Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Furglebin's Journal 3 : EQ2

So, I gets a room in Freeport in an Inn called The Jade Tiger. It costs 5 silver pieces a week, which is nothing! I can make that much in a minute just by setting Tiger on orcs. Commonlands is all over orcs so no-one is going to miss a few. I don't know how the Jade Tiger stays in business charging these rates but they must be doing alright 'cos there are people coming and goings at all times of the day and nights.

Health and safety mate? Never 'eard of it.
Once I am settled ins I go for a walk around town. I am looking ups at the Arcane Academy where all the finger-wagglers study how to blow things up and I am getting a crick in my neck cos it is so high, when some ratonga hisses at me. His name is Sneel Valiyn and he is the Ratonga Mentor or so he claims. He starts telling me some long story but I don't really listen until he asks me to go to Temple Street, which is where ratongas all used to live in Freeport until The Overlord decides to have a big tidy-ups.

Ratonga mentor or conspiracy theorist in a bathrobe?
Well, I go to Temple Streets and there are Ratongas there alright, but they have beens spending too long around gnomes, which cannot be good for anyone. There are mechanical mens strutting about everywhere and all the gnomes and all the ratongas are mumbling and plotting right and left and if Lucan finds out what they have done to his walls he will not be happy, let me tell yous!

Right you kids! Scrub that off this minute!
I do what Sneel asks me to do. Some clockworks get broken but never mind cos the gnomes will enjoy fixing them I expects. Best if gnomes got stuffs to do cos if not then they come up with Ideas and no-one wants that. Then Sneel sends me off to talk to some ratongas around town what think they have seen Roekilliks. I never heard of Roekilliks befores but as soon as Sneel says the word all the hair on my back stands up and Tiger growls.

Spend too long around gnomes and this could happen to you
Not much later I knows what they are. Bad rats. Very, very bad rats. I meet a few and it is a few too many. Tiger makes short work of them and it is in a secret hidey-hole what they skulks in so no chance of anyone finding what is left of them and getting me in trouble with the Militia. Although I think the Militia would probably give me a few silver and thank me for saving them the trouble. Sneel is so pleased with me he gives me a special ring only for Ratongas. I am very glad I met him cos now I am not so confused about my place in the worlds. I am beginning to feel like I belong in Freeport.

Standing next to a giant anchor does not give you gravitas.
Since then I have had a lot of adventures what I do nots have time to write about. I am very much tougher now and I know a lot about being a Beastlord. One really exciting thing did happen that I should say 'cos it is why I have not learned any new stuff for a while. I am strollings around Freeport just sniffing the salt air and thinking about what I am going to have for tea when two gnomes starts calling out to me. I know I should keep on walking but I am curious, it is my weakness, so I listen to them when they tell me all about testing my skills against other adventurers and it sounds exciting and a good idea the way they tell it.

I should know better than to listen to Gnomes with Ideas but this one time I think it turns out okay. But that is a story for another day, when I write about my adventures in the Battlegrounds.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Dragon In Ahgram: Vanguard

Today is the fifth anniversary of the launch of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, almost certainly the best least-played MMO in the world. For a long while it was my second-favorite MMO of all time. Now I'm not so sure. I think it might be my first.

No point rehashing Vanguard's story all over again. Anyone likely to be reading this already knows it. Did Vanguard start the trend of huge expectation verging on mania before launch followed by crashing disappointment and tidal waves of hatred after? I can't remember. It was a long time ago and now every MMO launch is something like that. All I know is that I loved Telon from the day I first set foot there and I love it still. If I could step through the screen and live there, I would.

Built with my own paws
And yet, how much time do I spend there nowadays? Not much. Not enough. A little diplomacy here, a boat trip there. I visit when I remember. Even my house is packed up and stored away. Telon is so quiet now. Lonely, almost.

So it was a joy to see the Festival Square in Ahgram filled with people for the fifth anniversary party yesterday. Well, it was a joy when I finally found it. I didn't know Ahgram even had a Festival Square. I spent nearly forty minutes running around the dusty sun-drenched streets and flying above the flat, white roofs looking for fireworks and listening for the sounds of people having fun.

What can I say? Even though I've arrived at Ahgram by river many times, I never noticed the dockside gate. I always came in from the Khal side, where the Riftway stands beside the shipbuilders and the bindstone. I thought that was the main entrance. In the end I saw a flaming pegasus spiral down and I followed. I found the party at last but it seemed they were having a bit of a problem...

Kotosoth reacts badly when asked if he brought a bottle

There was a dragon in Ahgram.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a real dragon in Telon. When the highest level a character could reach was fifty I had two of them, a Raki Disciple and an Orc Dread Knight. Now the top level is fifty-five I still have two level fifties. The ultra-grind, raid-focused endgame that SoE chose to go with doesn't appeal to me, although it was probably a sensible choice given the limited resources available and the hardcore residue that remained after the general population boiled out.

I'm under there somewhere

This dragon was Kotosoth, who I believe normally lurks in the Ancient Port Warehouse. My little Raki had a wonderful time kicking the big lizard in the ankle for ten minutes while a slideshow played. Reminded me of beating on a Keep door in Dark Age of Camelot in 2002, only a lot more fun. Finally the dragon fell over and the party started up again.

Your correspondent as a chicken
There were some marvelous party games. We all got turned into chickens. And camels. And skeletons. And ghouls. I went to the bank and got some sparklers and smoke bombs. I even found some snowballs to throw. Several people had invited Slappy the Cool so there was much dancing to actual music. Plenty of people came in fancy dress. I saw someone in the cat illusion from the Shidreth Mines and I wanted to use mine but I couldn't remember where I'd put it. Still, just thinking about the time I got it made me smile.

Evolution took a different path on Telon...
Half an hour after the dragon died the crowd had begun to thin a little. I saddled up Randolph the Controversial Reindeer and flew out, all the way back to EQ2. But a few hours later I was back in Telon, killing rats in Ksaravi Gulch with my level 18 Raki Sorceror. A kill 50 rats quest and I stayed up until one in the morning to finish it and relished every single rat.

So, happy fifth birthday Vanguard and here's wishing you many, many more. And I promise to visit a lot more often than just once a year.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

That Ain't Hay! : EQ2

So, EQ2 makes 25% of its revenue from ponies. Alright, not just ponies. Tigers, wolves, rhinos, pegasi (no, wait, those are ponies), hover discs, clouds, dinosaurs... open up that little SC tab in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen and out they tumble. Who knew there were so many?

Well, I didn't. I can't remember the last time I opened the Mount tab in the Station Store and I've never bought a mount in my life. Not for Station Cash, anyway, nor for any other convertible imaginary currency. I'm not against it in principle you understand, but really why would I want to? It's not like there aren't already a bazillion mounts I could get for free. I mean, look at this list

Wanna see my 360?
And anyway, how many mounts does a person need? I was somewhat taken aback to find that my most fully-rounded character already has thirteen. That's eight or nine more than he ever uses. Most of the time he rides his zippy gnomish disc (for the looks and the bootleg turns). He's got a flying griffin under the hood for, uh... flying, and a Leaper in reserve for the rare no-fly zone where he might need to get to some inaccessible ledge. Like that happens every day!

That's the utilitarian view, though. Stand around the South Freeport bank for a few minutes, and you'll soon gather that utility is the last thing on some folks' minds. Posing about on a pink unicorn or a 12-foot tall armored warthog, getting in everyone's way seems to be the fashion. It's the Norrathian equivalent of the paseo. See and be seen. Although if anyone really wanted to express some genuine original thought they'd do better to stroll into the bank on foot.

Wait just a minute, Madam. I think I have a stepladder under here somewhere.

I guess it's easy enough to see how someone looking at all this posturing and preening might decide to cut to the chase and just buy a pony. And once you've opened that door, well, you can never have too many shoes, right? It's all a long way from where we started, that's for sure.

I remember my first Everquest mount. It was 2002 (I was late to Luclin) and it was a horse. It took me a good while to save up the thousands of platinum it cost and handing it over hurt. It was the most expensive purchase I'd ever made in EQ and I felt it in my imaginary pocket a lot more than I'd ever have noticed spending $20 out of my real one.

How is she doing that?
I got a horse, of course. It wasn't like I had a choice. Well, that's not entirely fair. I could have had a brown one or a slightly more brown one. Or a slightly less brown one, come to that. White or black? Dream on! I didn't have that kind of money. But never mind, I had a horse!

Yes, he lumbered around like a spavined seaside donkey. Yes he took what seemed like half an hour to get up to a canter (and even longer to come to a complete standstill so I could actually cast a spell). Yes, it was probably faster to get SoW and run somewhere than it was to ride. But when you rode you were sitting down. And when you were sitting down you were medding. For a priest or a caster, that trumped everything.

It's a rental.
After Luclin you never saw a cleric or a wizard on foot ever again. Which is pretty much the norm in every game now, only it's every class and it starts from day one. Of course, we all regenerate mana (or power or whatever it happens to be called today) in seconds these days but everyone still wants a mount, for two reasons: speed and status.

No-one wants to walk anywhere. Walking's for noobs. Read general chat in any starter area, any modern MMO and someone will be asking "Where do I get a mount?". Oh, and those ponies? The sparkly ones are for girls and the plain ones are for roleplayers!  We want real mounts! Motorcycles, Elephants, 12-seater Dragons...

Or how about a "Classic Ford Car" ? (thanks to Carson for that tip).

Has it all gone too far? Probably. I used to feel my blood pressure rise when I saw a flying carpet cruising the mean streets of East Freeport. I got over that but I'm not sure I could recover if a retro Ford car passed me heading south on Justice Road. There's giving the customer what he wants and then there's saving him from himself. If there was ever a shark to jump, I think MMOs jumped it a decade ago, but even so, there has to be a line somewhere and wherever that line is drawn a Ford car's going to be on the far side of it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Learning To Fly

Tutorials. Don't you just hate them? Okay, okay! Leading question. I withdraw.

I do purely loathe tutorials though. There's no way round it, I just can't stand 'em. I appreciate that even though everyone in global chat is banging on about how every one of the dozens of MMOs they already played was way better than this current POS they just made the cardinal error of downloading, still every MMO must have at least one person playing who just started today and who never played an MMO before. I appreciate that though most MMOs look and play exactly like most other MMOs they are are all in fact utterly different and hardly like each other at all when you really think about it. Let alone when you don't think about it and let's face it, who really thinks when they play an MMO?

Moreover, I recognize that MMOs are ferociously over-complicated compared to almost any other form of popular entertainment. If you intend to make sense of the tottering stack of stats and skills, functions and commands in even the supposedly dumbedest-down (dumbed-downest?) MMO, the potential learning curve is a sheer cliff face looming over you. And up at the top of the cliff the hardcore seagulls circle, taking aim right at your eye.

Have Flares, Will Travel
Yes, I appreciate and recognize all of that. It's still no excuse for the existence of tutorials.

Wait, let me clarify. It's no excuse for the existence of tutorial zones. Separate instances where all the new players can ride around the play-park on their tricycles with the stabilizers down, caroming off the softened, rounded corners of the scenery, batting at the de-clawed, de-fanged herbivores in the petting zoo with their spongebats, while Captain Nanny of the Toytown Guard trails along behind reading out the rules from The Big Book of How To Play.

We're all endlessly arguing about sandboxes versus theme-parks here in MMO Blogland. It's always been something of a false dichotomy or at least a more granulated scale than the bipolar argument would have it and my position has always been that the sandbox is largely in your head and that just because your park has a theme doesn't mean you have hum along. Well, none of that applies to to tutorial zones.

Tutorial zones are the MMO boot camps where your individuality gets beaten out of you. Oh, its a nice, polite, gentle beating. No name-calling, no shouting, no having your bed turned upside down in the middle of the night, but that individuality has just got to go. You're not leaving the tutorial until you learn to be just like everybody else.

I remember when it was all buildings around here
There's a trick novelists use called in media res. Happens in movies too. Dumping you into the middle of the action and letting you figure things out for yourself. It runs the risk of alienating the audience but when it works it's dynamite because it makes you feel respected, trusted, intelligent. Like when your dad drops you in the deep end of the pool and calls it your first swimming lesson, only with less yelling when you come home and tell your mother and no one has to sleep in the spare room for a week.

And really no-one is going to drown because they couldn't figure out some gameplay mechanic in an MMO. Alright, if they fall off the raft from Halas to Everfrost and don't know about pushing the mouse forward while holding down the left mouse button and W on the keyboard simultaneously then yes someone might drown. Bad example. But it would only be a virtual drowning, and a barbarian to boot so, hey, no harm done, right?

It was a long trip Ma, but we made it! Me and Rocky outside Sanctum!
People that play MMOs are generally not complete idiots (go with me...). They had to be able to download and install the game and register an account. They have to be literate, since most of the instructions and communication in-game will be written down. (And with all due respect to TOR, having every quest voice-acted is not going to be the way of the future, for cost reasons if for no other). It seems to me that people who are able to do all that can be trusted to work out how to play the blasted game by playing it.

Hints, mouseover tips, introductory quests, helpful NPCs or companions, all fine. Adds to the gaiety of nations. Just put them in the same virtual space, virtual time-frame and if you possibly can manage it the same centre of population where everyone who started two hours before you has already arrived. Not in an exploding spaceship, not in a pocket dimension, not 20 years in the future or the past, not in an underground prison or on an island you'll never see again.
Is this Pay-and-Display or On Exit?

Just let us start as we mean to go on. And what brought all this on out of the blue, you may well be asking. I downloaded Star Trek Online and played through the tutorial yesterday, that's what. And it's not even a bad tutorial!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Insert Pop Culture Quote Here: SW:TOR

Star Wars: The Old Republic. Flavor of the month. Launch of the Year (last year but let's not quibble). Generator of hype and hatred in not at all equal measures. I'm not playing it and I don't really have any plans to. I don't rule it out, of course. When there's a free trial I might take a look, although since I never bothered with the beta I couldn't honestly claim cost was the barrier to entry in my case. If I see a cheap copy I'll probably pick it up, but whether it will ever get installed is another matter. My 99p copy of Age of Conan is still sitting on the bookcase with its pristine shrinkwrap intact.

Not Actual Copy
Despite my general lack of interest in all things Star Wars and TOR (I'm going to go with TOR. For months I've been typing "SW:tOR" and there's really no reason for it. No-one else does and it's not even the correct capitalization. I don't know now why I ever thought it was). That sentence got away from me. Let me start again. In fact, let's have a new paragraph and pretend this one never happened.

Despite my my general lack of interest in all things Star Wars and TOR in particular, I've read an awful lot about it. Hard not to when you have MMOs as a hobby. Just about every blogger I read has had something to say on the subject, even the ones who aren't playing it. Wilhelm and Potshot tried the beta and didn't like it enough to buy the game. Wilhelm actually cancelled his pre-order on the basis of what he saw when he lifted the velvet rope. SynCaine's been agin it from the start, naturally. Keen, Spinks and Syp are still playing with a mix of enthusiasm and enervation. Gordon's still playing but he thinks he won't be in a couple of months.

This week I noticed the first two drop-outs in my Reader. Melmoth at Killed In A Smiling Accident decided he'd already had his money's worth before the free 30 days were up and Kaozz at ECTmmo cancelled her account mostly because of technical issues getting the game to recognize that she had an account in the first place.

Back when the fire still burned

Not being a TOR player I hadn't been keeping count but I guess this is the week the first credit card payments go out. That's always a decision point. When Mrs Bhagpuss and I got Rift last year we went for the six-month subscription. First time I've ever done that in a new MMO. The deal on the 6 month sub was so good it seemed worth the risk and it was. We played nothing else until the end of the summer.

I'm not sure I can foresee that happening again. I'm not at all against the idea of recurring subscriptions but they do seem mighty inflexible now we've seen so many other options and the MMOs most likely to take collateral damage from the launch of new subscription MMOs would seem to be existing subscription MMOs. WoW took a visible hit from Rift, although it probably amounted more to a scratch in the paintwork than structural damage. Rift itself looks to have been holed beneath the waterline by TOR.

EQ2's move to an optional subscription model right at the time TOR launched is beginning to look more and more like a rare example of SoE getting a marketing decision right. The population boom on Freeport continues unabated. The door is wide open for anyone who left to pop right back in any time they like. As I noted the other day Trion appear to be gearing up for some kind of repopulation drive, putting the best face on things by  freeing up "trial servers" rather than calling it a server merge (which it is).

I hope it goes well for them. They had a very good run for a while there but as Keen points out, patience is in short supply among MMO players nowadays. I wonder how long TOR's moment in the sun will last?

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Otter Potter

Back when I was spending most of my time in Telara I wrote about how I'd learned to love dailies. I'm not playing Rift so much anymore but I have a new round of daily tasks thanks to Norrath's Adopt-an-Otter program.

December's Age of Discovery expansion brought many pleasures. You could design your own dungeon, fill it with cartoon characters from your childhood, then kill them. You could add a sparkly glow to your favorite shillelagh, take up a new career as beastlord or hire a mercenary to follow you around making smart remarks. Maybe best of of all, though, you could welcome an othmir into your very own home.

He sings, he stabs, he snarks
Who wouldn't want an othmir? It's a six-foot tall otter in a fez for heaven's sake! Back in beta there were no othmir, just Coldain dwarves, if you can believe it. Dour, creepy little guys, all frown and suspicious undead pallor. I wouldn't have one in the house. Not again. I learned my lesson with the Coldain Butler. Anyway, there were protests and thankfully the research program was expanded to include human females (quiet at the back there!) and othmir.

The prospective apprentices stand around outside the headquarters of the crafting societies in Freeport and Qeynos like country girls at a hiring fair. If you've a modicum of skill at any craft then with just a few words and no paperwork of any kind you can have your very own otter. If you want your very own dwarf I really don't want to know about it.

You can get your sandy feet off the upholstery for a start!
Othmir aren't just decorative either, although they surely are that. Your otter will spend day and night researching tirelessly on your behalf, asking nothing from you but your good advice. Oh, and repairs. Whenever I'm around, all my othmirs seem to do is stare into space and scratch themselves. Thinking deep thoughts, probably. They must do something while I'm out though because every day when I ask them if there's anything I can do help speed up their research I find they've broken something or worn something out.

On average they seem to get through a leather apron or a toolbelt every four or five days. A wooden mallet lasts them no longer, no more does a knife. How do you wear out a leather apron in four days? How do you wear out a toolbelt at all? I don't ask. I just head off to to the woodworking bench or the forge or the loom and make whatever they need.

Every day I do this. Each of my crafting characters begins the day by offering an otter the benefit of his or her experience and then repairing whatever the otter broke the night before. Doing these two things both helps the research go faster and gets me a little otter bonus when he hands me back a Pouch of Unused Materials.

The things those otters don't use! Sometimes it's a pile of seahorse roe that I can only imagine fell out of his lunchtime sandwich. Often it's a very useful potion. Best of all, and not that infrequently either, it's a Reactant. Reactants are the secret ingredient needed to make the wonderful items the apprentices research. You can get them from powerful creatures around Norrath but I've had a lot more handed to me by my otter as surplus to his requirements.

Level 60. LEVEL 60!!
All of which brings me to the items themselves. Considering I'm the skilled craftsman and the othmir are the apprentices it's astounding how good the ideas they come up with turn out to be. Every single recipe they hand me makes something better than anything I could have hoped to make without their research. It'll be my name on the product when I get around to making it, though. And so it should be. It's right and proper for the master to take credit for the apprentice's labor after all. That's the way these things are done.

My crafting books are filling up with wonderful new recipes as I do my daily Otter Potter. It's relaxing, amusing, satisfying and highly worthwhile. Best of all, my otters seem to have a truly vast store of new ideas that need looking into. Going to be a long time before these othmir finish their apprenticeships. Well, it will if I have any say in it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Last Stop, Everybody Off!

A couple of news items turned up in my reader yesterday and started me thinking. Rift decided to flag some servers for "large scale trial programs" and asked everyone on them if they wouldn't kindly mind leaving and Gods and Heroes went F2P. 

I've done quite a few betas over the years and I'd become used to having one or two icons on my desktop that offered me something for nothing but my time and goodwill. When it came to playing a game full-time and having ownership of my characters, though, I knew I'd have to put my virtual hand in my virtual pocket and come up with a credit card number. That had an obvious downside: I only have so much money so I could only justify subscribing to one or two MMOs at a time. Which was also the upside: the subscription fee acted as a kind of quality control.

Back when I began playing MMOs trying a new one meant buying a box and paying every month if you wanted to stick with it. That wasn't so much of a problem because there weren't that many MMOs to try and every new one that came along was something of an event in itself. It was worth shelling out just to say you'd been there when it happened.

Shadefallen - last Defiant out please turn off the lights
A few years on there were a lot more MMOs and few people would have wanted to stump up cash just to try them all. How lucky we were that free trials turned up, then! What a co-incidence! Free trials meant a week or two of low-level play to give you a taste of a game in the hope you'd buy the box and sub if you got hooked. That was better in some ways, because you knew going in you'd probably be done with the game before the trial ended and you wouldn't have wasted a penny. Still, there was the nagging worry that the new game might sink its claws in and you'd be stuck paying after all, which acted as some sort of a brake.

Millrush - lalala! We can't hear you!
Now there are hundreds of MMOs and most of them don't ask for any money at all. There's all kinds, too. Fantasy, Science Fiction, Super Heroes, Funny Animals, Crime. It's like being at the comic store all over again. And quite a lot of them are good. Good enough that once upon a time they thought they'd be able to sell you a box and charge you a monthly fee.  Only that didn't work out so well, or maybe it didn't work out as badly as all that but even so the other guys who'd dropped the fee were doing even better... Whatever, everyone went whaling.

Faeblight - There goes the neighborhood...
All of which brings me back to Rift and Gods and Heroes. Scott Hartsman nailed his colors to the subscription mast a long time back. In fact he pretty much scrambled up after them and nailed himself up there as well. I sense a retrenchment in recent months, however. It's going to be awfully painful if he has to pull out those nails and climb back down, but he's leaving clear wiggle-room with his "Right now, absolutely no plans whatsoever" reply to Eurogamer back in November when they asked if Rift had any contingency plans to move away from subs.

 Rift's done well with its subscription model, though. Can't argue that. If one day it does flip over and go Free to Play (and I'd bet it will although probably later rather than sooner) Trion can expect a massive surge of interest and publicity and a tsunami of returning exes. It's a solid gold game and it will be around for a long time. How it raises funds is the least interesting thing about it.

So? I can buy those and put them on a rat!
Gods and Heroes on the other hand never really got off the ground. I was in the beta and I could never even get the client to run. Sentiment was strongly against the game even being ready to launch when it did, let alone charging both a box fee and a subscription. When I saw the Massively article yesterday my first thought was "Is that thing still going?" Now it's free to play, will I try it? Well, there's a nominal fee for the client, so not yet. But even if that last barrier wasn't standing in my way, then no I probably wouldn't.

STO : You can walk about! Outdoors even!
Because I just don't have the time! This is the thing about all these great MMOs moving away from the old pay to play deal. Now I have all these extra games I could be playing but no-one gave me any more hours in the day. On my list of AAA F2P MMOs that I haven't yet even tried out yet there's Age of Conan, City of Heroes and Lineage2, with Star Trek Online due in a few days and Aion next month. Any one of those would justify a full month of concentrated play just to decide if it was worth carrying on.

Here's the thing. I'm paying to play Rift right now and I'm still not logging in. Forget Free-to-Play, I'll be happy if more games just go Free-to-Forget-to-Play !

Monday, January 9, 2012

Are You Going To Be In There All Day?

Our little guild on Freeport now has a Guild House. We've been of a level to take a Guild Hall for quite a while now and the idea gets booted around every so often but there's never been sufficient enthusiasm to take it any further. Mrs Bhagpuss and I are wary of taking on any virtual responsibility and the thought of having to farm even the small amount of Status a basic Guild Hall requires is enough to ensure we never make a purchase.

We have some people who aren't us in the guild now, though and it would be nice to have a place to hang out sometimes, so when we were having our discussion this time I suggested a compromise. We're each entitled to a free Mistmoore Crags Estate Prestige House as a Seven-Year Veteran Award. Actually, we're entitled to lots of them since they come "one per character". It's unaccountably generous and yet strangely unexciting offer and until yesterday we'd never claimed a single Vampire Castle. I thought we could grab one and use it as a Guild House.

Dear Auntie Enid, The weather isn't all we'd hoped...
So that's what we did and we'll see how it works out. There's an awful lot of decorating to do, not least since the first thing we did was break out and plant our metaphorical Guild Banner in Loping Plains. We really should get a Guild Banner, come to think of it...

But before we made the final decision I went off and read up on just what you get if you have a real Guild Hall in EQ2. I was appalled! There have been guild halls since EQ2 started but if I've ever been in a guild that had one I can't recall it. I've rarely been inside one. I knew they'd been tarted up over the years and now have a whole raft of "amenities" but I had only the vaguest understanding of what those amenities were. They are these. (Or is that "these are they"? I can never remember how that goes).

That's pretty much every reason you'd ever want to go into a city. Is it any wonder the cities died? Is it any wonder it's taken a full revamp and a ton of additional content to draw a scattering of players back to add some life to the streets, squares and docksides of Freeport? It's one thing to offer guilds a nice big meeting hall where they can hold disciplinary hearings and dinner-dances among the tastefully plinthed and polished skulls of the many dragons they've slain but who ever thought it was a good idea to add in every other facility that might induce any of them to set foot in the shared part of the world ever again?

This is just part of the perennial, long-debated problem of instancing. WoW, which has no housing Guild or otherwise, has cities full to bursting with people. That the cities have the ambience of a metropolitan bus-station just after the pubs have closed is by-the-by. At least they're busy. Thinking about it, maybe that's not such a great argument.
Don't you hate it when mothers dress them all the same?

As ever there's a balance to be struck. The cities need to bustle. New players need to see crowds of other people around them, doing mysterious things they don't yet understand with objects they don't yet recognize, racing past in their fancy gear on their sparkling unicorns and clockwork chickens, trailing a comet's tail of unfeasibly cute and terrifying pets as they race who knows where on who knows what Important Mission.

Established players need a place of their own to get away from all of that.

It's a difficult balance, yes, but it has to be found. I hope we're doing our bit for the Greater Good of Norrath by resisting the temptation to set up our own City-State and settling instead for a nice big house where we can throw fruitcake at each other occasionally while we dance on the patio to the sound of our Snow Globes.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Does This Door Open Both Ways? : EQ2

In the comments on  Milo's story Gamingsf asked whether the Isle of Refuge still exists. Well, yes it does and it's funny you should ask because that was what I had intended to talk about all along until Milo got in on the act. And I was thinking about the Isle of Refuge in the first place because of something that relates to the earlier Dungeon Maker post. I don't just throw this stuff together, you know. Well, not all the time.

When SoE announced they were going to remove the Isle of Refuge there was an outcry. The thread on the official forums ran over 80 pages. There were all kinds of conspiracy theories about why the island was going away, even some heavy hints that it would tie into some kind of ongoing storyline. More than hints. A dev called Cronyn popped up on the thread to reassure us there was Something Going On:

"Also, just to be clear, there is a lore reason for this as well.  The decision to turn off the islands is a functional one, to be sure, but it is also supported by storyline, which is something I am hoping to start giving out to you here soon.  There are NPC’s in place in both cities who should actually be handing out the first clues right now on Test, so if you’d like to start piecing together what is happening, you should be able to get started ". 

There was some talk of a Far Seas blockade. Never happened. Some NPCs popped up on the East Freeport docks doing the old rhubarb rhubarb routine but if anything more ever came of this "storyline" I must have been somewhere else at the time. Telara perhaps.

I have better things to do with my time. Oh, wait. No I don't.
Player hysteria went unheeded. The Isle of Refuge ceased to be available to new characters. If you had a character camped out there, though, you could still log in whenever you liked. And you still can. I logged Milo on to take screenshots earlier this week and ended up playing him for a couple of hours.

It was while I was browsing the Dungeon Maker Leaderboard that an odd notion occurred to me. You can enter the Dungeon Maker from anywhere in Norrath (except a private instance) and when you finish you reappear exactly where you were. Could a character on the Isle of Refuge enter Dungeon Maker dungeons from the leaderboard and level up there, returning at the end of each adventure to his isolated island home?

Well, I still don't know. I'd love to find out, but not at the risk of losing my toehold on the past. If anyone else who has a character on the Isle would dare to try the experiment and report back I'm sure we'd all be excited to hear the result.

All of which brings me on to the Dungeon Maker itself. Since last I wrote about it Mrs Bhagpuss and I have managed to get our hands on several more "activators". That's the peculiar name given to the drops that give you a new Adventurer. We've been running through some player-made dungeons using these dropped Adventurers. 

They come in Treasured, Legendary and Fabled flavors and all the ones I've seen are Heirloom. Haven't seen a tradeable one yet and there are none on the broker so I'm gussing that if you want one you have to go out and find one. Which is nice. (Or you could always buy one in the Station Store for Marks or money, but where's the fun in that?).

I'm a Valkyrie. We don't feel the cold, alright?
I haven't yet been able to work out if the Treasured/Legendary/Fabled tag relates to the rarity of the drop or to the effectiveness of the adventurer, but one thing I can tell you, these guys are tough! Using them to duo a dungeon where we'd previously died several times we didn't just not die at all, we were barely scratched. Solo I was able to handle six mobs at a time with a dropped adventurer where the basic one struggled on a pull of more than three.

A close examination of their abilities doesn't seem to show that much of a difference, so maybe there's something going on under the hood. Whatever's it is I like it and I'll be looking to collect as many as I can.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Last Rat Standing: EQ2

Frostfell is over. A new year's coming in. Everyone's looking to the future, wondering what change will come.  Not Milo. Milo knows nothing ever changes.

Oh, it used to. Once upon a time there were so many people Milo seldom had time even to learn their names. The Far Journey would sail into harbor with Nyles at the helm. Ingrid would chivvy the bedraggled refugees into line while Captain Varlos looked on.

Milo would watch them all as they straggled up the beach, bewildered but you could see the hope in their eyes. These were the lost who'd been found. For refugees with nothing but the rags they stood in and the few meager items in their pitiful backpacks they always seemed to be in an awful hurry, Milo thought. And to have an enormous amount of energy.

From the first moment they came up the path into the Setlement, there they'd be. Taking instructions from the trainers, asking the guards for work, firing questions at anyone who'd listen. Then they'd be off through the great arches and Milo would see them only now and again, running back to make their reports, opening accounts at the bank with the few coppers they'd taken from the purses of the Qeynosians they'd downed, queuing up at the handful of merchants to sell sundered obsidians or the bones of the undead.

Lucan's men were generous. Lucan made it so. Milo watched as the raggle-taggle refugees turned into well-armored, capable fighters or flamboyant mages. Some came up from the crafting hall beneath the high tower, blinking in the strong island light, the sun glinting from chainmail newly-forged by their own hands.

In just a few days most were lining up again at the docks, ringing the bell and stepping aboard the Far Journey once again. Freeport bound. Lucan's great city welcomed all who were willing to bend the knee to him and work for the benefit of all.

Some lingered. The island was small but there was much to do, much to learn and explore. Some wanted to be the best they could be, to give themselves every advantage before stepping into Freeport's notorious, unforgiving streets. Others wanted to enjoy the soft grass, the bright sun and the cheap Ebb Tide Ale for a  while. In the end, though, they all left.

All except Milo. Milo made the Isle of Refuge his home. He had the best armor, the finest jewellery, the most delicious food. He'd learned to find and make everything he needed. He'd explored the island from bay to bay, knew every byway like the back of his paw. There was nothing, living or undead, on the island that he feared and nowhere he dared not go.

Why would he trade such a life for an uncertain future in an unknown land? One day, perhaps, a fine ratonga girl with sleek chestnut fur and dark, dark eyes would step down from the Far Journey. The ragged hem of her sea-soaked dress might catch a splinter of broken board as she stepped ashore and Milo would be there to catch her before she fell.

So Milo dreamed. Then one day without warning the refugees stopped coming. Oh, Milo had noticed for a long while that there were always fewer, day by day, but always, every day, some came.

No more. Captain Varlos was curt. "That's all done with. Now, are you coming aboard or not? What are you waiting for? There's nothing for you here. Time to move on".

But Milo had waited too long. And if truth be told, he was still content. Yes, the refugees were gone, but Lucan's men remained. All the guards and trainers that he'd come to know so well. Callus Magnus and Kurgle Frogbane, always sparring in Ebb Tide's bar, always happy to take a break and sink a few of the gnome's fine ales. Arthur Merrin, who'd taught Milo to craft. All Milo's friends were there, and who, after all, did he know in Freeport? Or who knew him?

The Far Journey never seems to sail now. She sits at the dockside, Captain Varlos looking to shore. Milo knows who he's looking for and sometimes he feels a pang of guilt. That fine ship and her crew bound to shore because of him and him alone.

One day, perhaps, Milo will ring the bell, step aboard and let Varlos cast off for the last time. One day, perhaps. But not today.

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