyssey until RL conflicts and the inevitable schedule chaos that are the holidays interrupted our adventures.  I’m on the fence whether to keep our EQ2 accounts going since I’m not playing very much and the horizon is a bit fuzzy in that regard.

Warhammer Online.  I had little enthusiasm for WAR until the open beta and then I fell for it.  It was certainly something quite different from WoW and EQ2 at exactly the right time for me.  Unfortunately, as the month wore on, performance issues and dubious design choices made clear that it just wasn’t going to be the next big thing.  The open world RvR, when it happened, was great, but the performance of the client and the incentives were too undeveloped or misconceived to make it a good fit for our group.

Pirates of the Burning Sea.  I beta’d PotBS and gave it a luke warm reception.  I really wanted to love this game, but it suffers/ed from a few serious design problems.  When I left the game, it was apparent that the fundamental port contention system was in desperate need of a complete overhaul.  Its a beautiful game and I intend on checking back in a bit, maybe with Station Access.  The thing that really killed it for me despite the rocky state was the the lack of a real open world feel to it.  Instanced battle rooms with questionable entry mechanics made it feel too much like a game of boxes.

Likewise, the much vaunted economy was seriously out of balance and, imho, poorly executed.  I’m still secretly hoping someone makes an MMO set in something like the 1600-1700 age of exploration/fighting age of sail era.  Eve with scurvy please.

Age of Conan.  I beta’d AoC and while parts were promising, it became clear that Funcom was rushing it out the door.  PvE underdeveloped, system requirements too high, PvP not really implemented as well as game breaking bugs meant I was going to pass before release.

LotRO.  Generally unplayed this year.  With Moria out, I’m almost convinced to hop in and join Gaff in his return to Middle Earth.  Time will be the limiting factor, but I do intend to see Moria at some point.

Games in 2009

I hate to say it, but after the disappointment of 2008, I’m not really looking forward to anything in particular.  I’m interested in what 38 Studio’s has going on.  I’m interested in what Guildwars 2 might be shaping up to be, but details on both of those have been scarce.

Likewise, I’m somewhat interested in watch the two most cursed IPs develop as well– Star Wars:  The Old Republic and Star Trek Online.  Both seem to be in capable hands, but if past is prologue, we’re doomed.

Goals for the Blog

Keep on keeping on.  The key to any kind of writing is to actually do it.  It gets easier and it (hopefully) gets better the more you do it.  I’ve been less concerned about my frequency of posting and generally pleased with quality and the type and number of comments I get.

A blog is a blog.  It doesn’t need to be a daily news feed unless you want it to be.

Goals for Gaming

I’ll completely rehash my last year’s goals because they STILL apply:

New Game #1. Find a game other than WoW in which to continue our group adventures. I love Thanksgiving, but I can’t eat turkey sandwiches everyday all year long. Some of us have a one game time budget, so it needs to be accessible and afford the opportunity to progress through the game in relatively small blocks of time– the mythical 2-hour casual gamer block maybe once or twice a week. If its that accessible, consider roping in some new blood for more fun and adventure. I’m not necessarily seeing anything on the horizon that fits the bill, but I’m willing to be surprised.

New Game #2. Find a game #2 that offers me a different experience than game #1 but that grabs me enough to cap out. I think you need to have a #2 that you can integrate into your game life in order not to burn out on game #1 or life for that matter.”

Thanks for visiting and Happy New Year!

A Map Makes a World

I’ve forever been mesmerized by maps. You map people out there are already nodding your heads. Its the E gene in my Bartle EASK personality.

I know I spent more time studying the maps in the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion than I ever did reveling in Tolkien’s, ahem, poetry or songs… In my table top days (modules, blech), when I was GM, the world always started with a map– a world of mystery in which to reveal adventure. Dark and wild forests, high frozen wastes, searing deserts, storm tossed seas, windswept isles and perilous journeys in between…

The geography creates half the story. Consider the Caradhras Pass and Moria.

One of the things that grabbed me on day one about EQ’s Norrath was the map. As a wee noob, I could make the death defying run from Ak-Anon to Qeynos and see first hand the wide and dangerous world. Simply, the world was a place and that place was subdivided into wonderfully diverse and mysterious zones, all interconnected (zoning or no zoning, it still had the feel of being one world).

The map created that sense of space on Day One.

One of the things I’m missing a bit from Warhammer is the same feeling of one giant world. I’m told (though I haven’t tried) you can run from the noob zone to a capital city. I’ve no doubt it can be done with a certain amount of dying. Part of that feeling comes less from the way the game is designed (3 factions with four tiers of progression, each with matched pair zones) and more from simply the way the world is presented in the map.

The Warhammer map is kind of a chopped up affair. Somewhat sensibly, the default view is your zone view. But there are three relevant viewpoints for Warhammer maps– zone, “Campaign” or “pairing” and world. Unfortunately, switching between these views is a bit clunky, only marginally useful and frankly very unworld like despite the fact that the zones are contiguous. To go from viewing the Empire starting area, you need to either select a different campaign pairing from a menu selection in the upper right or select world or pairing view from buttons below the zone map.

In a Google maps world, I would hazard a guess that most users have some expectation to be able to zoom in and zoom out by simple left and right clicking. In a post-WoW world, I’d hazard a guess that MMO players would expect to be able to left click to zoom in and right click to zoom out to shift their frame of reference. Its not trivial whats lost in the translation.

The WoW world map is made up of actual clickable zones. Even if all the landmass isn’t accessible within them, each zone butts up against all the others (and is depicted as such) or is separated by some immersion consistent barrier (i.e. the ocean). Zone, right click, continent, right click, world, left click, other continent, etc. Like nested dolls, they all fit together. Ditto for LoTRO. Ditto for EQ2.

WARs zones are depicted as merely boxes on a world map underlay or they’re circles connected by dotted lines on the pairing map. Quite frankly, I feel like I’m living in boxes despite the fact that the world is quite broad and interconnected and the main roads (mostly) “line up” between them. Even though the world is much more WoW or EQ2 like (contigous zones) the map makes it feel like Age of Conan’s world in boxes! The truth is, Norsca connects directly with Troll Lands, so why the dotted line of mystery?

When you flip perspectives, you lose the sense of interconnectedness of the zones. Within a zone map, I’d like to be able to click to go to the immediately adjacent zone without going “back out” and “back in”. This is particularly cumbersome in the RvR lakes where the lake and objectives are spread across zone boundaries (separate discussion about whether having a battleground span a zone boundary is a good idea…).

A perfect example is the Tier 2 Empire/Chaos pairing of Troll Country and Ostland. In the RvR lake there, there is a battlefield objective (Monestary of Morr) and a keep (Stone Troll Keep) in Troll Country and another battle field objective (Crypt of Weapons) and a keep (Mandred’s Hold) in the adjacent Ostland zone. Mandred, the Crypt and the Monastery and the warcamps are a very short distance from each other.

Each faction has a warcamp conveniently located nearby and battles often zerg from one objective or keep to another depending on where the attackers and defenders might be tied up. Its quite a pain to see if a battle is happening just down the road which is technically in another zone by opening your map, selecting the pairing map, selecting the next zone and then clicking into that to see if there are any RvR battles going on, ooops shanked by a Witch Elf, gurgle dead.

Question whether it would have been a better design decision to make RvR lakes an indepdent zone between each of the pairing zones… Discuss.

Then there’s the mysterious criss cross between Tier 2 and Tier 3 in Empire/Chaos. Not being Tier 3 yet, I can’t verify what’s going on, but I’m getting a real EQ/Boat on the Ocean of Tears feeling about those zones…

Another aspect of the disjointed clunkiness of the map is the loss of navigational sense. Here, I’m mostly thinking of Saylah’s post regarding the defense of Altdorf. Altdorf is, ahem, a challenging city to navigate. That’s made more difficult by the fact that the Altdorf map, even if discovered, offers no labels for major landmarks, let alone zone access points.

Case in point. I’m a noob, Destro is making their move on Altdorf, I’m in Altdorf, and even if I’m aware of the attack and that I’m supposed to go to defend the Reikwald or the Reikland, where do I go? The Altdorf map offers no clue. Had I not happened across a swirly when I was looking for the entrance to the Sewers, I wouldn’t have been aware of it. Apparently, I’m not alone.

All of the activity in Altdorf revolves around market square, the flight master, the auction house and bank, etc. Even the noob “Tour of Altdorf” quest doesn’t take you near the War Quarters which are gigantic and largely deserted. A better depiction of Altdorf and its physical placement in the world answers that basic navigational issue. Where the hell is the gate to the city?

Its an irony of an RvR game that a faction’s capital city is entirely unaccessible to the low level player EXCEPT by flying in. Just like when we fly to a city we’ve never been to, we have no real sense of geographical place in our minds. Airports, taxis, buildings, traffic, hotels, but what lies beyond?

Consider EQ2 or WoW where all noob roads eventually lead to the big city and its sense of awe and wonder. No wonder all those peasants stay inside the walls, its a dangerous world out there! Goldshire it ain’t.

So that’s my rambling directionless Friday rant on WAR maps. Anybody else get the same feeling? The maps shape my virtual world view and my worldview feels like a bunch of boxes even though I know its not the case. I’d love to see some tweaks to the map to “bring the world together” a bit and make RvR FEEL like there’s a real R there.


Wow.  Been a bit busy of late, so nothing much to write about.

Eve Endures

I continue to make progress in Eve, though I knew I’d be hitting a busy spot IRL, so I have queued a bunch of longer skills just in case I wasn’t able to pay as much attention to Eve as I should.

After reading the comments to the Zero Punctuation, uh, review of Eve (thanks Wilhelm for linking it or I wouldn’t have seen it), regarding needing to have a goal in Eve (specifically, your own goal as the game wont really provide you with one), it it occurred to me that I was in that slightly flat spot in Eve where you are not exactly without a goal, but rather in pursuit of a goal that will take some time and is, as ZP would say, “boring, boring, boring, boring.”  I don’t necessarily agree, and quite frankly, I’m glad the Eve will reward me (or at least not penalize me) for not playing it.

Design flaw or product feature (as the old joke goes)?  For an old man with a real life, I say product feature.

I’m currently in pursuit of two related goals– getting my miner Hulk qualified and getting my mission runner/hauler Itty V skilled.  Both of which will take some time (around 30 days) to complete the level V skill training necessary.  Astrogeology V and Mining Barge V for the miner and Gallente Industrial V for the hauler.  So I’m about a month off for both of those to complete.

The Hulk is the gateway to all good things that require massive amounts of ISK, including a battleship, etc. so the immediate task is get skilled for the Hulk and knock down enough ISK in the intervening period to afford it and the required fittings.  Sticking with Eve requires a certain amount of discipline because time is just not negotiable.

So, eager as I am to progress, I wait.  With anticipation.

WoW Wasteland

Our WoW group, on the other hand, still has any number of instances left to do since we have all hit 70.  Life at 70, however, is less than fulfilling.  Try as I may to be enthused about the “opportunity” to do dailies or BGs or whatever, I just can’t do it.

I logged on this weekend after our Saturday group session and it was all I could do to not pull my own head off when confronted with grinding dailies and other rep grinds.  The magic is gone gone gone.

On the WAR Path

Until now, I’ve managed to stay on the sidelines of the Warhammer discussion for a couple of good reasons– first, I didn’t get into the beta (not that I would necessarily have anything to say that hasn’t been said about a thousand times), and second, I’m not genetically coded to view it as the Next Big Thing ™.

Not that I’m not intrigued, I am, but I just haven’t been swept away by the hype machine which, next to Conan, has been the most offputting PR campaign I’ve experienced in a while.  To be fair, SINCE Conan has come out (and it was revealed to have feet of clay), the EA/Mythic hype machine seems to have become more tempered, more realistic and maybe attempting to bring expectations in for a soft landing.

Marc Jacobs comments regarding the problems with the preview weekend gained him some substantial credibility points in my book.  Now that the shouting has stopped, I’m able to actually listen.  Amazing how that happens.

So, with the pre-order enabled Open Beta for WAR just a few days away, I find myself in the unenviable position of not having a pre-order box in hand.  Mrs. P and I found ourselves at Fry’s this last weekend and alas, no pre-order boxes left!

That bodes well for launch I suspect, but I’m still left without an Open Beta option.  I suppose I could go digital download, but they always seem to fuck things up somehow.  I’m open to recommendations.  I’ve had bad experiences with Amazon in the past and have little faith in others, but what the hey.

Ultimately, I find myself actually looking forward to yet another launch of another virtual world that offers the potential of something a little bit different.  As many have said, you play the game your friends play, so I’m hoping that after nearly four years in WoW with a great group of friends that WAR might offer a sufficiently compelling and different experience to get our group sucked in.

Absent WAR, there is nothing on the horizon (*cough*Lich King*cough*) that I’m waiting for.  Without building expectations too much, WAR, please bring back the magic at least for a while.

Everything Old is New Again

Summer MMO-ennui what it is, you can tell by my recent posts (or lack thereof), I haven’t got much to say of late. Part of that is a result of an RL conspiracy to keep me busy outside of normal work hours with so-called “business development events”.

Not that they aren’t interesting or valuable, but they do take a bite out of the old game time. As the bloom is coming off of Conan and all else grows long in the tooth, there has been a slow steady drumbeat of some folks to “Return to X.”

Tipa’s adventures with her Nostalgia guild has almost got me to go back to EQ. Now I hear Wilhelm, the Ancient Gaming Noob, has succumbed. I’m not sure I really remember how to play, but I could see it happening now.

Likewise, Wilhelm and Gaff have been haranguing me and Mrs. P to return to EQ2 where Gaff apparently has sixty or seventy alts of every class level and faction with which he can triple or quad or quintuple box or somesuch. The spin is this time lets be naughty (evil).

I really didn’t see me coming back to EQ2 yet. I got to chatting with Gaff and he was asking whether Mrs. P might be interested. I hadn’t asked, but I assumed based on prior experience that she wouldn’t be that interested. Uncanny valley, learning curve, not quite cute enough, etc. But, much to my surprise, when I mentioned the conversation, I got a very positive “That’s a good idea. It might be fun to continue to explore EQ2.”

See, last time, I succumbed to Wil’s thinly veiled shilling for the Play the Fae campaign and started to get sucked in when I got into the LotRO closed beta. I’ve said before, at best, I’m a two MMO guy. I was digging the LotRO beta and our WoW group was rolling so EQ2 got the can.

SO, after a satisfying weekend of home improvement projects, Gaff caught me again with the hard sell and I caved. I dug out the disks (I had uninstalled. OH NOES!) and started what I thought would be the patching process to end all patching processes. Surprise, a clean install (the version that shipped as a bundle with the Echoes of Faydwer) and it was patched and running in only a brief few hours while I grabbed dinner.

Even quicker for Mrs. P who hadn’t uninstalled. Though she fell asleep before she could weigh in.

Not quite sure what happened with my old toons, but they weren’t terribly high level, so I rolled a new Arasai Coercer with the idea that if I was tagging along with better players like the multi-boxing Gaff or the better experienced Wil, then I should be able to contribute something useful like crowd control. I was expecting a bit of a slog as a not-entirely-offense-oriented caster. Still, one of my favorite classes from the original EQ was the Enchanter with its crowd control skills.  I was pleasantly surprised.  I seemed to be having a decent time making progress.

So, I give you Nardendul, Arasai Coercer:

I managed to get to about Level 7 among bouts of laundry which I consider to be decent progress considering I started very late in the evening, and yes, I wanted to read the quests.

For the Arasai starting area, it didn’t seem to have gotten as much attention as the Fae starting area, but it was still smooth, logical and relatively easy to figure out even for me when I had forgotten so much of the basic EQ2 stuff.

Now, if I can get Mrs. P to roll on the evil side, we may have quite a little casual group…