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 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.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Moral Relativism: WoW Classic

It was something of a surprise for me this morning to find a bunch of "Boycott Blizzard" and "I'm quitting " posts in my RSS feed. In the handful of days I was away something blew up.

The whole thing appears to be layered in the way WoW Classic's servers aren't supposed to be any more. There seem to be freedom of speech issues going on here, political footprint issues, and draw the line issues.

There are also potential legal and commercial ramifications for Blizzard, who, at the very least, seem to have handled the whole situation in a hamfisted manner. The company now has a familiar task in front of it: rehabilitate their image in a highly volatile and emotional marketplace.

We've seen this repeatedly over the years as video game companies fail to behave in the manner their customers imagined they would. It's happened to just about every major developer and publisher and most of the minor ones too.

Blizzard is one of those companies that has been able to leverage an extraordinary degree of customer loyalty for a surprisingly long time. I thought Everwake put it particularly well:
"Nothing Blizzard is doing is different from what western companies have been doing for the past 3 decades. But we care more about this one because Blizzard was special. It created games, worlds, and memories that we could pour ourselves into. Turns out Blizzard wasn't really worthy of that love."
It's all about projection. Companies have "Mission Statements" and "Corporate Values". I remember very distinctly when I first came across the concept. I was working for a smallish subsidiary of a major international insurance company when we got our first official "Mission Statement".

I can't now recall what it actually said, only that, as Marketing Director (a more junior position than it sounds) I had to proofread the thing in a number of documents. I do remember thinking it was fatuous and taking the mickey out of it with colleagues who found it equally vacuous and self-serving.

Since then I have always assumed that all corporate statements of social intent are valueless ciphers, intended only to enhance the company's ability to make progress in spheres where income otherwise unavailable might be be found. It wouldn't occur to me that any company, charities and "Not for Profits" included, would have, at the level these shiboleths are signed off, anything other than direct, corporate advantage in mind.

Consequently I have never entertained any illusions that any company providing me with services or products would hesitate to throw me - or my loyalty - under a metaphorical bus if it would serve their purposes. Brand loyalty is nothing more than a psychological device designed to enhance corporate stability and provide a predictable income stream.

That said, it's also fun to have favorites. I have consistently said that my favorite MMORPG producer is and has always been Sony Online Entertainment and their successors Daybreak Games. That remains the case, even though SOE were responsible for some of the most egregious and unforgiveable betrayals of trust in the genre and DBG have obfuscated their corporate ownership to such a degree that who my money is going to when I pay my All Access sub is all but unknowable.

Slaying the Corporate Ogres with the Sword of Moral Indignation.

I don't expect companies who get my money to behave well. I expect them to sell me things I want at prices I'm willing to pay. Any other layer of emotion above that is a game I'm consciously playing with myself for my own amusement.

With no illusions of kinship between consumer and producer, the question remains: how to react to perceived transgressions? To what standards of corporate responsibility does one hold a notional aggregrated entity?

I have always been deeply uncomfortable with un-nuanced, absolutist stances on ethical and moral issues, even when I find myself intrinsically in agreement with them. The Specials uncompromising statement ("If you have a racist friend/ Now is the time, now is the time/ For your friendship to end.") in the song "Racist Friend" always bothered me and I found it highly instructive to discover that Jerry Dammers, who penned the lyrics, also found himself troubled by them:
"...for Dammers, who confesses he is "not a confrontational person", the song was substitute for a more direct challenge. He never actually got to tell the person why he had broken off contact.
"He actually died a few years ago. I didn't see him for years and years afterwards. When I heard that he'd died, I felt terrible that I hadn't told him that the song was about him, and why I'd cut myself off from him."
It's often easier to take the moral high ground and disengage than to stay and argue your case. Which is more likely to have an effect on the transgressor?

Another response to offense that I've never found convincing is the setting of boycotts. Boycotts generally seem to me to have the primary effect of making the person doing the boycotting feel better about the situation and about themselves. It gives the impression of action and allows the boycotter to regain some sense of control in a situation where otherwise they feel powerless.

Some boycotts do have effects. The long sporting strangulation of apartheid South Africa, together with the numerous economic boycotts that were sporadically effected alongside it, reportedly contributed significantly to the eventual fall of that despotic regime.

How effective the multifarious lockdowns attempted on individual companies over the years have been is much harder to parse. It always seems to me that "voting with your wallet" is about as likely to have the desired effect as casting your democratic vote does when the prevailing majority prefers another candidate to your own.

What often does seem to have a visible and meaningful effect in these situations is withdrawal of commercial support by peers, not customers. When advertisers and sponsors start to withdraw or cancel their contracts and make public statements dissociating themselves from their erstwhile, now errant, partners, then we do sometimes see a change of direction and even a contrite apology.

This is because significant sums are involved and corporate futures are in doubt. In the case of Blizzard, calculations will be made - will already have been made - around the relative potential damage to income streams that come from offending Western customers as opposed to appeasing China.

Blizzard-approved cultural stereotype.

Cancelling subscriptions and refusing to play Blizzard games sends a message but unless the commercial fallout is likely to be more damaging than the loss of income from sources under control of the Chinese state authorities, it's a message that can readily be ignored. Time will inevitably see any such strong reactions fade amongst most Blizzard subscribers to the point where continuing a boycott will seem as quaint as do the cadre of SWG veterans that still won't buy Sony products.

There are corporate actions that would spur me to cease doing business with a company. Not in the expectation that doing so would make them see the error of their ways but more selfishly and solipsistically because it would make me feel more comfortable. I wouldn't play a game that actively endorsed moral choices I reprehend or one whose developers or owners did so as a matter of course.

Ironically, given that I'm writing this and posting it on the World Wide Web for anyone to read, freedom of speech isn't one of my trigger issues. Contrary to popular belief, citizens of the United Kingdom, where I live and have always lived, have no formal right to "freedom of expression" and it forms no part of my culturally dictated belief system.

On the contrary, we have what are known, in somewhat Orwellian fashion, as "negative rights": there are numerous legal proscriptions on what U.K. citizens can say or write in public. I agree with the existence of such enforceable limits and indeed might well support their extension to include more restrictive legislation on public discourse, depending on what those restrictions might be.

I am very much not in favor of the so-called "right to offend". It's my feeling that there's a very great difference between the invaluable existence of the kind of "freedom of the press" that existed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and a general free-for-all, where anyone can express any damn thing they please regardless of the effect it has on those who listen.

Bringing this all back to video games, what spurred the controversy was the banning of a Hearthstone player and others for expressing solidarity with the ongoing campaign in Hong Kong against further erosion of the freedoms supposedly guaranteed under the exit agreement that was negotiated with China, when the former British-ruled colony reverted to Chinese governance in 1997. The moral question is whether players of Blizzard's games should either cease to play them altogether or at least cease to pay for those parts which require payment.

That in itself is a nice moral choice: you could argue that to play the games and not pay for them would be a neat way to punish Blizzard. Only World of Warcraft requires a subscription. Everything else is either free to play or required a one-time purchase that would have been made before the controversy arose. Why not use their resources while giving them nothing?

I logged in to get a screenshot of populations in the hope of making some kind of point on the effectiveness or otherwise of the boycott, only to find Blizzard have changed the way they represent server load. I'm guessing "Layered" means a lot of people still.

From my perspective I see two valid reasons to cancel a subscription and/or stop playing Blizzard games:
  1. You believe doing so will have a meaningful impact either on Blizzard's future actions or the actions of similar companies in equivalent situations;
  2. It makes you feel better about yourself.
Neither of those applies for me. I think Blizzard will take whatever public relations steps they feel best mitigates the damage, while doing nothing whatsoever to diminish the effect they intended to create by their original action.

If they'd calculated that supporting the protestor would have been in their financial interest, that's what they would have done. Unless that balance changes, which appears unlikely, corporate decision-making will be unaffected, although they may make some changes to how they present those decisions in future.

As for making myself feel better I'm fairly certain I'll feel worse for denying myself the pleasure of playing the MMORPG I'm currently enjoying the most. It's not that I deny the satisfaction that comes from feeling morally superior (or at least consistent) nor the power of the illusion of self-worth that comes with donning the hair shirt, but this is not a hill on which I'm prepared to pause and self-evaluate, far less die.

It's a self-serving and morally questionable response but I make those every day of my life. This is just another in the never-ending chain that binds us to this imperfect existence we call life.

For what it's worth I think the protestor was entirely justified in his actions and from what I've read he clearly understood the implications. What's more, I'm sure he'll be delighted that Blizzard made the fundamental mistake of inflating his actions with the industrial wind-machine of publicity. Had they taken no action and made no comment at all, none of us would even know any of this had ever happened.

And now I'm going to go level my Hunter. I haven't played for three days and I'm itching to get back to Classic.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Rainy Days And Mondays (And Sundays. And Tuesdays)

Just a quick post to say I went for a short holiday and now I'm back! On Sunday morning Mrs Bhagpuss and I hopped in the car and drove down to the edge of Dartmoor, about a hundred or so miles away. We stayed in Buckfastleigh and visited Buckfast Abbey, which I highly recommend. The gardens and the stained glass are both well worth seeing and the whole thing is free, something incredibly rare in the tourist traps of the South West. Well done, monks!

On Monday we drove across Dartmoor, visited several small towns and villages, then spent the night in Boscastle, a lovely seaside town that was all but demolished in a flood fifteen years ago. There's a marker in the main street showing how high the waters reached. It was two feet over my head.

This morning we took a look at Tintagel, where King Arthur was supposedly conceived (as in where his parents did the deed, although it might just as well mean where someone made him up, since there seems to be precious little evidence he ever existed). Then we came back very slowly along the Devon and Somerset coastline, visiting a couple of Victorian and Edwardian seaside resorts, one of which, Lynmouth, was also destroyed by a flash flood in 1952. We hadn't planned on a tour of deluge disasters but synchronicity will have its way.

We were exceptionally lucky with the weather, ourselves. Plenty of sunshine and we dodged almost all the rain, which was heavy and plentiful but only when we were driving between stops.

I had planned to post something before I went away to explain why I'd finally broken my 66-day unbroken posting record but in the end I didn't find the time on Sunday morning. I took my laptop with me, thinking I'd probably get a post or two in when we were pinned down in our room by the rain but that never happened. In the end I never even took the laptop out of its bag.

My return-to-work day is the 21st of October, at which point I would expect to go back to my old regime of three or four posts a week but until then I hope to bang something out every day. My post count for the year currently stands at 195, a mere two posts behind my all-time record of 197, which I managed in each of the first two full years of the blog.

This year is going to smash that. Apparently all you need to do to break your own posting record is to be seriously ill and spend half the year off work, sick. Who knew?

Saturday, October 5, 2019

New Best Friend: WoW Classic

Just a quick update on how things are going for my Hunter and his pets. Following my post on the inadequacies of the Idiot Bear and the helpful advice given in the comments, I billetted bear in the Stables and spent a session or two wandering around taming beasts almost at random.

Okay, not entirely at random, but without any out-of-game information the process has randomness imposed upon it to some degree. All you can do is go to different zones and use Beast Lore on whatever you find to see if the animals there have any tricks you haven't learned.

I had two goals. I wanted to test a few different animals to see if they were intrinsically better at holding aggro than the bear and I also wanted to learn any new skills they might have so I could teach them to any pets I might use in future.

Very quickly something became apparent to me that I hadn't noticed before. In any given WoW Classic zone there are only a handful of species of Beast.  

It's easy to get the impression the place is over-run with wildlife. Badlands, for example, is teeming with animals to the point that it can be difficult to go ten paces without having a coyote or a jaguar try to tear the seat out of your leather trews. When you're killing them for quests or just to get from one place to another you tend not to notice just how very limited the variety of local fauna can be.

In Badlands I tamed a cat, a wolf and a bird. There are multiple examples of all of these, with different names and slightly different models (usually just a little larger) but they are all part of one of those three "families".

My first pick was a Level 36 Crag Coyote. From him I learned the "Bite" skill. It didn't take long. I think I got it on the third fight.

I didn't think to take any shots of the temporary pets. Here's one of the bear instead.

I tried him for size for a while and he seemed about the same as the bear. Couldn't hold aggro unless I was very circumspect with the gun.

I'd done with him but it took a bit of fiddling around to figure out how to get rid of him. "Dismissing" a pet just sends him to sulk in his kennel. You have to select "Abandon" from the right-click drop-down menu on his portrait. I had to look that up. I don't count checking UI functions as cheating on in-game information only. House rules apply.

Next I tried a cat, a Ridge Stalker. She had a skill called "Cower", which Wilhelm had warned me about in the comments. It lets the pet drop aggro, something my bear seems to do without the need of any special abilities other than his own innate incompetence.

I had to force the cat to cower by clicking the ability myself. I'm not sure under what circumstances the pet would use it voluntarily or pro-actively. With that in my book I put the Ridge Stalker to the test as a tank and she did noticeably better than the Bear or the Coyote.

For some reason I forget, I didn't keep the Stalker. Instead I abandoned her and went to Hillsbrad Foothills, where I tamed a couple of grey-con creatures, a bear and a spider. It occured to me after a while that taming grey creatures twenty levels below was less than optimal. They keep the level they were when you tamed them and the skills they have are ranked by level. You'd have to level them up to be useful in combat so you might as well just tame the highest you can manage.

I moved to the higher part of the zone and tamed aLevel 31 turtle, who gave me a skill called "Shell Shield". He was still too low so I wandered into Alterac Mountains and swapped him for a level 34 Hulking Mountain Lion.

The lion seemed pretty decent so, to get a fair comparison and since I was very close by, I moved to the huge ogre camp next to the Ruins of Alterac, where the Idiot Bear had let himself down so badly the day before. What  happened next was both instructive and surprising.

Whereas the lion had been holding aggro fairly successfully on the various beasts I set her on, all around her level, she did no better than the bear had on the level 34-36 Ogres. I could barely get off one or two shots on auto-attack before the Ogre would come charging towards me.

Once aggro was lost, the cat could no more get it back than the bear could. I began to formulate a theory that aggro depends on more than just relative levels, amount of taunting successfully applied and damage done.

Everything in Classic has resists. There are several schools of magic plus physical things like bleeding and poison. I can see my resists and my pets' but the resists of mobs are unknown. I began to wonder if the Ogres might be particularly resistant to whatever form of damage the bear and cat were doing, where the Beasts the cat was able to hold up quite nicely might not be.

I had it in mind to follow it up but something else happened to make me put that line of investigation to one side.

Classic doesn't permit you to tame anything higher than your Hunter's own level so I decided to go back to Badlands and grab a Level 39 or 40 beast from the orange sands. Once there, I scanned an Elder Crag Coyote, level 39, and saw he had a skill his junior cousin hadn't known: "Furious Howl". I tamed him to get that and then I set him to tanking for me.

Carry on, don't mind me. I'm just having a snack.
He was a revelation. From the start he could hold aggro better than any pet I'd tried but once I taught him "Growl", the taunt skill, he was able to lock down a mob like a vice. Not only could he grab aggro on the pull and hold it while I unloaded everything I had onto the hapless target, he could also regain aggro almost immediately on the rare occasions I did succeeed in getting the mob's attention.

My bear had never been able to do that, even before he lost his mojo. The bear had extremely poor dps and also suffered from a bizarre inability to taunt and move at the same time. If I had to back off the bear would pirouette and lurch like a drunken ballerina as he tried to complete his animations. Doing that, he was neither taunting nor doing damage, so I had to stand still and let the mob hit me to give him a chance to regain aggro, something he almost never succeeded in doing.

The Elder Coyote had no such aesthetic issues. He just ran at the mob, bit it and taunted and got aggro right back before the mob got anywhere near me. I tested him on any number of different types of creature, Beast and Humanoid and Elemental, and although there were some differences he was able to perform an outstanding job on all of them.

It was like playing a different class. I'd become so used to my pet providing no more than a brief window of opportunity that I'd developed a whole style of play, innvolving stuns, snares, fear and a lot of melee. Suddenly I didn't need any of it. I was able to stand at a comfortable distance and plink or blast away while my pet took all the hits - and he could take them easily, too.

I took him to the ogres just to get a comparison and he slaughtered them. I couldn't pull aggro even when I flat-out tried. I was able to sit and regain mana while he chewed away and when I stood up he'd almost finished the ogre off.  I found out later, hunting trolls and goblins in Stranglethorn, that he could also chase down runners and kill them, another thing the bear could never manage.

In the valley behind the ogres there are plenty of bandits. They're a couple of levels higher and they have more silk. The wolf handles them perfectly. We cleared half a dozen rounds of respawns across the whole valley and I came away with three stacks of silk and Level 41.
All of this leads me to two conclusions: firstly, there is a lot more to aggro management in WoW Classic than first meets the eye and secondly, unlike other MMORPGs, a bear is not automatically going to be first choice when it comes to pet tanking.

Loathe as I am to give up my new best friend, the Wolf, my next move is going to be to teach the bear all the new skills and see how he does. I suspect he'll still struggle. He has never been able to make much of a dent in any mob's health, whereas the Wolf takes great chunks off the target's green bar with every attack. Even if the bear can hold aggro the wolf will still be a lot more useful.

If I was willing to use out of game resources I guess now would be the time to start looking for Rare Beasts, some of whom, as I understand, have unique or best-in-class skills that Hunters covet. Without a guide to follow, I'll just have to chance running into them.

Of course, if I do, I'll have the pet up and won't be able to tame. I'll have to scan the creature, take a screenshot, then kill it if I can. I can then check the screenshot to see if the Rare can do something I'd like to learn, after which I'll have to go stable the pet then camp the spot to see if it respawns.

Without checking outside resources I won't know if that's likely to be an hour, a day or a week. I do know WoW took its rare spawn lead from EverQuest so it could be a long wait.

I probably won't bother. I'll stick with my Wolf for now. Unless the bear can show me he's learned how to do his job. He only had the one, after all...

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Other Side Of The Door

Continuing the "riffing on the news" theme from yesterday and as Jeromai mentioned in the comments, Mike O'Brien has left ArenaNet. This is kind of a big deal, seeing as how he co-founded the company. He's been with it for what seems like forever. His leaving is almost like taking down the sign over the door. And yet in a way it's also kind of not so big a deal after all. We've barely heard a word from him for what feels like a couple of years now.

He's leaving to start a new company called Mana Works. There's a lot of that going on these days. Paeroka at Nerdy Bookahs has an excellent, fully researched post up with all the details on just who's going to be working there, along with some speculation on what they might plan on doing.

There's clearly a lot going on here that no-one's going to talk about. Paeroka lists the eight people who have apparently jumped ship from ANet to follow Mike O'Brien to the sunlit uplands of independent development. That's a significant defection, especially coming off the back of the massive job cuts imposed by NCSoft earlier in the year.

When we learned that NCSoft had brought the curtain (or was it the guillotine?) down on a number of unspecified new projects I wasn't particularly concerned or, indeed interested, other than for the usual human concerns over the impact it would have on the individuals concerned. As far as Guild Wars 2 was concerned, my feeling was that a renewed corporate focus on core activities could only be to the benefit of that game and its players.

I didn't know then and hadn't heard since, until I read it in Paeroka's post this morning, that one of those cancelled projects might have been Guild Wars 3. Now that does make a difference.

GW2 is seven years old. As we are all coming to understand, seven years is barely into middle age for MMORPGs. The market is saturated with games that date back a decade, a decade and a half, twenty years, even. We all tend to get worked up over the occasional "sunsets" but few of us give a thought for the plethora of games drifting through a seemingly eternal twilight, neither growing towards the light nor shrinking into the darkness.

A long while back ANet claimed they planned to run GW2 indefinitely as their only ongoing MMORPG (the original Guild Wars having been officially shunted into maintenance mode). All that dithering with "cadences"  and "seasons", shuttling between a "Living Story" and a "Living World", that was ANet trying to figure out how to keep the ship afloat. They had to. There were no lifeboats.

Except apparently there were. Mike O'Brien may have been building one that could have launched, sometime, on a course for an undiscovered land, which might or might not have come to be known as "GW3".

Baby, it's cold outside.

Well that, as they say, is a pisser. While it's self-evident that GW2 could, and no doubt will, carry on largely as-is for many years, my personal feeling is that its future lies in the cruise ship trade. It long ago ceased to be an expeditionary vessel, headed away from the safety and security of the shore towards an unknown destiny beyond the horizon. These days it's a super-annuated hulk, living out its days as a half-heartedly refurbished tour boat, visiting only the best-known, most familiar ports.

Whose to say whether a new MMORPG from ArenaNet would have been any better? After all, the fine promises Mike and his team made before GW2's launch came to nothing and his custodianship was, to put it mildly, uneven. Even so, I'd have liked to have seen it.

And maybe we will. The Mana Works website currently consists of a single page that reads "This website will return October 9th." I await that date with bated breath. There's also a sub-reddit, whose strapline, as quoted by Paeroka, reads: “We aim to create worlds to live in, skills to discover, and adventures to share with friends."

The Kotaku piece makes the point that the eight defectors, all of whom comprise the collective that "amounted to the early development team for a new Guild Wars project, potentially Guild Wars 3", didn't take any of the work they'd done with them. Like NCSoft would have let them!

I'm guessing that they also won't have any rights or access to the intellectual property that comprises the Guild Wars franchise, despite Mike O'Brien having co-created it all. As far as I can tell, gaming stil resides somewhere in that nebulous legal hinterland that was known in the comics industry as "work made for hire".

Years of legal battles, particularly by Jack Kirby and his estate eventually saw that tradition broken. Kirby lost his claim but new writers were able to sign contracts that gave them royalties and rights, sometimes including ownership of the characters they created, which they were then able to take with them to other companies when they left.

The upshot of that was comics writers and artists becoming millionaires. Also a lot of very bad creator-owned comics. Freedom does not always equate to quality. For good or ill, that kind of freedom only seems to accrue to video game developers if they're canny enough to own the company that makes their games. Which may explain why so many of them leve to start their own studios.

Onwards and upwards
Regardless of the legal issues, the Mana Works tagline suggests Mike and the rest of his freedom-loving crew will be staying in the virtual world business. Whether that's in the form of an MMORPG or a plain old RPG it's a fair bet it will have something of the feel of Guild Wars about it, even though I'm certain any overt references to that I.P. will be assiduously avoided.

As I was saying yesterday, older creators tend to polish and burnish their ideas. They don't usually spend much time or effort on coming up with new ones and why should they? Those that try usually end up embarassing themselves and alienating their audience. (Yes, I know I always link to that clip. That's because it's always true. Also because I'm old so I have no new ideas).

If Mana Works would care to come up with a small-scale MMORPG-like game that reminds us all strongly of games their CEO made in the past, well that would be perfectly fine with me. As I also said yesterday, there's absolutely nothing wrong with elder creators refining and perfecting their art for the pleasure and enjoyment of the audience that grew up with thier earlier works and would like some more, please. I'm looking at you, Brad...

If I had to bet on a horse in the non-existent race between Playable Games and Mana Works, on the equally non-existent evidence of what they're doing now and the rather more solid form book of what they've done in the past, I'd probably give it to Mike O'Brien by a nose. His project at least sounds less abstract and more feasible.

I hope they both make it over the finishing line. We could do with more passion projects by committed creators, regardless of their age or origin.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

New Tricks

As I was tabbed out, recovering from a bad pull where my Hunter's pet died twice, while the Hunter himself barely escaped with a sliver of life after two Feign Deaths and a long run to break aggro, I came across this interesting little item on

There is, perhaps, nothing so very new in Raph Koster starting yet another MMO-focused project, although he's been rather quiet on that front of late. Metaplace, which closed its doors on 70,000 virtual worlds in 2009, seems to have been his last big MMO adventure. I confess I'd forgotten all about it.

It had also slipped my mind that Raph was Chief Creative Officer at Sony Online Entertainment until  2006 and that he worked on (or at least would have had oversight of) the first and second expansions for EverQuest II, Desert of Flames and Kingdom of Sky

All of which is very interesting as far as it goes but it's not what first came to mind when I read the names of the people Raph will be working alongside at Playable Worlds. Several sounded rather familiar but Greg Kostikyan's name really stuck out.

Didn't I remember him from the 1980s? What was it he did? Oh yes, looking him up he turns out to have been the guy behind several of the more unusual tabletop RPGs of the 1970s and '80s. For example, the notorious Paranoia and the much-hyped and well-reviewed Toon.

I played sessions of both and they were, shall we say, not a great success. It was very hard to get anyone to take them seriously enough for any actual gameplay to emerge. And, to be fair to Greg, that was kind of the point, particularly in Toon.

That's by the by. It wasn't the quality or pragmatic value of his work that struck me so forcefully so much as his age. I found myself thinking "surely this guy must be older than I am" and I'll be sixty-one in in November.

So I checked and no, he isn't older than me. He's all of nine months younger. Greg Costikyan was born in July 1959, making him sixty this year.

What about the other people mentioned in the article? How about Raph?

Raph's birthdate as given by Wikipedia is September 7, 1971. That makes him just shy of fifty years old. Eric Goldberg, co-founder (with Raph) of Playable Games, has a short Wiki entry that doesn't give his exact age, but earlier this year VentureBeat described thim as "a 35-year veteran of the game, consumer internet, mobile, monetization, and edtech industries", which means he has to be in his mid-fifties at least.

I though his name rang a bell, too. Turns out he was behind one of my favortite 1980s pen and paper RPGs, SPI's Dragonquest. That game had a class which I believe might have been called "Beastmaster". I could go downstairs and dig out my ancient, boxed copy to check but it really doesn't matter what the class was called so much as the way it provided the archetype for all the MMORPG pet classes I've played over the years.

DragonQuest was published in 1980. Unless Eric was in his teens when he wrote it (which I guess he could have been) that pushes him up to around sixty.

Mat Broome, comics artist and games designer (and ex of Ashes of Creation, it seems), would appear to be the baby of the bunch. He began his comics career in 1993 so he's most likely in his mid-to-late 40s now. The only other Playable Games staffer mentioned by name in the article is Brian Crowder, "an SOE veteran with stints at Electronic Arts and Zynga". His role is "lead server engineer" and, not surprisingly, he doesn't have a presence on Wikipedia so I have no idea how old he is. He is "a veteran" though, so let's assume he's at least in his 40s.

And where, you may well ask, am I going with all this? Well, somewhere quite awkward. I probaly wouldn't be saying it if I wasn't ancient myself.

I think it's still very easy to imagine the people behind the MMORPGs we play as being "young". Aren't video games made by young people for young people?

No. No, they're not. Not the big ones for sure and not most of the little ones, not in the MMORPG field, anyway. They're made by people in mid-life and now, as evidenced by Raph's latest venture, by those in, or about to enter, their senior years.

Does that matter? The same is true of movies and music and books, isn't it? Creative artists mature, don't they? Isn't some of the best work in the field often produced by writers and artists and musicians in the later phases of their career?

Yes, yes and yes again. But...

Those maturing and mature creators are rarely innovators. They perfect and polish and sometimes produce exquisite examples of their style... but that style is set. Occasional geniuses confound expectations by carrying their ability to surprsise and shock into later life but geniuses are rare.

There's a feeling that surfaces frequently among MMORPG fans; the genre is stale, flat, treading water before it goes under, perhaps for the final time. It's not a feeling I share but it's one I understand.

If the success of WoW Classic and the lesser but still significant successes of the EverQuest Nostalgia Train and Old School Runescape prove anything it's that a lot of people don't want innovation. They want, and quite reasonably so, well-made, familiar games that play the way they understand MMORPGs ought to play.

All new buildings above ten storeys high to be fitted with zeppelin mooring masts. It's the future of transport.
It's a fine and respectable market and it deserves to be well-served. It won't, however, push the genre forward. It won't innovate.

That was what the overhyped and underprepared EQNext proposed to do. It's what EQNext's would-be spiritual successor, Ashes of Creation would like us to believe it will do. It's what any number of smaller-scale projects wish or claim or believe they can do.

And all of them are being built and designed by "industry veterans", people with a proven track record in the industry. People who know what can and can't be done. Or think they do.

Raph Koster is a genuine thinker in the genre. He does know what he's about. Even so, I find it hard to imagine a team of people around my age creating "a completely new experience that will push the boundaries of persistent game worlds and social competitive play".

I rather think that will come, if it comes at all, from some twenty-somethings who don't know what can and can't be done. People with the deep conviction and confidence of inexperience. They won't have wikipedia entries or names that ring bells. They'll have energy and ideas and uncynical self-belief. That's how we got Ultima Online and EverQuest and Asheron's Call and EVE Online and...

When they appear we'll know them by their works, not by their reputation.

Meanwhile, best of luck to Playable Games. Dad Rock has been a huge commercial success. No reason Dad Gaming can't be, too.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide