Friday, April 30, 2010

Listening To: Van Hemlock #100

Podcast: Van Hemlock #100
Hosts: Tim Dale & Jon Shute
Release Date: 28 April 2010
Length: 58:23

The Van Hemlock Podcast, much to the surprise of the hosts, has reached episode 100. Unlike a lot of podcasts that reach a significant milestone, Tim and Jon decided to look ahead instead of at the past. In a change in format, the hosts started with the week's Twitter question; what is the future of gaming? The quality of the submissions really makes the segment work every week and gives the hosts a chance to wander far afield.

After the Twitter segment, Tim unveiled his Tardis. Of course, Tim was only able to build one large enough to hold his iPhone, so Tim and Jon sent it into the future to download future Van Hemlock podcasts. The podcasts turn from the serious to the ridiculous as the duo send their iPhone farther and farther forward in time. I definitely smiled and chuckled throughout the skit.

Once again Tim and Jon produced another quality episode that I'd recommend listening to.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Listening To: SOE Official Podcast #84 - Free Realms B-Day

Podcast: Sony Online Entertainment Official Podcast #84
Host: Aimee "Ashlanne" Rekoske
Release Date: 26 April 2010
Length: 50:55

Some people look at the official podcasts of gaming companies and just are not interested. Why? Because the podcasters are employees of the game company and have to toe the party line. That can lead to some boring and sugarcoated talk. But I wanted to listen to the SOE Official Podcast #84 for two reasons. Not only did the podcast come at the one year anniversary of the launch of Free Realms, but it was the first episode to come out without its founder, former SOE Community Relations Manager and, more recently, EverQuest 2 Senior Producer Alan “Brenlo” Crosby.

So how did the SOE podcast crew handle the transition? First, Brenlo’s longtime co-host Aimee "Ashlanne" Rekoske is now the permanent host and long-time news reader Jason “Pex” Ryan took a turn as the co-host. For this show Jason, the Community Manager for Free Realms, was the obvious choice since the podcast would focus on Free Realms. For the future, the current plan is to have a rotating crew of co-hosts and for the next episode listeners will get to vote on the next co-host. My vote is for Linda “Brasse” Carlson. Why? Because I’d really like to listen to her try to be corporate. I’m more used to listening to her appearances on The Jethal Silverwing Show on Online Gaming Radio.

As for Brenlo’s departure from SOE, the crew didn’t say anything themselves. The only mention was from a reader e-mail expressing reget and good wishes to Brenlo on his future. Yet more evidence that Brenlo’s departure wasn’t on the best of terms.

As is customary, the podcast had a news segment in which news of SOE’s games gets mentioned. EverQuest players will see changes in mercenary pricing, new alternate achievements and some fine tuning of the Underfoot raid. EverQuest 2 players were briefly told about the Passport program and directed to ZAM.com for interviews with the new producer of EQ2. Star Wars: Galaxies players will be getting a lot of new content to include a lot more storage for their stuff. And Pox Nora came out with its 13th expansion on the 26th.

Of course, the big news was the 1st birthday for Free Realms. Aimee interviewed Free Realm’s Tiffany Chu and the pair went over all the in-game celebrations. I’m almost tempted to log in to see if the cake monsters disrupt the parties that will be held every hour today.

Official podcasts from game companies are supposed to drum up interest in their games and this podcast did a good job. Did you know that there are in-game staff wandering around the game world? Or that they hold live events on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Combine that with fun things like the cake monster boss that will run around as part of the celebration and I remember why the game is popular.

The Official SOE Podcast is not the greatest podcast by any means. But I’m going to listen to the next few just to see the direction it takes with the departure of Brenlo.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Listening To: Game Breaker #10

Podcast: Game Breaker #10 - Ebert Hates You
Host: Gary Gannon
Release date: 26 April 2010
Length: 50:09

Now that I have an iPod I've been playing around with subscribing to podcasts on iTunes. Yes, as much as I love podcasts, I never was attracted to the iTunes store. I always preferred going to Virgin Worlds. But now that I have the hardware, I've taken the plunge.

One of the first podcasts I downloaded was Game Breaker, which is actually a video podcast about games. I was a bit concerned about putting a large file like a 50 minute video podcast on my iPod, but I gave it a try. The host Gary Gannon is the former co-host of the popular Massively Online Gamer podcast that lasted 98 episodes. The guests for the episode were two podcasters I am familiar with: Massively Online's Editor-in-Chief and host of Massively Speaking Shawn Schuster and Shut Up We're Talking host and Common Sense Gamer blogger Darrin Love. Joining the two were BFF Report host Mike B. (aka Fony) and Jim Festante from The Game Show on theStream.tv.

The show's title, "Ebert Hates You", is based on the main subject discussed on the episode, a Roger Ebert blog post stating that games can never be considered art. Darrin took the side agreeing with Mr. Ebert while the others maintained that games are art. The conversation was entertaining and worth the time I spent listening to the podcast.

For the record, I agree with Darrin on this subject. I'd comment further, but Darrin did such a good job describing his thinking on his blog I'll suggest you go there. But then again, I got the point he was trying to make about the $10 dollar horse too, so that might make me a bit strange.

Other topics discussed were Warner Bros. purchase of Turbine, Blizzard developers for StarCraft 2 telling Gamasutra they are not trying to be innovative with the new title, another move toward 3d gaming, and one of the games under development for Sony's Project Natal.

I really enjoyed listening to the podcast, but not enough to subscribe to the video podcast. I just don't want to fill up my iPod's hard drive with all those files. Fortunately the podcast also has an mp3 edition I can download and I've subscribed to that.

Monday, April 26, 2010

New Landmarks

I have to admit that I like flying around New Eden in a Cheetah just looking at things. I might be a little bit strange, but I'm not really into the whole killing thing. So when I first looked at the new Tyrannis site hyping the next Eve Online expansion, I got excited about the new event landmarks feature. In a dev blog last week, CCP Bettik explained in more detail about the feature. And then CCP Tallest added this blurb...

"After putting up beacons all over EVE to sites that we have dubbed "generic landmarks," we noticed that these sites were mostly concentrated in just a few regions. This seemed unfair to players who play elsewhere, so we went to work on distributing them to the rest of the EVE cluster.

"We want most players to encounter these landmarks at some point, but not all the time. Thus. we decided to put them in around 15% of solar systems.

"This project mostly involved copying sites, renaming them, tweaking them a little bit so they aren't all exact copies of one another, and then replacing NPC's with whatever was appropriate for each solar system.

"In some regions, we had to make new landmarks entirely. Most of these sites were tied to the empire factions in some way, so they wouldn't make sense for, say, the Rogue Drone regions. Since all of the other regions were getting new content, though, we didn't want to leave the rogue drones out. So we simply created a few new ones for those regions."

Yes! More stuff to search out. And the background of New Eden gets a little bit deeper, it seems.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My New iPod

Work has been hard this week, but I figured with all the overtime I've been getting I could afford an iPod touch. The one I bought has a 32 GB hard drive. I've been having fun setting it up, but I have to admit I think I've turned into a big Eve geek. What was the first video from YouTube! I viewed? This classic. (Warning: not workplace safe.)



So then I went over to the iTunes store. And of course, you know what I downloaded, right? If you guessed the latest Van Hemlock podcast, then you're a regular reader. I just hope that the aliens that abduct podcasters once they hit 100 episodes don't find Tim & Jon.

I did try to listen to Eve Radio, but the player wouldn't work. I guess you can't have everything.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

While Reading A Forum

I encountered this bit of wisdom while reading the Druid section of the Runes of Magic forums.

"You can't believe everything you read on the internet; that's how World War I got started." - Kevin Butler, Director of Rumor Confirmation

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Tobold Eve Kerfuffle

Normally I wouldn't write about a feud between two bloggers. Up until now, I've kept quiet about the whole Syncaine/Tobold feud. After all, none of it concerned subjects I'm really invested emotionally in. But now that Tobold has decided to actually play Eve, a game I'm currently playing, I actually have some first-hand knowledge about what the two are writing about.

(Disclaimer: Tobold has chosen to play a no-good, twice-damned, holier-than-thou slaving Amarr pig-dog, so I might be just a bit biased against him. I'll try to be fair.)

Now, I'm actually interested in reading what Tobold writes about Eve. Eve is the only game I've ever really liked that I don't unreservedly recommend to my friends. That's because Eve is a bit, shall we say, complicated, as the chart below demonstrates.



Like me, Tobold is a carebear. That is, someone who is not a big fan of player verses player (PvP) game play. I know what I am getting out of the game. I want to know what Tobold gets, or doesn't get, out of playing Eve. I actually think that once Tobold discovers that high-sec will keep him fairly safe that he will immerse himself in the economic game. After all, anyone who analyzes the challenges of making gold in World of Warcraft auction houses will see a similar challenge moving into Eve's more advanced economy.

Now, I think that Syncaine's response to the Amarr pig-dog was, to say the least, not exactly on the mark. Of course, Syncaine had to respond to Tobold bringing up the subject of the learning skills and the concept of training them first no matter what that does to your game play in your first month. Something that Tobold labeled "Eve Offline".
"Also somewhat comical is the talk of the ‘optimal’ path, without the identifier that it’s the optimal path for a veteran player and not someone new. Yes, maxing out your learning skills is the best thing to do to ultimately have the highest skill point total, and if that’s your goal for the game, have at it. But again, if skipping ahead is ok to begin with, you might as well do it right and just buy a character with all of the learning skills maxed. Sitting there complaining about EVE Offline while you make the choice yourself to not play and not get skills that would help you right now is, well, rather silly. Just because the veterans of the game have min/maxed something, does not mean everyone is forced down that path, and that applies to any MMO." [emphasis mine]
I found just a couple of things wrong with this passage. First, at the time he wrote his "Trying to Understand the Eve Skill System" post, Tobold had been playing for 2 days. And given my own experience when I began, trying to figure out the skills system and during my research I saw some veterans advice new players to learn all the learning skills first. So if Tobold also heard that advice, I don't wonder that he brought up the "Eve Offline" meme. Of course, I prefer forum threads like this one that give, I think, more sane advice.

The second thing I found funny was that Tobold never said that he was going to follow this path. Tobold wrote:
"Now I'm not planning to play EVE that way. I matured well past the point in my MMORPG career where I think that progress is actually important. Having fun with gameplay is. So what I will be doing is running missions, explore the universe, learn the various complex game mechanics of the different careers, and be hellishly inefficient in accumulating a completely unfocused set of skills, based solely on what I want to do next, without a larger plan or long-term goal. I am pretty certain that A) this is how most newbies would play EVE (as opposed to a second character of an EVE veteran) and B) this is more fun than first spending a month offline accumulating learning skills." [emphasis mine]
Where in the above passage does Tobold say he is going to follow the "Eve Offline" plan?

Now, I'm not sure that Syncaine is not just playing a joke on everyone with this post. Why would I think his last paragraph is a dead giveaway.
"Oh and one final note: How can someone who ‘plays’ the AH in WoW through a UI mod for an hour a day, day in day out, selling the same stuff and gaining gold in a game where gold has next-to-no meaning or challenge in acquiring it, call mining in EVE boring?"
Syncaine, a champion of PvP play, defending mining, the biggest carebear activity in Eve? That IS a joke, right?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Brenlo Leaves EQ2 and SOE

Yesterday Sony Online Entertainment announced that Everquest 2 Senior Producer Alan "Brenlo" Crosby has left the company. Brenlo will be replaced by David Georgeson, previously Producer, Director, and Lead Designer for Gaia Interactive's zOMG! He also has a background of being an SOE producer, having held the position when Planetside launched. I'm going to have to hope for good things since Mr. Georgeson worked as a developer on SSI's "Pools of Radiance" gold box games, the first computer RPGs I ever played.

I had actually started thinking about Everquest 2 again and was wondering how the game was doing. I remember thinking that the hiring of Brenlo, then in charge of the SOE Community Relations team, might be a bad sign for the game. I saw the move as taking the focus (and resources) away from EQ2 and toward newer titles. By putting in someone with years of experience not only in community relations but in the Everquest/Everquest 2 universe, I thought that SOE was positioning themselves to soothe their existing player base while the transition occurred.

The first sign that something was amiss was that the first expansion that would come out under Brenlo's reign, Sentinel's Fate, was scheduled to come out in February 2010 instead of November 2009. Lack of resources? Whatever the cause, that led to my leaving the game after nearly 3 1/2 years of playing. I had planned my character's progression to the end to coincide with a November release and the world wasn't interesting enough for me to stick around for another 3 months.

Did I leave at the right time? I'm starting to think so. I listened to the March 23rd edition of EQ2's-day and Dellmon and Zanadi talk about the latest EQ2 developer's chat on ZAM. Dellmon really sounded glum about the state of the game as he went over the chat. The part that struck me was the talk about server merges. The talk continued this week as Rothgar discussed some of the thinking.

Server merges for a mature game like EQ2 wouldn't be the end of the world to me. But another thing that struck me is that the new starting zone, Halas, still hasn't made its appearance over 2 months after Sentinel's Fate was launched. From what I've read on EQ Wire, the new battleground feature has had nothing but problems, including a pretty bad duping exploit and battlegrounds affecting performance on the world servers. Also, I've heard itemization is not that good. And from listening to Dellmon and reading Feldon's site, it sounds like the devs have had to fix an awful large number of bugs over the last two months.

So thinking about all I've heard, I'm thinking two things about the news of Brenlo leaving. First, I don't think the departure was voluntary. And second, I probably made a good decision in not jumping back into EQ2 when the expansion came out and I might want to wait a few more months before jumping back into the world of Norrath. That is, if I go back at all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Past Week

I haven't really done all that much in Eve over the last week. I flew around the Hed (home to Amamaker) Semau and Jayai constellations making bookmarks and giving out some intel on gate camps. I flew through one on the Amamake/Osoggur gate when there were only 7 ships with no problem. I've seen some really big ones with the BANE alliance having a lot of fun. I was watching them one night and then one of the campers revealed he had a spy in the Minmatar militia chat, at which point I left the area.

I finally lost my Cheetah in a rather embarrassing way. I went to jump through a gate when I was informed by traffic control that I had to wait 2 minutes and 36 seconds until I could pass through the gate. While I was sitting at the gate trying to figure out what to do, a Stabber and a Rifter came in and destroyed both my ship and my pod. To add insult to injury, I was informed when I woke up in my new clone that I still had to wait 48 seconds before I could use the gate.

The lesson? If that happens again, just go to my pod saver tab and start spamming warp. To paraphrase an expression from EQ2, Cheetah's are squishy. When in doubt, get someplace safe, then try to figure out what happened.

After buying and outfitting a new Cheetah, I then figured the time was right to finally pick up a battlecruiser and start running some level 3 missions. But what to buy? I bucked the trend and purchased a Cyclone instead of a Hurricane. I had been mission running in an an artillery/assault missile/armor tanking Rupture so the switch to a autocannon/heavy assault missile/shield tanking Cyclone takes a bit of getting used to. But the ship can permatank running one tech 2 large shield booster and I've liked it so far. I just need to improve some of my missile skills.

And speaking of missile skills, improving my missile skills will also help with a new goal of mine. I want to be able to fly a Hound around instead of a Cheetah. I'd like to be able to drop in and do some damage while giving out some traffic reports on what gates are being camped. But that's going to take some more carebearing in order to get the funds. I can afford to buy one, but then my wallet will be close to empty. In Eve, never fly what you can't afford to lose.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Moving On

Normally the signs would not look good. I’m approaching the 8 month mark of playing Eve Online, which seems to be the average time players play an MMORPG. I’m dipping into Dungeons & Dragons Online to play with friends. I’ve found a lot less to write about. Am I about to leave the New Eden universe?

Hell no! All that means is that the formal learning phase of the game is over and the time to fight the right fight is now. Eve University is a player-run training organization that is designed to have most of its members leave after a time to go onto bigger (but not necessarily better) things. The rules that felt warm and protective when I was a new player with under 2 million skill points now felt restrictive as a 9 million skill point pilot with 5 ½ months of exposure to Unista fleets, classes, and forums. So the time had arrived to move on to the next phase of my Eve life: faction warfare.

On Saturday I dropped roles in the Uni and on Sunday joined the Eve University affiliated Minmatar faction warfare corporation Thukker University of Hard Knocks [TUOHK], better known as Thukk U. During that time while my main was doing the traditional station spinning of an Eve University student during a wardec (which makes for some VERY enthusiastic war fleet members when war targets are sighted) my industrial alt started gathering the ships and fittings I’ll use to start off my faction warfare career. Why not do my shopping with my main? Three reasons. The first is that my industrial alt holds most of my money. Reason #2 is that my industrial alt flies a Mammoth that fits 9 large cargo containers, perfect for moving 9 unassembled frigates and associated fittings and ammo to my new operating base. And the third reason is the most important of all: if I undocked and flew to Hek and Rens to do some shopping, I’d get my ship destroyed and probably be podded by either a Uni director or a Unista fleet.

The first class of ship I plan on flying is the Rifter and I’m using Wensley’s Rifter Guide as a basis to start out with. I now have ten Rifters to fly (and lose) but only have the T2 autocannon and damage control units for 5 of them. Another item I still need to take care of is buying a battlecruiser to run level 3 missions in, so I’m not depleting my wallet quite yet on buying all the fittings for the Rifters. I also need to figure out whether to fit afterburners or microwarp drives. I have the feeling most of the fights are not going to be at a star gate, so using an MWD is starting to look appealing.

Being the natural carebear that I am, I had never entered low-sec by myself before. So did I take it nice and slow and gradually work myself into feeling comfortable? Of course I did. No one ever gets attacked in Amamake, right? That’s why I took the most expensive ship I own and just started flying around making bookmarks.

Okay, the most expensive ship I own is a Cheetah, the Minmatar covert ops ship. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. After the last two wars the Uni had with the Privateer Alliance a lot of discussion took place concerning how to survive flying covert ops ships against highly skilled opposition. After some practice using the techniques and making sure my signature radius was as small as possible, I jumped in. So my first contribution to the Minmatar militia turned out not taking part in a blazing shootout against some Amarr pig-dogs but letting someone know there was no gate camp on the Osoggur gate. Well, I guess I had to start somewhere.