Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Spring Cleaning In Reverse

There's just one more day left for New World's Springtide festival, after which any event currency left unspent will melt away like the morning mist. So I thought I'd better get on and use mine, while I still had the chance. No sense leaving right to the last minute then forgetting about it.

Of course, there was the slight problem of what to buy with the fifty or so tokens I'd collected. I'd been logging in to grab them most days while the event was going on but I didn't really stop to ask myself why. Free stuff, y'know?

I did take a quick look at the holiday vendor right at the start and I could see there were a lot of armor skins, plenty of house items and some consumables but I didn't bother to look much further than that. I figured, when the time came, there'd be something I could buy. I mean, clothes and furniture are always welcome, right?

Well, the clothing was all pretty horrible. New World has some very odd aesthetics when it comes to appearance gear. I used to think it was because the good stuff was in the cash shop but now I think there just isn't much good stuff at all. 

The heavy armor looks like armor, which is just not how it's done in MMORPGs, while the medium and light look like someone had a lot of old curtains and sofa covers lying around and thought they might as well make something out of them.

Too-bright light, slightly scary plant.

The Spring Collection includes a Beekeeper's outfit, which appears to be historically accurate, more's the pity, plus a Springtide set that might do service for a touring company production of Julius Caesar.  There's an in-game Preview feature that lets you see what you'd look like wearing this stuff and I'd include some screenshots, only it uses a peculiar mechanic I couldn't get to grips with.

Instead of showing a separate image in a window, like almost every other game, New World shows you wherever you happened to be when you used it, only now you're wearing the item you selected. Since I had to be at the vendor to see the gear, that's where the Preview put me. The problem was, every time I tried, someone came and stood right on top of me, obviously also using the vendor.

What with that, the terrible lighting and no way I could find to move from the spot I was on, I pretty soon gave up trying to get a good shot. I couldn't even see the gear well enough to decide if I liked it or not. I had to tab out and look it up online to find out I didn't want it.

As well as the skins, you can buy patterns with which to make your own gear, the real thing, with stats. For ten tokens a pop you can get a pattern to make 700GS items, which would be great if I could wear them. Since I'd have to buy the expansion to be able to equip anything that high, I didn't bother.

Aerial Pinwheel. How does it stay up? Magic!

I did grab a few of last year's patterns, which make 600GS gear. Those were very much cheaper and most of my gear is well below 600, so it would be a decent upgrade. Of course, I'd need to be playing the game properly for that to matter but still. It could happen.

The consumables I didn't really look at. I'd been getting a ton of them from the daily gifts anyway and once again they weren't going to be much use if I wasn't out there fighting Corrupted and Lost and the rest of the crew. There were also a few one-off items but I didn't know what they were for and I couldn't imagine I'd ever find out so I struck them off the list, too.

And that just left housing items. Fortunately I love decorating so that was just fine with me. The only problem was going to be where to put them all.

I bought a big, four-poster bed and a chaise-longue, which were clearly going to take up a lot of space. There was a surprisingly wide range of lighting, wall and ceiling lights, table and standard lamps, more than one kind of each. I bought all of them. 

Naturally there were baskets of flowers. There were also a couple of oddities, like some large bags of "pigments" and a hovering device called a Pinwheel. I loaded up on those too.

I can't help thinking these would look better in a palace. Or a cat-house.

I think the only house items I didn't buy were one of the flower baskets and a banner. I thought the banner would be a wall hanging but my next-door neighbor in Mourningdale has something on their porch that I think might be one and it's actually a big pole with banner at the top and some flowers growing up it. It looks good. I wished I'd bought one once I saw it. might do one more round of the camps before the event ends tomorrow so I can get one for myself.

By the time I'd finished placing everything I could barely get up and down the stairs. My bedroom looks particularly cramped, even after I took out one of the beds that was already there.

I know I complained last time about the size of the rooms but it's not so much that - it's more that I seem to have acquired a hell of a lot of furniture for someone who hasn't actively played the game since a few months after launch. It's partly because Amazon keep giving house items away with the Prime Gaming deals but mostly because the one thing I keep coming back for are holiday events and New World seems to have those pretty regularly.

In an irritable report on a recent Q&A with the devs, MMO Bomb revealed that "Going forward, the focus will be less on Seasonal narrative content". At first I misunderstood that to mean less holiday content and I actually felt mildly relieved. It doesn't mean that, of course. It's not that kind of seasonal content they're talking about.

Flowers in barrel from this event. Other flowers... not sure.

Troy Blackburn at MMO Bomb also transmitted the apparent annoyance of the NW player-base with Amazon Games' constant harping on about the much-hyped "June Announcement". Even as a casual observer - and even more casual player - I have to agree that whatever it is they're keeping secret, it's going to have to be something truly spectacular now, just to justify the fuss they've been making over it.

Most of the speculation I've seen revolves around either a Console port or conversion to some sort of Free To Play business model, neither of which seems worth waiting months to announce. I guess either would potentially bring in a surge of new players, which seems to be one of the main expectations everyone has for the change, whatever it turns out to be, but plenty of other MMORPGs have either added a console client or gone F2P but none I remember ever chose to make a big secret of it like this.

If it's not that, though, I don't know what it might be, unless they're going to announce that Amazon's next big in-house video project is going to be a New World TV show. That would be a big deal and it would make a great setting for one, too. 

I doubt it's that, though. What I do think is that when we find out, pretty much everyone is going to be disappointed. I'll be happy to be proved wrong but I think it's a safe bet I won't be.

Failing some amazing development that none of us has even thought of, then, I expect my next visit to New World will be for whatever the holiday after Springtide might be. When it comes, I just hope there's something to get other than furniture. My character lives alone and she already has four beds...

Monday, April 29, 2024

Sun, Sea And Sand. Well, Two Out Of Three, Anyway

Today's the day Noah's Heart closes down but I already said my goodbyes there. Rather than log in for one last look I decided to spend some time in a game that's still around - although, if I was going to bet on it, not for much longer.

Unlike Noah's Heart, Dawnlands did get a relatively recent, very substantial update. Just before Christmas, developer Seasun added the following:

1. New Biome
2. New Enemies
3. New Outfits
4. New Followers
5. New Events

And now you know as much about it as anyone. That is literally the entire patch note for the update, apart from a couple of lines about network performance. 

They did post a video on YouTube.

The full and complete supporting text for that reads "Dawnlands new version update - Desert biome". It's almost like they don't want anyone to know they're working on the game, isn't it? 

Dawnlands is multi-platform, available on mobile and PC. It's possible that there are channels available to mobile users, where Seasun is communicating with players like, oh, I don't know... a company that wants to sell stuff and make money. On PC, though? Tumbleweed, appropriately.

Still, that video makes the new biome look pretty spiffy. I found myself wondering if you needed to progress in the game to open it up or if you could just up and go there. 

If it was the former, I was going to skip it. I've looked at the next big Boss fight I need to do for the level cap raise and the next tier of crafting and I don't much fancy it. Looks tough. And long.

Thinking back, though, I was pretty sure all the other biomes were accessible purely through travel and exploration, just as they are in Dawnlands' spiritual ancestor and inspiriation, Valheim. You might get your ass handed to you in a sack by the mobs in a new biome but there's nothing to stop you trying to play tourist if you don't mind taking the hits.

So I got on my horse and went looking. I packed the makings of a raft in case I needed to cross water but that turned out not to be necessary. I figured Desert would most likely be to the south of the map and since the Plains biome, which I'd already explored, is hot and dry, chances were the desert connected to it at some point.

Which it does. In Dawnlands you can teleport to various points of interest, once you've visited them and gotten them marked on your map. I ported to the most southernly spot I'd opened, which happened to be a dungeon of some sort. Then I got on my trusty horse and started riding. South.

It didn't take long. A few hills and the landscape began to change. More sand. Or, I should say, even more sand. 

I spent about an hour exploring and most of what I saw was... sand. And sun. Other than the lush oases dotted here and there, it's a barren, austere, beautiful region, full of emptiness and pain. By day the sun blazes down from a blank, blue sky. By night bitter cold chills the bleached bones of monsters, half-buried in the sand. 

And night or day, the sandstorms rage. It's a cheery place. I looked out for that cute little rodent from the video but I didn't spot him. 

I did see plenty of cute foxes, although one tried to bite me in the leg when I got too close. Also plenty of wizened mummies and altogether more sand worms than I was hoping for. To my surprise, the mobs were all quite manageable. Once again, taking its cue from Valheim, it seems that top-end armor from the previous biome is plenty good enough to get you started in the new one.

One of the many positive things I'd say about Dawnlands is that the biomes are H.U.G.E. I spent a good hour exploring the desert and barely made a mark on the map. I kept going south and eventually hit the "Turn back now" barrier that tells you you've reached the end of the known world. I tried to make it back to where I started but in the end I had to log out to go do something, so I ported home.

In all that time I hadn't found a settlement or a city or any sign of civilization. I did run across a few ruins, a couple of massive Mausoleums that needed a special item to enter, (An item I didn't have, naturally.), a teleport tower and a very interesting mini-dungeon full of traps. And scorpions. Of course there are scorpions.

I even found the spot where you summon the Desert Biome Boss, whoever and whatever it might be. I was feeling reckless enough to do it, too, just to see what came up out of the sand but when I tried I got one of those warning that goes "Are you sure you want to do this now? Wouldn't you like to think about it? Maybe come back another time, when you're a bit better prepared? Because, I mean, just look at you..." and I let myself be talked into behaving sensibly, for once.

Mostly what I did was take a lot of screenshots, some of which are in this post but none of which really do justice to the visuals in the game itself. For a start, you can't see the sandstorms that swirl up and whip across the desert, lowering visibilty and making the whole place feel claustrophobic despite being open to the horizon in every direction. Or the ever-changing color of the sky as day fades into night.

According to the big World Wheel there are supposed to be three more biomes to come. I'm not counting on the game lasting that long but based on the quality of the ones I've explored so far, I really hope it does. 

Meanwhile, I plan on going back and riding around the desert some more. May as well see what else there is to see. While it's still there...

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Jumpstyle Is Not A Crime

Since I ran up against the buffers in Nightingale I've been game-hopping like crazy. Typically, when I was spending all my time in one game, I complained about feeling trapped. Now I'm back to jumping between half a dozen games it's giving me the jitters. There's no pleasing some people.

The games I'm "playing" just now (Although that's a very fancy word for what I'm actually doing when I log into some of them.) are:

  • New World
  • AdventureQuest 3D
  • Once Human Closed Beta 3
  • EverQuest II
  • Nightingale
  • The Dungeon of Nahalbeuk: Amulet of Chaos

I don't have one of those fancy apps that tallies exactly how much time I spend in each of them but I can say with a fair degree of confidence that it isn't a lot. I doubt it's more than a couple of hours altogether most days.

As well as those six, I have a mental list of about twice as many games I feel I ought to be playing - or could be playing - or was in the middle of playing before I stopped for no good reason. Those include:

  • Valheim
  • Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit
  • Tales Noir Preludes
  • Imposter Factory
  • Lake
  • My Time At Sandrock

There are more - potentially a lot more - but that's a round dozen so I'll call it there, just so I have time to give a little gloss on each of them, starting with the ones I'm at least managing to log into once in a while:

New World - I came back for the Spring event and kind of hung around. I've been logging in most days to do the rounds of the settlements and festival camps so I can pick up my freebies, especially the tokens. I've bought some of the furniture I wanted and I have a couple more days to get the rest. I need to remember to spend everything I've earned because the event currency vanishes along with the event itself a tthe end of April.

Other than that, I've done a few quests and I feel like I might carry on and do a few more, just for the fun of it. Questing in New World is generally entertaining and I see new quest markers everywhere I go. Unfortunately, I'd need to buy the expansion to level any further and I think it's a bit steep at £25.  I'm somewhat discouraged to do too much questing while the xp goes nowhere so I'll probably shelve this one soon in anticipation of whatever the Big Announcement in June might be. Maybe that will make it feel like it's worth buying the DLC.

AdventureQuest 3D - I log in every day just to collect my three daily chests. There are two reasons I keep doing it: 1) The first chest always gives some cash shop currency and I want some for housing items and 2) AQ3D has by far the fastest login process I've ever seen. 

Seriously, it's like lightning. I wish every MMORPG was even half as fast. I just timed it and it took 28 seconds from Pressing "Play" in Steam to looking at my character in game. I can log in, get my chests and be back in Steam in under a minute although I don't usually go quite that fast. Of course, I'm not actually playing the game but there's certainly nothing being put in my way if I wanted to, which is more than I can say about a lot of games - *cough* Lord of the Rings *cough*

Once Human CB3 - I logged into this one for the first time in a couple of weeks last night and my house was gone! That was a shock. It turned out to be more of a feature than a glitch, though. It seems that if you don't log in for a while (I don't know what the time-limit is.) your house automatically gets copied and stored using the system designed for moving home. 

All you have to do to restore it is find a new spot and put down the blueprint and it magically reappears, just as it was, with all the furniture in the right place. It seems like a very ingenious solution to the endless problem all games with open-world housing have, namely absentee homeowners. This way, no-one has to look at hundreds of abandoned homes and all the best building spots can be taken by people who are going to use them.

Once Human has a lot of clever design features like that. Yesterday I ran across the game's ingenious solution to that other annoying trope of so many F2P MMORPGs, player-owned strip malls. You must have seen them; dozens, scores, hundreds of stalls put up by players to sell their goods, all crammed together in a particularly ugly form of urban blight.

In OH, players sell from pick-up trucks on which they place vending machines. These fit so well into the post-apocalyptic environment, already littered as it is with broken-down vehicles and machinery, it took me a good while to realize what they were. They also have the benefit of all being different. I haven't found out how you get one yet but it looks as though once you have one, you can furnish and decorate it like a room in your house. I wonder if you can also drive about in it? There are vehicles in the game, so I don't see why not.

I want to do at least one more full post about Once Human soonish, so I'll leave it at that for now. I don't plan on playing much more of CB3 but that's only because I want to save my enthusiasm for when the game goes live. I did do some exploring yesterday, though, which is where all the pictures in this post came from. It's fun just driving around on my motorcycle, looking at the scenery. I might do some more of that before the beta ends.

EverQuest II - I'm in and out of this one as usual. This morning I finished the Signature Questline from the current expansion, Ballads of Zimarra, which would normally be a big moment. Instead it turned out to be something of an anti-climax. 

For one thing, it's the first expansion for a long time where finishing the Sig hasn't also put me at the level cap. My Berserker is still only half way through Level 128. For another, there isn't a big, explosive ending to the storyline - just a regular fight with a named mob I wouldn't even call a Boss, followed by a hand-in, at which point you get a pop-up telling you the Sig line is finished.

It transpires there's a reason for that. The Signature Quest might have stopped but the quest faucet is still jammed full on. Other NPCs nearby immediately sprout feathers over their heads and everything carries on as before. I looked ahead on the wiki and there are tons more quests of all sorts in the expansion, many in direct line of sequence from the Sig. 

I'm not sure why they've done it this way although no doubt there are reasons. It's fine with me, anyway. Now I can just carry on chipping away until I eventually hit 130. I'd like to get it done before the Anashti Sul server arrives in June. That shouldn't be too hard...

Nightingale - As I said the other day, the changes they've made aren't significant enough to get me back playing regularly again. I would like to re-visit all the vendors so I can buy stuff directly from the UI in future, though. That would be a project in itself.

The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk: Amulet of Chaos - The wild card on this list, being both the only game that's both solo and offline. It's also the one I've been playing the most. I've had a session most evenings, usually lasting a couple of hours, which is sometimes as long as it takes to finish a single battle.

I really like the gameplay. It's one of those XCom-style, turn-based, tactical group combat games, only with a high-fantasy skin. Lots of setting people on fire, knocking them down and hiding behind things until someone blows them up. All of that.

It's also - loosely - a parody and I was wary of what that might mean in the way of "humor" but it's largely okay. The voice acting is just the right side of amateurish and the jokes rise just above embarrassingly cliched. I wouldn't call it witty or original but it raises the odd smile and the characters... have character.

The game also seems to go on forever. I feel like I've been playing it for months. I know I'm doing all the side quests but I feel if I wasn't my party wouldn't be tough enough to handle the main quest so it doesn't feel like that's much of an option. Anyway, I'm enjoying it and I hope one day I might even finish it.

And now the ones I'm thinking - but not doing much - about...

Valheim  - Wilhelm writing about this one again reminds  me I ought to go back and at least take a look at the Mistlands. I had a terrible start with that biome, although from what Wilhelm says that was likely the developers' intention. 

I'm not even going to bother trying to play the game properly any more but luckily I don't need to because I've switched all the mobs to Passive, meaning I can go explore without fear of being jumpd on by a spider the size of an elephant, moving as fast as a cheetah. I mean, does that sound like fun to anyone?

I was tempted to go back and have a wander around yesterday but then I thought about the final biome, Ashlands, which is in testing now and should be going live in a matter of weeks. It probably makes more sense to wait for that and then explore both biomes together. If I do, I won't be switching mob aggro on for that either, I'll tell you that for nothing!

Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit - I bought this in January. Haven't even logged in yet. Every time I see it in my Steam Library I feel uncomfortable. Maybe I'll start on it as soon as I finish Naheulbeuk.

Tales Noir Preludes  - I bought this around the same time and played it right away. I was really enjoying it but then I stopped, for no reason I can recall. I keep meaning to carry on from where I left off but somehow I never do. Must try harder.

Imposter Factory - Much the same story for this one, although I got further before I stopped.

Lake - And this one! I have no idea why this keeps happening. I have a post in mind to write about Lake, too. Something very odd happens in it. Twice, in fact. 

I thought I might already have posted about that but search suggests I haven't. I guess I could tell you what the Odd Thing is now but there's still the outside possibility it might happen more than twice, so I really ought to finish the game first, just in case.

My Time At Sandrock - Will I ever play this damn game? I very much doubt it. 

I almost wish I hadn't bought it, now. I feel like its whole schtick has been done by so many other games, I can't really see the point. Then again, the My Time At... games probably do it better than most of them, so why play any of those, when I already have this one installed? 

And there we have it. Not so much a post, more of a to-do list. Maybe putting it all down on paper will even inspire me to get some of it done.

I kinda doubt it but you have to try something, don't you?

Friday, April 26, 2024

Anashti Sul or She Who Could Not Be Destroyed

As time creeps forward and the mists begin to clear, Darkpaw's plans for the upcoming EverQuest II "Origins" server are slowly starting to take shape and they're... interesting. Yesterday, an outline schematic appeared on the official website and among the general information you might have expected for any forthcoming special rules server were some unusual and curious details.

Let's start with the beta. Daybreak has long been big on betas for everything from major updates to full expansions, so it's not particularly surprising to hear there's going to be one for the new server. The whole beta process is so routine now, there's a permanent Beta server waiting to be populated with whatever new code needs testing and a relatively straightforward process for players to participate.

What is notable in this case is the extent of the beta. At six weeks, it's edging towards the length normally reserved for annual expansions. That's a serious beta, as the bullet point list acknowledges:

  • There will be a 6-week Beta to ensure we cover a wide breadth of testing.

Indeed, serious seems to be the keyword for this event. By far the most unexpected revelation in the announcement is the news that the server will operate on its own "design depot".

That didn't have much of an immediate impact on me because I have never heard the term before and had no idea what it might mean. Google was no help, pointing me towards any number of disparate businesses trading under the name. I suspect it's a piece of purely internal jargon used at Darkpaw or Daybreak or even EG7 but nowhere else.

Luckily, whoever wrote the announcement thought to include a brief but fairly clear gloss:

  • It cannot be affected by Live design updates, and vice versa.

It appears a design depot isn't just an offshoot of the Live game running on a separate server with a different ruleset, the way all Time Limited Expansions and special projects have worked until now. It's almost (But crucially not quite.) a standalone game. 

  • Code and Art are still across all server types, for a variety of reasons. For example, connections to external or shared resources such as Database, Authentication, etc. have completely changed over the years.

That deserves some unpacking. And a little speculation. Firstly, there's no real reason to provide that much detail in the context of this announcement, other than to try to head off the inevitable complaints that the new server isn't separate enough from the main game. 

EQII players, by and large, tend to be traditionalists but a significant and vocal minority are positively luddite. They tend to think whatever they had before was better, just because it came first. No matter how far the clock rolls back it won't be far enough for some of them, so it makes sense to get the rebuttals out there ahead of the attacks. 

For once, I do wonder if there isn't something more going on behind the upfront explanation than mere defensive positioning. There's just a slight suggestion of frustration in the phrasing, a sense that whoever set this up would have liked to go further but had to stop a little way back from where they wanted because they'd run up against technical issues they weren't able to overcome. 

It makes me wonder whether there might be a few regrets that no-one thought more about the game's past when they were framing its future. Players may not be the only ones who sometimes wish they could go back to their glory days. Assuming EQII ever had any glory days, that is...

Then there's the confirmation that this has never been done before:

  • This is the first time for this type of separation for EverQuest II

Doesn't that make you wonder why it's being done now? It does me. If it wasn't deemed necessary to silo the previous TLE servers as securely as this, what's changed? Is it simply a case of the technology having moved on, making this a viable option when perhaps before it would have been too difficult or too expensive? Or is required to sustain a different pattern of development altogether, one that requires more strict segregation to minimize any risk of contamination?

When the project was first announced I somewhat flippantly described it as Darkpaw's response to the success of WoW Classic. Now I think that might actually be what they have in mind.

SOE, followed by Daybreak, pretty much invented the retro-server concept. They iterated on it until it became a major money-maker and a popular success but it took Blizzard, finally caving and copying the format, to show just how big a deal it could be. Classic's success made it clear that sailing as close as possible to the authentic past could grab the attention of literally millions of ex-players. People who used to play WoW "when it was good". 

I get the feeling Darkpaw's new server, which they've tellingly named Anashti Sul, the misunderstood goddess of death and resurrection, is intended to be something much more than just another version of the familiar format. By taking a number of extra steps to recreate as closely as they're able not just the general feel but the very specific ambience and gameplay of the original game, it looks like they're making a bid for more than just the usual suspects, the crowd who turn up for every new TLE server, play for a month or two, then leave.

What I'm suggesting is that this seems like an awful lot of extra work to take on, just for an Anniversary event. It seems a lot more like something you'd do if you were hoping to start a whole, new, separate strand of the business. Something like WoW Classic or Old School Runequest

Whether it'll work is another matter. I suspect the demographic that fueled the success of those two retro-spin-offs simply doesn't exist for EQII. It never had the numbers of either of those mega-successful titles and it's more than likely that most people who ever cared to come back to EQII have already done so, probably more than once. 

Even so, I'd lay odds Anashti Sul will have a bigger opening than just about any previous EQII retro-server. It does look like it's going to be genuinely different to anything we've seen before. A number of significant changes that haven't been applied to any previous Progression or TLE server are part of the package this time. 

For example, there's a return to secondary functions for base stats. I'd actually forgotten they ever had them, largely because it's not my kind of thing. Still, I instantly remembered what it used to be like when I read:

  • Attributes have restored secondary functionality, agility will help avoid melee attacks, intelligence will increase ability potency, strength will increase melee damage, and wisdom will grant extra resistance.

It's not just a detail, either. It's a signifier. It's flagging up the importance to many players of the necessity for a certain kind of mindful choice in gameplay, while tacitly acknowledging that, while the current Live game may be ferociously complicated in many ways, it isn't necessarily as thoughtfully complex as it once was.

I'm not much of a one for min-maxing stats so the thought of being able to passively dodge some damage by having a few more points of Agility doesn't fire my enthusiasm a whole lot. I'm much more excited by this:

  • Freeport and Qeynos are back to old school, in both appearance and functionality. Livable neighborhoods, and their quests, are back!

At one time, this would have been huge news but we already had the Neighborhoods returned to us a while ago, which does blunt a little of the impact. They didn't come with all of the quests, though, and I'm not sure we were able to live in them. That's going to be a trip.

As for the starting city revamps being rolled back, I'd completely forgotten Qeynos ever even had one. I'm curious to know what changed because I have no memory of it at all.

Freeport, though; that I do remember. I even wrote about it here, in the very early days of the blog. That was over a dozen years ago and quite honestly I can't remember what Freeport looked like back then although, reading that post, it's beginning to come back to me. I certainly remember the old Blood Haze Inn as it was in that screenshot.

On the flip side of what's coming back is what's staying the hell away, something that seemed even more important to some folks on the forums as I scanned them yesterday. It's a revealing set of negatives. 

No Krono means no way to buy influence or progress with real money, I suppose. It should also stop inflation from getting out of hand too quickly. Coupled with a "very limited" cash shop, it's probably as close as Accounting will let them get to the authentic in-game economy c. 2006.

No persistent instances means every dungeon run has to be completed in real time (Or at least that's what I think it means...). On Live you get a timer, generally three days, during which the server saves the state of the instance so you can go in and out to resupply or take a break as you feel like it. Now if you leave, all your progress will be lost and you'll have to start over from scratch. I'm a bit vague on why we want that but it's certainly how things worked back in the day.

No spell research means no offline upgrades. If you want the next quality level of a spell you'll have to make, buy or find it and scribe it in game. I hope it also means Adept and Master spell books will drop off mobs again or things could get awkward.

Those are what you might call the "Positive Negatives". Then there are the Negative Negatives, at least one of which I don't quite get.

No weight means coin and items will not cause encumbrance. The interesting thing there is that the devs apparently wanted to bring the mechanic back but weren't able to for technical reasons. It's scary sometimes to think what some people consider fun, isn't it?

No tradeskill combines is a huge positive to me but I've already seen people moaning about it on the forums. There's a borderline-sociopathic subset of EQII vets that considers the game's original crafting set-up to have been near-perfect. I just hope none of them hold office anywhere. 

Luckily, the delusion isn't held by anyone at Darkpaw with authority to make it happen so Anashti Sul will use the crafting system as it was immediately after sub-combines were removed, which was also before the addition of pretty much all the crafting quests. Get ready to spend a lot of time at the tables.

No holiday events. This is the one that puzzles me. I can absolutely see why the purebred server won't want to share current holidays with the mongrel hordes of Live and TLE but surely it's going to want the original holidays as and when they arrive? It's not as though they wouldn't be in keeping with the premise of the server. Anashti Sul is bench-marked as "reflective of the 2006 eraand the first Frostfell was in 2005

If we're really not going to get even the original events, I can only imagine it's because they've proved impossible restore to their original form. It's going to make for a pretty bleak experience after a while, though, if there literally aren't any holidays. After all, Norrath pretty much runs on egg nog and pumpkin pie...

There's more but those are the highlights. I confess I'm feeling quite jazzed  for this. It looks like it could be quite an event.

I may even be keen enough to make a beta character, just to see the sights a few weeks early. If so, you can count on a photo essay here, assuming there's no NDA. I'll probably hold off until the official launch in June, though. 

It's not that long to wait. Is it?


Note: All screenshots taken on the final day of the original EQII beta in 2004.  Complete with original letterbox framing.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

"Players Can Now Rename Their Pet Beds..."

It's been three weeks since I last played Nightingale. Back then, I was still enjoying the ambience and there were things left I could have done but it was all starting to get a bit what's the point?" 

I'd reached the end of the narrative, seen all the main biomes as well as most of their variations, and while there were still plenty of upgrades I could have made to all my gear, the stuff I had was already more than equal to anything I was likely to ask of it. Everything left to do seemed like it would become incrementally less engaging the longer I carried on with it, so I stopped.

This has to be a major problem for all live service games, doesn't it? Holding players' atttention once they've burned through the initial tranche of content. The people making the games certainly seem to think so, even if their bosses don't.

Games with a built-in competetive component have a clear edge. Players don't need much in the way of incentive to keep logging in if their place on a league table depends on it. Moreover, races and fights and matches all benefit from keeping to the same ruleset over time. No need to keep adding new twists and tweaks. Or not so much, at least.

Sandboxes also have a slight advantage in that players generally take longer to fall out of love with their own creativity than with someone else's. Give them the tools and they'll likely not only finish the job but tear it down and start over a few times before they finally lose interest.

If gameplay depends on exploration, storyline or character progression, though, it's going to need constant refreshment to keep people interested. MMORPGs have traditionally managed that through multiple channels, including but not limited to slowing progress to a crawl, dangling the tastiest temptations far out of reach, encouraging tribal loyalties, instilling a sense of duty or responsibilty and of course pumping out half-finished, poorly-tested content as fast as they can shove it down the pipe.

The genre has also relied heavily on a "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach to content. By trying to appeal to anyone, from the cuddliest of Socialisers to the most psychopathic of Killers, along with absolutely everyone inbetween, many MMORPGs may have suffered terribly from lack of focus or feature creep but they've also sometimes succeeeded in creating a church broad enough for anyone to worship at, so long as they don't mind kneeling next to heretics and heathens.

As time goes on and the sheer number of MMORPGS, both long-running and nearly-new, continues to grow, these tricks don't seem to be working as well as they once did. Still, it does seem as though they're having more effect than later innovations such as short-lived, cyclical Seasons, a gimmick whose appeal may already be almost at an end, whereas the arrival of an "expansion" can still bring people flocking back to games they once played.

Even a big Update can show up as a significant bump on the Steam charts. I was expecting one of those for Nightingale, which released its first major update yesterday. Known uninspiringly as 0.2 (Seriously, give these things names if you want people to pay attention to them, guys!), it's a fairly hefty package, including some much-requested quality of life improvements and a deal of new content.

The full patch notes (Known somewhat pretentiously to Inflexion as "the Changelog".) are extensive. There's even a video. Here are some of the highlights, along with my comments because I can't possibly keep my opinions to myself, even when I haven't yet had time to see most of this stuff in action:

You can now queue up to six items at a crafting station. Previously you had to complete each one before starting the next, which led to me not tearing down the old ones when I built upgrades, just so I could have more things cooking at the same time. If nothing else, this might save me some space.

Craft stations now pull from storage, which is a huge improvement. I did quite like trotting in and out of different rooms, opening chest after chest in search of a hinge or some coal, but it was kind of a zen thing at best. Crafting is going to be a lot more practical now, not to mention faster. That said, the range from which the stations will pull is quite short. I'm going to have to build a whole new storage area directly above my workroom for everything to be available immediately.

Three new weapons have been added - Sheath of Throwing Knives, Satchel of Grenades and Blunderbuss. Clearly, the intention is to improve ranged attacks, which were very limited and basic. They've also zhuzhed up the existing one-handed weapons, sickle, knife and hammer, so as to allow for dual-weapon builds.

As well as new weapons, we have new mobs trying to kill us. Only a couple but they do look quite distinctive, plus they have new attacks. Some of the existing mobs have also learned new tricks. We'll all need to be on our toes until we get the hang of the new combat techniques. I haven't had the chance to try them out yet but I look forward to being bombed from above and zapped at a distance as I fire my blunderbuss and fling my knives. Once I've made them, that is.

To that end, there are some new quests revolving around gaining the blueprints for the new weapons and learning to use them. The update also cleans up some loose ends on existing quests and allows for more options for players who may have thought they'd locked themselves out of certain choices. Almost the first thing I did when I logged in last night was to go back to speak to someone so I could get an annoying dangling questline out of my journal.

Traders now trade remotely. Or at least they do once you've been to see them at their locations at leaast once. This is a major improvement in utility for the game, not least because some bright spark at Inflexion thought it would be a spiffy idea to distribute all the games hundreds of buyable items and blueprints across dozens of vendors situated in dozens of different realms, each of whom requires you not only to navigate the entire map to find them but to build a damn portal to get there in the first place. 

It made for excellent content - once. Having to keep doing it every time I needed to go back to buy something I either couldn't afford the first time or thought I'd never need but later found I couldn't do without wasn't quite so much fun, so I was very excited to see the change. I was less thrilled when I discovered that I'd still have to go back to every single vendor one more time to set the flag that confirmed I'd visited in person. 

Surprisingly, it seems no-one had thought to record that information until a use was created for it, which certainly tells you plenty about how on-the-fly some of these changes are being made. I would have thought it would have been obvious from the start that we'd end up here sooner or later but apparently not.

And on the subject of things you'd have thought would have been there from the start, lead quest-giver Nellie Bly now has voice acting. I wonder if the eventual plan is to have all NPCs voiced? It seems like a lot of work and expense to retro-fit them all, especially since the impact will be lost on almost everyone currently playing. I mean, I'm not going to able to hear much of what Nellie has to say, seeing that I've finished all her quests. 

I will go visit her to hear what she sounds like, all the same. She has some incidental dialog she repeats. I'm almost curious enough to make a second character so I can hear the rest, though. Puck was very entertaining to listen to so if the standard is maintained, it might be worth it. I guess I ought to hold off for now in case they add more, though. I bet they'll do Dr. Frankenstein next!

There's been a UI makeover. It's been a while since I last played so I'm not one hundred per cent sure what's new and what I've just forgotten was there already but I have to say the whole thing feels smarter, cleverer and all-round better than I remember. It still looks a bit like it was designed by someone who usually does intertitles for silent movies but functionally it's a definite improvement.

Everyone can dodge now, apparently. This one confused me a bit. I wasn't aware anyone could dodge. I certainly haven't been doing it. Maybe I'll start, now I know I can.

Building costs have been "tweaked", by which ambiguous term they do for once mean "reduced". By a lot, in fact. This is quite significant for me inasmuch as it was specifically the large quantities of mats required that put me off building a new home using the more advanced building options I'd acquired in the late game. That alone would give me something to do for a good few hours more.

Which brings me neatly back to the potential impact of this update on both keeping the players Nightingale still has and bringing back some of those who've found other things to do. News of the update was enough to get me to take a look and from my comments on the list above it does appear there's at least a chance I might hang around for a while.

A glance at the Steam charts for the two days since the update dropped, however, doesn't feel quite so cheery. There's just the tiniest blip of interest visible. Comparing the Wednesday before the patch with yesterday, peak population rose by just a couple of hundred. Maybe the weekend will see a better turnout but even if it hits the dizzy heights of a couple of thousand it'll still be less than ten percent of what it was back in Februray, when the game went into Early Access.

And there we have it. The familiar pattern. Wilhelm posted something very interesting a while ago about the tendency of MMORPGs that reach their ten-year anniversary to just keep on going. ArcheAge look like it's about to buck that trend but generally it seems quite reassuring for people playing - and running - games that go back more than a decade. I have to wonder, though, which new games are going to be joining the Decadian Club ten years from now?

At the moment the pattern seems to be a huge influx of players at the moment the game becomes publicly available, be that Early Access, Open Beta or an official Launch, swiftly followed by a swift and precipitous decline, frequently representing the loss of well over 90% of everyone who was there for the first week or two.

When that still leaves well over hundred thousand players, which was Palworld's peak population last month, the future may still be rosy enough. If attrition in the first quarter takes you down to a mere couple of thousand active players, though, which is where Nightingale finds itself, you do have to wonder how long the game can go on.

I guess one way to spike interest is to persuade someone to make a hit TV show based on your game. I did wonder if that might the big announcement New World has planned for June. Nightingale would make a great TV show, if anyone's interested...

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Starting As You Don't Mean To Carry On

Since I'm completely stuck for anything to write about today and since I did say I was going to do it, I guess we might as well have that list of TV shows I started but didn't finish. Always assuming I can remember what they were, that is. And why I stopped watching them.

Here they are, in no particular order, apart from a slight bias towards the few I can actually recall something about without having to look them up...


I watched just one episode of this. I didn't hate it but I didn't much like it, either. 

The premise looked promising - an ex-music journalist and recovering addict remakes himself as a "brutally honest sobriety counselor" - but the execution, at least in the first episode, felt lackluster and labored. I fully realize it takes most shows a while to get going but this isn't a sitcom with a twenty-six episode season arc. It's a ten episode dramedy and those really need to kick harder off the wall.

The real reason I didn't follow through, though, was Loudermilk himself. I just didn't like him. I didn't find him appealing or endearing or sympathetic. I found him smug and annoying. In something like this, if you don't enjoy the star turn there's very little prospect of the rest of the cast picking up the slack and given I didn't much like any of them either...

I was a bit disappointed I didn't enjoy it more. I'd had it in mind for a while to give the show a try and then Wilhelm included it in one of his TV posts, saying he hoped it would "scratch a bit of the Brockmire itch". I'd also watched Brockmire and enjoyed it and I would have liked more of the same or at least a passable facsimile.


Which makes me wonder now why I didn't just watch more Brockmire. I mean, there was more I hadn't watched already. A whole season, in fact. Actually, now I come to look into it further, three whole seasons.

And here we go again. Until I wrote this post I was under the impression there were only two seasons of Brockmire. There are, in fact, four. Last year, when I was watching it on Amazon Prime UK, only the first two seasons were available and there was no mention of Seasons Three and Four at all.

This time, though, lack of access wasn't the reason I stoppped. I stopped with Season One because at the end, Brockmire decides to take a new job in another town, leaving behind the entire supporting cast except for the one I wasn't all that keen on.

Obviously, I should have trusted the process and carried on watching to see where the show was going to go. For all I know, the move could have been a total disaster and Brockmire could have been back where he started in S2E2. 

The truth is, I wanted Season Two to carry on just the same as Season One and when it didn't I threw a hissy fit and walked away. I've always intended to go back and try again and now I know there are actually three more seasons I'm more interested than ever. Let's hope my VPN can make that happen because the show isn't available in the UK at all any more.

Blue Period

An anime in which an enervated, bored, popular high school student decides, for some inchoate reason, to slum it with the art kids, only to discover he has a hidden talent for painting. Or something like that. I expect he also falls in love or gets a crush on someone or learns some life lessons, too. All of the above, probably.

I thought it sounded promising and once again I didn't hate it but it didn't hold my attention for more than a single episode. I can remember bits of the plot and a few scenes so it can't have been entirely uninvolving but when you get to the end of the first episode of a character-driven show, the minimum expectation is that you should want to know what happens to the characters next. 

I didn't and I still don't.


Another anime. It's an eight episode limited series and I this time I got half way through before I stopped. My reason for bailing was pretty much the opposite of the one I gave just now.

The premise of Pluto is that there are a small number of exceptionally advanced, intelligent, self-aware robots and someone is killing them all, one by one. That's right. It's an AI serial killer show.

It's beautifully animated. It looks gorgeous. The writing is supple and subtle. The characters are distinct and memorable. The plot is compelling. Each episode is around an hour long so there's time for a huge amount of detail and backstory and world-building, all of which is done well.

So why didn't I finish it? Simple. I just found it too emotionally draining to continue. It was wearing me out. 

The whole show is steeped not just in emotion but in the examination of emotion. Having some of the central characters be robots allows for a continual comparison between what is real and what is artificial, what is valid and what is surrogate. I found it exhausting, especially late at night, like going to bed with a philosophy textbook.

The main reason I couldn't keep up with it, though, were the robots themselves. The show does an excellent job of  presenting these few, special machines as unique and irreplaceable, making it a harrowing experience to see one destroyed forever in each episode.

My sense was that, even if the central character, himself one of the special robots, now acting as a detective, was to solve the case, find and stop the killer and survive the final episode, at best it would be a Pyrrhic victory. By then he'd be the only one left. It would be like watching fire destroy an entire art gallery and having the fire finally go out leaving just one painting unburned.

I will go back and finish this one at some point but I'll really have to be in the mood for it.

Little Witch Academia

And on the exact other end of the entertainment spectrum...

I watched this after a run of super-heavy, emotionally draining shows, including the last one. I was hoping to relax with some silliness. To be fair to the show, there is plenty of that but even in the two or three early episodes I saw, I found myself watching with a creeping sense of foreboding. Very much not what I was either expecting or looking for.

It's a perennial problem with many institutionally-set shows. This one happens to be set in a school but it could just as easily be a hospital or an office or a prison. There has to be dramatic tension and in institutional settings that tension almost always turns inwards on itself.

The particular premise here is that a girl from a humble background gets a place at a school for witches but the place turns out to be full of snobs, bullies and disciplinarians. After only a couple of episodes I could see we were in for an endless series of battles with authority, tradition and repression, during which, over time, the virtues of our hero's kind, empathic persona would slowly - oh so very slowly - work to change hearts and minds. 

I've recently started watching the similarly-named My Hero Academia and it suffers from much the same problem. To many shows do.

It's all very well to teach life-lessons but they can be excruciating to have to live through, even vicariously. How many times do you really want to see the character you're supposed to be associating yourself most closely with be humiliated, embarrassed and made to look and feel inadequate before you reach the catharsis of their ultimate vindication?

Or, in other words, does there really need to be quite so much Shawshank before every Redemption? Maybe there does. There always is, after all. And usually I can handle it. This time, though, I really wasn't in the mood.

The Great Pretender

More anime. I lasted three or four episodes with this one and I liked it but it had something of the opposite problem from either Pluto or Little Witch Academia and that sunk it for me in the end. 

The elevator pitch for this one is that Japan's greatest con artist meets another scammer who's even better at defrauding people than he is. What that doesn't tell you is that they're both total gits.

Watching two self-satisfied, arrogant liars try to out-lie each other for twenty-five minutes does not, in my opinion, make for great entertainment. Once again, the writing seemed fine and there's every chance all of this was going somewhere, but for me to go with it long enough to find out where that might be, the two leads would have to be a damned sight less obnoxious. 

When you're being asked to spend time with fictional criminals, I never feel it's a good sign when you really, really want the police to catch them and bang them up for good. Or for their intended victims to catch them at it and give them a good kicking. Either would be fine.

One Piece

By no means the last show I've quit on but the last I can remember right now. This was one of Netflix' big shows of last year. The trailer looked good and I was looking forward to it. When it started, a friend watched it and told me it was great. I watched the first episode and...

It was a bit dull. I kept meaning to go back and watch the rest but so far I haven't and the longer we go on, the less likely that seems. Maybe one day.

At least it's one episode ahead of Fallout or The Three Body Problem, neither of which I seem to be able to start watching at all. Once again, I thought I was looking forward to both of them but apparently I'd rather watch old CW shows, now I can access them through my VPN.  

The Flash starts out really well and there are nine seasons of that one. Pretty sure I'm going to watch them all.

Monday, April 22, 2024

It's Life, Jim...

Chris Neal at MassivelyOP raised an interesting question ths weekend, when he asked whatever happened to Atlas, the piratical MMO that went into Early Access all the way back in 2018 and never came out the other side. I bought it shortly after it became available and posted some extensive First Impressions (1, 2, 3, and 4.) based on the week I spent there, after which I pretty much never set foot in the game again.

In fact, according to Steam, my total playtime in Atlas comes to less than seven hours. I currently don't even have it installed. I suppose I should probably be annoyed I ever bought it or even blame Wildcard, the developer, for not making good on the gameplay they promised, but I don't.

When I stopped playing after just a week I was optimistic:

"I'm still very happy to have bought and tried it. Atlas's journey has barely begun. It's going to be around for a long time.  If - when - things change, I'll be back to give it another look."

Things did change. A lot. From what I remember, Wildcard were everlastingly messing around with both the premise and the practicalities. But I still never came back.

There were a few reasons for that. For one thing, I'm never wholly comfortable playing pirates. Partly it's the way piracy has been gentrified from a bleak, brutal, amoral reality into a colorful, cheerful, child-friendly fantasy but honestly that happens to everything in MMORPGs, from bears to battles, so why pick on pirates? 

No, mostly it's that pirates are just boring.

I mean, look at them. What do they actually do in games? Sail around in big, wooden boats that are always really hard to steer. Wave cutlasses and fire flintlocks. Wander about the docks in floppy hats with feathers in, looking for work. 

On a good day they sometimes get to go Yar! and swig some rum. It doesn't really cut it in the adventure stakes, compared to flying over snow-capped mountains on a griffon or delving into the depths of a forgotten elven city, buried for aeons under the shifting sands, now does it?

They also seem to be everlastingly wandering along barren, empty beaches, looking for buried treasure that they rarely find. Or carrying crates they never get to open from one forlorn port authority shack to another. If they're lucky they sail across a millpond-flat sea without incident, which is about as exciting as it sounds. If not they have to fight with other pirates ships or naval vessels, which inevitably means going round and round in circles until one of them sinks. Or they have to run from storms, in which they're either shipwrecked or end up stuck in port trying to fix the damage.

Is that fun? I never thought so. I haven't bothered to re-read my First Impressions posts but as far as I recall, what I most liked about Atlas were the parts where you could just be on land doing regular MMORPG stuff, from which I'd have to conclude the pirate theme wasn't really adding much.

But believe it or not, I didn't begin this post intending to re-review Atlas or indulge in a rant about how boring pirates can be. I wanted to address something Chris said towards the end of his piece, namely that the game "looks to have been pushed to the furthest back burner possible". In other words, Atlas has entered maintenance mode.

This loops back around to the controversial topic of game preservation, a horse I am nowhere near done beating to death. Prefacing the previously quoted comment and referring to the people still playing Atlas, Chris says, with admirable nuance, "The fact that it’s still online is probably a benefit to those holdouts."

I do like that "probably". It's a short piece but he manages to make it perfectly clear that the possibility that what Atlas really needs is a decisive and merciful ending can't be ruled out. The game has been in Early Access for more than five years, during which time I seem to recall it being radically revamped and re-promoted at least once, possibly more, without ever arriving at a state anyone cared to call "done".

If it's true the game's owners and developers  have lost interest in it completely, in whose interest does it remain up and running? Does it need to sit there, indefinitely, in a playable condition, regardless of any commercial value, for as long as even one person who bought the imaginary box still retains a fitful interest in logging in?

Wilhelm took Ubisoft to task recently for the cavalier way that company chose to handle a similar issue with its racing game The Crew. Few rational people would defend Ubisoft for anything, and I certainly don't want to give the impression I approve of what they've done, are doing or most likely ever will do, so I have to tread carefully here, but as someone who once paid real money for the Crew I really couldn't care less if they switch the damn servers off. 

Of course, from a purely personal perspective, it's very much a moot point. I liked the Crew, what very little I ever saw of it, but it holds what I think may be a unique position among every game I have ever bought in that it's the only one where I literally and without any exaggeration could not get past the Tutorial.

I found the car so impossible to control I couldn't pass the game's very lenient safety check to be allowed to drive freely on the open road. All I ever saw of the world was the introduction and the first few cut scenes. I suppose it's possible I might feel more miffed about the news that I won't be able to play the game I bought in the future if I'd actually ever been able to play it in the past.

On balance, though, I think I had my chance. I bought the Crew nine years ago. I posted about it once. That I wasn't good enough at driving games to get any more use out of it is on me but even if I'd been a first-rate imaginary racer, I can't but feel nine years free access would have allowed me to get my money's worth. 

If we accept for the moment, nonetheless, that the general feeling is that online games should have persistence beyond their natural, commercial life, it does raise a very curious conundrum concerning what quality of life we consider worthwhile. Might there be some conflict between the concerns expressed whenever an online game becomes wholly unavailable and the somewhat similar expressions of dismay that greet a game going into maintenance mode?

Getting back to Atlas, if, as Chris's article suggests, some current players are quite satisfied with how much there is to do in the game right now, why is it a problem if Wildcard stops updating it? True, in this particular instance there is that pesky "Early Access" tag but if we accept, as I believe we should, that any game that's started charging money is de facto "Live", then what we have here is nothing more than a game that has aged out to the point where it no longer justifies further development.

It seems to me that the issues are very different. There's a strong argument towards putting online games into a similar bracket as DVDs or books, where an initial purchase entitles you to indefinite use. The only substantive difference is that online games require someone else to host them for you and in that respect it may be that developers hold some moral responsibility to ensure continuity or provide a local alternative.

But no-one is suggesting that, when you buy a book, the author or publisher has an obligation to keep adding new chapters so you don't have read the same ones over and over. If games are going to be "preserved", either for current users or future generations, it's going to be in an as-is format, most likely based on a snapshot of the game at the time it ceased development. No-one, surely, is suggesting they also need to receive updates, complete with new content, deep into the future?

On that logic, there shouldn't be a problem with games entering "maintenance mode". Effectively, that is game preservation, isn't it? We ought to be delighted when we hear an MMORPG has gone into maintenance. It means the game has reached its final, finished, fixed state and can safely be archived for the pleasure of generations yet to come. 

And yet, for some reason, usually we're not. The mere hint that a game might be ceasing to add new content always indicates the end. It leads to an exodus of current players and an embargo on newcomers. No-one wants to play a dead game.

I don't know. I just feel there's some sort of logical inconsistency here, if not an outright paradox. Maybe someone can explain in the comments why Game Preservation is good but Maintenance Mode is bad. 

In the specific case of Atlas, when I read the speculation that development on the game might have ground to a permanent halt, I did actually find myself thinking, perversely, that now might be the time to go back and have another look. After all, if anything, it was the knowledge that Wildcard were likely to keep fiddling with the thing that put me off playing much in the first place. 

There's a lot to be said for the quiet life. In games, too.

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