Friday, October 18, 2019

Blood Moon Rising: EverQuest, EverQuest II

Following on from yesterday's interview with Holly Longdale, today we have two Producer's Letters from her, one for each of the EverQuest titles. Both reveal the name of their resepective upcoming expansions, details of the various packages on offer and a few (a very few) details on what to expect.

There's also a tentative beta date for testing the new content. Pre-orders for the EQ expansion open next week on Wednesday 23. There doesn't appear to be a date yet for ordering the EverQuest II version.

As soon as there's an order button to press, I will be buying the basic pre-order package for the EverQuest II expansion, even though I have absolutely no intention of entering the beta to which pre-ordering provides access. My days of testing content I'll be playing live only weeks later lie deep in the past.

This year, in addition to the usual three grades of opt-in - Standard, Collector's and Premium - there's a fourth, "Family and Friends". Both games are getting the new offer, described as "...an experiment based on years of requests from players who like to share their generosity, families, guildmates and others" and about which we are warned "The bundle is set at a high price point".

The main feature of the new deal, which also includes all of the contents of the lesser packs, is a range of tradeable items and services, including mounts, character boosts, character slots and even another copy of the expansion itself.

I get the impression the team are nervous of being called on this one over what will almost certainly be an eye-watering price tag but it's quite true that people are always asking for the option to buy services and items for other players in the EQ games. The claim that this is "by popular demand" is almost certainly based, at least in part, in reality.

Won't stop the very same people who asked for it from complaining bitterly about being gouged and scammed but that's the community in a nutshell. And I would be ecstatic to find myself proved wrong on that...

Norrath has (at least) three moons: Luclin, Drinal and Morrel. There also three other known planets in the Ro system, Anbeal, Cordan and Trorsmang, none of which I had ever heard of until this morning.


The EverQuest expansion, the twenty-fifth, is called "Torment of Velious" so we know where that's going. The contents are as you'd expect:
Torment of Velious brings you a level increase from 110 to 115 with new spells and AAs, gear, and content with 6 new zones, and quests, raids and more.
My days of trying for cap in EverQuest are over, I believe. Expansions play to the established base that lives at end game and I haven't been domiciled there since 2005's Depths of Darkhollow.

My highest EQ character is a Level 93 Magician, who I boosted to 85 with the original Heroic Character freebie and soloed the rest of the way in the following five years. I could carry on doing that and maybe reach the current cap by the time I'm seventy. I think I'll pass.

There is an alternative:
On November 5, in support of EverQuest II’s 15th anniversary, we are going to be launching a new type of progression server, named Miragul, that will start at the House of Thule expansion that launched in 2010. You start as a Level 85 Heroic Character with live server experience rates, and all the trappings of a server that starts with a level cap of 90 with in-game housing, loads of raids, over 800 AAs, and more.
That is quite tempting. I could start at 85 on a brand new server and level up in the many PUGs that will surely be clogging /lfg for weeks. I'd have the same starting gear as everyone else and House of Thule is about the last expansion of which I have personal experience and a little knowledge.

The thing is, Miragul opens on the same day EQII launches its own new server, Rivervale. This is a regular server with no funny ruleset, Just a straight new start because, as Holly says, "It’s been a LONG time since we’ve added a new one". It's "Membership Required", which I find both interesting and revealing. I think F2P for the EverQuest franchise is all but dead and buried now.

The new server experience is more than enough on its own to draw me in. I will definitely be making some characters there. How long I'll play them for is anyone's guess.I wouldn't expect it to be more than a week or two, but I thought that when the Freeport server started and I ended up playing there almost exclusively for five years.

I think this is Drinal but don't hold me to it.


The forthcoming EQII expansion, due some time in December, will probably put a stop to any futzing about on new servers. Titled "Blood of Luclin" it kicks off the long-awaited return to Norrath's once-shattered, now restored moon. I have always been a big Luclin fan so I'm not about to miss that.

As with the EverQuest expansion, detail is limited so far but it appears to be exactly the "more of the same" most core players want and expect:
This expansion will bring you a level increase from 110 to 120 for adventurers and tradeskillers with new quests for both, signature lines, and more as you explore Luclin.
We’ve got all new solo, heroic, and raid content, including new challenge modes and contested raid fights.
There is one new feature, about which I am less than enthusiastic. Called "Overseer", it's one of those agent mission deals about which I have read plenty and thought the worst. I forget which games have similar systems except that I know World of Warcraft used it in whichever expansion added Garrisons and I think I've seen it but never used it in some F2P titles.

I made a decision when I was about twenty-five years old that one thing I never wanted to do in my work life was manage or supervise other people. I've never regretted that decision. The idea of becoming a virtual supervisor or, in this case, Overseer is about as unattractive a concept as I can imagine.

That said, the EQII team is good at this sort of thing. I really enjoyed the Tradeskill Apprentice system that came with earlier expansions. Maybe it'll be more fun than it sounds.

It's a particularly busy Autumn for EverQuest II because not only do we have the expansion on the way but it's also the fifteenth anniversary. Fifteen isn't the most significant of birthdays but it does end in a five so it deserves some recognition.

This too, probably.

We're getting an event about which we so far know nothing other than its name - Dragons Attack - and the date it begins, November 7. From the little that has been revealed so far ("Join with all Norrathians for Dragons Attack, because you’ll need them to conquer the challenges!") I would guess either a Public Quest (maybe several), a community collect-and-build project, a series of open-world attacks similar to WoW's lead-up to the Legion expansion or all of the above at once.

Whatever, it all sounds like fun. The end of the year looks like Back-To-Norrath-time for me.

Last and very definitely not least, as hinted in Holly's interview it seems we'll be learning some hard facts about the future of both Daybreak Games and the EverQuest Franchise in just a few weeks time:

Keep your ears perked in November for even more news about our teams and our commitment to the franchise.

I'd take that to mean we're going to find out what all those new trademarks are for and maybe even get some indication of whatever new EverQuest game is in development. We may finally have something to bite down on when we chew over the fat.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Don't Start Me Talking... : EverQuest, EverQuest II

Yesterday, as Wilhelm pointed out in the comments, I magnificently managed to miss the post-hook I'd been waiting on for weeks. Instead I chose to witter on about how I had nothing to write about. Comedy gold.

The news I'd missed was that The EverQuest Show had put up their interview with Holly "Windstalker" Longdale, Executive Producer of the EverQuest franchise. They were also good enough to provide a full transcript, which I've read. I haven't watched the video so anything that's given away by facial expression or body language is going to have to wait until I do.

As Wilhelm says, there aren't any major revelations but there are several tasty morsels of detail and a whacking great hint of something big to come. The whole thing doesn't take long to read but I'll pull out a few of the more interesting quotes anyway:

EQ Show :
How are the games doing?

Holly :     
...since 2015 , since I came on board, breaking all the rules both games have grown. So where we had a trend of the audience trickling off, we’ve now grown and we’ve grown revenue at the same time, so we’ve actually hired some people to fill out the teams...
Well, that's reassuring. And surprising.

It's been my consistent impression as a player and customer that, despite the surrounding intrigue, chaos and conspiracy theories, and notwithstanding the sequential layoffs and downsizings, my playable experience has undergone continual improvement throughout Daybreak Games' curation of the franchise. Even so, I would have guessed that both the audience and revenue for EverQuest II in particular would have decreased over that period. EverQuest, I would have imagined, would have done well to hold steady.

That both games have grown both numbers playing and money taken is fantastic news for those of us who want to see Norrath prosper. As Holly says, after fifteen and twenty years,

"It is staggering that both these games are still profitable ventures..."

Part of the reason for this turnaround is, as we more than suspected, some smart and effective managing of players' nostalgic affection for the franchise and the life experiences it has given them over two decades:

Holly:

...obviously nostalgia is really important to our players. Being able to revisit places we visited 15 years ago. 16, 20 years ago. 

That accounts for the popularity of the Progression servers but there's more to it than that:
...we’re trying to be smart about the content we do do... We don’t want to go too far out... I know we’ve been to the moon and back but you know, we don’t want to go too much farther and too much crazier than that. So we want to go back to those themes and develop those stories.
That's why almost every expansion is some kind of return to versions of the past:  areas, regions, continents or (coming up, we all believe) moons that players know and remember from the core game and from earlier expansions. It's not just a clever re-use of assets, although I believe there's some of that too; it's a key turned in the lock that opens the heart.

It's a policy that means Live players are as entangled in past glories as are those engaged in Progression. They are different audiences and the same all at once:

EQ Show:
How do you balance the TLP players, with the LIVE players, because they seem to be two vastly different groups playing the same game.

 Holly:
They are. But they’re also almost equal to each other now, in numbers.
That's another surprise. Although we all knew the Progression servers were doing well it's only natural to assume the bulk of the game is on the Live side. I imagine an expansion year with level cap increases for both games will unbalance (or balance, if you prefer) the ship a little but clearly the future of the franchise lies in the past.

Or does it?

EQ Show:
...a lot of people have asked, what are you guys going to do with the intellectual property... is there another game in development? 
Holly:
I can’t talk about what’s in development. But I promise you there is a future for EverQuest. I promise you. There’s a lot of work has gone into evaluating our past. We’re in a really unique position where we have more than 20 years worth of data on players and what they like in MMOs and MMOs we’ve made. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of that when we craft something new for EverQuest?
Which is about as broad a hint as the PR person, who was confirmed to be in the room making sure nothing got said that shouldn't get said, would allow. I read that as confirmation that DBG are working on another title in the franchise and that, unlike the ill-fated and ill-advised EQNext, it will be squarely aimed at the faithful.

As one of them I can't but be happy to hear it.


There's a lot more in the interview that's worth reading or watching or listening to for any dyed-in-the-wool EverQuest Franchise fan. There's stuff about the dedication of the team and their insistence on doing work on the EverQuest games in their own time; there's confirmation that they've had to learn how to do more with less, something I personally feel has contributed to the improvement in the games that I mentioned at the top; there's aknowledgment of the lag and database issues currently dogging the games and there's even a little squib about the upcoming re-organization of the whole Daybreak portfolio.

I'll leave you with Holly's reply to Fading from the EQ Show's "final" question:

EQ Show:

Final question I’ll ask you. How long is this game going to be around?

Holly:

At least another 10 years.

EQ Show: 

You think so?

Holly: 

Absolutely.

Works for me!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I Got Nothing

For the first day in about as long as I can remember I don't have anything I want to write about! There's nothing in the gaming news that strikes me as worth commenting on, I haven't read any posts I care to bounce off and I'm not doing anything much of interest even to myself.

I imagine some will be intrigued by Riot's slate of new titles but never having played League of Legends the news isn't really pushing any of my buttons. If they were planning on an MMORPG set in LoLworld I'd be a lot more interested but that's supposedly right off the table.

Anyway, I find it increasingly hard to work up any kind of real excitement about games that won't be available to play for several years. These days I wonder if I'll even be around when it happens. And if I am, will I still care?

Something that is happening right now is the launch of ArcheAge Unchained. I did play and enjoy ArcheAge back when it was new but the degree of enthusiasm for the Buy to Play relaunch strikes me as a little odd. I always thought it seemed like a fairly middle-of-the-road, ordinary kind of MMORPG, although I appreciate it has some potentially interesting PvP systems.

Were I in the market for a new MMORPG I would probably avoid AAU and go for Astellia, although most of the commentary so far has been the very definition of lukewarm and I notice the trickle of posts on the game has already dried up. As it goes, however, I am very much not in that particular market. I have literally more than enough games to play already.

Mostly I'm backing the old favorites. I'm doing my dailies in Guild Wars 2, often staying to spend an hour or two in World vs World. When I logged in this morning I saw the annual spookfest, rebranded for 2019 as "Shadows of the Mad King" had returned.

Please form an orderly queue. ArcheAge Unlimited is currently over-subscribed but we are expecting a new server any time now...

I read the extensive patch notes before logging in but even though it looks as though there's plenty of new stuff, when I examined the detail in game I found very little of any interest. There are two new collections but they give rewards I don't want. The coffin shield is nice but I have no-one who uses a shield and the sword is just awful.

The so-called "collections" are, of course, nothing of the kind. ArenaNet use the term "collections" as a euphemism for what every other MMORPG would call "quests" and these are particularly irritating quests at that. They require completion of content in two game modes I don't play - Dungeons (which I thought ANet themselves had abandoned) and Fractals. Even if the rewards were worth having I'd balk at those.

The event drags on for weeks so I'll probably end up doing a few bits and pieces but it feels very stale. EverQuest II, meanwhile, has its own, far superior, Halloween celebrations going on and layered on top we also have the latest iteration of Gear Up, Level Up!, a sequence of pre-expansion preparation boosts that now happen every year.

This event runs in phases. There may well be a time when I feel I need to jump in but this isn't it. The rewards are triple Ethereal Coins with additional Double Currency for Members (I thought we always got that but I may be confused). The rewards stack, so Members will get six times the regular drops of Ethereal Coins.

That's a major incentive for people who get the coins in normal gameplay, namely most people for whom EQII is the primary MMORPG. I am not one of those people so it's all a bit notional for me.

There is also another strong incentive in Phase One: "Limited Time item drops can be obtained from Chaos Descending missions crates and will grant you a bonus based off of their type, such as Research Reduction".

Don't push, please. It's strictly first come, first served.

Research reduction is also a big deal in EQII and the supposed need to buy potions from the cash shop to accelerate the speed of research is often quoted as proof the game has become "Pay to Win". If I was one of the people who believed that I might be logging in to take advantage but I'm not so I'll pass.

Other than GW2 and EQII, I'm mostly still playing World of Warcraft Classic. I haven't disinvested and my sub still has a few days to run. Whether I'll pay for another month after I go back to work next week remains to be seen. I'm still enjoying myself but it is incredibly time-consuming. I suspect it could move from being a pleasure to an obligation as available time grows short.

As for posting about Classic, even though I don't have the kind of strong feelings about it that many others do, it does feel as though there's a general agreement not to mention the game at all for the time being.

I kind of wish I'd never commented on the whole sorry farrago in the first place, although to have avoided doing so entirely would have been a statement in itself, I guess. I have other political concerns that task me far more strongly at the moment so it seems a bit strange to be discussing Blizzard's faux pas in the Far East rather than addressing what I see as far more immediate and worrying issues much closer to home.

For what it's worth, I do feel that, if we continue along this road of ceasing to engage with companies that do things of which we disapprove, it won't be too long before our entertainment options consist of
pickling, whittling and staring into space.

Maybe that would be a good thing. I already enjoy two of the three and I'm sure pickling has its moments.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Fifteen Minutes

It's Tuesday so let's have some tunes. I said that once before. God forbid this gets to be a regular thing. Although there's not much chance of that - it's back to work for me next week so there won't be many posts on Tuesdays from now on. Probably.

I'm almost to the bottom of the bucket of ideas for musical topics I filled up back at the start of Blaugust. About last on the list was songs about real-life people. Or real-life fictional people. Real is as real does.

I kinda went there a couple of times already with the posts about David Bowie and Superheroes but it's a deep mine to dig. I particularly like the more out-there celebrations of celebrity (or, occasionally, non-entity). There's no shortage of them.

Take Ladilla Rusa. They're a pair of Catalan journalists from Barcelona with a breakout hit (still their signature number) called Macauley Culkin. The band's name means "Russian Brick". It probably has some significance that's going right over my head, which, I guess, is pretty much what you'd want a brick to do.

The lyrics, not all of which consist of relentless repeats of the gurning childstar's name, appear to be a re-telling of the plot of "Home Alone", one of John Hughes' non-teen comedies that I've never seen. It's been quite hard work avoiding it but I've managed so far.

According to Google Translate one line reads "they gave me a pout tupper". No, me neither.


There's a connection between that choice and what's coming up next: don't try to guess it. You won't. It's Barcelona.

I was on holiday, alone, sometime in the early '90s when I conceived a desperate need to buy a CD. I had no means of playing such a thing and I'd never, before or since, felt any such desire in similar cirumstances, so the reason remains a mystery. Regardless, I went into one of the Catalan capital's largest record stores, FNAC, ("a large French retail chain selling cultural and electronic products" according to Wikipedia), where I purchased an album by a band I'd never heard of, something I am wont to do. 

I probably just liked the name, Pizzicato 5. They went on to become my favorite Japanese band, an admittedly restricted field, and this paen to sixties' icon Lesley Hornsby is one of their best. 

The video is also a cracker, or would be if you could actually see it through the VHS blur. It's "live" on The Word, an anarchic after-closing-time show equally loved and hated for its combination of lowbrow crowd-pleasing and scathing nihilsm. Bands always seemed to go particularly hard on its floor-level non-stage and Pizzicato 5 look about as animated here as I've ever seen them.



Since I appear to be on some kind of Barcelona tip, let's really go for it with an eleven-minute epic filmed at the city's Primavera Sound Festival last year. 

Let's Eat Grandma are one of my absolute favorite discoveries of the last handful of years. I came to them in a peculiar fashion via an interview with Boy George and I fell in love with their layered, hypnotic, histrionic, playful sound. They were famously young when they released their first, stunning, album and they're maturing incredibly quickly into one of the richest, strangest gifts modern music has to offer.



Donnie Darko is one of several coruscating jewels on the duo's second album, "I'm All Ears" and this live version really doesn't give it the full treatment, although it more than makes up for what's lost in emotional depth by what's gained in sheer performance power. 

Oh, what the hell... let's have it again. This is a much stronger version, performed live on JBTV, whatever or wherever that is. This one has a taste of the heartbreaking clarity of the recorded version in the coda, something that made me tear up the first time I heard it, as well as the bouncing exhuberance of the first nine minutes.




From the utterly sublime to... Transvison Vamp. Wendy James' glam-punk stylings were treated - at best - as something of a novelty act back in the late 80s and early 90s. I confess to not paying much attention at the time although I always thought they gave good value on Top of the Pops.

Rediscovering them on YouTube a quarter of a century later I find they've aged astonishingly well. Like Shampoo and Patsy Kensit's Eighth Wonder, there's a corrupted naivete to them that never really goes out of style. Also, I can forgive Wendy pretty much anything for "Hanging Out With Halo Jones".

Andy Warhol is one of those people about whom everyone has an opinion and his star just keeps on ascending, so I guess it's not surprising there are so many songs about him. David Bowie must surely have been the first with the eponymous "Andy Warhol" from 1971's "Hunky Dory"while Lou Reed and John Cale came up with an entire song suite with 1990s eulogy "Songs for Drella", Drella being Warhol's portmanteau nickname, derived from a cut and shut of Dracula and Cinderella.

There are two songs called "Andy Warhol Is Dead". Well, at least two, that I know of. Transvision Vamp's is positively cheery (and weirdly familiar...) compared to Sharon Needles' techno-goth impaling. Let's have 'em both!






As Andy aptly demonstrates, there's nothing like a celebrated death to see your name commemorated in song. Natalie Wood outlived Rebel Without A Cause co-star James Dean by a couple of decades but she was only in her early forties when she drowned in not-entirely clear circumstances off Catalina in 1981.

She was always something of an icon in France - what American movie star of her generation wasn't? - so it's no surprise to find this tribute to her by French Chanteuse Jil Caplan, who was an impressionable sixteen years old when the actress died. Very catchy chorus...



You don't have to be famous to find yourself passed down into history by means of song. You just have to know someone who owns an acoustic guitar. The folk tradition sometimes seems to consist of barely anything but tales of the everyday exploits of ordinary people, an extraordinary number of whom seem to have been away with the fairies, quite literally.

The brief and elusive Psych Folk movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s had rather more ethereal matters to contend with as it took to the astral plane (don't worry, it's not more Donovan...) but Bonnie Koloc found time to record this haunting tribute to her aunt in "My Aunt Edna".

Okay, it's not a title to rival "Jumping Jack Flash" or "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" but it's a good tune all the same. Sadly no video although there is one for the bizarre 2012 dance remix.

 
Finally, let's end with the ultimate in songs about people who may or may not be "real" - Poppy singing about herself. 

I've been following Poppy (literally - hers is one of only half a dozen YouTube channels I follow) since she was "That Poppy", which isn't actually as long ago as I thought, now I look it up. I did seriously consider joining The Church of Poppy but her merch is a bit on the expensive side. I'd still like one of those pins, though.

Nothing unusual in that. After all, everybody wants to be Poppy. Don't they?




These days, post all the Mars Argo trauma, Poppy and Titanic have gone a bit psycho-metal for my tastes. I preferred Poppy when she was, well, poppy.



That's probably enough name-dropping for one day. Don't worry, though, I have plenty more where those came from...

Monday, October 14, 2019

Backwards Into The Future!

When I posted on Saturday about revisiting the Vanguard Emulator project I didn't menton that it wasn't what I'd planned to do with my time that morning. Vanguard was, in fact, the fourth MMORPG I tried to play that day. The first three wouldn't let me log in at all.

I started with Riders of Icarus. It's now been about three months since all my account details were copied to the new owners, Valofe or VFun, whatever they're calling themselves these days. It's also been six weeks since they began Live operations for the game and six weeks since I was last able to play.

None of the suggested fixes or workarounds have made any difference. I still get Error 602 (or occasionally Error 612) when I try to log in. The game remains unpatchable and therefore unplayable. I hadn't tried for several weeks and I imagined that, in the way of these things, the issue would have been resolved by update, but it hasn't.

Although, as my post history attests, I like Riders of Icarus a lot, it was also always a very disposable pleasure. Maybe I'll play again one day, maybe not. It doesn't really bother me either way.

I really liked this auto-generated name and I would have used it but of course it was taken. Kind of defeats the object of having a name generator in the first place, really.

An MMORPG I've played, on and off, for a lot longer than RoI, and enjoyed more, is Dragon Nest. It's another game that's changed ownership several times and it may be the MMORPG I've replayed from scratch the most of all. I think I've made new accounts and started over four times now - it might be five.

A year or so ago the publisher of the EU version of Dragon Nest gave up on it and since then there's been no official way for EU/UK players to access the game. There are still NA and  SEA versions up and running. I have the NA version installed and on Saturday I clicked the icon on my desktop to see how far I could get.

The game patched and presented me with the login screen. I had my correct details to hand. I input them and they were accepted. Then the game informed me my IP was out of bounds and that was that.

I could, of couse, use a VPN to get around the lock but I'm not that desperate to play. Particularly not when there's yet another version available to everyone  - Dragon Nest M.

The latest incarnation of the eternal Dorah.

DNM is the mobile version and I've had it installed on my Kindle Fire for a few months now. I've tried it and it plays very smoothly. It's not identical to the original but it's very similar. Visually it's a fairly faithful translation. The storyline seems to be identical (and still insane) and the gameplay is familiar, although a lot of typical mobile progression sysyems have been bolted on.

The thing is, I don't really like playing games on a hand-held device. Somehow it just doesn't feel... satisfying. Which is how I came to have my Big Idea on Saturday.

Why not play the mobile games I like on my PC? How hard could that be? Not hard at all as it turns out.

I googled for "Android Emulators" and got a selection of lists and recommendations. I read through those for a few minutes then picked one to try. I went for NOX, supposedly one of the easiest to set up and use. 

Their strapline is "The Simpler The Better" and they're really not kidding. I can't remember the last app or program I tried to install that worked so fast and was so immediately intuitive. It took less than five minutes and I didn't have to read a word of instruction. Everything was entirely obvious and it all just worked.

The original Dorah from the PC version. Actually, I think this is the remade Dorah from the EU game, which I believe was an update from the original.


Except for one thing: the search function returned "No Results" for Dragon Nest. That seemed odd, given that I can log into Google Play and see Dragon Nest M right there. After a bit of fiddling I somehow managed to get a few results from the NOX version of Google Play but when I clicked on them they just took me to YouTube trailers for the game.

It was at this point, with emulators on my mnd, that I logged out of NOX and fired up VGEMU instead. After lunch, though, having played and posted about Vanguard, I returned to NOX to fiddle about with it some more.

This time I decided to try anoother mobile MMORPG I used to play and enjoy, the weirdly-ignored Celtic Heroes. I first played Celtic Heroes on my iPod Touch. Yes, on that tiny screen, over a decade ago.

I first mentioned Celtic Heroes on this blog in 2012, when I said "...time to sit in the garden and play Celtic Heroes on my iPod, perhaps. Been meaning to write something about that one for a while..." I did go on to write about it in some detail four years later, at which point I mentioned the game was already five years old.

From the intro. Everything looks better from above.


And it's still going. I downloaded it via NOX and took a moment to set up keyboard and mouse  to override the expected touch-screen controls. That, again, was ridiculously simple and straightforward. Within a couple of minutes I was playing, using WASD and the mouse exactly as though it was a regular PC game.

I ran through the Tutorial as an unregistered Guest. That took about fifteen or twenty minutes. I remembered most of it very clearly, hardly surprising since this is another game I've restarted several times.

When I got to the end of the tutorial I decided I wanted to keep my progress so I registered a new account. I thought it would carry my guest credit over but it didn't so I'll have to do the Tutorial over again. Or I might make the effort to find my old account details and see if they still work. I think I had a character in the twenties. The level cap, last time I checked, was over 200!

With that all having gone so well, yesterday afternoon I decided to try and find Dragon Nest again. I was still getting "No Result" (couldn't even find the YouTube video...) when I had another bright idea. Since I could find the game on Google Play I just went there via Firefox, copied the URL and pasted it into the search field on NOX and voila! There it was.

I think my mage has attention defecit disorder. Leave her alone for five seconds and she starts playing with her wand.
I installed DN through NOX, made a new account and logged in. A bit if fiddling with the controls and once again I had a fully playable WASD/Mouse MMORPG. I played through the first few instances and cascaded to Level 15.

Compared to the original PC version, Dragon Nest M is visually cluttered and very busy. In typical mobile fashion there is something happening every moment. There are many upgradeable systems, all with Star ratings and ranks.

The basic game underneath all the clutter seems relatively unchanged. They seem to have re-voiced some of the dialog. Dragon Nest was always loosely translated, shall we say, in that oddly endearing fashion that so appeals to me in imported games but it differed from most by having voiceovers that vary wildly from the written text. 

DNM seems to have doubled down on that by having different voice actors doing the dialog for the same character. I'm guessing they may have carried some of it over from the original and then added some new lines on top. I particularly enjoyed the way Timothy changed from a deep-voiced English actor to what sounded like a Korean exchange student doing an improv workshop.

"I really wasn't in that mood". Thanks a bunch, Tim! You just stand back and let me save your girlfriend without even a word of thanks. It's fine. Why else did I come all the way back here from the future?
After about three-quarters of an hour I had to stop to go for a walk because the sun had finally come out for the first time in about three days. I will be playing more Dragon Nest, though, and more Celtic Heroes. Also other Mobile MMORPGs if I can find some.

MMORPGs on Mobile seem to get either bad press or no press at all in this part of the blogosphere. I can't help thinking that has as much do with the nature of the devices themselves rather than the quality of the games. Celtic Heroes, I am certain, would have been well-received had it launched in 2011 as a PC MMORPG. It looks quite old-fashioned now but back then it would have been fine.

Both games were busy. I saw lots of players in the Tutorial and starter zones. Having found a way to enjoy these titles on the big screen and with controls that feel familiar I look forward to exploring more. Recommendations for fully-fledged Android MMORPGs welcome.



Sunday, October 13, 2019

Don't Fear The Reaper: EverQuest, EverQuest II

As I was sleeping the news broke about the latest round of layoffs at Daybreak, the fourth such retrenchement in two years. I was planning to write about something else this morning but as I was hammering out a comment on Wilhelm's short post about it I realized I had rather too much to say to fit into a thread.

The first thing I have to say is that I'm amazed Daybreak even had seventy employees in total, far less seventy they could "let go" and still retain enough people to keep the lights on. These companies seem to be like icebergs, mostly hidden out of sight.

I always thought ArenaNet, with their three-hundred-plus people working on Guild Wars 2 (before the big cull earlier this year) sounded like a mega-corp but given the sheer number of people DBG has cut in the last two years, they can't have been far off that themselves.

Game development (and its far less glamorous sibling, game maintenance) is a volatile enterprise. Job security is tenuous at best. It must be difficult for everyone to be cut loose and thrown back into the job market but for those developers who've worked for years on one particular game and may have a deep emotional attachment to it, it has to feel closer to a bereavement or the collapse of a relationship than just a change of employment.

Fortunately, of late the trend seems to be for up-and-coming studios with games in development to snap up ex-colleagues of the devs already working there as soon as they become available. I wouldn't be surprised to see some more ex-DBG names turning up at Intrepid, for example. Not to mention those new studios started by the likes of Raph Koster and Mike O'Brien.

While the layoffs were probably part of the ongoing restructuring at Daybereak, presumably the total lack of impact that Planetside Arena has had was also a factor. When your Steam figures show a 24-hour peak of fewer than a hundred and fifty people and an all-time high below fifteen hundred, in a genre where those figures for the competition are often orders of magnitude higher, you have to admit your game has tanked.

Planetside Arena always looked like something of a Hail Mary pass at best. Had it taken off I don't imagine the PS team would have been so badly impacted but now it looks like the last throw of the dice for that particular I.P. I imagine it will be maintenance mode for Planetside 2 from now on.



The news for the EverQuest I.P. is a lot more encouraging. It seems as though the faction within DBG that sees EQ as the core has won out, something we suspected was happening from things Holly Longdale has been hinting at over the last few months. The interview she gave to The EverQuest Show, which should be out very soon, is going to be very interesting indeed.

Maybe that will give us some hard data to work with. Holly has already made it quite plain that none of this is any kind of panic move or knee-jerk reaction. There's a medium-long term plan for the future of the company in play right now, something that's evidenced by the setting up of all those new trademarks and social media accounts.

Until we know more it's all down to wild speculation. If I had to guess, I'd bet against an outright sell-off at this time. I doubt the owners (whoever they are...) want a fire sale unless they're in a similar financial situation to Trion, which they shouldn't be. They would hope to sell the I.P. s and games on from a position of relative strength and these moves we're seeing may well be positioning for that to happen.

I think they are going to hunker down on the I.P.s they have (or rent, in the case of DCUO) while also working on something new that will be EQ-related. They would hope to consolidate the value they have and enhance it somewhat with hype about a new generation of EverQuest, something more realistically achievable than the smoke-and-mirrors fantasy of EverQuest Next.

As someone who has little or no interest in either Planetside or H1Z1, a consolidation to the original core I.P. doesn't worry me unduly. If anything, it's mildly reassuring. A few years ago it looked as if all SOE/DBG really cared about was following the fad of the moment and expanding onto consoles.

Stay down! He might not notice us!
It looked for a while as though no-one at the company had much interest in a couple of ancient, legacy titles, played by a boring bunch of old people. The only interest the management team at that time seemed to have in the franchise was in converting the value of the name into something tweens and teens might not find horribly embarrassing: hence EQ Next.

In the absence of real numbers, I'd guesstimate that EverQuest is most likely relatively commercially stable. If you watch the server status, those progression servers and a couple of the Live ones sit at "High" population most of the time. Several others float around "Medium".

EQII is another matter. It relies on a core audience of longish-term veterans and that audience is slowly bleeding out. Many of them haven't entirely accepted some of the systems changes that have been made over the past few years and decisions on gameplay variations that came with a series of expansions proved less than popular, particularly with the hardest-core raiders.

Some of that bad feeling has been rowed back over the last 12-18 months. The last expansion was relatively well-received and the updates have generally gone down fairly well, too.

The EQII team has also made great strides in changing the way it approaches conversations with the audience. There's an unfortunate history of confrontationalism on both sides but it's currently at a low ebb, thankfully. There seems to be a willingness on both sides to be constructive and build bridges, something that, I feel, has come directly out of the prevailing sense that even if the company as a whole doesn't much care about Norrath, the teams working on the titles themselves most definitely do.

Hi! Let me introduce myself. I'm Larry the Lion. Maybe you know my cousin, Tony the Tiger?
Unfortunately, EQII is curently undergoing some major technical issues that could undermine all that good work. It's something I haven't experienced as I happily solo away but apparently the raiding game has been suffering from apalling and so-far unexplained lag.

The devs have been attempting to isolate the cause so they can fix the problem but so far they haven't managed to pin it down. Worryingly, the steps they're now having to take are themselves disruptive to the extent that players are threatening to quit because of them.

Then again, threatening to quit is the first response of some EQII players to anything that alters the status quo. If there was an Oscar for throwing the most hissy-fits in MMORPGdom, EQII fans would at the very least be nominated every single year.

And so we carry on. We do, at least, seem to be closing in on some kind of end-game after many years of obfuscation, secrecy and weirdness. If nothing else, by the end of 2019 we ought to have a considerably clearer picture of what business Daybreak Games thinks it's runniing and where it hopes to be in a year or two's time.

If we get that it will be a lot more than we've had for many a year.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Checking In On Vanguard

It's been a while since I checked in with the Vanguard Emulator. I like to take a look every few months to see how it's coming along. The danger is that once I log in I end up playing just as though it was a Live game.

And really, it might as well be. Every time I've logged in over the last five years (Has it really been five years since the sunset? Yes it has.) the server has been up and stable. As far as I can tell it's available pretty much 24/7/365.

The team have a spiffy new website at vgoemulator.net and a Discord server too. You're no-one without a Discord server these days. The current feature set is impressive. All of the listed features are currently implemented and working to some extent.

It includes things I'd completely forgotten, like Brotherhoods and Caravans.  Brotherhood was supposed to allow players leveling together to keep in range despite differing play hours but I vaguely remember trying it not long after launch and finding it slowed my leveling down. Caravans were a means of getting players to their group across Telon's vast landscape. Not sure I ever rode in one.

Vanguard was very much what you'd call a "feature-rich" MMORPG. It had quite a few tricks I didn't always remember until I saw them pop up in-game. And still does. As I was riding across Thestra this morning a series of updates flashed across the screen for a skill I didn't know I had: Awareness.  I didn't know what it did and even after doing a little research I still don't!

As far as I can tell, Crafting isn't in yet. Nor Harvesting. I could be wrong but neither is listed in the features and I couldn't find anyone willing to get me started. The trainers are there but they just say they have nothing to teach me. Could be me doing it wrong, of course.

I started looking for them because I logged in at a guard post outside Tursh and immediately noticed I had a chicken in my backpack. As it happened, the guard right next to me wanted it so I handed it over and he gave me a couple more things to do.

He wanted me to kill a bunch of frogs and also thin out the local boar population a little. Guards in these places always seem to have a down on the local wildlife. 

I was over-level for the area but the quests and kills still gave xp so I ran around hacking up frogs and pigs for a while. Both creatures were skinnable and I love skinning my kills. Unfortunately my Disciple didn't have the skinning skill, which is how I found myself spending the next hour riding all over Thestra in search of a trainer.

Didn't find one. Instead I took a load of screenshots and wound up having diplomatic relations with half the people I met.

Diplomacy, one of the many jewels in Vanguard's crown, is implemented. Well, Civic Diplomacy is. I don't think the Diplomacy quests are in but you can have endless oddly formal conversations with just about every NPC.

I'm not sure if the Levers are operational yet. That was the system whereby Diplomats could add buffs to an area by winning arguments with NPCs. It was an innovative and fascinating way to add a layer of social activity to the game that didn't actually involve anyone having to speak to other players.

Mrs Bhagpuss used to do a lot of it. People would ask in chat if someone could add a particular buff to an outpost and Diplomats would happily comply. Sometimes there were diplomatic incidents when several players were trying to pull different levers in the same outpost. I've certainly seen nothing like it any other MMORPG.


When I was in Tursh today I had a look at the Broker to see if anything was up for sale. One of the devs had added a whole lot of items for testing purposes, all at the very attractive price of no money at all. I bought some gloves that were an upgrade but what excited me were several ships - a sloop and a couple of caravels.

I only ever had a sloop in the Live game. Mrs Bhagpuss had a caravel. I grabbed the larger ship off the broker and got on my horse to ride down to the coast. That took a while. About half an hour in fact. Telon is huge.

You might be wondering why there's no picture of my Disciple sailing his caravel. That's because sailing doesn't appear to have been implemented yet. But when it is, I'll be ready!

When I first logged in it was the middle of the night. It always is. By the time I finally quit it was night again. I'd been through one whole day/night cycle and into the next. I tend to lose time in Vanguard that way.

It gets very dark out in the countryside at night. There was a fantastic full moon but in among the trees it was too dark to see much. I kept to the road and did my best to avoid the spiders and bears as they went up in level from easy greens to scary reds to instant-death purples.

By the time I got to Lakeview the mobs were more than double my level. It was such a nostalgic ride. Vanguard uses signposts more effectively than most MMORPGs and I read the fingerposts at every junction. So many names of places where I used to hunt. It made me want to level up so I could hunt there again.

I rode past a graveyard and had a flashback to an afternoon Mrs Bhagpuss and I spent there, grouped with a passing stranger, killing very tough undead for a quest. I remembered it as clearly as though it had been real, which of course it was. As I used to say, often, when people talked about "real life" as though it was something different to gaming, "I only have the one life. Everything I do in it is real".

You can get on peoples' nerves, saying things like that, so I stopped. True, though.

I thought I remembered there being a teleport obelisk in Lakeview but then I'd thought there was one in Tursh and I'd been wrong. I was right about Lakeview, though.

I ported over to Khal, the capital city of Qalia, Telon's desert continent. I always preferred Qalia to Thestra, mostly because it doesn't rain much there but also because of the underplayed middle-eastern accents of the NPCs. Even  now I sometimes say "Always pray for rain" in that clipped, cool fashion, with the half-pause after the first word.

Another brief and unsuccessful search for a crafting or skinning trainer and it was time to stop. I'd been "playing" for almost three hours by then.

I might start logging in more often and leveling up more seriously. There hasn't been a wipe in years and as I said the server's up as reliably as any Live game.

Vanguard on the Emulator isn't an MMORPG at the moment because for that it would need more then three or four people to log in at the same time. It is, however, an almost fully-functional single-player RPG and one of the highest quality.

If anyone's looking for something along those lines they could do far worse.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Pretend We're Dead: EverQuest II

It's that time of the year again. Almost. The second week in October feels a little early but there's so much to do. Earlier the better.

EverQuest II's Halloween celebration, Nights of the Dead, is one of the biggest holidays in a calendar chockful of major events. Over fifteen years the program has expanded to include nearly twenty quests, half a dozen collections, a couple of races and a slew of Achievements.

For crafters there are a dozen books filled with themed recipes and the number of items to be bought from special vendors with the event currency, Candy Corn, is frankly insane.

I seem to be shifting into something of an EQII phase right now. Whether it's the fallout from the Blizzard Bombshell or just that there's a positively overwhelming amount of stuff to do in Norrath this Autumn I'm not sure. A bit of both I expect.

This year, to make things easier, all the items from earlier years are on the vendor to the left (the tall one) and all the new stuff is on the little fella to the right.

The thing that I perhaps don't stress strongly enough about  EQII is the sheer quantity of things the game offers that I genuinely want my characters to own. Every holiday comes stuffed to bursting with house items I covet and appearance items I want my characters to wear. This is a sensation few MMORPGs give me.

There are also mounts and familiars and petamorph wands that turn your boring old elemental or undead pet into something far more aesthetically pleasing. All of it free if you just play the game. A few top items take some effort but the tokens to buy most things can be earned in minutes. Unless you want a lot of them, of course; then it's a lot of minutes.

I could very easily spend most of each month doing the current event (or, often, events - there are so many they frequently overlap) if I was so inclined. In the past, when EQII was my primary MMORPG, that's exactly what I did.

The game also has the best cash shop I have seen in any game, by which I mean there's actually stuff in it that I both like the look of and find reasonably-priced. This morning I broke into my savings to give my Necromancer something she's always wanted - a witch's broomstick to ride. I may well buy another for my ratonga necro on my older account, too.

From left to right: Necro Undead Tank Pet, Clockwork Mercenary Dok Tok, Bat Familiar (comes with the broom), Black Cat, (also comes with broom), Snowman Appearance Pet (doesn't know what month it is). The pumpkin's not mine.

Before that I ran my Berserker through the excellent new quest, "Night of the Barking Dead". There's a short walkthrough on EQ2Traders but I didn't need to refer to it. Everything you have to do is fully signposted in game.

The quest begins when you dig up an NPC named Thieving Hardy, a fresh addition to the regular gravedigging event. I got him on about the fourth or fifth dig. He drops a "gnollish terraporter rune bone". When you examine it a quest pops up, sending you to where any veteran would have gone instinctively - the infamous Splitpaw Gnoll terraporter at Mirror Lake in Thundering Steppes.

This infernal device used to be the bane of my life back in 2005. It was the way into the second Adventure Pack, The Splitpaw Saga and if you'd bought that, which naturally I had, every time you happened to aggro one of the gnolls standing near it you'd be hoiked into Splitpaw.

The Splitpaw Saga was a very popular addition to the game in its day, largely because certain parts of it could be run and re-run for very good, fast xp. I liked it well enough the first time but I never felt much need to go through it again. Being yanked off my feet and stuffed into an underground cave just because I happened to have passed a foot too close to a gnoll was something I found quite annoying.

Don't yank my chain.

Unless you had Call To Home up (and it had a sixty minute cooldown) you were stuck in Splitpaw unltil you could fight your way out. That took ages, assuming you were even playing a class that could solo well enough to do it at all. Most of the Gnolls were Heroic mobs meant for groups. I died a lot trying to escape that dog-hole.

Worst of all, Splitpaw used a new mechanic that the developers were determined to show off at every opportunity. You had to find and carry boxes and barrels from one part of the dungeon to another, stack them up and climb on them to get over various obstacles. Fun the first time - infuriating the fifth.

Thankfully, the new quest doesn't make you do any of that. All the kidnapping gnolls have been temporarily removed so you can approach the terraporter and enter the Splitpaw Crypt in your own time. When you get inside all you have to face are at-level solo mobs.

"I didn't want these old bones anyway!

Best of all, at no point do you have to carry anything anywhere. There were two places where mobs were up on platforms above me, one of which has to be killed for the quest to progress, but there's a handy ramp up to the first and the second I pulled easily with an AE.

The quest itself is a simple story, familiar but well told. I enjoyed it as a classic fireside cautionary tale. It took me maybe fifteen minutes to complete. The rewards were worth it - a choice of two good house pets or twenty-five candy corn, a sum that will stand you several worthwhile purchases at the event vendors.

All being well, I plan on running that quest with a few other characters on various servers and accounts. I'd also like to farm some Candy Corn and go on a bit of a spending spree. There's a lot from previous years I haven't picked up yet and I want it!

"I choose you!" Oh, wait, wrong game...

There are also two new collections that I'd like to do but they involve throwing pumpkin bombs at other players. This posed me two problems this morning: I didn't have any pumpkins and there were very few other players. Hardly surprising since I was on a U.S, server at about three a.m. Pacific. I'll have to work out how to get the bombs and then come back in the late evening my time, when people in America are just settling down for an evening's fun.

I also want to run through the repeatable pre-expansion quests a few times while they're still around. I haven't yet taken a look at either of the two main quests for that event, either. Not to mention Fabled Kael, the dungeon that was added a month or so back...

My annual All Access subscription just renewed, too, reminding me I'm getting close to having too many subscriptions. When I get back to work I think something might have to give, especially if the EQII expansion makes it for November.

All things considered, it's a great time to be an MMORPG player. Well, depending which games you play, I guess.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Late Summer: EQII

What with all the excitement over WoW Classic these last few weeks it seems like an age since I logged into EverQuest II. I had a heap of things I wanted to do over there before the expansion arrives in... well, whenever it comes. It doesn't even have a name yet, let alone a release date.

The main thing I've let slip is the Days of Summer annual questline, also known as the panda quest after the NPC, Yun Zi, who sends you out exploring on his behalf. I did the first three as they appeared this year and then fell off the train. Logging in today I found I had four new ones to do, meaning it's been a full month since I last played. How time flies.

There are nine Days of Summer and we're currently on number seven. There's no real rush to do them because they don't expire when Summer ends. Still, I like to keep on top of things.

The fourth quest took me to Kunark, the fifth to Moors of Ykesha, the sixth to Velious and the current one, the seventh, to The Ethernere. I'd be exaggerating if I said it was a nostalgia trip. I've visited all these places many times this year alone.

I levelled a character through much of Kunark earlier in the year and I'm in and out of Moors every time I play. It's an extremely convenient one-stop shop for banking, brokerage, crafting and transport and until Daybreak added free instant map transport to the All Access membership perks it was my go-to spot for all of those things.

As for Velious, I was playing around with some old raids there just a few months back. It's been a while since I was last in The Ethernere though.

I found these four quests made for a fascinating little trip through the evolution of EQII graphics. Kunark looks very elderly now, all blocky textures and undefined details. Moors of Ykesha was never a visually appealing zone although it has endless hidden charms if you take the time to look for them.

Velious is the watershed. I place the turning point at the introduction of Cobalt Scar, the final zone that was added to Velious after launch. The earlier zones are some of the least visually attractive in the whole of EQII, all glaring, featureless white snow and glacial ice.

The lush pinewoods of Cobalt Scar.

Cobalt Scar is different altogether. The edge of a pine forest abuts a series of rocky beaches. There are scrubby grass-covered dunes, sheltered ravines lit by scattered winter sunlight and the colors range from deep woodland green to distant, misted blue.

It's a bit of a tone poem and it surprised the heck out of me when I first saw it. I had no idea the EQII engine was capable of such subtlety. From then onwards EQII's graphics took a great leap leap forward. Every new zone, each expansion since, has been sumptuous and rich to see.

Yun Zi's current obsession, The Ethernere, takes lushness to extremes. The Ethernere is one of the realms of the afterlife (a tricky proposition in Norrath at the best of times so I won't attempt to be more specific than that) and the artists pulled out all the stops to make it live up to the "ethereal" part of its name.

I don't visit it as often as I might and always forget just how gorgeous it is. When I came back to EQII after a significant break a few years ago and played through the two expansions set in the lands of the dead, Chains of Eternity and Tears of Veeshan, back to back, I found the relentless use of deep color washes and the dense foliage somewhat overwhelming. Now I love it.

Finding the souvenirs the panda wanted was easy enough. I used the invaluable guide at EQ2Traders to speed things up but really all the things you're looking for are right next to the locations given in the quest journal.

I did have one small issue in Cobalt Scar, when the statue I was looking for didn't want to show up. I suspect I glitched something by mistakenly going to the third location first. Each step has to be done in the order they appear in the journal. A quick relog soon fixed whatever it was and I was back on schedule.

All four weeks of quests took me about an hour to complete. It would have been quicker if I hadn't kept stopping to take screenshots. That was the easy part.

This is an easy one. It's clear that all the major stats on the "Bold Crusade" piece are direct upgrades. Not many of the comparisons were as simple to read as that.

I was more than another hour going through all the rewards available from Yun Zi's diminutive assistant. (All the new gear is named "Bold Crusade", making it easy to search for). EQII has an exemplary item comparison system, one of the best I've seen, and DBG have made a huge effort recently to simplify and consolidate stats but even so working out what's better than what requires some serious intellectual effort.

As a solo Berserker I run something of a split-level build. I use the offensive stance to maximize my damage output but I combine it with a focus on hit points and armor class for better survivability.

If I was to go full defensive, which would give me no fewer than three "stand straight back up after you died and carry on like nothing happened" get out of jail cards, the Berserker would be next to unkillable in solo content. I played that way for years but eventually I decided it was getting just too slow to kill stuff so I swapped and I haven't regretted it.

The problem - well, one of them - with assessing potential upgrades is working out what's going to happen to my health pool. The obvious contributors are Stamina and straight-up Health pluses but there are several other stats that affect your total number of hit points and none of them is obvious.

Even this extensive guide at EQ2 Library doesn't really explain how the stats interact. Fortunately panda gear is free and available in unlimited quantities for the asking so all I needed to do was take every available item and try it on.

With the aid of the absolutely essential unlimited adornment removal ability granted for completing Shattered Seas timeline from the Age of Malice expansion I was able to pop all my adornments off the old stuff and add them to the new. Then I reversed the process if it turned out the old was better after all.

In the event, even though quite a few of the new items seemed to me to be "worse" than what I was wearing, when they were equipped they all proved to be upgrades. Finally, I ran every new piece through a few hundred platinum's worth of Infusions. My Health went from around 65 million HPs to just under 72m and my Potency rose from 46k to 50k. There were similar increases for most of my other important stats, too, particularly Crit Bonus.

I was really surprised how much difference this year's panda gear made. I consider my Berserker to be decently geared for a solo character but this new baseline seems to be around 10% above where he was. Assuming that's the lowest possible gearing point for the upcoming expansion I'd recommend everyone not already in gear from last expansion's Heroic Dungeons or Raids to upgrade via the panda.

I'll be putting this gear onto all my max level characters. The Days of Summer quests are an absolute boon for anyone with lots of alts. It avoids having to repeat the previous expansion's content multiple times just to be ready to do the next one.

Still two weeks to go. That should replace the two biggest pieces, Chest and Legs, and also the Primary weapon, although there I do have something that's almost certainly better than anything Yun Zi has in his attic.

All of this has definitely put me in the mood to get back to EQII for some new adventures and another ten levels. Let's hope the pre-orders are coming soon.
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