Saturday, April 17, 2021

Bad Idea


I don't have any one thing on my mind today, just a clutch of random thoughts drifting around and bumping into one another. I guess that means it's time for one of those portmanteau posts...

When Devs Disagree

Well, that's a terrible name for a web show. I wouldn't watch it. Lucky no-one's made one and called it that, isn't it? If they had, though, and if I was unfortunate enough to get the gig booking guests for it (although how would that happen?)...

What do you call the person who books the guests for a chat show, anyway? The booker? The booking agent? What Janeane Garofalo did in the Larry Sanders Show, that's the thing I mean.  

Well, not that! Not what's happening in the clip. That's where you get fired and your boss takes it as an opportunity to ask you out on a date. 

Is that really a thing that happens? I wouldn't know. I've never been fired. I did hire someone once because I wanted to go out with them. Is that better? Or worse? It was in the 1980s, though. The world was different then. Don't get me started.


Anyway, I just linked that scene because there are no clips on YouTube of Paula actually doing her job. There's just that one of her getting fired for doing her job badly (I'm guessing, although who knows what she was fired for? It was the Larry Sanders show. Could have been anything. Maybe it was so Larry could ask her out. Maybe that was the actual plot...) 

Oh, and there's one of her getting a warning from Artie, telling her not to do her job badly just because she might be... well, I won't go into the details. You should just watch it. Or maybe not. It was on network tv. I guess it's okay...

It seems Paula did her job badly a lot of the time, although I remember the joke being she did it about as well as anyone could in the circumstances. At least, that's what I remember her doing from when I used to watch the show back in the 90s. I ought to watch it again. It was one of my favorites. 

I could. There are plenty of episodes of Larry Sanders online because apparently whoever owns the rights doesn't care enough to get them taken down. Same with Newhart, oddly enough. And Frasier. You'd think someone would notice. I mean, I get why no-one bothers about Boston Common or Bakersfield PD but Frasier? 

Those were two really great shows, though. I downloaded all of Boston Common just in case it vanishes from YouTube some day and I have all of Bakersfield PD on VHS. My friend Tim sent it to me before he died.  

Watching VHS tapes is a lot of fuss these days, though. I have to connect the old VHS recorder I got from my mother to the laptop and they don't really like to talk to each other. I have many hundreds of tapes I'll probably never play again. 

It's a lot easier just to watch whatever's on the tapes online, if someone's uploaded it. I mean, what's the difference, morally or legally? (I know what it is. Don't get me started on that, either). Probably those are uploaded from VHS anyway, judging by the quality. 

I see it as a public service although I don't imagine that's an argument the television companies give much credit. Still, if someone hadn't done it I'd never have seen Boston Common at all. It's not like anyone ever thought it was worth putting out on DVD. Oh, wait...

I suppose I could have gone through some of the Larry Sanders shows for myself and found a better scene. By which  I mean a more appropriate scene, one that's more germane to the point I'm trying to make. I'm hardly going to find a better scene than the ones I did link. Either of them. They're both classics. But I could have found one of Paula booking someone then edited it and re-upped it to my channel and linked to that.  Who has the time, though, amiright? (And who says "amiright"? Am I right?).

Hang on, where was I? Didn't I say I had a point? Anyone know what it was?

Oh yes! I remember. So, over at MassivelyOP they had an item on the latest of Raph Koster's peculiar press-release/fireside talks (Seriously, what are they supposed to be?) in which he says any number of things that I either don't agree with or don't believe make any sense at all. 

The one I really didn't take to was this:

"“Players get bored. It’s natural. It is really rare that a single game holds someone forever. And if you don’t have something else for them to do as a change of pace, well, you’re likely to lose them. Supporting a range of ways to play means that when someone gets bored of one activity, they can do something else, which is the most human thing in the world. What is weird is the idea that someone would spend all their time doing only one thing to the exclusion of all else — even if they love it!”"

It makes me wonder if he's ever played an mmorpg. "Doing one thing to the exclusion of all else" is pretty much the strapline for the genre! 

Players certainly do get bored doing it. He's not wrong there. You can hear them saying it over and over in general chat in every mmo ever made. The thing is, they say it while they're doing the same thing they did yesterday and last week and last year and the year before that because if there's one thing mmo players can be relied upon to do it's  "spend all their time doing only one thing to the exclusion of all else".

Cue Rob Ciccolini, executive producer of Lord of the Rings Online. Here he is, as reported by MassivelyOP again, explaining why he won't be removing the widely-despised Legendary Item grind from LotRO:

"We want players to have things to do while they are leveling. I know that some players are ‘Oh, this is too grindy and sometimes we overdo it,’ but ‘grindy’ doesn’t scare me as much as ‘I don’t have enough to do.’ I don’t have enough to do is worse because players want to play the game but they don’t really have goals to pursue."

And there you have it. One developer believes you keep people playing your game by giving them a whole load of unrelated things to do, even though most players show very little interest in anything outside of their preferred playstyle and get out the tar and feathers any time anyone tries to make them broaden their horizons, while the other thinks the trick is to take one thing people already don't enjoy and stretch it out so it takes literally forever, no matter how much the players claim they hate it, just so they'll always have something to do.

It just screams "celebrity death match", doesn't it? 

Oh, hey! That's what the web show ought to be called! Developer Death Match! We'd all watch that. Although, come to think of it, I never really liked Celebrity Death Match. And judging by the clips I just watched, it hasn't aged well.

So, what else was I going to write about? Um... Dragon Nest Origins and DCUO, I think. Seems a bit pointless now. 

I'll save them for the next time I'm stuck for something to write about.

Friday, April 16, 2021

A Little Appreciation


Here's a quick PSA for anyone currently playing any of Daybreak's games. On Tuesday 20th April you won't be. Not that morning, that afternoon, not that evening. You're going to have to find something else to do instead. 

There's going to be some major backend work (Don't start...) officially described as "a large migration maintenance of our backend" (Really?. What are you? Twelve?) which will "impact all game services". 

Even more ominously, "all servers will be shut down until the work is concluded" and we all know what that means. I'd put a red line through most of Wednesday 21st, too, if I was you. 

There's been a bit of this recently. Last week all of the games went offline for "necessary, but unplanned network maintenance". That was estimated to take "about 6 1/2 hours" but in the event came in closer to ten. It followed a period when the currency/membership token (Krono) couldn't be traded over in EverQuest, which I'm guessing would be a priority issue for all concerned. That was backend-related, apparently.

No-one likes disruption to their online game of choice but if the underlying reason is infrastructure investment it's almost certainly a price worth paying. And Jenn Chan did flag it up in her Producer's Letter last month: "we’re continuing the process of a major hardware upgrade to significantly address a number of lag issues".

She did suggest that wasn't going to happen immediately, saying "It is currently slated later this year" but maybe the current backend work is laying down the foundations for it. 

It's also tempting to speculate how much any of this has to do with the recent change of ownership. EG7 have reportedly completed their buying spree so maybe now they're turning their attention to their new toys, polishing them up and making them all nice and shiny. 

I doubt that has much to do with it. It would be a bit soon. Probably this is work that was already in hand and the most the new owners have done is allow it to continue. But who knows? If we did we wouldn't have to speculate, would we?

One thing I can say for certain is that (paying) players of DBG's portfolio of games can look forward to some compensation for the interruptions to service. Not, obviously, financial compensation. This is hardly the kind of issue that merits something like that. 

EverQuest II players, the subset that specifically interests me, can look forward to some "Downtime Appreciation Bonuses". An odd way of putting it, isn't it? Are we supposed to be appreciating the downtime? Ah, no, it's the other way around: "we'd like to show our appreciation for all your patience."

Well, okay then. And how are you thinking of doing that?

  • Double Overseer Missions – Daily Overseer Missions will be set at 20 for members
     
  • Double Status x2 for members
     
  • Double XP x2 for members  

That'll do nicely. I do indeed feel duly appreciated.

I also feel slightly confused. The double Overseer missions (extremely welcome to me) are clear enough with the helpful gloss but what exactly does "Double Status x2 and Double XP x2" mean? Is that the same as quadruple status and xp? And if it is, why not just say so? 

For a moment I thought it was because we already get double those things as members but we don't. We get "Double ALL alternative currency earned in-game". Xp and status are not currencies.

Oh, wait... not this one!
Oh well, I'll find out when it happens, I guess. And that will be next weekend, from Thursday to Monday. "Bonuses will run from 4/22/2021 12:01:00 AM through 4/26/2021 11:59:00 PM" to be precise. Always assuming the backend's back in action by then, of course.

Like most EQII players these days, I always have a stash of status consumables squirreled away for the next bonus event. I think I also have a guide quest waiting to be done on someone. I try to grab them when the guides are on and hold them for just such an occasion as this. 

I also have two characters I'm supposed to be levelling so for once I should be able to make use of the bonus xp, too. Actually, three, now I think about it. The bonuses are for "All servers", which means Kaladim as well. I just hope I can manage to take advantage of it all for once. I wouldn't want to miss out on all that appreciation.

As yet I can't see any news of similar bonuses on the other games but I notice DCUO players already received a thank-you and a gift for the last outage. I'm sure everyone will get something.

Such is the lot of the online game player.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Climb Up On A Rock


For a few days now I've been meaning to post about how it's going in Valheim but something or other kept coming up. Then Wilhelm put up his take on on life on the plains and it seemed like I might just as well link to it with a "What he said".

Seriously, the post I was going to write would have been all but identical. I guess there are only so many things left to do at this stage of the game.

 

What I have been doing is a lot of exploring, opening up long stretches of coastline to mark the outlines of islands, then criss-crossing them to fill in the blanks.  Wherever I find goblin camps, towers or villages I clean them out. Not because I need anything from them. I have self-sustaining fields of flax and barley and far more black iron than there's currently any use for. No, I clear goblin camps because it's fun.

I have a fairly well-established method. When I find a camp or a village I scout it to get an idea roughly how big it is, how many fulings live there, what classes they are and, if possible, how tough they are. Regular fulings pop like balloons with a single well-placed arrow but put the same arrow in a one or two star goblin and all it does is make them mad.

Once I've got a good idea what I'm up against I find a nice, high place to start picking them off. Ideally I like a steep rock on a flat plain. Goblins can't climb anything steeper than a gentle slope. Hell, they can't even go up and down their own wooden stairs. Odin knows how they get to the top of their towers because they sure as heck can't get down again. Maybe they're cats!

If there's a good rock and it's in range I pot them from there. If it's out of bowshot I move in, snipe one and run back. Sometimes none of the goblins even notice one of their pals exploding right next to them but usually two or three will come running, cackling and waving their spears. Then I pick them off as they mill around the rock like angry chickens.

As I've been roaming further and further I've taken to carrying a portal kit with me. The only times I've died have been when I ranged much too far and got stranded miles from home, at night, deep on the plains. 

I don't bother building a shelter for the portals any more. I put them right on top of the rocks. Nothing can get to them up there and I can see them for miles. In some ways, now I'm at home there, the plains feel safer than the black forest. Trolls, skeletons, greydwarves and even boars will smash anything you leave unprotected.  Lox and deathsquitos never attack structures and even fulings don't seem that interested. Anyway, there are far fewer of them roaming loose. They mostly stick to their camps. 

Sniping goblins is a lot of fun but more surprising to me is how much satisfying it is to meet them in combat face to face. I'm coming round to the opinion that Valheim has my favorite action combat of any game I've played and that's because it manages to be both skilful, tactical and incredibly simple all at the same time.

For me, it's all about movement and weapon selection. The fights, pulling with the bow, swapping to a sword, maybe pulling out the big hammer, feel hugely kinetic. 

Almost from the start I've ignored blocks and dodges. I tried a shield for a short while but it seemed slow and awkward compared to just hitting things really fast. For a long time I used an axe and that worked vey well. Then when I learned to work with silver I made a sword and that worked better still.


The black iron axe is statistically superior to the silver sword so I made that and swapped back for a while but although it does hit harder the sword is so much faster. Crucially, it strikes on both the forehand and the backhand. That's what makes it not just possible but productive to fight three or even four fulings at once.

Monster AI in Valheim is really excellent, I think. All creatures have particular ways of behaving and quite a lot of the behaviors are convincing. Fulings feint and dart and circle out of reach. They're always moving, looking for opportunity. What they can't cope with is being rushed and hacked at and perpetually knocked back but you have to be sure never to let them get you surrounded. It's like EverQuest on meth.

The sword, with its speed and the way it strikes both on the atack and the withdrawal keeps fulings stunned and struggling to respond. The knock-back isn't as great as with other weapons but it happens so often. So long as I make sure my health never drops much below 150 I can reasonably expect to slice up a gang of regular goblins with a one or even a two star thrown in before I get into in any great trouble.  

Shamans are a problem because they have a nasty long-range fireball attack and a very effective ward. If one of those comes out of the camp then I do back off and come back later when they've all calmed down. Then I single the shaman out and put an arrow in him and with luck he doesn't have his ward on so he explodes. 

All of that and a good bit more makes exterminating fulings good entertainment for a couple of hours. Even so, I'd probably have had enough of the plains by now if that was all there was to do. There are lox to hunt for meat, of course, and deathsquitos for their needles, which make the best arrows, but that wouldn't be enough to keep me either.

No, the reason I'm still out there clearing the fog from the map is that even after all this time I still run into things I've never seen before. While I was pushing along a coastline to the east I happened on a henge. It stood out from the golden fields like a sign, which turned out to be just what it was. It had the vegasir for Yagluth's altar. 

With that on my map I had to go take a look, even though I have no intention of summoning him until there's something in it for me. His dias was next to a fuling camp and a fuling tower, at the head of the first river I'd seen on the plains. (I've seen several more streams since then).

Last night, as I was heading south on the biggest of all the islands, I stumbled on what looked eerily like a brutalist blockhouse from some 1960s out of town industrial park. I'd never seen anything in Valheim like it before. As I approached I could hear cackling. Surely goblins couldn't have built this thing?

Whether they built it or not they were using it. It had stone stairs and a chest on the flat roof. Whether it was some religious structure of their own or something they'd re-purposed I couldn't say but it made me very curious. 

And then the mist came down. I hate the mist on the plains so very much. It's far too real. It swirls and billows and hangs there and you can see shapes and hear sounds through it but never well enough. If the mist blows in while I'm clearing a camp I know it's going to be a long, long day.

That's what I've been up to in Valheim this week. Looking forward, I've marked a couple of possible spots for my island getaway. I've cleared a whole medium-sized island of all fixed spawns and I'm thinking of moving there because it's a lot nicer than where I'm living now. I've done so much work on the castle, though, I couldn't bear to tear it down. I'd have to start again from scratch and I don't think I can face all that mining again.

My next project is going to be a trip to the Ashlands. I've ranged so far south now it can only be a short boat-trip away. I just need to set up a base in the far south and call on Moder for a favorable wind. And make some fire resistance potions, of course.

I guess I'm not done with this thing quite yet.



Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Connected To The Sound, Pictures On The Wall

It must have been about six months since I last logged in to Occupy White Walls. I wasn't all that enamored with the direction it had taken and the updates I'd heard about weren't doing much to change my mind.

And then yesterday, while I was on Steam looking at something else, I happened to notice this. I've linked it from the OWW website because linking from Steam is a pain.

The feature that caught my eye was called CloudSound:

CloudSound - Add music from SoundCloud to your gallery

  • 2 unique speakers, 2 Jukeboxes, and a turntable to choose from

  • 4 different animation effects

  • Load songs from SoundCloud to anywhere in your gallery

  • Choose the radius distance of the music

  • Let visitors hear your music all over your gallery with the global setting

  • Place multiple speakers and only hear only closest (great for specific rooms)

That sounded like something worth patching up for.

Cue music!

 

Before I got started on my own gallery I had a wander round the new tutorial space, the Piazza Dei Miracoli. It's impressive. The game's gotten a lot slicker since last I played.

I looked around a couple of the gallery spaces there and listened to the music that was playing but what I really wanted to do was try it for myself. I was mostly curious to find out just what kind of tunes were available on SoundCloud that you could use in the game. 

I thought I vaguely knew what SoundCloud was but I think I must have been confusing it with something else. I remembered it as the place where I got the sound samples from Daria to use for my character in Baldur's Gate but that must have been a different repository altogether. SoundCloud didn't even come into existence until nearly a decade later.

The copyright issue, which was puzzling me a little, seems to be comprehensively covered by SoundCloud's own operating agenda. To link a track in game it has to be flagged as "Public" on SoundCloud and that already means "anyone can listent to it".  

That's how you do in-game help.

 

The platform has just moved to a system of "Fan-Powered Royalties", which is an intriguing concept. How that fits in with the OWW deal isn't mentioned but I notice that if you click on the image of the track in game it takes you to the relevant page on SoundCloud itself so I imagine what you could call active views and listens can be tallied that way. 

Anyway, that's not my concern. I was more interested to know whether there was stuff on SoundCloud that a) I knew b) I liked and c) I'd want playing in my gallery. And the answer to all three questions is a resounding "Yes!". (Hmm... I wonder if they have anything by Yes...)

I always have trouble of thinking of random band names to put into search engines. For some reason the ones that pop into my mind first seem to be Papertiger Sound and Scary Bear Soundtracks. I thought they'd be a good test anyway, what with being more than ordinarily obscure. Plus I love them both and they would be perfect for my gallery.

And there they were. Plenty of tracks by both of them. I spent a good while playing around with the controls in game and on SoundCloud, figuring out how to get something from one into the other. I bought a speaker and put it down then I followed the very clear UI instructions to get a track installed and playing. 

Paola's really into it.

 

It all worked beautifully until I had a couple of speakers placed and tried moving from one to another. Then things went a bit haywire. You can set the distance at which you continue to hear each speaker but the transitions are brutal. Also, OWW has its own (rather good) music, which carries on playing every chance it gets. Your speakers replace it when you're in range but as you move around the gallery the game's music comes back whenever you pass into a dead spot.

After a while I got that sorted but two of the three Papertiger Sound tracks I was using kept breaking for some reason. I'm not sure if the game streams them in real time or uploads them and holds them somewhere but whatever it does it wasn't working very smoothly. 

Eventually I got three speakers installed, each with a track that seemed stable. Then I thought about what I was going to post about it. 

I was always going to post but it seemed nuts to try and describe the whole thing (like I just have...) when I could just make a video and let the music play. So I did and here it is:


There's an official video but honestly I don't think it really shows how it works. And it's a little... well... Isn't it?

The update notes mention jukeboxes. A working jukebox would be A M A Z I N G! (Sorry, still thinking of that official video...). There was a discussion going on in chat while I was there about how to get playlists working (people had seen them in action but no-one knew how it was done). I'm wondering if that's what the jukeboxes do?

I'll have to go in and play around some more. The somewhat annoying thing is that OWW will insist on kinda-sorta being an actual game, so I'll probably have to level up before I can see the advanced options. Like jukeboxes.

I need to do that anyway to earn the right to make a second gallery. I was going to do it when they added the option but I somehow never quite got round to it. Being able to set my own choice of music might just be the motivation I needed.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Stick With What You Know


This popped up completely out of the blue on Massively:OP today. Project_N (“Project_N” is only a placeholder name"), a prospective new mmorpg from a company called... um, there doesn't seem to be a name. Or, indeed, a company. ("Once the company is formalized...")

There's a team, though. It's headed by Shawn Lord, who used to be Lead Game Designer on EverQuest and subsequently Lead Content Designer and Design Supervisor for DCUO. He was with SOE for almost twelve years in total, from the very early days of EQ at the turn of the millenium. 

I don't recognize his name but maybe I'd know him by whatever catchy handle he used on the forums back then. Also, I had a bit of a thing in those days about not treating game developers as if they were rock stars. Because, y'know, I didn't even like rock stars being treated like rock stars. 

Shawn definitely isn't acting like a rock star. Really the opposite. The whole vibe around Project_N (hate that underscore...) seems to be to damp down expectations. After years and years of overblown pitches for god-games that end up imploding before they even reach market it's nice to see someone setting their sights low for once.

The FAQ is chock full of caveats and qualifiers: 

"One area in which we’ll likely get some push back..."

"If you’re industrious enough..."

"We’re making a game that’s not meant for everyone."

That's good, I think. Obviously you'd want the people behind your game to be confident in its worth and value but confidence doesn't generally seem to be the problem with most of these things. That would be hubris.

More striking than the diffident approach to me are some of the genre tropes the team behind Project_N are willing to lean on. They include some things that most modern game developers would more likely cite as failings of the past, design flaws their shiny, new games will totally avoid:

"Something about zones just feels right."

"We also like the gameplay associated with making it to the zone line with only a few Hit Points left."

"Our goal is to keep the world as public and shared as possible. This means that we’ll refrain from using instancing ...We’re aware of the ramifications of this approach, including things like contested spawns, content saturation, etc…We like the camps".

"We are targeting individuals that prefer paying for a monthly subscription"

"In-game coolness should be earned."

"There are no plans for supporting other platforms at this time."

Reading the whole thing is oddly reassuring although maybe I'm confusing familiarity with reassurance.

 


There are also some of the same premises and assumptions we've seen in altogether too many pitches for other retro-mmorpg projects. The belief in an untapped pool of players who "enjoy challenge and community in a way that differs from the offerings of more modern, convenient, “gamified” experiences". The assumption that if you build it, they will come.

I am starting to see one significant flaw in this argument, which did indeed seem very convincing when it first began to be made a few years ago. If the potential audience is so niche, so poorly-served, how come so many developers are trying to make games for it? And more to the point, how many of them can hope to succeed?

Project_N does seem to have one major design advantage over just about every other similar "Project" I've heard about: it plans on "staying narrowly focused". If Shawn can hold to that it's going serve him better than any amount of "vision".

The full philosophy is expressed very clearly, if not perhaps very succinctly, in this paragraph from the FAQ:

"More investment, means more desire for return on investment, means more need to appeal to a broader audience, which in turn means more features, dilution, hand-holding, and in our opinions - more risk."

It's not often you hear someone drumming up interest for a new mmorpg by stating outright that investment can be a bad thing. And yet, as we've all seen in too many Kickstarter overruns and "investment rounds", it really can.

None of this means Project_N will turn out any different to all those other old-school nostalgia fests. Evidence to date is that they all take an unconscionable time to reach Early Access or Open Beta, much less a final, official launch, and that the results when they arrive are less than awe-inspiring. Still, setting realistic targets and, more importantly, sticking to them has to help, doesn't it?

As for the game itself, when and if it ever appears, it does sound like the sort of thing I'd enjoy. The western high-fantasy setting, the races and classes, all those would probably work for me, even if  I'm not as convinced I belong to the much-hyped "niche" as once I did.

I'm certainly not crazy about the group-centric ethos but I like the little mention of content being tuned "...with groups of 2 or 3-6 people in mind". I could go for some old-school duoing if Mrs Bhagpuss can be persuaded to give it a try.

For now, though, I'm just going to bookmark it and forget about it. I'll get excited when it comes with a launch date. Or at least a beta.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Buckle Up! (The One And Only Spacey Catgirl)

One of the things that supposedly got me all excited for the launch of EverQuest II's Reign of Shadows expansion late last year was the inclusion of the Vah Shir as a playable race. One of my most-played characters in the original EverQuest was a Vah Shir Beastlord and I have a huge fondness both for the race and the lore surrounding it.

I say "supposedly" because although I was eager enough to fork over the required thousand Daybreak Cash for an extra character slot months ago it turned out I wasn't keen enough to use it until today.

 Partly it's that I've had other things on my mind. First Disco Elysium, then Valheim. Serial game-buying isn't conducive to parallel game-playing, it would appear. Who'd have guessed?

Mostly, though, it was that I couldn't make up my mind what class to choose. I had it narrowed down to either a Magician or one of the Scouts, which wasn't really narrowing it down all that far. There are seven scouts.

As is usual with these dilemmas, really I knew what I wanted. I fancied playing a Mage. So a couple of hours ago I logged in and made a Swashbuckler.

It was a practical decision. I don't have any characters on Skyfire who wear chain armor. I keep getting the stuff and I can't do much with it other than transmute it for mats and I don't need any more mats right now. Selling it for a pittance to NPC vendors annoys me. I might want another cloth class but I need someone who wears chain.

For a given value of "need", that is. There's not much prospect of any new character I make getting played regularly, let alone seriously. I have six max level characters already and only one of them is up to scratch, even by my louche, casual standards.

Race and class decided, next came the rest of the panoply of choices: gender, appearance, alignment, starting city, server. And, of course, name. The tough one.

I looked at the male first. Geez... Remember the EQ Next Kerran? The one everyone hated? Looked a lot better than the male Vah Shir with his head shaped like an anvil - if the anvil was made out of dough. Hard nope.

The female didn't look a lot better until I hit randomize and a perfectly palatable cat-person appeared. She even had cheekbones. I spent a while going through the options. There didn't seem to be nearly as many as some other races get. Only five hairstyles? Six, if you count "Bald". Which I definitely don't. And Vah Shir have to make do with Kerran voices? Shabby.

Doesn't really matter how many or how few the options are, so long as you can get something you're happy with, I guess. I was pleased with my new look. Very different from anything else I play these days. 

Alignment was a given: Vah Shir have to be good. That means starting in one of three places: Qeynos, New Halas or Kelethin. Of the three I only really like Qeynos. Kelethin is just impossible. All those platforms. And elves. New Halas I find bleak and depressing. It makes me feel cold just looking at it. Can't they at least put doors on their shacks?

What I really wanted was a new starting area just for Vah Shir, of course. When I saw in the promotional material for Reign of Shadows that we'd be getting both the city of Shar Vahl and the zone outside it, Shadeweaver's Thicket, I naively imagined Vah Shir player-characters would get to start there, just like they did in EverQuest. 

No such luck. Everything in RoS is determinedly designed for level 120s only. As I discovered later, you even have to be max level to start the Vah Shir racial questline. 

I do get why Daybreak wouldn't want to add yet another starting area, even if they had the resources to develop one. We already have a choice of six and that's not even counting Qeynos and Freeport, which still retain almost all of the original starting content for anyone who knows where to go. Still, it's hard to call yourself a true mooncat if you have to grow up on earth. On Norrath. Oh, you know what I mean... 

Smell that sea air!

 

In the end it was a purely nominal decision. I picked Qeynos but I was only there for a few minutes. Taking Qeynos as your starting option doesn't mean you start in in Qeynos, anyway. Oh, no. That would be far too straightforward.

Logging in for the first time, I found myself once again on the good ship Far Journey. The days when that spurred a fizzling burst of nostalgia are long gone. I've done the trip to the Isles of Refuge to death in recent years. Fortunately, as a member, there's always the option of instant travel. 

Without moving from my spawn-in spot on deck I popped up the map and clicked on Qeynos. See that, Captain Varlos? No one needs you!

I'd already decided I was going to use a level boost. I have a fury in the nineties on Skyfire and a dirge in her twenties on Kaladim, both of whom I'm actively, if sporadically, levelling the old-fashioned way. I don't need to start over again just now. 

The question was, which level boost?

Now I want to go see if the Proving Grounds still exist...
Looking through my banks and /claim, I found half a dozen to choose from: two Level 100 boosts, three 110s and a 120. After the recent discussion on experience vials (two more sold overnight, by the way, but again to the same guy, who put them straight up for sale, so I'm still none the wiser) I thought I'd go for the 100 option and maybe experiment a little.

The boost I picked was one I'd picked up in some Proving Grounds promotion. Remember the Proving Grounds? No, I don't imagine anyone else does, either. Another flower gone to seed.

I applied the boost, dinged 100 and received a care package. I spent a few minutes unpacking it all, getting dressed and sorting out my new set of 24-slot bags. Then I opened my Knowledge Book and spent a lot longer reading every new combat art and slotting them all onto my hot bars (which I'd copied from my Berserker, as I always do, even though it means starting with a lot more slots than I'm going to need right away).

Next I opened the Claim window and claimed one of every "per character" item in there, except for the Veteran packs, half of which I know from experience will end up filling my bags with stuff I won't ever get round to using. 

For some incomprehensible reason the Proving Grounds boost comes with one of the most irritating mounts, a giant wiggly worm that gets in everyones' way at the bank and has an undulating motion that makes me nauseous. And I don't even suffer from motion sickness. Fortunately I have other mounts I can claim so it was off to the imaginary stables for Faerelith, The Obedient One.

Seriously? That's the mount you went with? It couldn't have been a horse?


It was all going nicely. I was about ready to go try out my new skills. And then it occurred to me. I was heading to Plane of Magic, the obvious, indeed possibly the only, choice at 100. And what would be waiting for me at the zone-in?

Tishan's Lockbox, of course. And inside it, a full set of gear and weapons that would make everything I'd just equipped obsolete. 

Fine! I'll just go swap it all out, then. It won't take a minute. So I did that. Only none of the gear comes with adornments. I have bags and bags full of those. I just have to remember who's got them. Or I could make some new ones. It's not like I don't have the mats.

But hang on... I'm going to need the Panda quest adorns, too. Good thing I have instant travel.

It's a big upgrade but the sad thing is
I had a load of even better Level 100 gear in the bank
until I melted it all down for parts.

I won't go on. I'm sure you get the drift. It took me the best part of an hour and a half to get my new Vah Shir Swashbuckler to the point where I felt ready to take her adventuring, by which time lunch was ready, so I had to log out. And then I came here to write this. 

Will I ever get to play her? Yes, I expect so. Eventually. I want to do the Vah Shir racial questline for one thing. Unfortunately, it starts in Shar Vahl and you need to be 120 before Animist Sanura will even speak to you. So I have some work to do.

In a way it makes me wonder how new and returning players manage but then they probably won't have anything like as many confusing, overlapping and conflicting choices as someone like me, who's been playing forever and still has nearly all the freebies ever handed out just sitting around, waiting to be used. If you were a real newbie you'd probably either begin at level one and play properly or you'd buy the latest expansion, use the max-level boost that comes with it and just accept what it gives you.

My way's more fun, though. No, it is. Really. I'm telling you...

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Keep It Bottled Up


A small item buried deep within Wilhelm's March In Review post reminded me of one of SOE's many, long-forgotten bright ideas. At least, I remembered it as something SOE must have come up with. It seemed very much in keeping with the kind of half-baked, back of a napkin, lunchtime lightbulb moments I associate so strongly with the Smedley regime.

In fact, as Wilhelm explains, it was Daybreak who came up with the concept of Experience Vials. Then again, it was only a year or so after the change of ownership and Smed had not yet left the building. His influence lingered for a while.

Whoever it was, they had some help, of course. Wilhelm gave chapter and verse on how the idea had been inspired (as both our imaginary lawyers would no doubt prefer we phrased it) by the skill extractors CCP had introduced to EVE Online not too long before.

As the official press release has it, "Experience Vials will allow players to purchase empty vials off of the EverQuest 2 Marketplace for Daybreak Cash; these vials can be used to “bottle” experience points as you earn them. Once you fill up an empty vial, you will be able to claim a full vial which you can give to a friend or alt, sell on the broker, or even save for yourself for later."

 If you want to know exactly how that works, the same post describes the entire process in quite extraordinarily exhaustive detail. With illustrations. Someone certainly believed in the feature back then.

And, to be fair, it was quite exciting at the time. Five years ago the level cap was still 100. Two hundred thousand xp made a huge impact on the levelling process at the low and mid levels (still does, in fact) and even close to the then-cap it was well worth having.

I remember buying some vials to try them out. I had bushels of Daybreak cash, acquired during SOE's infamous triple-value sales, another of Smed's patented not-so-great notions and the asking price seemed cheap enough. 

What was more, I had capped characters with nothing better to do with the xp they otherwise wouldn't even have been getting. It seemed like a solid win all round. 

And it kind of was. I equipped a vial on my Berserker and siphoned his xp into it while he was out and about doing his normal duties. Then I handed the full bottle to one of my low-level characters and bingo! Twenty or thirty levels at a swig. 

This chart shows just how effective the vials can be in the leveling game. A single vial downed right after character creation would bootstrap a fresh alt into the low thirties. Four would take them within ten levels of the then-cap. They also work for gaining AAs.

I don't remember how many I bought. I know I bumped one character into the mid-high levels just trying it out. I also recall selling some of the filled vials on the broker and making a fair amount of money. 

After a while, though, I just kind of forgot about the whole thing. Partly it was the arrival of new expansions with new level caps that meant my higher level characters didn't feel like selling any of their hard-won xp , let alone giving it away. Partly it was the major changes DBG made to the way xp works after level 100.

If I'd thought about it at all in the last couple of years, which I really can't say I ever did, I'd probably have said it was a feature that had long outlived whatever usefulness it once had. Look at that chart again. To go from 100 to 101 takes 1,666,500xp. That's just over eight filled vials. To go from 101 to 102 takes 139,986,000 . That's seven hundred!

 And it just goes up from there. In EQII's brave new world of unfeasibly huge numbers it now takes almost half a billion xp to do the final level before cap. Not to mention that you can now pretty much only get that xp from quests. There doesn't seem to be any place in the ecosystem for 200k dribbles of xp any more.

And yet...

When I read Wilhelm's post it made me think. I commented "Also, EQ2 xp injectors! I forgot about them. I have some still in the bank. There was a time when I was making good money selling my own blood, so to speak. Seems bizarre now. I wonder how many thousands – or maybe millions – you’d need to do even one level over 100? If it would even be possible. Probably they wouldn’t even work. I should test that and find out."

So I did. Well, kind of.

What I did first was to take a look to see whether anyone was still trying to sell the things. It was the first time I'd visited the broker in what had to have been at least a couple of months. There was a nice surprise waiting for me. I'd sold a level 117 Master spell for three million platinum. I'd forgotten I'd put it up for sale.

I searched "Experience Vial" and it brought back four results. All in a tight range from 980k to 1m. In total there were only about twenty on sale and two of the four sellers only had a single bottle. Not much of a sample but it suggested there wasn't a lot of interest. 

One thing that always gives a strong indicator of demand is how fast people snap up bargains. And it was Saturday. Weekends are by far the busiest shopping time in mmorpgs. Seemed like a good time to test the market.

I popped a couple of my vials on at 750k. It seemed a big enough discount to bait the hook but still expensive enough to deter chancers. If they sold over the weekend - or even in the first week - it would suggest some genuine level of demand.

This morning, when I logged in to collect and set my Overseer missions, I remembered to check if there'd been any interest in the vials. There had. Both had sold.


I'd say that confirmed it... if it wasn't that the buyer was the same player who'd been selling the previously cheapest. He'd had ten for sale yesterday and now he had a dozen. He'd clearly bought mine to kill the competition and make himself a few hundred thousand profit into the bargain.

If they sell, that is. It's still too early to say what the end-user demand is. While debated with myself  whether to put some more up at a less-snipeable price, I thought it might be an idea to see just how easy it would be to re-supply. 

I bought the smallest pack of vials in the cash shop. Three for 500DBC (actually 450DBC with my 10% Membership discount). After a bit of fiddling about getting them equipped and switched on (that pictorial guide came in handy, even after all these years) I took my Berserker to The Blinding, where there's an infinitely repeatable quest to kill a dozen mobs about ten seconds from the questgiver.

At max level it takes all of thirty seconds. Killing the mobs themselves nets around 2,000xp, total. Handing in the quest gets you just over a billion. 1,054,813,997xp to be precise. Okay, I did have full vitality. And 120% veteran bonus. However you want to cut it, that's going to fill all the vials you want.

I had my three vials on auto-consume so it filled all three instantly. It opens up some intriguing possibilities. If we posit a regular market for these things at the 750k price point, that would allow me to convert my monthly stipend of 500DBC into 2.25m platinum at a time investment of less than five minutes. 

I'd feel a little more confident about those figures if I'd actually sold a vial to someone who was likely to use it.  I just put a couple more on for 850k each. If the reseller buys those I'll go to 950k for the next two. That should stop him. Then maybe we'll find out if there really is any market from people who'll use them for the purpose intended.

However it turns out, though, it certainly looks as if xp vials may have been one of the team's better ideas after all. There's clearly interest of some kind five years on. Can't ask more than that.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Open The Door, Dora

Anyone remember Dragon Nest? Maybe Dragon Nest Oracle? Dragon Nest Europe? Dragon Nest R? Dragon Nest M?

I've tried them all. There are twenty posts tagged "Dragon Nest" at Inventory Full and at least half of them are mainly about my experiences playing those games. Or trying to.

I started playing Dragon Nest before I even had a blog. In this post from 2015, which is actually about Dragon Nest Oracle (try to keep up at the back - it's going to get worse before it gets better), there's a link back to a post Tipa wrote for West Karana in 2011. It seems I left a comment on it, saying I had a character who'd reached "level 8 or 9". 

It's a good thing I mentioned it in my own post five years later because all the comments I left at West Karana are dust in the wind.  The West Karana domain got hijacked and turned into a shill for some dirt-heel property developer, which is why I'm not linking to it now. This is the problem with the internet (one of them): you can't trust things to stay the way they were.

Wait... I'm in a guild?


And one of the things I've never been able to trust to still be where I left it when I get back is Dragon Nest. Any version. All those posts I wrote are a litany of love for the game itself mixed with frustration over the way it keeps being kicked from one careless owner to the next.

The very first version was so long ago now I barely remember it. I think the gameplay was a little more simple and the quests had even worse translations. There were fewer classes, I think. I'm not sure if there was any English voice acting back then but I seem to remember a lot of high-pitched squealing. 

I can't have been all that impressed. In December 2011, under the heading MMOs I am thinking about playing, but not actually playing, I wrote "Dragon Nest: Thought about logging in. Couldn't remember my account or password details. Couldn't be bothered to look them up. Didn't log in." Then again, the other mmorpgs in that section were EverQuest, Vanguard, DCUO, LotRO and Allods, all of which I am still playing, at least occasionally, ten years later. Read into that what you will.

Borin! Did you miss me?


The version I remember best is certainly Dragon Nest Oracle. That one appeared out of nowhere in 2015 as a revamped, revised and genuinely improved edition. I was both surprised and increasingly delighted. Skeptical at first, I ended up falling in love with the whimsical insanity of it all. 

In any of its various incarnations, Dragon Nest has always been a game I've played at best sporadically but that was my longest and most concentrated run. It might well have gone further had the then-owner, Shanda Games, not gone and messed it all up. I called my post about how that happened "One Careless Owner". If only it had just been one!

It seems to me that all Dragon Nest has ever had is careless owners. It's a genuinely fine action mmorpg. One of the best I've played. It has a committed and enthusiastic fan base. And yet no-one seems to know what to do with it.

Okay, that I don't remember...

In addition to the serial neglect by successive owners the game's always suffered from divisive regional factionalism. About the worst thing you can do to an online multiplayer game is cut it into pieces and hide them behind IP checks. I started out playing on the North American servers and ended up on Dragon Nest Europe courtesy of Steam. Not my choice. I just followed the game wherever someone would let me play it.

A couple of years back Eyedentity, who created the game and had been operating it in Europe, closed it down. I think that's what happened. They were part of Shanda, reportedly. I started trying to unpick it and then thought better of it. Had enough of that with Daybreak.

Whoever it was in charge, the game ceased to be playable through Steam in the U.K. although, as I found out today, you can still download it there. It just won't run.

Sis! I've missed you!

After that, there was the mobile version, Dragon Nest M. I was hopeful. I played it in October 2019 and didn't hate it. I said "It's not identical to the original but it's very similar. Visually it's a fairly faithful translation." Sadly, less than a year later, typical mobile bloat had all but wiped out the charm of the original game : "I get the impression the game I used to play has gone somewhere else, probably into a dark corner where it can rock backwards and forwards and whimper... Oh, for a Dragon Nest Classic..."

 Well...

The game is still running as a version of Dragon Nest Oracle (I think that's right) in the U.S.A. You can play that one through Steam if you live in the right part of the world or can fool the servers into believing you do. It must be doing okay. They've just moved to a 64-bit client and I don't imagine you do that unless you plan on being around for a while longer.

It's not much use to me, though. But this is

Add another to the list: Dragon Age Origins. With the strapline "Bringing back what was lost" this one's an emulator or a fan project or maybe just a plain, old-fashioned private server. In fact, that's what they call it: "Origins is currently a 50 cap private server dedicated to bringing back the classic T4 experience in PvE and PvP".

And today, one of those fifty people was me.  

I made an account, downloaded the client, patched up, logged in and played for nearly four hours straight. By the time I finished to come write this post I was level 15 and I'd gotten as far as the second town, Calderock Village

I'm home!


I have no idea what that "T4" in the description refers to but "classic" it certainly is. It was fantastically nostalgic even if I'm not one hundred per cent sure which version I'm being nostalgic about. I loved it. I will be playing more. 

No, really, this time I will. Although how long I'll have the option is another matter. At this stage I am not only not counting my chickens I'm not even counting on there being any chickens. Private servers don't inspire much confidence when it comes to longevity. But then, neither do professional games publishers when it comes to Dragon Nest.

Whatever happens, I'm happy to have another chance to to visit Altea. It's a delightful place and I've never seen enough of it. I'm playing the same character I've played since I began all those years ago, reincarnated yet again as accurately as I can remember her.

A cannon called Angela.

She even has her real name this time. She started out as Dora, became Dorah and Doradella and now she's plain old Dora again. She still wears shorts, has her hair in bunches and carries a gigantic cannon that's bigger than she is. She's one of my favorite characters in any game now, not least because of the sheer number of times she's bounced back from oblivion.

If the private server holds up long enough, though, I might even try another class. I keep getting gear only a Sorceress can wear. Maybe it's a hint.

And Dragon Nest Origins ought to be a hint to anyone who's missing their favorite lost mmorpg. There's always hope. These things are damned hard to kill.

Just like Dora.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Buggin' Out



This morning I spent a happy hour or so writing a bug report for EverQuest 2. Okay, that's a little misleading. I probably spent about ten or fifteen minutes on the report and the other forty-five trying to work out how to add a screenshot to my post on the forums.

Daybreak recently made some changes to the bug reporting process. There was an item about it in the News and Announcements section. The main change seems to be a prompt to copy the report to the forums, which seems like a peculiarly redundant process to me. 

I guess the idea is that added value is going to accrue from other players reading the forum posts and adding their information to the pile. The in-game reporting process is inevitably invisible to everyone other than the person making the report and whoever receives it at DBG but I'd always hoped that it was someone's job to read them all. I certainly never assumed anyone would read through all the comments on every post on the forums - even the bug section. I can't believe Daybreak could afford to pay anyone enough for that.

As I read the gloss now, I realize the new reporting feature copies the bug report text to your clipboard automatically so all you have to do is paste it and give it a title. I missed that part, naturally, and re-wrote mine from scratch.  

Then I tried to add a screenshot of the problem. Luckily I'd taken one when it happened. Not because I'd realized anything was wrong. I didn't notice until much later. No, I took the screenshot for a blog post I was thinking of writing. This one, I guess, although it's turning out quite differently from what I had planned.

There is a function on the EQII forums to add images to a thread. It requires you to insert a URL. I've done it before but it was a while ago and I'd forgotten how it worked. I tried to dodge the issue by just copying and pasting the jpg file directly into my post. It seemed to work until I went to upload the whole thing and got the message it was too long.

Much fiddling and experimenting later I decided that wasn't going to work so I had to go and re-learn how to give images URLs. It's fiddly. I got it in the end, after about a dozen tries. It does seem to me, not infrequently, that people who play mmorpgs are assumed to have a surprising level of technical facility. I bet you don't need to know this sort of thing to post on the Candy Crush forums.

The issue I was trying to report may not even be a bug, although I did have an actual bug I was going to report. For the last week or so, every time I log out of EQII, instead of getting a chat message every five seconds telling me I'll be logged in 20, 15, 10, 5, I get all of the messages at once, right at the start. 

That's a proper bug, no doubt about it. It also has zero effect on gameplay and I don't find it particularly annoying so I wasn't rushing to report it. Since I was doing another anyway, I thought I might as well do that one too, but then I saw there was already a whole thread on it so I didn't bother. I guess it annoys some people more than it annoys me. 

The thing I did report? That does annoy me. I really hope it is a bug because if it's a feature it's a very irritating one indeed. 

I've been plugging away at Overseer Season 3 and I now have more than enough quests to set the ten I'm allowed as soon as I log in each day. Most of them are still the basic, blue ones but I have three yellows and, as of this morning, two greens. 

Green (aka Celestial) is the top tier of quality. There should be some Purple (Fabled) ones just below that but so far I don't have any. For Season 3 the timer on Celestial quests has doubled from fifteen hours to thirty and the number of agents required has increased from three to five. 

My only agent with a Season 3 trait so far.
And the most boring name.

That's some inflation. You'd want a good reward for all that extra effort. I mean, it's two extra clicks with the mouse, at least. And you have to wait longer. I mean, come on, we pay a sub for this? (Sorry, just practising for the forum. You want to fit in, don't you?).

So far I've only done the first 30 hour quest twice. The second one is running as we speak. For a miracle I actually have agents with most of the specified traits but only because some of them are the old ones. So far my drop rate on agents with the Season 3 traits has been abysmal. I've had several new agents but only one has any traits at all.

Not to derail my own post but at this stage of the game, what exactly is the point of agents with no traits? I understood it when the Overseer system was new. At that point we were just happy to have any agents at all. Now, though? Why are we still employing people with no discernable skills?

I can answer that! Because they're really good fun to collect. And to look at. I only discovered today that if you open the Agent Collection tab in the Overseer interface it goes to a really impressive, large, well-framed portrait of the Agent in question. Instead of that tiny little icon where you can't even make out what race they are, you get a full-size, hang-it-on-the-wall oil painting.

That's a feature EverQuest has had since the start and I use it there all the time, or I did until I stopped getting new agents. I don't know if EQII always had it and I just missed it or if it was added some time along the way but I'm very happy to have found it. Some of the illustrations are glorious. And some of the descriptions are quite amusing, too.

The thing I was finding neither glorious nor amusing was the flag on the fabled quality (235 resolve!) cloth shoulder item I got from the bonus chest the second time my agents came back with Tarinax's head in a sack. The first time, the bonus chest didn't drop and all I got from the regular one was a forcelink, but this time my 70% success chance triggered and I got a very nice - very nice - upgrade for my necromancer.

Or it would have been if I could have given it to her. I didn't notice until I went to put it in the shared bank that it was flagged No Trade. And I'd received it on my Berserker. Who couldn't wear it even if he wanted to because it was also flagged "All Mages" or, as I'd put it, "Mages Only".

As far as I can remember there has never been any reward for regular Overseer quests that wasn't flagged Heirloom so it could be passed around the account. I think some of the holiday quests may have had No Trade items attached but those are all fluff items, not proper fighting gear. At least anyone can use them.

I'm very much hoping it is a mistake. If not, it's going to be something of a shot in the foot for a system that could better use a shot in the arm. I love the Overseer feature but it has its haters. Handing out No Trade items with class restrictions as the rewards for the most time-consuming content in the system, when players have no effective means of controlling which class gets them, well it's practically trolling us.

So I reported it. We'll see if anything comes of it. 

Meanwhile I'll keep plugging away at the blue and yellow quests. Maybe I'll even get some capable new agents. They must be in there, somewhere.

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