Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Race in Runes of Magic

Massively.com published an article based on a interview done at the Game Designers Conference in San Francisco with the developers of Runes of Magic. The first update is going to introduce a new race into the game: elves! They also hinted that the two new classes that will be introduced into the game may be limited to elves only.

Plans also include new mounts. Mounts that can carry 3 players! Woot!

I also like the idea of increasing the amount of music in the game. The places in the game with no music is pretty bad. I usually turn off the background music in games, but I keep it on when playing RoM. I guess it is still new enough that I'm not bored with the music yet.

Oh, and did I mention better crowd control for us scouts? My plan to poke my head into the game once or twice a week for a couple of hours as a change of pace from EQ2 is looking better all the time.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What I've Been Listening To: March 22 - 28

Death in the U.K. & Germany. Repression in China. Big corporations trying to keep the little guy down. Cuts in the U.S. defense budget. Taxation in New York narrowly averted. Addiction problems in Sweden. Subjects taken from the front pages of the news? No, items in the news segments of MMO podcasts!

I play MMORPGs to get away from the real world for a couple of hours, but for some reason reality keeps trying to creep into the gaming world. It’s a good thing we still have subjects like how to choose a tradeskill profession, what attributes would a fantasy Eve MMO have, the patch notes for WoW, and big blue packages to think about.

Van Hemlock #43 (Hosts Van Hemlock (Tim Dale) and Jon Shute) - My favorite British game commentators began their second year of podcasting talking about the news and what they’ve been playing. As I said in the introduction, the real world is trying to crowd into the MMORPG game space and Tim & Jon do a good job of pushing back by poking fun at the “serious” people.

Some of the subjects discussed were Warhammer, the Lich King in China, stupid marketing stunts, and why Tim hates Smurfs.

Van Hemlock #44 (Hosts Van Hemlock (Tim Dale) and Jon Shute) Either Jon cracked under all the weighty news discussed in episode #43 or people really acted goofy during the past week. Usually the news segment only has one really stupid story. I think Jon may have only included one serious story in this episode’s news segment.

I do think that is fair, since the discussion became serious as the hosts tried to explain Eve to non-players and wound up trying to lay out the parameters a fantasy version of Eve would need to meet. From listening to the discussion, Darkfall really may be close to being a fantasy version of Eve.

Channel Massive #82 (Hosts: Noah, Jason & Mark) - If you need a Warhammer fix, listen to this podcast. Sure, the M team talks about other things like the new Watchman movie, how Fallout 3 could affect the new apocalyptic MMO Fallen Earth and another delay in bringing a MMORPG to consoles, but the best parts of the podcast involved WAR, whether it was the “What we’re playing” segment, the discussion of WAR’s server merges, or the WAR vs. WoW comparison.

Channel Massive #83 (Hosts: Noah, Jason & Mark) - For people listening to the Channel Massive podcast for the first time, do not belive Noah when he states that the podcast is high-brow at the beginning of this episode. If you are looking for high-brow, this podcast is an EPIC FAIL! If instead you are looking at a snarky look at subjects ranging from Cryptic trying to steal players from NCSoft's forums, City of Heroes/City of Villians players being able to create their own missions, and the myth vs. reality of the types of characters women choose to roll in MMOs, then this podcast is for you.

Congrats to Jason for landing a job as a games editor at Buzzwire.com.

The Instance #139 (Hosts: Scott Johnson & Randy Jordan) - The hosts discussed the new modding rules put out by Blizzard, problems The Wrath of the Lich King is having gaining government approval in the People’s Republic of China, and the decline of the mage class in WoW.

Epic Dolls #62 (Hosts: Leala Turkey & Katerina) In episode #62, Leala and Katerina discussed the new modding rules, achievement updates and more about patch 3.1. The ladies also included their second installment of their series on guilds. This week, the discussion centered around how to be a good member of a guild, whether you are a rank and file member, and officer, or the guild leader. Once again, the series is not WoW-specific. In the lore segment, Illidarian discusses some of the lore surrounding the Tauren.

EQ2s-day: February 17th (originally broadcast on OGR) (Hosts: Dellmon and Zanadi) - The hosts talk about the just finished Erollisi Day event. The surprising part was that the hard-headed dwarf Dellmon was the one chasing after roses, not the role-playing Zanadi. The pair also discussed blue shinies and should people who did not earn the goggles to see the blue shinies be allowed to roll on them.

EQ2s-day: February 24th (originally broadcast on OGR) (Hosts: Dellmon and Zanadi) - The hosts spent the vast majority of the show talking about what tradeskill profession Zanadi’s latest alt should take up. The show is a must listen for those wondering about how to pick a tradeskilling profession in EverQuest 2.

Dellmon and Zanadi have a competition going on who can level an alt the fastest. For all of you EQ2 players who skimp on your gear, spells and abilities, listen to Dellmon’s tale of woe as he enters the Kylong Plains. Remember, you have been warned.

EQ2s-day: March 10th (originally broadcast on OGR) (Hosts: Dellmon and Zanadi) - The hosts interviewed EQ2 developer and live event expert Nathan “Kaitheel” McCall. Besides working on live in-game events, Nathan also had a hand in the upcoming Lavastorm revamp.

Yes, I listened to 3 EQ2s-day broadcasts last week.

Spouse Aggro #71 (Hosts: Beau and Leala Turkey) - In a change of pace, Beau and Leala opined on 10 subjects, limiting the conversation on each subject to 3 minutes. I have to say I rather liked the format. The podcast was quick, snappy, and had a good beat. I give it a 93.

The games discussed were Spellborn, Vanguard, Ether Saga, Mabinogi, Ryzom, Runes of Magic, Darkfall, DOMO and Free Realms. The couple also discussed their experience at a WoW meetup.

No Prisoners, No Mercy #27 (Hosts: Sister Julie & Sister Fran) - I really, really, really could have done without all the Watchman discussion. I know that I really don't get into popular culture, but the length of the discussion about a certain blue package went on just a little too long. The discussion about Warhammer and Darkfall was okay. The best part of the podcast was at the end of the podcast and the discussion of leprechauns and fairies with Emma Lloyd.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Are EQ2’s Toons Fat or WoW’s Anorexic?

A few weeks ago I heard two items that led me to a strange thought. The first was the podcast for the February 3rd edition of EQ2’s-day. I know that most people don’t think of Everquest 2 as a game with an expanding population, but Zanadi asked EQ2 Associate Producer Jen “Kirstie” Genell about the possibility of a split of the Antonia Bayle role-playing server because of lag issues. Kirstie proceeded to explain how although the Antonia Bayle server may not have the most characters playing at any given time, those characters are huge in terms of database resources used because they have been around longer. The performance of the servers is affected not just by the number of characters logged in at any given time but other factors such as the number of quests in the quest journals and the amount of items in players’ banks. The players on the role-playing server tend to keep more items than the average player. Dellmon made the crack that role-players were fat. That was an amusing line, so it was still in my mind when I listened to The Instance #136 and Randy Delux complained that World of Warcraft players were still stuck using the 16-slot backpack and wishing that the Blizzard devs would create a backpack with 20 slots. I’m assuming that Randy wanted an affordable backpack made with common materials and not like the hideously expensive items I’ve seen on some websites.

Just as the role-players in EQ2 have a lot more “stuff” (as George Carlin used to say) than the average EQ2 player, I wondered how much more stuff EQ2 players can own than players in WoW. In particular, I wondered how much more stuff my main owns (and thus more database resources I use) than a player can own in WoW.

I started with what I carry around on my character. First, characters in EQ2 have 6 bag slots compared to 5 bag slots for WoW toons, putting WoW players at a disadvantage. EQ2 players really shine (or are stinking fat, take your pick) because they can carry around containers with a lot more than the 16 slot backpack that Randy wants to see updated. In my personal case, I have a 36 slot bag that only carries harvesting items, a 28-slot bag I received from completing a quest and a 20-slot bag I bought off the broker for less than 20 gold. My main is a ranger with over 800 strength, so I also carry around 3 36-slot storage crates that are really meant for bank storage, giving me a total of 192 storage slots on my person. If I really wanted to, I could have a total of 216 slots. In comparison, the biggest capacity bag a WoW player can own is 22 slots, so I think that means a player only has 110 storage slots, meaning that I can carry about 82 more slots worth of gear, items, and harvestables than the most max’d out WoW player. If a player is using the old standby 16-slot backpacks, then a player will only have 80 bag slots, or less than half the lots I run around Norrath with.

Next I looked at bank storage. I haven’t played WoW in years, so I went on-line and found out that Blizzard gives each toon 24 bank slots plus allows players to purchase 6 bag slots. If a player puts the 22-slot bags in those slots he will have 156 bank slots. For those players using the more reasonably-priced 16-slot backpacks, that is 120 slots. In contrast, EQ2 players enjoy 16 free bank slots in which you can put bags. All of mine are stocked with 36-slot storage boxes, meaning that I have 576 dedicated storage slots for my main. Why do I say dedicated? Because I also have 8 bank slots that all the characters on my account can share. I have all of those slots filled with 36-slot storage boxes, so I have 288 bank slots I can use to pass items among my toons.

But wait, as Ron Popeil used to say, there’s more! 768 storage slots for one character is just not enough. I still have to count my apartment in Willow Wood, the home village for wood elves in Qeynos. My main only has the starter one room apartment that holds 2 storage crates and 2 sales crates. Unlike WoW, characters sell items on the world wide broker and put their items up for sale in sales crates. If a buyer wants to avoid the 10%, 20%, or even 40% broker fees, he or she can visit the seller’s home and pick up items directly. Once again, I have two 36-slot containers in my house vault to hold other items. I also have the 40-slot veteran’s display case and a 48-slot fir potion cabinet (my main is an alchemist) to sell items from my apartment. I really should get the 80-slot mahogany potion cabinet, but I get by with what I have now. So currently I have 160 item slots in my starter home. And did I mention that the biggest homes can have 6 bag slots in their vaults and can hold 6 80-slot sales crates? The maximum number of storage slots for a house is 672.

The 672 figure for homes does not include house items. My little starter apartment only holds 100 items, which is plenty for a wandering ranger who just needs a simple place to sleep, put my sales crates, and place my alter to worship my god Karana. The fact that I can also place some of the cool weapons that I have won over my career on the wall is just a nice bonus. The biggest homes can hold over 500 house items.

So let’s see. My main currently has 928 dedicated storage and sales slots plus 288 storage slots I share with the rest of the characters on my account. If I really wanted to (and I do have the resources and personal strength to do so) I could have 1464 dedicated storage and sales slots, 288 shared bank slots, and 500+ house items.

Did I just run through all the storage space SOE gave me just to make World of Warcraft players jealous? No, although if this makes anyone want to play EQ2, come on over, the game’s great! Seriously though, I wanted to state what the disparity is so I could write another post on the consequences of this design decision in both games. I hope to have the post ready in the next week or so.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WoW Videos - Country Music

One of the reasons I think World of Warcraft maintains its popularity is that so many people are able to make their own videos with footage from within the game. I was hooked from the first time I saw the Leeroy Jenkins video. Yes, EverQuest 2 does have talented people like Jethal Silverwing around, but the sheer volume of work by WoW fans is easy to find on popular places like YouTube.

I do have to say that I'm really into country music, so I do tend to shy away from all of the blood-elf inspired Brittney Spears videos. But I can even find music videos for country music. Below is a video from country star Brad Paisley. He is known for some of his humorous songs, Alcohol being one of them.





For those who don't think alcoholism is a laughing matter, he also performed a duet with Allison Krauss, Whiskey Lullaby, which was also made into a video.






Enjoy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What I've Been Listening To: March 15 - 21

This week's listening schedule was light. A lot of my favorite podcasts didn't publish until the end of the week. Yesterday I didn't have my normal EQ2 crafting session due to login issues, so I played Runes of Magic instead. I discovered that playing a new game and listening to podcasts don't really mix. But on the bright side I have a long list of podcasts from Van Hemlock, Scott & Randy, the M team, Sisters Julie and Fran, and 3 (!) from The Dellmon to listen to in the next week.

Channel Massive #81 (Hosts: Noah, Jason & Mark) – Another week, another funny show from the M team. Creating this blog and writing about podcasts has made me realize that the Channel Massive podcast has the funniest “What we’re playing” segment out there. I really hope that’s intentional, or I just insulted the hosts.

Among the other topics were discussions on the continuing research on games and gamers, the close of Tabula Rasa and the Blog-O-Steria concerning Darkfall.

Shut Up We’re Talking #44 (Hosts: Darren and Karen) – In this episode Darren and Karen were joined by Bill from Innner Sanctum of the Ninveah, an Eve Online-oriented blog. Critics of SUWT won’t be able to attack Bill’s Eve credentials. Disclaimer: I have recently become an Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah fanboi and have put the RSS feed on the blog.

The main topics discussed were the introduction of LiveGamer’s real money transaction service onto all of the Vanguard servers, playing games that are out of your normal comfort zone, and game trailers. The discussion of game trailers came about because of CCP’s increasing use of non-game footage in their game trailers for the latest Eve expansions.

I think the choice of topics points out one of SUWT’s strengths, which is making sure that guests are able to talk about all the topics on the show. Not only was Bill able to discuss the game trailer issue, but he was able to explain how Eve’s RMT system works which I thought gave added depth to the discussion.

No Prisoners, No Mercy #26 (Hosts: Sister Julie and Sister Fran) - Sister Julie, step away from the coffee and put your hands in the air! Seriously, though, Sister Julie deserves to be excited about the NPNM podcast making the 6 month mark. Although I will have to take issue with the good sister’s assertion that there are no elves in the world. Who do you think makes all the toys Santa gives out every Christmas?

The best topic of discussion was player versus player combat. The discussion ranged from Warhammer Online to Darfall to Eve Online to Ultima Online. Brent also received a couple of mentions, one for his controversial review of WAR. The conversation may not satisfy hard-core PvP’ers, but this carebear loved it. And I think Sister Fran is the only person podcasting about games today who would have come up with the comparison of Darkfall with Beanie Babies. The weird thing is I think she’s got a valid point.

Free Play Podcast #16 (Hosts: Andras, Riknas and Joe) - Real life kept Joe off this podcast, so two other members of the Virgin Worlds Collective, Philip (Crovan) and Stephen (Alsedrech) from The Drone Bay podcast, filled in. This week’s free-to-play news was followed by a review of Guild Wars.

I think Riknas and Andras are getting more comfortable with having guests on the show (Previous guests were Michael Zenke in episode 12 and Karen from SUWT in episode 15.5). I thought this episode approached the quality of a podcast like SUWT with a healthy dose of the Channel Massive podcast thrown in.

Virgin Worlds #141 (Host: Brent) - This week Urban Mongral acted as guest host for the podcast and interviewd Russell Williams, the CEO of Flying Labs. Flying Labs is the maker of Pirates of the Burning Sea, one of the games on Sony’s Station Pass. PotBS is one of those games that Sony picks up, keeps alive, and gradually gets better. Urban Mongral did a good job in the interview asking intelligent questions about the game and some of the broader issues in the industry.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Darkfall, A City Siege Video

I just watched a Darkfall video over on Keen and Graev's blog. Keen is doing a lot of great video work in Darkfall and I hope he keeps it up.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Runes of Magic: Impressions from Open Beta

I’ve heard a lot about the free-to-play MMORPG Runes of Magic over the past few months. I heard the game is a World of Warcraft clone, so for a bit of nostalgia for my first MMO I decided to give RoM a try. What follows is just my impressions from playing the game at the end of the open beta period, which ended this morning. Once the servers come back on-line Thursday morning, some of these things may have changed.

The game does look a lot like WoW. The user interface and mini-map brought back some memories. Also, the harvesting and crafting reminded me a lot of WoW. The auction house concept is very much like WoW’s. And of course RoM has a cartoon-ish art style. But having leveled a character to be a level 10 scout/level 10 rouge, I found a lot of differences.

The first was character creation. First, players are only of one race. However, I felt I had a lot more choice in choosing how my character looks. EverQuest 2 probably gives players the same if not more different basic appearances (not counting skin color), but that is partly because that game has 10? different races. Because RoM only has one race, I felt like I had more choices.

The second is that characters can be dual-class. Notice that my character is a level 10 scout/level 10 rouge? And I can switch those classes around to give my character a different set of abilities. Yes, a scout/rouge has different capabilities than a rouge/scout. With 6 classes in the open beta, that is 36 different class combinations players can play and enjoy. And with rumors of 2 more classes to be introduced once the game is live, players have a lot of choice on what to play.

The third is harvesting and crafting. I realize that I said that harvesting and crafting reminded me of WoW. But as far as I can tell, unlike WoW, players can harvest everything, just like they do in EverQuest 2. Crafting is the same way. In RoM, just like in WoW, crafting is performed by going to a crafting tool, entering how many of an item you would like to make, and then waiting for the crafting to finish. But unlike WoW, RoM crafters are not limited to one main crafting skill. From my understanding, a player can learn all the crafting skills up to an apprentice level, then 3 skills up to another level, then become a master of one skill. This progression reminds me a lot more of EQ2 than of WoW.

The fourth difference is player housing. RoM has it, WoW doesn’t. RoM’s player housing reminds me a lot of EQ2’s housing, at least in functionality. Players have a 20-slot house vault and can put useful items like mannequins, crafting stations, and furniture in their rooms. While players cannot put items up for sale from their homes like in EQ2, they can access their bank. I should mention that while my homes in EQ2 have pets roaming around, RoM has a very cute housekeeper to take care of your needs.

Is this game worth playing? Well, I bought $22 in diamonds, so I'll be playing for at least a month or two.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What I've Been Listening To: March 8 - 14

Today is Sunday, the day I look back on the podcasts I've listened to over the past week. This week I learned a valuable lesson about podcasts. I was saving Channel Massive podcast #81 for yesterday because I was planning to have another long tradeskill session in EverQuest 2 and finally level my weaponsmith Noizy to level 70. One problem occurred; the Channel Massive site went down. All I got when trying to access the site was a 404 error (/cry). The lesson I have taken from this experience is to always make sure to download my podcasts if I plan to listen to them later.

Van Hemlock #42 (Hosts: Tim Dale and Jon Shute) - Does the show celebrate EverQuest’s 10-year anniversary this week? No, it celebrates one year of podcast excellence (my words, not theirs).

The show's subjects ranged from EverQuest’s 10-year anniversary, PlayStation 2’s 9th anniversary, Runes of Magic adopting Eve Online’s RMT model and another reason why Jon hates Sony. The best discussions involved Aventurine’s decision to limit the sale of Darkfall and the Twitter discussion about why all games seem to have a dead period once characters reach level 30 or so.

The last 15 minutes of the podcast is an audio montage of highlights (or just plain silliness) from the past year of the Van Hemlock podcast.

Massively Speaking #46 (Host: Shawn Schuster) - In show #46, Shawn’s co-host is his podcast partner from Through the Aftermath Jonathan Morris. Jonathan is not on the podcast just for his great voice, as he plays Eve Online and led the discussion on the expansion Apocrypha.

Other topics discussed included EverQuest’s 10th anniversary, plans for a Watchman MMO on the iPhone, Free Realms, Darkfall, Lord of the Rings Online and how 2009 may wind up being the year of the free-to-play MMO in the gaming industry.

The Instance #138 (Hosts: Scott Johnson and Randy “Delux” Jordan) Once I got past the photo of Scott and Randy in a hot tub (oh, my eyes!) I was able to listen to another very good podcast. The soaking duo discussed the Spectral Safari Tournament in the World of Warcraft card game, the Brewmaster in-game event, and engaged in more speculation about patch 3.1.

For me, the most interesting segment of the podcast didn’t even make the show notes. In show #137, Scott and Randy discussed the implications of WoWMatrix. In reaction to that show, some listeners responded by asking how Scott would react if a software distributed his web comic (viewable on the main page) to viewers without people having to travel to the website and see the ads. The discussion on this podcast is a must listen to anyone remotely interested to this aspect of internet business.

Epic Dolls #61 (Hosts: Leala Turkey and Katerina) - Katerina joins Leala for her first full length Epic Dolls podcast in episode #61. The two discussed BlizzCon, the upcoming patch, achievement changes, and guilds. The discussion about how to choose and fit into a guild was very good and the points made do not just pertain to World of Warcraft.

In the podcast’s regular recorded segments, Stardancer produced another “Off the Beaten Path.” While I disagree with Stardance’s desire to allow new players to come in as level 55, her segment did bring back some good memories of when I played WoW. And I really liked Illidarian’s segment on Onyxia. One of my favorite game videos is Pecula’s The Craft of War: BLIND and hearing the background story makes the video even better.

I think Katerina is a good fit for the podcast and I’m sure I’ll enjoy listening to her on the podcast in the future.

Spouse Aggro #70 (Hosts: Beau and Leala Turkey) - The first segment of the podcast in which Beau tries to teach Leala to play Mabinogi is priceless! I also liked the discussion about home games, or those games that a player will always long to play. The Double Date segment fell a little flat, but I think that is because the couple the Turkey’s interviewed, Augustina and Heyoka, were a bit nervous and took awhile to become comfortable being recorded.

For fans of Spouse Aggro, Beau announced that the podcast will become a bi-weekly podcast, with a video cast being posted in the off-weeks.

Through the Aftermath #5 (Hosts: Shawn Schuster and Jonathan Morris) – The podcast’s featured topic is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Shawn and Jonathan also discussed the possibility of the next Mad Max movie being animated, the director of Mad Max stating that computer games are the future of storytelling, the upcoming movie Book of Eli, and that the release date of I Am Alive has been pushed back to March 2010.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

PvP and Me

In my last post I stated I did not enjoy player vs. player game play. As they say in Congress, I’d like to revise and extend my remarks. I should say that I don’t like getting ganked. Actually, I hate getting ganked. I hate it so much that I don’t like ganking other people, because I know how I feel about it and can’t look at other toons running around as just a bunch of pixels. I know that the “RPG” in MMORPG stands for “role-playing game”, but I just can’t get over that “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” thing. Maybe that’s why my main characters always belong to the good side in games.

World of Warcraft battlegrounds and Warhammer Online scenarios are a different story. I have no problem sneaking up on someone and cutting them down from behind. Why? We are playing a mini-game and killing the other person helps win the game. Also, any player in one of these organized fights knows the dangers going in, so I’m not going to hurt anyone’s feelings if I kill them.

From what I’ve heard, I probably should include 0.0 space in Eve Online in with the battlegrounds and scenarios. Why? 0.0 space is a campaign with huge stakes and no time limit waged between organized corporations and alliances. Players who do not wish to live in the mayhem can stay in high security space or can dip a toe into the action to get a taste of PvP. If I ever tried playing Eve, I would probably be one of those players.

For me, organized fights are okay, but mindless fighting or a high frequency of 4 vs. 1 fights without a greater purpose make me want to not play a game. Maybe that makes me a carebear, but I already suspected that was the case.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Uninformed Thoughts On Darkfall

Darkfall officially opened February 26 with a reportedly less than stellar launch. People rejoiced. I don’t know why. I personally don’t like player vs. player game play, but why should that mean I want a PvP game to fail? I like the thought of a small independent game company like Aventurine finding a niche market and succeeding amid giant game companies like Activision/Blizzard, Sony Entertainment Online, Turbine, and NCSoft. Americans have a tendency to root for the underdog, and I’m rooting for Darkfall to succeed.

Will Darkfall turn into a free-for-all gankfest or will powerful clans form out of the potential chaos to impose order in the world? In my opinion the fate of the game depends on the outcome of this question. If the game turns into a gankfest, all the sheep will eventually leave the game leaving the gankers a world filled with people like themselves. While that might be fun for those people, I don’t know if that will bring in enough money to keep the servers open. If powerful clans form and can impose some sort of social order, players may create a world similar to Eve’s in which the players drive the story line. Reading Keen’s posts on his early experiences in Darkfall gives me hope that the second option may indeed happen. I believe that the issue of Aventurine restricting sales of the game may actually help because organized groups can almost always beat unorganized rabble as long as the odds are not too overwhelming. I have the feeling that I’m going to like reading about the events in Darkfall as the players sort the issues out themselves.

Will I play the game? As I’ve already mentioned, I don’t enjoy PvP game play. The game mechanic that I’ve read about in which a player who just killed you can stand over your bleeding body taunting you as you take 60 seconds to die doesn’t really lead me to want to play the game. And if it is possible for a gang of enemies to revive you after 55 seconds, kill you again, taunt you for another 55 seconds, and rinse and repeat for 5-10 minutes, I would probably rage quit if it happened to me. That said, I might enter the game for the crafting. Some of the most enjoyable times I’ve spent in EverQuest 2 were spent dodging and killing mobs while harvesting the materials I needed for crafting sessions. I don’t like harvesting in the lower tier zones because the mobs don’t attack me, so the harvesting is a little boring. I probably won’t buy Darkfall, but if I get to the point where I can afford another game, who knows?


One last thought. If you are a Darkfall fanboi and your skin isn't thick enough to shrug off criticism of the game, then I wonder if you are tough enough to handle the mechanic that will allow any of your enemies to stand over your body taunting you for 60 seconds while you slowly bleed to death. Perhaps Darkfall isn't the game for you.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What I've Been Listening To: March 1 - 7

Today is Sunday, the day I look back on the podcasts I listened to over the past week. Some of my favorites didn’t post new podcasts, so my list has a bit more of a Warhammer Online flavor than usual. This post may be a bit goofy because I was up late last night getting my epic weapon for my ranger in EQ2 and losing an hour of sleep to daylight savings time didn’t help.

Van Hemlock #40 – I wrote last week that I was saving this episode to listen to for a massive crafting session I planned to have. The show was so good I’m listening to the podcast from the land of our former British overlords again as I write this post.

In this episode, we find out what game won an award for its music, another way to kill kittens, how WoW can help stop global warming, and piracy is not just off the Horn of Africa anymore. Beware of Europe, especially Italy! Among the topics discussed are the upcoming changes in character creation in Eve, should the term free-to-play be banished, and Darkfall. A little bit of Van Hemlock’s and Jon’s Eve paranoia creeps into the discussion of Darkfall. We also learn that tea bags are not just for throwing into Boston Harbor anymore.

The Instance #137 – In this episode Scott Johnson and RandyDelux were joined by CNet’s Tom Merritt. The three discuss the contest to create a Blizzard-themed amusement park and Tom went into a nice little rant about the terms of the contest. The guys also gave an update on the open Arena Tournament.

The important discussion on the show concerned WoWMatrix. How has WoWMatrix affected not only players and the modding community? Is WoWMatrix truly the cause of all problems in the world? And is there a solution?

Finally, I’m still trying to figure out the relationship between proto-drakes and women’s restrooms.

Channell Massive #80 – The M team’s rather unique and often funny view of the news made the week pass just a little faster this week. The “What We’re Playing” and “Blog-O-Steria” segments were particularly good this week.

The M team examines several very important questions. Is the statement that parents should be the ones who determine what games their kids play just propaganda? Does shooting scantily clad female zombies in games leads to shooting them in real life? How can you tell whether a blogger is truly British or just an American trying to sound cool?

I do need to give two warnings. First, this is the first podcast Jason edited. I think he did a pretty good job, but if you don’t like the sound quality, you know who to blame. The second is that hot fanboi on fanboi action is discussed. Parental discretion is advised.

No Prisoners, No Mercy #25 – Sister Julie and Sister Fran started out the podcast poorly by talking about criticism of the podcast. Once the sisters got the mad out of their systems, the show picks up to the enjoyable level of quality that keeps me coming back for more. The statement that if all they talked about was Warhammer Online that the podcast would be very short is a bit unfair to WAR, but some of their sentiments about the game are shared by other fans of the game (see the reviews below).

The highlight of the show is an interview with R.W. Harper, a Senior Producer with Gorilla Systems. A view from one of the smaller game companies is always good.

Stonetroll Certified Warhammer Online Podcast #20 - Brilen and Ziss are healthy again and podcast #20 is better than the last episode I listened to. Sarc’s Fort Report was a little short because the fort battle aggregator didn’t work due to the Realm War server not working properly. From the reports he did received, Destruction is dominating Order everywhere.

Ziss had a discussion with Heike, a player in Norway, about patch 1.2. The question that really intrigued me was “Will patch 1.2 turn WAR into World of Warhammer?”

Warhammer Alliance Podcast #5 – Before Mythic decided to host an official forum, there was Warhammer Alliance. The fan site has expanded to include a podcast. The hosts of the podcast are Frank “PhoenixRed” Sanchez, Assistant Site Manager of Warhammer Alliance, Martin (aka “Avian”) from Germany, and forum moderator Kirsten (aka “Amriel”). This episode the three regular hosts were joined by Kelly (aka “Ariwyn”), a content lead at Warhammer Alliance.

The four discuss the 1.2 patch notes, first impressions of the public test server, the good and bad that occurred in the game community over the past week, and the Phoenix Gate scenario. People expecting any discussion of the forums on Warhammer Alliance are doomed to disappointment.

I really like the podcast and I think WAR players will like the podcast also.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dual-Spec Design and the Mirror of Reflected Achievements

I was amazed when I visited Tobald’s blog yesterday and actually read players argue in the comments section that the ability that World of Warcraft characters will gain in patch 3.1 to switch between two talent tree specs is a bad idea and should not be implemented. Especially since players in EverQuest II have had the ability for a while now and as far as I know have not had issues.

In EverQuest II players gained the ability to store an extra AA setup in a house item called the Mirror of Reflected Achievements when Game Update 41 came out in December 2007. For people who have played WoW, EQ2’s AA trees are the equivalent of WoW’s ability trees. So how does SOE’s system work?

Basically, a player purchases the Mirror of Reflected Achievements from a crafter or makes it him/herself if the character is also a level 75 crafter with 40,000 faction with the crafting society in the character’s home city. The item is no-trade, which means the crafter must use the commission system in order to make the item for another character. The key ingredient for making the mirror is a reflective smoldering shard, which is dropped by named mobs (aka “bosses”) in the group instances in the Ruins of Kunark expansion pack. With the release of the expansion pack The Shadow Odyssey in November 2008, pure crafters gained the ability to receive the rare drop when countering a Far Seas Innovation in the new tradeskill missions. The reflective smoldering shards are not bind on pickup, so players not needing a mirror can make a little extra cash by selling them on the broker, EQ2’s version of WoW’s auction house.
Once the player has the item, he/she places the mirror on a wall and can then load the characters current AA set-up into the mirror. The character can then go to an NPC to delete the current AA set-up of one or all the trees and re-allocate the AA points. After that, the player can swap between the two AA specs for free.

Pretty simple concept, right? But let’s examine what the developers accomplished besides allowing players to have two AA specs. First, the mirror became a must have for certain classes so they could switch between solo and group/raid builds, which encouraged more use of the Ruins of Kunark expansion pack's group content until adequate amounts of reflective smoldering shards appeared on the broker. And speaking of the broker, the reflective smoldering shard is still a valuable drop for adventurers with the added bonus that the developers do not need to pump additional gold into the game economy as other players are coughing up the gold.

The rest of the items I've noticed may have been a series of unintended consequences, but given that EQ2’s tradeskill developer Emily “Domino” Taylor was probably involved in some of the decision making, some of what follows may have been a well-thought out plan.

First, the Mirror of Reflected Achievements gave Domino a chance to re-introduce players to using the commission system. Introduced in the Echoes of Faydwar expansion pack, the commission system gives players wishing to have a crafter make an item a way to ensure that the crafter doesn’t take the rare and valuable crafting materials and run. The commission system also gave crafters a way to make rare and powerful items that the devs deemed should be no-trade (a.k.a. bind-on-pickup).

Second, what happens if a player spends the money to get the mirror and then figures out that the class (like my ranger) really doesn’t need to switch specs? From what I’ve heard of WoW, the player will be out 1000 gold pieces. In EQ2, you still have a really cool looking mirror you can hang up on the wall of your home. And it grants a status reduction of 500 to your rent, which always helps. You didn’t really think Domino would allow an ugly item not useful for decorating a home into the game, did you?

Third, for those characters who really aren’t into player housing, the mirror is another incentive for purchasing and maintaining at least a starter apartment. The mirror, added to other things players need a home for like broker boxes, a place to put your alter so you can worship your deity, and an additional way to port from your home village to your guild hall that has no cool-down, make the 5 silver pieces per week rent seem like a bigger value. And if you have a home, you’ll wind up decorating just a little, right?

Did I mention travel to from your guild hall to your home? Back when SOE implemented GU #41, guild halls were still just a rumor. For those of you who don’t play EQ2, guild halls come in three sizes, and are obtainable when guilds reach levels 30, 50, and 70. The requirement that guilds needed to be level 30 in order to get a guild hall came as a shock to many players. So where does the Mirror of Reflected Achievements fit in this situation? I mentioned earlier that to make the mirror required 40,000 faction with the crafting society in a crafter’s home city. So how does a crafter gain the faction? By doing crafting writs. Crafting writs not only gain crafters the necessary faction to make the mirror, but the writs also help level the character’s crafting level as well as his/her guild’s level. So not only did the quest to make the respec mirror help level the lower level guilds, those players also created high level crafters. I can tell you from personal experience that the fastest way to contribute status to a guild is to do the timed crafting writs. I know of a player on the Permafrost server who hired high level crafters to help power-level his new guild and the guild reached level 30 in two weeks. Or at least 2 weeks after the player approached me with an employment offer to work on the project.

As you can see, giving players in EQ2 the ability to switch between two sets of AA builds gave the developers a way to advance other aspects of the game. I'm curious to see how Blizzard implements the ability in WoW.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What I've Been Listening To: Feb 22-28

Another Sunday, another list of podcasts I've listened to. Twelve podcasts? I didn't realize how many podcasts I listen to until I started this blog. I do have an hour train ride to and from work each day, so that partially explains how I have so much time to listen to podcasts.

Virgin Worlds #140 – The podcast is a bit shorter than normal but still worth a listen. In this podcast Brent lost some of his geek cred by poking fun at the more extreme Trekkie questions asked in a recent Q&A Cryptic held about Star Trek Online. And Brent lost even more Trekkie cred by not knowing what narcelles are. What’s up with that?

Among the news covered were possible release dates for Jumpgate Evolution, Champions Online, Aion, and Fallen Earth. Brent also gave an explanation for the ruckus in Australia over rating MMORPGs that I can sum up in two words: typical bureaucracy! And hidden in the mix was a defense of Warhammer Online’s current subscription numbers.

Massively Speaking #44 – The official podcast of Massively.com, podcast #44 is the first podcast without former managing editor Michael Zenke. Long-time co-host Shawn Schuster is the new managing editor for Massively.com and remains on the show. Joining him last week was Massively writer Kyle Horner, who proved that the podcast talent at Massively is deeper than just Michael and Shaun.

Last week’s podcast included news on Guild Wars 2, Warhammer, Age of Conan, Jumpgate Evolution, Star Trek Online, Funcom, World of Warcraft, Darkfall, and NASA’s MMO. That's right, the U.S. space agency is coming out with a game.

Massively Speaking is another news and commentary podcast that I try to listen to as soon as it comes out. Without the talented Michael Zenke, the podcast will be different, but I’m sure Shaun will carry on the tradition of producing quality work.

Shut Up We're Talking #43 – The bi-weekly podcast stars Darren Love from The Common Sense Gamer and Karen, the guild master of the Revelry and Honor guild on EQ2’s Guk server. SUWT usually has one or two bloggers or podcasters join the hosts in a round-table discussion of the issues and events in the MMORPG genre. For podcast #43, the guests were Adam from the Witty Ranter podcast and Jonathan from the After the Apocalypse and Online Gaming Anthology podcasts, all members of the Virgin Worlds Collective.

The first issue discussed was Eve and the nature of the game. SUWT has been called out by bloggers and podcasters because of their description of some of the latest events as scandals. The argument is basically circular. Something happens in the game, someone (usually Karen) points out that in any other game players would be up in arms over the latest event (whether it be one player dissolving the BoB alliance or corps taking advantage of an exploit that allowed T2 items to be produced cheaply). Karen will usually describe the event as a scandal, which then triggers the response from Eve players that the events really aren’t scandals, proving Karen’s point. This week's panel took a deeper look at the nature of the game.

The second issue was pick-up groups (PuGs) and the higher requirements people are imposing for allowing players to join groups. This subject doesn't need a long introduction like the first one.
EQ2’s-day show from Tuesday, February 10 – In this show titled “Love, Exciting and New,” Dellmon and Zanadi explored the beginning of this year’s Erollisi Day live event. The one week event is Everquest 2’s Valentine’s Day holiday and was over by the time the show was posted.

Some topics discussed were which live event is better, Erollisi Day or Frostfell, where are all the female orcs (and do they even exist), and guild hall amenities.

I must give a listener advisory for this show. Dellmon sings. Listen at your own risk!

Channel Massive episodes #78 & #79 – The M team of Noah, Jason, and Mark gave us 2 podcasts last week in their on-going efforts to save the world from disasters of an Age of Conan magnitude. Okay, the guys were a bit late posting episode #78 (which was recorded on February 5) but I blame that on the shock of Jason actually liking Wizard 101 and recommending the game for kids and tweens to play. He actually said he would go back and play some more content. Other topics included Warhammer Online, the Mythic layoffs, the upcoming Blog-O-Steria that Darkfall will introduce, and the gaming situation in Australia. The only games legal to play in Australia are Eve and Vanguard?

In episode #79, the podcast started with Jason announcing that he is going to leave podcasting and gaming and start up a country band and stayed a bit weird. War stories from Warhammer Online, rating games in Australia, and Michael Zenke’s transition from Massively.com to SOE’s DC Universe are among the subjects for fun in the podcast.

Through the Aftermath #4 – Hosts Shawn Schuster, managing editor of Massively.com and host of the Massively Speaking and OMG RL!1! podcasts, and Jonathan from the Online Gamer’s Anthology podcast team up to produce a 45-60 minute podcast on the post-apocalyptic genre of media. Wait a minute. These two post-apocalyptic genre junkies keeping this podcast under an hour? Right. I suppose you have some oceanfront property in Arizona you’d like to sell me also.

The podcast does not just limit itself to covering post-apocalyptic games. This week the hosts discussed the 1974 movie A Boy and His Dog as well as news about Terminator: Salvation and pointing out a site that defines apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies. They also replied to the emails and posts they received. If the quality of feedback the pair receives continues at the quality the podcast received after episode 3, then this podcast will become a hit.

How I Wow #15 – The World of Warcraft-based podcast is hosted by the Rev. Shaun Cooms and Patrick Beja and looks beyond the game at who the gamers behind the pixels really are. The podcasts are rather long, basically because the interviews are so long. Each podcast starts with an interview, and Shaun and Patrick are great interviewers. Afterwards, the hosts will conduct a general discussion about what is happening in WoW.

For podcast #15, Patrick and Shaun talked to Alachia of WoWCast. Apparently Alachia was an interview the hosts had been trying to do for a long time and after listening to the interview I see why. Alachia is a very engaging personality and the interview was well-conducted. Just remember that there is a lot more to the podcast after the interview finishes, so keep listening until the end.

Fly Reckless #25 – The Eve-based podcast is hosted by Silicon Buddha. I’ve been searching for information on Eve since the Band of Brothers alliance was disbanded by Goonswarm and this podcast is very good. Apparently the CCP developers post articles and Silicon Buddha reads the best of the posts, which I like. This podcast features the interviews that DJ Funky Bacon of Eve Radio conducted with BoB spokesman Dianabolic and Goonswarm spymaster The Mittani.

This is the first Fly Reckless podcast I have listened to, and if the others are always this good I'll be listening more often. I'll definitely be listening to podcast #26 because I just saw the show notes and the podcast looks good.

Free Play Podcast 15.5 – Riknas and Joe from the Free To Play Crew came out with another of their short .5 podcasts, this time featuring Karen from Shut Up We're Talking. Joe was pretty quiet as Riknas and Karen discussed the future of MMORPGs and how F2P games may become the future business model for the genre in the years ahead.

Stonetroll Certified WAR podcast #19 – Last week was the first time I listened to the Warhammer Online-based podcast run by the husband and wife team of Ziss & Brilen over on LagWAR.com. Once past the first 15 minutes of housekeeping information, the podcast got a bit better.

One feature that I found intriguing was a report on fortress battles. Apparently a site exists that is linked into the game that reports on fortress battles on the North American and Oceanic servers and the site has plans to run an aggregator to report on the events. Anyone on European and Russian servers wishing to have their accomplishments read on the podcast will still need to mail them in.

The podcast also covered the upcoming live event Bitter Rivals as well as pointing out a couple of things on the couples’ wish list. Things like the fixing the bugs and give the game some polish and the need for establishing central hubs for the war effort on each side.

I’m not sure I am going to make Stonetroll Certified a staple of my podcast playlist, but mainly because I do not play WAR. The show was definitely good enough for me to give it a few more listens before making a decision.

WoWCast #42 – I listened to How I WoW’s Patrick and Shaun gush over how great Alachia’s podcast WoWCast really is. Maybe I should have read the show notes before listening to WoWCast for the first time.

This Episode is back with the blessing of Godzilla himself! Alachia offers up proof of existence of your typical Godzilla, a person in the raid or group who is mentally traumatized.

Listening to this podcast left me a little cold. I felt like I did when I was 9 years old at the county fair when I saw the freak show tent. I didn’t see the redeeming value of posting the very long conversation with “Godzilla.” I think Alachia just posted the conversation with the purpose of amusing people by displaying a freak. I wasn’t amused 35 years ago and I’m not amused now.

I was hesitant to put this podcast in this review. I’m sure that WoWCast is a fine show and Alachia just had a lapse in judgement. After all, no one is perfect. But I don’t think I’m going to give WoWCast another listen anytime soon. I’ve got enough other podcasts I can listen to.


You might have noticed the absense of Van Hemlock #40 and The Instance #137 on my list. The reason is I am planning a long crafting session for Sunday and I wanted to listen to a couple of podcasts I knew wouldn't disappoint. Now if Dellmon will just post the next EQ2's-day, my day will be complete.