What I Did Last Summer

I can’t believe its been a full three months since posting.  Summer can be cruel.

Please Meet the New Eden, Same as the Old Eden

When last reported, I was hell bent on colonizing a wormhole in Eve which would be populated by my two accounts and a corp mate or two.  After an audacious start which involved lots of skill training and planning, I ended up with my entire POS staged and ready to deploy in that ideal wormhole system.

Despite my best efforts, that wormhole system just never showed up.  After weeks of searching nightly for an unpopulated Class 2 (even a Class 1, would have done) I was never able to find a suitable system at a time of day that would allow me to deploy the POS and get situated.  Nightly, I would surf about 10-20 systems in an ever increasing radius from my usual home system in Amarr only to find most were quite occupado.

Needless to say, it took some of the wind out of my sails, and being summer and all, I had a feeling that I started my assault on this personal Everest too late in the season for a bona fide summit attempt.  Eve it seems lends itself to the inclement and inhospitable weather of winter.  The long cold nights being a natural fit for the harsh realities in New Eden.

Somehow, fan on, windows open and the smell of barbeque wafting in is anathema to spending time in New Eden.  No doubt I’ll rekindle my interest AGAIN this winter.  I have a history of ramping up in winter/spring only to park Eve in the summer.

Azerothian Hiatus

As Wilhelm has been reporting, RL events disrupted our horde-side instance group work just as we were confronting the possibility of having to slog through Burning Crusade.  Divine Intervention it might have been, but I’m glad for the break which gave us a chance to return to…

Middle Earth, I Hardly Knew Ye

Yes, several of us returned to Lotro, partly in response to the announcement that it was going Free to Play in early September.  Wil has again been the scrivener and documented our exploits there.

Several things struck me about Lotro that I now realize that I had been missing badly in Azeroth.  Despite the convenience of the dungeon finder (particularly for old hacks like us who’ve been playing since release), Middle Earth is first and foremost a place.  It first struck me in beta that Turbine had indeed taken a vastly different approach to creating Middle Earth than most developers.

Middle Earth is very much a place and I find myself wandering quite a bit just to see what I can see and yes, there are things to see well off the beaten track.  With the expansiveness of Middle Earth, however, come some drawbacks.  ME, like much off our real worlds, is quite a bit filled up with bits that aren’t that interesting in a footstep by footstep way.

In previous lives, I recall several Vanishing Point quality road trips from California through the high desert of Nevada, over the Rockies and across the Great Plains.  And in a not entirely un-Kowalski like state, those journeys and the experiences of traveling those lands were best experienced “caffeinated” and through the windshield occasionally punctuated by bouts of extreme wierdness on a local level.

Middle Earth of course has yet to experience its Eisenhower and build its network of highspeed interstate highways.  Thus while I am continously enthralled by the feeling of place pervading Middle Earth, I find myself chafing a bit at having to travel quite so much.

I’ve long argued that sensible travel time is critical to creating both a sense of place and an opportunity for emergent gameplay.  However, what makes that travel interesting is the potential for interesting unpredictable outcomes.  Where that doesn’t exist yet the time factors does, you end up with something more akin to a time tax rather than the opportunity to reinforce the notion that you are resident in a vast untamed world.

Still, this time around I’m generally having a good time and even with our group of four, I’m looking forward to the advent of the F2P system with skirmishes available at level 20 to facilitate easy group play.

Return to Norrath

I might even be jumping the gun for Wilhelm’s annual Norrath Nostalgia fest that tends to arrive in the fall.  Exactly unlike Eve, the deepening golden twilight of shortening summer nights and the increasingly cooler winds which carry that slightly sweet sense of decay beckons to return to Norrath for perhaps, yes, one more turn on the nostalgia carousel.

Unlike many others, EQ2 has never been my “main” MMO.  Not that I don’t like it– au contraire.  In another universe, I could easily have spent the last 6 years in EQ2 rather than WoW.  Like Lotro, I’ve longed for the F2P option for EQ2.  This fall, they’ve decided to deliver.  Sort of.

This weekend (double xp weekend no less), I decided to drop into the EQ2 Extended “beta” (as Wil says, in a post-Google world, v 1.0 is “beta”– by that criteria, most of my life has been a beta– which is good because I can then think that I’ll correct all those mistakes on “release”….).

My overall assessment is positive.  If EQ2 has the potential to captivate you, EQ2 Extended could easily scratch that itch.  If you have deeper needs than that, you may run into what I call the EQ2/SOE dissonance, namely how can such a bunch of business asshats be responsible for the great game that is buried within EQ2?

I think Gordon from We Fly Spitfires has hit most of the issues and I can’t say I disagree with him.  Frankly, I woke up Sunday on a three day weekend and said, hrm… maybe I should check out the EQ2 Extended beta… I tend to try to pretend that I’m just a somebody seeing what its all about and what the “everyperson” experience would be like.

After reading WFS and Saylah’s posts over at Mystic Worlds, I decided to see whether Bronze (aka free cheap bastard) level would allow me to enjoy myself in game.  Races limited, classes limited, so I ended up with an Erudite Inquisitor to start.

Based on Saylah’s posts, I too decided to roll out in New Halas, mainly because I had never been there in any previous EQ2, but also because of the good things she said about the layout of the town and the housing.

With double XP weekend, I managed to rocket through to almost level 20 in a day, pick up the New Halas Courser noob mount and get to New Halas to start decorating my new apartment.

Man, housing in New Halas is WAY better than the ghettos of Qeynos.  Thats a big plus.  The basic noob apartment with the various bonus items from previous purchases and the many housing item quest rewards from the starting quests definitely had my new diggs looking fairly spiff.  And the EQ2 housing seems pretty much quite a step up from Runes of Magic.

Of course, with Bronze level, there are some glaring omissions which may or may not be a complete pain in the ass. First, I was jazzed to get a Legendary quality cloak item as a quest reward.  To bad that Bronze cheap bastards can’t equip anything north of mastercrafted.

Likewise, Bronze cheap bastards are limited to basically no storage.  This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it simply meant that I had to grind gold to buy bags/boxes/bankslots.  But that would be too simple.  Bronze, of course, can’t access the broker (aka auction house) without purchasing broker tokens in the cash shop.

Now that sucks.  The kind of F2P model I like is agnostic as between time and dollars.  In my world, everything in the cash shop should be available for some expenditure of gold.  Eve, in my view, has got this figured out.  Plex can be purchased for in game currency via the market or for cash.  Players who have more time than money can choose accordingly and vice versa.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anyway short of an upgrade to solve the access to the broker problem.  And the truly unfettered access to the broker appears to only come at Gold (aka subscription minus) level access.

I think this is a huge mistake.  Frankly, one of the thing that is a big draw to EQ2 is the depth of its crafting system.  And, more importantly, its balance with the rest of the economy, i.e., crafted gear is quite desirable throughout much of the game.

At a MINIMUM, everyone should be able to participate in the consumptive economy.  A game’s economy via the time shifted purchasing and selling of items is really the heart and soul of a virtual world.  In it are buried the sum total of the populations varied and sundry activities, across experience levels, across time zones, etc.

Maybe I’m a noob, but quite often I’ll see something on the broker or auction house and wonder “holy crap, where did they get that?” and the pursuit of such an item then fuels further adventures in the wide world.  By locking out Bronze and Silver, I think SOE is missing a huge hook to get players to commit.

On the plus side, I see that crafting raws are available via the cash shop.  Whether the price is right is a matter of debate, but the concept is simply time versus money and with gathering, I tend to agree to that.  I enjoy crafting as a progression game in itself and gathering time is often merely a tax in time or gold.  This solves both.  I was amazed briefly when as a wee member of Jaye’s Revelry and Honor they’re gathering bots in the vast guild hall was able to provide raws as needed (within reason) to allow people to play the game they wanted to play.  Having mats in the cash shop is a reasonable subsitute IMHO.  I can choose time or money as desired.

I’ve got to say, there is simply something about EQ2 that either grabs you or it doesn’t.  What grabs you (me at least) tends to be something that doesn’t lend itself to lists like the many things that bug me or downright piss me off.  Nonetheless, I’m pretty jazzed that there is a F2P way to play EQ2 now.

The Future

I’m sure we’ll reconvene as a group for Cataclysm whenever that arrives.  In the mean time, I suspect our of time in investment in Lotro will keep us headed toward Moria.  No promises whether we make it to Mordor.

A backup plan for the group might be to roll on F2P in EQ2 Extended.  I know at least 3 of our 5 group would dig it, and the last two might be convinced particularly if the cash shop could smooth out some of our disparities in play time budgets, etc.

What I’m really looking forward to is Guildwars 2 though… but that’s another post.

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!

Dueling Drakes

What is it about the holidays and the end of the year that makes everyone suddenly to start a project that just has to get done by year end?  Couple that with some family travel/events and that’s been my life this month, hence the dearth of posts.

Despite an otherwise busy month, I have been keeping up with Eve.  As I’ve alluded to many times, I seem to be a two mmo max guy.  I’ve been juggling EQ2, WoW and Eve for the last month or so, but a number of things have conspired to keep me out of one or more.

I had been goofing around in EQ2 with Wilhelm and Mrs. P until Mrs. P’s RL project deadline kept her offline for a bit.  The idea was to try to keep a small group around the same level, so I found myself sidelining EQ2.

As a result, I had a bit more time for Eve.  Eve, the game you can play when you can’t play.  There is something to be learned here for other MMOs.  The ability to “progress” and remain connected to the game when even offline is a powerful hook.  Even when I was playing more EQ2, I still was working toward skill based goals in Eve.  Even when I was busy in RL, I could still manage a few minutes to requeue skills, manage market orders, etc. and feel like I’m still participating.

With Eve, there is always something else.  With two accounts, you can square that, so there are probably at least four other things I need to focus on as well.  I got my miner Hulk-capable, then opted for a Covetor to conserve isk.

On a parallel path, I had developed my Drake capable combat pilot to be the hauler extraordinaire getting him to Iteron V capability and able to haul more than a jet can in each load.  My hair brained scheme was that I’d get his mining skills up so he could use a hand me down covetor when I upgraded to a Hulk so I could tag team massive amounts of ore.

The fly in the ointment was that I had neglected my mission running (especially on my minor) so when it came to refining, taxes were taking a bite when I had to refine.  Kernite, when it is flowing is by far the best option for making money, but in the absence of the rocks or market movement, lowly veldspar and its tritanium yield has proven to be the best isk/m3 option in my portion of high sec space.

Improving faction became my goal and that meant mission running as well as some social skills.  Be it ever so with Eve, a side track becomes its own goal.  In my case, I saw that I could get my miner into a Drake battlecruiser and start tag teaming missions with my combat pilot.

I hopped on today just to check on progress and see if there was any kernite in my local system to be found.  Alas there was none.  Scarcely even any other rock to be found.  So I thought, what the heck, I’ll run some missions, but I really didn’t want to run anything with my miner in a destroyer.

The miner’s skills had caught up to the point where he could capably pilot a drake.  A quick search of the market, a few key purchases and voila, I’m the proud admiral of a fleet of two Drakes.

Two Drakes make quite a few missions fairly trivial, but I still need faction on both pilots, so I figured at worst it would be a learning experience of how to fly them both in combat.  Of course, the first mission I pulled took place in a room with some of the most massive veldspar asteroids I’d seen.  Seemed a shame to leave them.

It took me quite a while to clear the room of roids (maybe 3 jet cans worth).  Not a bad haul when you don’t have to compete against other miners.  There were even a few respawns that prompted me to bug out and go get a Drake to clean up the room again but I managed to mine out the room with little additional drama.

I pulled a few more missions and a couple of them had some too tempting mining opportunities in them.  Not being that much of a mission runner before, I gotta say the combined mission/mining ops is a satisfying way to play.  Often ores not usually found in a particular area spawn (such as Omber or Plagioclase in Amarr space).

As my faction has risen and the level of the missions I’m able to run has increased, the rewards both from the missions and the incidental mining are less than trivial.  Being able to combine modalities of gameplay suits my gameplay style well.

Eve seems to be making a pretty strong case to be my 2d MMO which means I suspect I’ll let EQ2 go by the wayside for a while.  There is just something about Eve in the wintertime that fits.

MMO Stuffing

Gobble gobble.

The long Thanksgiving weekend saw no shortage of gaming.  No travel and a relatively low key holiday meant there was some time to sample all that was new this month.

Wrath of the Lich King

So far, the expansion has delivered and reignited my interest in WoW.  I note that Keen recently resubbed and this post pretty much sums up my experience with TBC.  As a matter of fact, having Outland to slog through is the reason I’m not playing a Death Knight right now.

I did manage to grit my teeth and recently get my hunter into Northrend.  Having a solo character (as opposed to my static group toon which we try to keep in synch with the group) is a great boon to explore, reconnoiter and generally see another aspect of the game without fear of level creep.  I’ve been working on getting fishing up to snuff and running through the quest lines in both Howling Fjord and Borean Tundra.  After this weekend, he sits just shy of 71 (having hit Northrend at 68).

EQ2

Spent sometime in Norrath working on my arasai bruiser.  The leveling curve is frighteningly shallow now and I’m considering doing a little two boxing with my wife’s account.  Her RL project has taken priority over our group activities, so I didn’t spend too much time in game overall.

LotRO

I haven’t been actively playing LotRO in quite a while, but the recent Moria expansion has me intrigued even though I have no characters near the level cap.  I haven’t bought the expansion yet, but I did manage to clear on character slot (only 5 allowed pre-expansion!) and toyed with the idea of rolling a Warden or Rune Keeper.

Of course, not having been on in a while meant a big patch job.  The other thing I was interested in was whether the game’s performance has improved any.  Despite having more than adequate hardware, it still tends to be hitchy and laggy.  After finding a few video voodoo resources with tips to reduce hitching, etc. I did get some significant improvement though I’m still hard pressed to get the framerate consistently north of the thirties in town.

Nothing accomplished other than checking in, but now that I’m patched, I may venture forth a bit.  I still enjoy the environment and look forward to seeing the game evolve.

Eve Online

Eve took a backseat to WoW and EQ2 recently but managed to make a resurgence this weekend.  I’m making steady progress toward my modest goals and though I hadn’t been in game in a bit other than to queue skills, it didn’t feel like I was picking it back up cold.

Warming up the mining lasers and digging out the spreadsheets felt comfortable and familiar.  And Eve is the game you can play when you’re not playing it…

I really am a two MMO max kind of guy, so I’m not quite sure what I’ll do at this point.  WoW is certainly at the forefront because of the group’s ongoing activity.  I suspect that I’ll keep Eve going since its one of those things I can do on a laptop sitting on the couch when I don’t feel like diving into WoW or EQ2.

So many games, so little time…

Bearasai

Alt-itis being what it is, I’m still exploring races and classes in EQ2.  Since a few of us jumped back into EQ2 on the evil side, I’ve rolled a dark elf shadowknight, a ratonga coercer, an ogre berserker and now an arasai bruiser.

We seem to have a defacto trinity rolling and I guess I ended up in the tank roll which is a nice diversion from my usual healer duties.  With the forgiving leveling curve now in the low levels, the cost of switching or rerolling and catching up is minimal.

As a result, I’ve been diligently working on my arasai bruiser which satisfies my sense of comic irony.  As I mentioned to Wilhelm last night, “Nothing says ‘Fantasy’ like an evil ninja fairy riding around on a bear.”  To which he replied, “you mean an evil EMO ninja fairy riding around on a bear.”  Touche.

So, among bouts of pie baking and laundry, I managed to get him to level 20 so he can use his dire bear mount that came with the TSO expansion.  Without further adieu, I give you Bearasai:

We are building a fighting force of extraordinary magnitude
We are building a fighting force of extraordinary magnitude

Silly indeed, but fun nonetheless.  Now if I could only use the fae glide with the bear, I’d give a whole new meaning to the phrase “a bear in the air“.