Sunday, May 31, 2009

What I've Been Listening To: May 24-30, 2009

This week can only be summed up by saying: too much work, not enough podcasts! I really need to get myself an iPod for those occasions when I'm called to jury duty, like happened this week. I actually missed Van Hemlock #52 and went straight to #53. And I'm way behind listening to Channel Massive. Aargh! Well, hopefully I don't get called into work today and I can make up for lost time.

Here's what I listened to last week:

First Time Listen

Inside Azeroth #2 (Hosts: Steve Hamner & David Sanna) - The Grind podcast is dead, long live Inside Azeroth! Okay, I'm being just a touch melodramatic, epecially since I had never heard of The Grind until I heard Leala Turkey plug the World of Warcraft podcast Inside Azeroth on Epic Dolls #66. The Grind's last podcast was May 10th, with two of the hosts, Steve Hamner & David Sanna, continuing on with this new podcast on May 17th.

From listening to the hosts talk about the podcast, the language will be more explicit than that on The Grind. No bleeping out of bad words, that is. That is probably a wise decision, since the hosts have some strong opinions and not censoring the language will help shorten the editing process. Not that the podcast is laced with expletives, but Steve and David are not Blizzard fanbois and sometimes their frustration with some of the things they see occurring comes through.

Content wise, Inside Azeroth is following the very familiar format of talking about WoW news and changes occurring in the game. For those who appreciate good show notes, the show's website contains a pretty well put together set of show notes for each show.

I'm always hesitant about passing judgement on a podcast that has put out less than 5 shows, even if they are experienced podcasters like Steve and David. So at this point I will say that I liked the podcast and that I expect that listening to the show grow should be an enjoyable experience. Unless, of course, you are a WoW fanboi. Then I don't think this podcast is for you.

Old Friends

Van Hemlock #53 (Hosts: Tim Dale and Jon Shute) - This episode's guest was Matt from the Limited Edition podcast. Yes, another blogger/podcaster who's playing Eve! And Matt was more than willing to join Jon in the weekly Sony bashing. I don't play console games, so I'm not sure why the PS3 brings out such feelings. Maybe it's a British thing? I know that Jon's idea of sending the fleet back to Iceland to take CCP and Eve away surely was. Takes game piracy to a new level.

The three wander through the week's news and ask listeners "What would you bring to the post of community manager of Hello Kitty Online?" Matt fit into the mix fairly well, but even Tim is wondering about the use of guests. I'd say don't do it all the time. But then again, I always want more Van Hemlock.

Epic Dolls #66 (Hosts: Leala Turkey and Katerina) - The hosts talk about patches 3.1.2 and the upcoming 3.2 as well as starting a new series on in-game relationships. I've found that the Dolls' previous series were good and I believe this series got off to a good start.

Massively Speaking #54 (Host: Shawn Schuster) - Shawn conducted an interview with Funcom's Glen "Famine" Swan and Craig Morrison to talk about Age of Conan. Shawn admitted on the Virgin World site that he was trying something new when conducting the interview. He says he won't make the same mistake again. Maybe I'd feel differently if I played AoC, but if you haven't listened to this episode yet, don't waste your time.

Massively Speaking #55 (Host: Shawn Schuster) - Shawn got the podcast back on track with episode #55 and his guest host, Massively.com blogger Lesley Smith. I liked the interplay between the two as they discussed WoW, LotRO, Guild Wars, Jumpgate Evolution and Fallen Earth. We need more Lesley!

Through the Aftermath #11 (Hosts: Shawn Schuster & Jonathan Morris) - The hosts bring in Jonathan's friend Rob to explore what to do when the zombie apocolyps hits. Many "practical" examples are provided, most of them humorous.

Star Wars Galaxies with Yivvits and MrBubble (Hosts: Yivvits & MrBubble) - I like the humor on the show, and given the announcement of SOE shutting down The Matrix Online this week, I really wanted to listen to a podcast based on one of the weaker games on the Sony Station Access pass. The talk about server merges also brought to mind EQ2's upcoming merger of the PvP servers.

And Last But Not Least

EQ2's-Day Show from April 28, 2009 (Hosts: Dellmon & Zanadi) - I almost forgot that Dellmon finally posted the show from April 28th. Among other subjects, find out what happens when 2 ratonga choose to pickpocket a God's avatar.

Friday, May 29, 2009

WoW Video - That Don't Impress Me Much

Real life has kept me from logging into any games for 3 days now. I could list the reasons, but who's going to be impressed? Certainly not the blood elf in this WoW adaptation of Shania Twain's You Don't Impress Me Much.



And did I mention my main is a master alchemist in EQ2? Oh well. Hope you had fun watching.
Edit: YouTube disabled the embedding feature for the original video. If you are interested in seeing it, click here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mercenaries in MMORPGs

mercenary - one that serves merely for wages; especially; a soldier hired into foreign service

Mercenaries have existed throughout history. From the Greeks who served Xerxes at Thermopylae to the bands that ravaged Europe during the Thirty Years War to the thwarted coup in Equatorial Guinea in 2004, people in power have always found men willing to fight for nations and causes not their own as long as the pay is good. That fact is reflected in all genre of literature as well. In fantasy, I’ve read Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion and Glen Cook’s Black Company series. In regular literature, Fredrick Forsythe’s The Dogs of War comes to mind. Science fiction is chock-full of mercenary tales, with Jerry Pournelle’s Falkenberg’s Legion and David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series being two notable examples.

Can today’s MMORPGs tap into that fascination with mercenaries? CCP's Eve Online already has, with players forming mercenary corporations, some of which have altered the course of the game. While the Guiding Hand Social Club's 2005 assassination of Ubiqua Seraph CEO Miral and stripping of the corporation of $16,500 in virtual goods may be the most famous mercenary exploit outside the game, Mercenary Coalition's "The North Reloaded" operation in 2007 changed the face of the game as it paved the way for the Band of Brothers alliance to move against the corporations of the North. Mercenaries are so integrated into the game that player guides exist for how to hire them.

Darkfall has the potential to create mercenary clans if it turns into the fantasy version of Eve. I only say potential because usually in order to have mercenaries you must have a large population that doesn’t fight in organized combat but instead sustains the economy. Eve has a large population of players eagerly playing the economic game, allowing those who want to play in 0.0 space the freedom to engage in some truly epic combat and political maneuvering. In Eve’s case, the small percentage of players and corps who specialize in battle or covert operations are special and sought after. I could be wrong, but I don’t see the economy becoming a main focus of activity for the majority of players in Darkfall. What I can see happening is something akin to what happens in the world of John Christian Falkenberg with small elite forces willing to fight for the highest bidder emerging from a large pool of cannon fodder.

What about the theme park games like World of Warcraft? I would argue that Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) has managed to tap into the mercenary meme. In EverQuest, the game developers faced a situation in which the 10-year old game has the vast majority of players at the level cap. In a group-focused game like EverQuest, not having groups hinders play, so the devs instituted a feature called, you guessed it, mercenaries. Players can hire mercenaries to form a group in order to do the lower level content. Mercenaries usually do not perform as well other players, but they get the job done.

In SOE’s EverQuest sequal EverQuest 2, the players themselves introduced mercenaries into the game. Basically some raiding guilds have turned themselves into mercenary units. The trend in EQ2 towards raiding guilds becoming mercenaries isn’t new. The first step in the road was a game mechanic called “loot rights.” Considered by many (including me) an exploit because it allows a player who had no part in defeating an encounter and was not even a part of a group/raid the ability to buy raid/epic quality no-trade/bind on pick up items. Who are the players usually selling the loot rights? Your friendly neighborhood raid guild. The loot rights mechanic introduces players to the concept of fighting for someone else in the game, as the buyer actually shows up at the scene of battle and takes the prize (usually for a large fee) from the raiders. Given the number of players looking to buy loot rights for specific items I’ve seen in world chat, I would not be surprised if some guilds have gone into a raid zone with an employer camped just outside the instance in case specific loot dropped.

Some of the most elite raiding guilds in EQ2 fully embraced the mercenary role with GU 42 with the introduction of mythical weapons. SOE’s game devs fully intended for the mythical weapon to be the ultimate weapon a player could obtain in the game. In fact, the weapons are so superior to anything else available that a player must visit four different raid instances and be part of a raid that defeats one of the boss mobs in each of the instances. The devs did not allow for the selling of “loot rights” for an update of the mythical weapon quest. So what did some of the most cutting edge raid guilds do? They started selling spots on raids whose sole purpose was to get the quest updates, naturally. On my server, when the first guild started selling its services, the going rate for hiring the guild was 1000 platinum (100,000 gold) pieces for all four updates. A year later, the same guild was advertising for 400 platinum (40,000 gold) pieces in the world chat channels. Times are starting to get tough for EQ2’s top mercenary guilds. But that doesn’t mean the end of mercenary guilds in EQ2 anytime soon. With the closure of the exploit that allowed players to sell void shards for 500 gold each, I’m sure that some guild out there has decided to follow the path of the mercenary and is selling spots in groups running TSO instances.

So will mercenaries play a role in MMORPGs? Our current games already have player mercenaries, whether the title is a sandbox game like Eve Online or a theme park game like EverQuest 2. As long as game developers provide a world in which players have an incentive to hire others to fight for them, mercenaries will be a part of our game landscape.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What I've Been Listening To: May 17-23, 2009

Here in the 'States we are celebrating the Memorial Day weekend. Celebrating is a term that seems a bit strange considering that the purpose of the holiday is to remember those who have died during our many wars. Hopefully those on both sides of the political debates in this country can put aside their differences and just remember and honor those who paid the highest price in the service to their country.

Here is what I've been listening to over the past week.

"First Time" Listen

SOE Official Podcast #62 (Hosts: Alan "Brenlo" Crosby & Aimee "Ashley" Rekoske) - I've put "first time" in quotes because this is not the first time I've listened to the official podcast put out by Sony Online Entertainment, but I haven't listened to the podcast over the past few months. Now seemed a good time since the host, Alan "Brenlo" Crosby, recently made the move from head of SOE's community relations team to Senior Producer of EverQuest2.

The SOE podcast covers all of SOE's wide range of MMORPG's, from EverQuest & FreeRealms to the Matrix Online and Planetside. As expected, the hosts put a positive spin on all things SOE. If listeners take that into account, the podcast can be entertaining. The podcast gives all the major SOE news in one place along with one or two interviews with SOE staff. Recent interview subjects have been Jason "Pex" Ryan (Free Realms Community Manager), Jason "Jaskell" Haskell (Star Wars Galaxies Associate Game Developer) and Josh "Autenil" Kriegshauser (Technical Director for EQ2).

Besides news, the hosts try to keep the podcast light, with recurring characters like The Grumpy Old Gamer, The Love Doctor, and server hamsters making frequent appearances. The server hamsters have gained quite a following with podcast 62 bringing in the introduction of a love triangle (or more likely a "Fatal Attraction") to the SOE server hamster community. Another thing the podcast is famous for is the hosts slurping of coffee. What was a small joke and complaint early on has turned into a full-fledged feature on the podcast.

For those interested in any of SOE's games, this podcast should be a regular download.


Old Friends

Van Hemlock #51 (Hosts: Tim Dale and Jon Shute) - The podcast went on the road to KIASACon '09 where their guests were Mike and James from Killed in a Smiling Accident. The conversation centered around game reviews, abusing the City of Heroes Mission Architect system and perhaps the last Tabula Rosa news we will ever hear. Wait, that would assume either 1) Richard Garriott will shut up or 2) that Jon will ignore the noise even if it amuses him. I think the answer is "no" to both questions.

Free Play Podcast #19 (Hosts: Riknas & Andras) - The game reviewed this episode was Runes of Magic. Having played the game to level 15 scout/15 rogue, I have to say this was a great review as well as a great podcast. The hosts looked at some aspects of the game in a way I wouldn't, and I liked the results.

The Instance #145 (Hosts: Scott Johnson & Randy Jordan) - The hosts of the World of Warcraft podcast discussed in-game issues like the arrival of Outfit Manager, vehicles, and the Lake Wintergrasp daily quests now only being weekly quests. Out of game issues included WoW-related applications disappearing from the iTunes store and a web comic in Germany pulling the comic from its website. And don't forget to listen through to the end for all the contributor content.

The Instance #146 (Hosts: Scott Johnson & Randy Jordan) - The hosts followed up on a couple of items discussed on episode 145, discussed trying to get BlizzCon tickets and actually told people to go to the official forums. And as always, the lightning round of questions is good.

In case you can't tell, I suffered a bit from The Instance overload as I tried to catch up on that podcast.

Spouse Aggro #76 (Hosts: Beau and Leala Turkey) - The Turkey's have switched up the format and are eating dinner, not breakfast, during the podcast. The main topic was avatars in games and what they may or may not represent about the players behind the pixels.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Post About Nothing

It happens to every blogger. You know you should write something but you just don’t know what. A standard subject is writing about what happened in the game you’re playing. But dinging AA point 179 in EverQuest 2 just isn’t sexy enough to warrant its own post. And who wants to hear that a guild group I was with was able to 5-man Doomsmith Tuesday night? I hate that boss with a passion, but most people really wouldn’t care.

We did add a new member to the guild. She is a level 77 wizard and is returning to EverQuest 2 after a year in Age of Conan (which she is still playing). More important than the fact that she aquitted herself well in a quickly organized guild event despite the year’s absence is that she is the mother of one of our guild members. She is currently living in England while her son is living in the States, so the game gives the two another way to have some contact. But the whole “games keeping people close” theme is kind of worn out now.

Yes, I am working on another post on a subject that I’ve been thinking about for a long time and I hope to publish it next Tuesday. While a post reviewing The Shadow Odyssey after six months is not really extraordinary, if I take the subject of my new post to its logical conclusion, I might upset some people. But again, who really cares about my plans? I need to produce some quality work. I’m just glad that we have a holiday weekend coming up here in the States so I’ll have time to obtain the links I’ll need to make a really solid post.

Well, that’s my post. A little rambling but I think a bit more entertaining than waiting until next Sunday for my next post. Until then, keep your bowstring dry and let your arrows fly true.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Shadow Odyssey Six Months Later

On 18 November 2008 SOE released the latest expansion for EverQuest 2, The Shadow Odyssey. For the first time in my gaming career, I took the week off from work so I could start playing a game expansion as soon as the servers went live. To say I wanted the expansion to be a major hit is an understatement. Was the expansion a hit? Let’s take a look.

The Dire Bear - I really like the Dire Bear pet/mount that came with the game if you went to the store and bought the box version of TSO. Each character that you create gets a dire bear pet that at level 20 becomes a mount. As you grow, your dire pet grows and becomes faster. The devs came up with a really unique and creative addition to the game. Only one little problem. The boxes were not available everywhere, especially outside North America. I’m in a guild whose two leading officers are Australian. In Australia, players could not buy the box. I hear the same was true in parts of Europe. If SOE is going to hold promotions like this in the future, players from countries outside North America should get an option of what in-game bonus item to get, the digital download item or the sales box item. For this expansion, SOE should at a minimum allow players to buy the Dire Bear using Station Cash.

No Level Cap Increases – The introduction of The Shadow Odyssey did not bring an increase in the adventure, crafting, or guild level caps. At first I was kind of disappointed because I had finally reached level 80 a couple of months before and I was ready for another level grind. But with a chance to take a breather, I’ve been able to gear up my main properly. Besides the tier 2 shard armor, I was finally able to earn my fabled weapon on my main. On the crafting front, I have two more level 80 crafting alts. I’m hoping that in six more months I’ll increase that number to 8 and be working on leveling a carpenter.

I also think my guild benefited from SOE not raising the level caps. We are actually within 3 levels of reaching level 80 as a guild, having dinged level 77 last week. I would really like to be in a max level guild. But besides the guild level, I like the fact that a lot of my guild mates are reaching the level cap and I can adventure with them without having to mentor. The acceleration of the level curve between levels 20-70 that occurred in GU 49 helped greatly. The fact that we finally have enough players to do high level content is nice.

So how do I like not having the level cap increase? Much to my surprise, I like it a lot.

The Moors of Ykesha – The expansion came with only one outdoor zone, the Moors of Ykesha. For awhile I didn’t really like the zone. But as I started to write this post I remembered the first few weeks when I adventured in the Moors. I love travel in the zone. Getting to the expansion area required getting on a giant airship. I tell everyone that they need to experience the ride at least once. Once in the Moors, you discover that the only way from the starting area to the rest of the Moors is to be shot out of a cannon by gnomes. Yes indeed, cannon as a means of transportation. From there the fastest means of transportation is by taking small airships throughout the zone. I actually took a long time to do the quest Ship Out, the access quest to all of the TSO crafting content, because I was having so much fun riding around in those tiny balloons.

As for the combat and quests, I liked the fact that I really had to be careful around a bunch of mobs that were 3 levels lower than me, but enough people complained so the devs nerfed some of the mobs in the zone. While a lot of the quests are of the “kill ten rats” variety, I really enjoyed the Brokenskull pirates quest line found in the caves of Brokenskull Loft that gave me, among other items, my Deckhand Labor Boots. I recently went back to finish up the quests in the zone and I’m enjoying some of the final solo quests. One of the quests takes you on a pirate ship on which you have to kill a giant croc and repel borders. I also discovered that by using the Cloak of the Harvester, you can jump off the Overlook and travel a very long ways. For one quest, my ranger ran and jumped off the Overlook, stealthed, and landed in the middle of the Gunthak's Shanty where I proceeded to kill a named mob for a quest update. Yes folks, another place in EverQuest 2 to conduct, as we used to call them at Fort Bragg, airborne operations. Did I just hear a ranger shouting “Death from above!”?

The Moors of Ykesha isn’t a fantastic zone, but the focus of The Shadow Odyssey is focused on group content and the instances, not solo play. Also, I think that if you started the expansion at the level cap like I did, you may have a different opinion than players hitting the zone at level 74-76. Still, the Moors does provide a few great moments of fun.

Crafters and Tradeskill InstancesThe Shadow Odyssey introduced another crafting faction, the Far Seas Supply Division, available to players once their crafting level reaches 50. Crafters will definitely want to max out their faction with the Far Seas Supply Division as that faction’s merchants sell such things as jewelry that increases XP gain and harvesting bonuses, special limited use recipes that turn rare items dropped in the TSO instances into special items, full sets of crafting armor and mounts that give you harvesting bonuses. I’ve earned enough of the Far Seas tokens that I now ride around Norrath on the pack unicorn that gives a +48 bonus to all my harvesting skills and wear the green set of crafting gear in my appearance slots and swap it to my regular slots when I’m in a group crafting instance.

Yes, EQ2 has group crafting missions. I haven’t heard of another game in which crafters are thrown together in groups to achieve an objective (building Titans in Eve Online doesn’t count). Whether it is creating a robot to destroy a robot that the gnomes lost control of, building a ship and watching it sail away, or equipping a platoon of dwarven warriors and watching them do battle, the tradeskill instances are cool. Add in the loot you can get from the zones like shard armor and jewelry recipes, jewelry that gives bonuses to crafting skills, and the Far Seas tokens earned with the completion of every mission and crafters should have been extremely happy. Only one problem. The instances had a bug that on day 4 kept some eager crafters, myself included, from doing the instances. I think I was unable to do the tradeskill instances for 3 or 4 of the first 8 days after the expansion’s launch due to the bug. That bug took some of the shine off the crafting instances, although I expect traffic to pick up again once the next expansion starts to draw near and players realize they really do want to pick up the Far Seas Supply Division crafting xp bonus gear for their mains and alts.

Group Instances and Void Shard Gear – Six months after the launch of the expansion the small guild I’m in finally cleared Deep Forge set to max level, so I’m not sure I’m the best person to evaluate the 16 group instances in The Shadow Odyssey. Yes, I have cleared a couple of other zones at max level, but most of my experience was doing grey shard runs to get my set of tier 2 shard armor, so most of my experience has been in Befallen, Miragul's Phylactery, Deep Forge and Najena’s Hollow Tower.

From what I’ve seen, the devs created a bunch of one group raid zones. Players need to gear up their armor, weapons, spells, and combat arts to run the instances successfully. I’ve seen a lot of scripted boss encounters inside the instances in which using basic “tank and spank” tactics is a sure way for a group to wipe. The zones also have a progression in which they are designed to be done. In short, the instances give players a taste of the raiding life. Other EQ2 expansions have done this with their heroic zone content, but none have focused so heavily on this aspect of the game.

Easy
  • Najena: The Deep Forge (Level 50-80)
  • Miragul's Phylactery: Scion of Ice (Level 50-80)
  • Befallen: Cavern of the Afflicted (Level 50-80)
  • Mistmoore: Evernight Abbey (Level 70-80)
  • The Void: Obelisk of Ahkzul (Level 80+)
Easy to Moderate
  • Miragul's Phylactery: The Anathema (Level 50-80)
  • Najena: Najena's Hollow (Level 50-80)
  • Mistmoore: Mistmyr Manor (Level 70-80)
  • The Sebilisian Empire: Veksar (Level 80+)
  • The Sebilisian Empire: Nu'Roga (Level 80+)
Moderate
  • Miragul's Phylactery: The Crucible (Level 50-80)
  • Befallen: Halls of the Forsaken (Level 50-80)
  • Guk: Halls of the Fallen (Level 80+)
  • The Void: Anchor of Bazzul (Level 80+)
Moderate to Hard
  • Befallen: Necrotic Asylum (Level 50-80)
  • Mistmoore: Ravenscale Repository (Level 70-80)
  • Guk: The Lower Corridors (Level 80+)
  • The Sebilisian Empire: Kor'Sha (Level 80+)
Hard
  • Guk: Ykesha's Outer Stronghold (Level 80+)
  • The Void: The Palace of Ferzhul (Level 80+)
Besides the difficulty of group instances for small guilds and small group (2-3 toons) and casual players, the biggest source of controversy in the expansion are players doing the TSO instances with the mobs set to a low level in order to get void shards. Unfortunately the practice was not declared an exploit until Kiara did so on April 1, or over 4 months after the expansion launched and 5-6 months after beta testers pointed out the possibility to the devs. I think I have posted enough on the practice that I’ll only bring up one additional point. I truly believe that the move of EQ2 Associate Producer Jennifer "Kirstie" Gerull to the development side as the lead mechanics designer had an impact on this decision to declare the practice an exploit. I’m just glad the decision was made to not punish those players who performed grey shard runs. I don’t know if I could have continued playing the game if all that work was taken away.

The Shadow Tree and the AA Grind – While The Shadow Odyssey did not see an increase in the adventuring or tradeskill level caps, the alternate achievement (AA) point cap was raised from 140 to 200 points, giving players disappointed in not receiving an adventuring cap increase something to strive for. SOE also gave players a third talent tree, called “Shadow”, in which to spend their points.

The Shadow tree harkens back to the early days of EQ2 when players did not choose their class at character creation but instead started out as a generic character, then did quests to chose their archtype (fighter, scout, mage, priest) and then progressed to finally become a class at level 20. The Shadow tree has four lines within the tree in which to put points, with each line having a requirement before you can put AA points into it. To use a ranger as an example, a player can immediately put points into the “General” line of the tree. But to put points into the “Scout” line, a player must have spent 120 AA points in all trees and at least 10 points into the “General” line. To put points in the “Predator” line (available to rangers and assassins), a player must have spent 140 AA points in all trees and at least 10 points in the “Scout” tree. To put points into the “Ranger” line (which has some really nice abilities), a player must have spent 170 AA points in all trees and at least 10 points in the “Predator” tree. The names of the lines, except for the “General” line, will change depending on a player’s class.

Is the Shadow tree actually worth spending hard won experience points into? Do you remember earlier in this post when I wrote that players complained that the content in the Moors of Ykesha was too hard? The monk I did the grey shard runs with had the same complaint until he took advantage of the free AA respec players received with the expansion and started spending points in the Shadow tree. He told me that after he did that, he was killing the mobs like he was used to. In fact, he thought he might have been having an easier time killing those level 77 mobs than he was used to.

The one thing I think players have complained about the most about alternate adventure experience is how much of a grind getting those last points is. I am currently at 178 AA points and even though I expect the next expansion to come out in November, I am wondering if that is enough time to get those last 22 points. I don’t think that SOE supplied enough content to keep the climb to 200 from becoming a ratonga on a treadmill kind of exercise. Hopefully when GU 52 comes out in June that the extra 80+ quests and changes in the conversion rate of combat experience to alternate achievement experience for max level characters will make earning 200 points an obtainable goal.

Conclusions and final comments - Despite the massive wall of text above, I'm still missing a lot of content from the expansion, mainly the raid zones. I haven't stepped foot into the raid zones so I don't feel qualified to say anything good or bad about the raid content. I also didn't write about the Lavastorm update in GU 51 or the delay of the fighter revamp since those are not really part of the expansion and this post is a look at TSO and the changes the expansion made to the game.

I have this post tagged as a review, but even after playing for six months I think this post is more accurately called my impressions of The Shadow Odyssey and not a review. SOE designs their EQ2 expansions to last for a year and game updates and patches will change, for better or worse, the quality of game play during that time. However, I have probably played EQ2 for 300-350 hours since November 18, 2008 with over 100 hours of that spent in the expansion zones, so I think I have some valid ideas about TSO.

So to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post: was the expansion a hit? I really think I'm going to have to wait another six months to answer that question. I have found this expansion to be a little bit like EQ2's graphics. When I started playing EQ2, the graphics didn't look too good because I was playing on a laptop. The game looked better over time as I upgraded my computer equipment. I'm having the same type of experience with The Shadow Odyssey. While the beginning of the expansion showed promise, I hit a snag as I grinded out content in order to get better equipment. But with the better equipment and the decision by SOE to not increase the level cap allowing the rest of my guild to catch up to the high end content, the expansion now looks like the equivilent of the "High Quality" setting in my video setting options. I'm hoping that the next six months' worth of content will show me a game I can say is set to "Extreme Quality".

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What I've Been Listening To: May 10-16, 2009

Another week has gone by and I'm falling behind a bit in my podcast listening. Partly because I've been writing a rather long post that I'll publish tomorrow and I usually don't listen to podcasts when I write. I usually compose rough drafts of my posts on the train ride into work and listen to podcasts on the train ride home. Listening to Scott & Randy on The Instance or Van Hemlock & Jon usually is enough to ease my mind away from work so I can enjoy the rest of the day. But tomorrow's post really needs to be posted tomorrow, so I was working under a self-imposed deadline. Ergo, not as much podcast goodness as I wanted.

First Time Listen

Star Wars Galaxies with Yivvits and MrBubble Episodes 108 & 111 (Hosts: Yivvits & MrBubble) - I first heard of Yivvits & MrBubble listening to Dellmon from EQ2's-day talking about his experience on a podcasting panel during SOE's 2008 Fan Faire. I heard they were good and had a loyal following, but never listened to the podcast until yesterday.

Normally I would try to discuss the topics on the show, and I will in the future in this little Sunday feature of mine. But for this first time introduction, I think that would limit the scope of what the podcast is all about. The SWG podcast is about two guys who absolutely love the world created by George Lucas and followed that world from the beginning (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) as best demonstrated by MrBubble's 1990 letter that was read on episode 108.

The style of the podcast reminds me of the old radio "morning zoo"-type programming (is it still popular?) in which two hosts use voice and sound drop-ins to enhance the humor of the show. I first listened to episode 111 and I thought it was a little flat, like the hosts were forcing the humor because they needed to put out a show due to problems with being able to post episode 110. So I went back to episode 108 where Yivvits & MrBubble picked up their new 'droid Roger and I heard the show I was expecting.

I'm actually thinking about going back and listening to all the old shows, although that may be a bit ambitious since the archives go back to December 2005. Needless to say, I'm going to make Yivvits & MrBubble a part of my podcast listening rotation.

Old Friends

Shut Up We're Talking #47 (Hosts: Darren Love & Karen) - The guests for episode 47 were Openedge from the Dichotomy of the Gamers Blogosphere and Genda from The Grouchy Gamer. The subjects were the Darkfall vs. Eurogamer review fight and avatars in MMORPGs.

The Instance #144 (Hosts: Scott Johnson & Randy Jordan) - The premier World of Warcraft podcast discussed the business of Chinese gold farming, the upcoming BlizzCon, and possible rewards from the WoW CCG. As always, listen to the end of the show for a humorous look at the previous episode.

Through the Aftermath #10 (Hosts: Shawn Schuster and Jonathan Morris) - The highlight of the show was the interview with Bethesda' Vice-President of Public Relations Pete Hines. For those who have never listened to TTAM before, Bethesda is the maker of the hit post-apocalyptic game Fallout 3. Other topics discussed were movie adaptations of The Road and The Dark Tower series and NBC's Day One series.

No Prisoners, No Mercy #32 (Hosts: Sister Julie and Sister Fran) - The highlight of the podcast was the interview with Giskard. Giskard has become somewhat famous, at least to listeners of NPNM, as Giskard runs the modding website Sister Julie visits as she tried to create Fallout 3 mods. Some of the information from this podcast may be applicable to those using the mission architect feature in City of Heroes, so those players might want to listen to this podcast.

Spouse Aggro #75 (Hosts: Beau and Leala Turkey) - The hosts take their breakfast show to the International House of Pancakes for a evening breakfast. The highlighted topic was about Free Realms, but I think I need to add something about the Spouse Aggro podcast. The reason to listen to the Spouse Aggro podcast is the interplay between Beau and Leala, a real-life married couple. Beau is a bit eccentric, playing every game that comes out while Leala's home game is WoW and she dabbles in some other games. A lot of thinking "outside the box" occurs and provides some thought-provoking podcasts.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Clear Skies 2 Is Now Available For Download

Ian Chrisholm has finished the sequal to his award winning Machinima film Clear Skies. The film, Clear Skies 2, is now available for download.

For those who may have missed it, Clear Skies and Clear Skies 2 are based in the Eve Online universe, with exterior shots filmed in Eve and interior shots filmed using Half-Life 2. I watched Clear Skies 2 last night and I think it is better than the original.

For more information on the films and film makers, visit the Clear Skies site. And don't forget to download the movie.

Monday, May 11, 2009

And Down Goes Doomsmith!

This weekend the guild had a pretty successful couple of days and I had an even better time. The adventures actually started on Thursday night as one of our officers got her mystic up to level 75 and we decided to run Deep Forge set to level 80. We took in a level 80 monk as our main tank with me (a level 80 ranger), a level 77 swashbuckler and a level 75 wizard providing the dps and a level 80 fury and level 75 mystic providing healing support. Needless to say, we didn't fare too well. So the wizard logged onto his level 80 inquisitor and we were off to the races. For the first time, one of our guild groups killed Doomsmith. We then proceeded to clear everything everything except for Firelord Kaern when our guild leader the level 80 fury had to take her son to school. So we looted the chest for the shard with plans to bring down the Firelord Friday night.

We discovered something about Deep Forge on Friday. Despite the fact it is a persistent zone, the lava level went down and we couldn't raise it again. After one unsuccessful attempt to down Kaern, we reset the zone, then set the zone to 80, killed everything in our path on our first attempts, had no wipes, and everyone in the group received at least one shiny (collectable) from the zone that they needed. We got some pretty nice gear to level our group members. I was one of the lucky ones, with the Charred Magmatic Bracers dropping for me. Call us a bunch of noobs, but that was the first time we had cleared Deep Forge with the zone set to level 80.

In addition to finding out that the lava didn't say persistently high, we also discovered a little something about the keyholders. We had little difficulty with the Mandate detrimental effect because our mystic was able to cure it. I don't know if only shamans are able to cure the effect or not. As someone who got hit with it, I can tell you that any class that can cure it is okay in my eyes.

On Saturday, our guild sent a 5 toon group into the City of Mist to help folks finish up the quests in that contested heroic zone. I was the one who made the request on our guild forum, but lots of people needed to visit the city. Running through the City of Mist quests found me dinging my 178th AA point. By this time our swashbuckler had hit level 78 and doing the City of Mist quests had him reaching level 79 shortly after I logged out for the night. Also, I picked up a fury master spell that our guild master needed.

As always, I spent a good deal of time doing crafting writs while listening to podcasts. I managed to level both my tailor and my weaponsmith up from level 77 to level 80. I now have 6 level 80 crafters, and the 50% crafting experience boost for having 5 or more maximum level crafters is very nice.

On the guild front, our swashbuckler reached level 80 and our mystic reached level 76 with the guild only needing 6% more status to reach level 77. Like I said, a very successful weekend for the guild.

Looking back to my posts on The Nosy Gamer, I haven't made any posts like this before. Partly because this was the best weekend I've had in EverQuest 2 since the launch of The Shadow Odyessy. But the other reason is that we finally killed freakin' Doomsmith. I hate that boss mob! I think I finally found a boss I hate more than Hogger from my World of Warcraft days.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What I've Been Listening To: May 3-9, 2009

I've decided to change the format of the podcast posts just a little. I'm going to shorten the listings for those podcasts I regularly listen to. Quite frankly, I'm running out of ways to say Van Hemlock and Jon Shute have a fantastic podcast. Also, with the new format I'm going to listen to at least one new podcast each week.

One note: I didn't listen to The Instance last week, but it is available and you can bet I'll be listening to it soon.

First Time Listen

RPGObjects Podcast #13 (Hosts: Chris Davis and Chuck Rice) - This is a table-top role playing game podcast put out by RPGObjects.com, a company that produces table-top RPGs. Chris is the owner and Chuck is one of the writers/game devs. I decided to listen to the podcast after hearing Chris on Through the Aftermath #9. I probably won't listen to it again, but that's just because I'm into MMORPGs. The podcast went a little over 20 minutes in length and I did wind up laughing out loud a couple of times. Here is an example I thought was funny when Chris asked Chuck what he had been doing that week.

Chuck: I wrote 13 pages in 2 days. What do you think I've been doing?
Chris: Playing Fallout?
Chuck: Well, yeah.


If you are into table-top RPGs that are not Dungeons & Dragons, I would suggest giving this podcast a chance.


Old Friends

Van Hemlock #50 (Hosts: Tim Dale and Jon Shute) - The Van Hemlock podcast reaches the 50 podcast milestone with a look at not only the news but how Tim & Jon put the podcast together. The twitter question asked for 140 character reviews of Free Realms.

Shut Up We're Talking #46 (Hosts: Darren and Karen) - The hosts are joined by the Monday night LotRO (Lord of the Rings Online) group: Brent of Virgin Worlds, Michael Zenke from SOE's DC Universe Online (and formerly of the Internet), Jonathan of Through the Aftermath, Adam of The Witty Ranter and Craig, a former blogger from Voyages in Eternity. The group discussed blogs written by game designers and gave their impressions of Free Realms while playing LotRO. Since Michael is an SOE associate game designer, he let his wife Katie give her impressions on Free Realms.

I don't think I've written this before on the blog, but anytime you can get any mix of Darren, Brent, Michael, and Jonathan in a podcast, you should listen to that podcast. You never know what you'll hear.

Free Play Podcast #18.5 (Hosts: Riknas and Andras) - Don't be fooled by the ".5" in the podcast number. Episode #18.5 is a 56 minute podcast discussing F2P news and how exploration is covered in F2P games. The ".5" in the episode number is because the hosts weren't very happy with the way episode 18 turned out.

Spouse Aggro #74 (Hosts: Beau and Leala Turkey) - Beau and Leala continued podcasting from diners over breakfast, but in a quieter location. I appreciated that since I have a hard time hearing Beau in the other diner. The pair discussed some issues related to raiding that Leala is facing in her role as a guild master for a casual raiding guild in World of Warcraft. Beau then puts together a segment based on conversations that he, Riknas from the Free Play Podcast, Troy from Travels with Troy and Massively.com Managing Editor and Through the Aftermath host Shawn Schuster had while playing Runes of Magic.

No Prisoners, No Mercy #31 (Hosts: Sister Julie and Sister Fran) - The "I'm Mad as Hell" segment is back and not only takes on MMORPG giant World of Warcraft but Tobold over its "Shake Your Bunny-maker" achievement. Getting to hear Sister Julie discuss the issue helps make her Virgin Worlds post seem more logical. I still think that she went over the top with her comparisons and that Sister Fran is more in line with my very uninformed opinion about the quest.

The sisters also interviewed Colin Campbell, co-host of the podcast Game Theory and now of GameBizBlog.com.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

So Why Play A Girl?

In one of my first posts on this blog I mentioned that my main character in EverQuest 2 is a female ranger/alchemist wood elf named Rosemarie. In fact, 4 of my 8 characters in EQ2 are female. Some people might wonder why a guy would play a female character. I can see how it might seem a little strange, depending on the circumstances. I don’t think I could play on a role-play server as anything other than a male toon. And the whole guys rolling up Night Elves in World of Warcraft and dancing for tips in Ironforge thing went way too far!

So why do I play female characters? I had a different reason for choosing “female” at the character selection screen for each one of my female toons.

Rosemarie was the second character I created in EQ2, and the first female character I had ever created in a game. The first character I ever rolled up in paper D&D was a wood elf ranger, so I couldn’t resist creating one in EQ2. I only had one problem: when I tried to create a male wood elf, he always looked like a girl to me. But I really, really wanted to play a wood elf ranger. So I figured if I was going to look like a woman anyway, I might as well create one!

The second female character I rolled was a wood elf monk/tailor named Neala. The Echoes of Faydwar expansion had been released and I wanted a character to explore the new lands, since Rose was in her 40s and EoF was a level 1-70 expansion. I had heard that the monk was a good solo class so that was the class I chose. I just had one problem. The main clothing/armor a monk wears is a gi, and I think most male toons in EQ2 look pretty dorky in most of the available gis. So basically I made Neala a female because I didn’t want to look like a dork.

The third female character I created was a human inquisitor/weaponsmith named Noizy. Her home town is Freeport because I needed a toon in Freeport to sell things in a non-goody too-shoes city. I tried to match her looks to the city, which means she’s not very pretty. But she makes a good counter-point to my human paladin/armorer Noiz.

My final female character is a gnome necromancer/sage/tinker named Fallenrose. I’m sorry, but creating a blond female gnome who plays with dead things and machines was too much to pass up. The funny thing is Fallenrose is one tough little gnome and I like riding around Norrath on a bear finding things to kill.

So that’s why I’ve created four female characters. I found that once I got over the hurdle of creating my first female character, making others was not a hard choice. But if you are going to roll up a female character, I do have to warn you about something. Watch out for the guys out there. They can be pigs! Ladies, I don’t know how you put up with us.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Deleting Characters In EQ2

I wrote awhile back about how EverQuest 2 does not give players very many character slots. Here's a video about one player's experience deleting an unwanted character. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What I've Been Listening To: April 26 to May 2, 2009

This past week the absense of a new Virgin Worlds, Van Hemlock, Shut Up We're Talking or Epic Dolls podcast allowed me to catch up on some podcasts. Thankfully Shawn Schuster stepped up and had both Michael Zenke (formerly of the Internets and now of SOE Austin) and Jon Shute (Van Hemlock podcast) on as guests for a touch of nostalga and to keep my Van Hemlock withdrawl to a minimum.

Massively Speaking #50 (Host: Shawn Schuster) - Former Massively Speaking host and Massively.com Managing Editor Michael Zenke returned for the landmark 50th podcast. The two talked about Blizzard's moves in China, the popularity of City of Heroes' mission architect, Warhammer Online's latest patch, the end of Shadowbane and theFree Realms beta. Boy, did they talk about Free Realms!

At the end of the podcast, Michael asks Shawn how he likes being Managing Editor of Massively.com, some of the things that have occurred on the site since Michael left for SOE Austin, and Shawn's future plans for the site. For me, two of the biggest moves Shawn's made since taking over the role of Managing Editor is the site redesign and signing up two new writers, Jon Shute and the legend himself, Van Hemlock, who is writing under his real name Tim Dale. The only thing that might be bigger is if Tobald were to start writing for Massively. Of course, maybe he already is.

Massively Speaking #51 (Host: Shawn Schuster) - In episode 51, Shawn's guests were Jon Shute (Massively.com Contributing editor, Van Hemlock podcast) and John Nicholson from the Limited Edition podcast. The topics for discussion were playing World of Warcraft on an iPhone, Guild Wars hitting a milestone, Champions Online setting July 14th as the launch date for the game, and the actual launches for Spellborn (U.S. release) and Free Realms.

One thing I will say about the podcast is that it got just a little confusing with both guest named Jo(h)n. If only one had a British accent, it would have been okay, but I found it hard to tell which guest was talking.

Channel Massive #86 (Hosts: Noah, Jason & Mark) - The Channel Massive podcast now officially includes console gaming and other non-MMORPG content. I say officially because the "This Week in Gaming" segment did tend to talk about other games than just MMOs in the past. I'm didn't really notice that big a difference in the format. I wonder if this "rebirthing" had anything to do with how the podcast is classified on iTunes.

I did like how the hosts introduced themselves to their new audience. I'll give you how I would introduce them.

Noah: The guy who sounds like Darren on Shut Up We're Talking.
Mark: The guy who sounds like a robot on occasion but usually like Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters.
Jason: The other guy who may or may not be a drunken idiot.

If you liked the M Team before, don't be put off by the new format. Their personality hasn't changed and at least in this episode there was lots of MMO goodness to listen to. If the show notes continue to be as extensive (and somewhat goofy) as this episode's, just visit the website before listening if you really have a hard time with listening to anything non-MMO related.

Through the Aftermath #9 (Hosts: Shawn Schuster and Jonathan Morris) - Shawn and Jonathan were joined in episode 9 by Chris Davis, the owner of RPGObjects.com and publisher of the desktop RPG Darwin's World for a discussion of post-apocalyptic desktop role playing games. If you are into desktop RPGs, then you'll want to listen to this podcast.

Since this is a post about podcasts, I should note that Chris has his own podcast which you can listen to by clicking on the "Podcast" tab on his website.

The Instance #143 (Hosts: Scott Johnson & Randy Jordan) - I listened to this podcast and just thought about how I'm glad I'm not playing World of Warcraft right now. The discussion of whether the devs put in too much to do reminded me how I feel sometimes in EverQuest 2. The item in the podcast that really made me feel sorry for WoW players was the problem with changing between dual-specs and the bug that occurs when you enter an instance. Listen to the podcast for a detailed explanation because I don't think I can do the subject justice.

Other topics of interest included shades, how to handle constantly receiving tells, and Peggle.

No Prisoners, No Mercy #29 (Hosts: Sister Julie and Sister Fran) - Sometimes Sister Julie swings for the fences and misses. Not this episode. This time she targeted forum trolls and showed why trolls are more than just an annoyance. Also on the agenda was a discussion on Eve Online and a service that rescues players having a bad wormhole experience.

No Prisoners, No Mercy #30 (Hosts: Sister Julie and Sister Fran) - This show's guest was Sayla from Mystic Worlds. The main topic of the podcast was a discussion of how to make isk in Eve Online by salvaging, with Sayla giving out the tips on the best ways to do it. Additional topics included how Time/Warner wants to change the way it charges for internet use (in a way that would painfully affect MMO players pocketbooks) and a tribute to the recently departed Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeon & Dragons.

How I Wow 1 Year Anniversary Show (Hosts: Shaun Cooms and Patrick Beja) - Shaun and Patrick marked the one year anniversary of the How I Wow podcast by holding a poll and inviting the four most popular guests to appear. The winners were The Turpster, Scott Johnson from The Instance, Tekzilla co-host Veronica Belmont, and The Guild's Felicia Day. Felicia had to leave during the recording and Scott's co-host Randy Jordan filled in for the rest of the podcast.