Saturday, May 29, 2010

Real Life Still In The Way

I haven't blogged lately because real life is taking up all of my time. I haven't even been able to implement my plan to data core mine while I'm in Bulgaria. Oh well. I'm finishing packing now and will shortly begin the real life adventure. I'll be hopping on a 747 for the first leg of the journey, which I'm told is about the same size as a Rifter. Blogging will be sporadic, if it happens at all, for the next two weeks.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Listening To: VirginWorlds #147

Podcast: VirginWorlds #147
Host: Brent
Release Date: 16 May 2010

Length: 78:12


After almost a year's absence, Brent has published a new episode of the VirginWorlds podcast. With an assist from Darren Love from VirginWorlds.com podcast Shut Up. We're Talking, Brent begins the podcast by explaining why the long drought in podcasts and what the future may hold for the VirginWorlds podcast. Brent asked a good question in whether the old format is now relevant with the emergence of Massively Speaking and Van Hemlock filling the void of MMORPG weekly news when Brent stopped the podcast.

As is usual with a VirginWorlds podcast, Brent and Darren went though a lot of games. This episode's list included Age of Conan, Dungeons and Dragons Online, EverQuest II, Guild Wars 2, Sword of the New World 2, Eve Online, Warhammer Online, Moonlight Online, Mortal Online, Planetside, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Super Hero Squad Online and Warhammer 40K MMO. For me, the biggest news was the leak of the name of the next EQ2 expansion and that EA will probably not release The Old Republic in fiscal year 2011. This may come as a bit of a surprise considering that back in January the developers were looking to release the game in the first quarter of 2011. So if you want to get into the Star Wars universe, Star Wars: Galaxies is still the only game in the MMORPG genre.

I'll definitely look forward to the next VirginWorlds podcast to see what direction Brent takes the podcast.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Vacation: CCP Changes My Plans

I got home from work early this morning after working another 15 hour day with the knowledge that I was now on vacation. So I logged into Eve to set the next skill for Wandering Rose and ... OH NOES! The Tyrannis expansion is delayed one week.

Now, I know that planning a vacation to coincide with the release of an MMO expansion is always a risky thing to do. But the news that planetary interaction is delayed until June 8th really hurt. Why? Because I am traveling to Bulgaria from May 30th to June 12th to conduct some training in our Sofia office and will not have access to Eve during that time. So I will miss the initial land rush.

I am not buying a new gaming laptop just for this trip. Unless the powers that be decide my future involves roaming the planet, getting a gaming laptop doesn't make a lot of sense right now. Not that I don't want one, but I think I can manage on the two desktops I currently have. And if the 60 hour weeks continue, I can even afford a good one in a few months.

I have to admit I'm not completely heartbroken by this turn of events. I do have to do some real life tasks over the next week (like buy luggage and learn the Cyrillic alphabet) so diving into the expansion won't be a distraction from getting them accomplished. Also, I have a couple of things I want to do in game as well and not playing with PI will help me accomplish those goals this week. And I guess the new systems will have bugs that I (hopefully) won't experience by not diving into the content on day 1. But really, those reasons are just putting a good spin on a less than optimal situation. I want to play Tyrannis!



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Developing My Character Backgrounds In Eve

I recently reached a decision point in my characters’ development in Eve Online. For my main, Rosewalker, my plan worked pretty well for the first nine months of play. First I poked around to make sure I really did like the game. That period lasted about two months. Then I entered Eve University and learned a lot about the game mechanics, social aspects and useful tips for researching matters outside the game. I didn’t intend to say longer than 6 months and that didn’t pose a problem since I felt the itch to move on after about 5 ½ months. Next on my agenda was a stint in faction warfare as a member of Thukk U, a player corporation in the Minmatar militia. I planned to use a fight against the Amarr as a springboard into role-play.

Things didn’t quite turn out the way I imagined. I did get a lot of practice setting up bookmarks in my Cheetah in the lowsec systems around Amamake. Of course, I proceeded to lose my ship and spent a week missioning to repair the hole in my wallet replacing the ship made. Then real life inserted itself into my leisure queue and I wasn’t able to log in to do much more than update my skills queue for two weeks. And with a two-week business trip to Bulgaria coming up, I really felt bad about staying in Thukk U since I really haven’t contributed anything fighting the good fight and wouldn’t for some time to come.

While Rosewalker ran around New Eden having fun, my industrial alt Wandering Rose slowing built up her skills. Well, Wandering Rose did have fun, although hauling cargo between NPCs, mining and manufacturing goods doesn’t really excite a lot of pilots. I think part of the problem was that I never intended to have a second account so I didn’t create a plan for Wandering Rose. I just thought her as an appendage of Rosewalker instead of as a pod pilot in her own right.

Not anymore. I have now entered the role play phase. Just a little sooner than expected. And not as a noble hero and famed warrior. And with two characters instead of one.

So how did I go about figuring out a background for my pilots? First, I looked at the faction description and found some nuggets to build on. Slavery naturally played a part in defining my characters’ background. Neither one likes Amarr. So while the Matari are scattered throughout New Eden, I will not live in Amarr space. Unless, of course, I decide that my characters are among those who “make their living on the darker side of the law, acting as pirates, smugglers and peddlers in all kinds of illegal goods.” I don’t know about the pirate thing, but the smuggler thing sounds intriguing.

The next step in building a background involved researching my tribe. I had the foresight to make both of my characters members of the Vherokior tribe. The Minmatar are a tribal society and while I chose my characters for their stats (and to say I play a Mystic in a space game), I think the Vherokior are a very good choice for role-players. The short description of the tribe is that the Veherokior are versatile people know for their access to all aspects of Minmatar society. The Vherokior tribe page gives a fuller description.

“Originally nomads in Matar's vast and inhospitable desert regions, the Vherokior are among the most diverse individuals of the Republic They can be found in professions ranging from doctors to mystics, scholars to merchants. Their quiet work ethic and widespread family clans allow them unlimited social mobility in the Republic with access to both the best and worst that society has to offer. While politically underrepresented in the Republic, the Vherokior are more than capable of influencing policy, and have no qualms with using that influence to benefit a relative or associate. The practice is common in the private sector as well, where Vherokior clan-run businesses thrive by avoiding the bureaucratic red tape of official channels.”
Basically anything a role-player wants to do is not outside the realm of possibility. And the part about “avoiding the bureaucratic red tap of official channels” is a euphemism for smuggling. After all, the Vherokior have access to both the “best and the worst” society has to offer, which I interpret to mean lawful and criminal.

Next came looking at the racial traits and ancestries. Rosewalker is a male Mystic, which is a pretty unusual ancestry…

“Vherokiors have always seemed strange to the other Minmatar tribes, doubly so when it comes to those with mystical inclinations. Vherokior mystics are both revered and feared by the Minmatar. The ancient Voluval ritual, where the soul and karma of the person is revealed through the unexplained emergence of a body tattoo on the recipient, was created by Vherokior mystics, and its secrets are closely guarded.”
Luckily male Vherokiors are socially gifted individuals who “seem to have an innate ability to blend into their surroundings and make people feel at ease no matter what the circumstances.” Sounds like if Incarna does introduce avatars walking in stations a mystic should have the ability to emerge from the shadows of a dimly lit corridor like a rogue or assassin in other MMOs.

My industrial alt is a female Retailer. This seems, from a role-play perspective, a good combination. The description of female Vherokior is most relevant…

“Vherokior females are famous for their shrewd business acumen. They tend to possess precisely the right mixture of intelligence and intuition to excel in both commerce and industry. Many are chosen to operate businesses run by the family clan, though under the watchful eye of the clan matriarch.”

The next step involved figuring out how to get my feet wet role-playing. I felt uncomfortable in faction warfare and wanted to role-play without the pew-pew. I also have always wanted to get into the economic side of the game, which is a different kind of PvP. Did I mention that in the description for the NPC corporation “Vherokior tribe” that most Vherokiors are described as “shop-keepers or small scale businessmen, seldom venturing into the big boy’s league”?

So over the weekend Wandering Rose created a corporation and Rosewalker dropped roles from Thukk U and joined her. How does creating a corporation advance my game-play? First, developing the corporation will help in finally getting me to focus on the economic side of Eve. As a first step I am researching ways to create revenue streams that require little effort to maintain. While some may deride some game mechanics as “Eve Offline”, I will need that isk to do everything I want to do, even if the membership in the corp never exceeds two. Second, the direction I want to take the corporation will determine what faction I run missions for. One immediate example is which corporation’s R&D agents do I wish to work with? Do I work with Boundless Creation, which is smaller than its competitors but pretty much located within the borders of the Minmatar Republic? Or do I work with Core Complexion, which is a far-flung corporation that could satisfy the traditional Vherokior wanderlust? Finally, creating my own corporation introduces me to an area of game play I have never tried before: guild management. Notice I didn’t use the term leadership? I am curious about the tools provided by CCP to corporate CEOs in New Eden.

Before I venture forth onto the forums I’ll fly around missioning and mining establishing the background I wish to present to the pilots of New Eden who click on the details of my characters and discover who likes and hates me. I’ll also build up the corporate infrastructure in case I get people who want to join. After all, some real life friends might decide to join the serious world of internet spaceships. Or, perhaps, other pilots will want to join the story I am crafting.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Listening To: Shut Up. We're Talking #62

Podcast: Shut Up. We're Talking #62
Hosts: Darren and Karen
Release Date: 6 May 2010
Length: 62:04

One of my favorite podcasts is Shut Up. We're Talking. This episode had three guests: podcasters Garry Gannon of GameBreaker and Jonathan Morris from Through The Aftermath and blogger Sara Picknel of Symptom of a Greater Cure. Hmm ... didn't I listen to Gary and Darren on GamerBreaker #10? Yes, and I have to say this episode of Shut Up. We're Talking was much better.

I think with the sale of the sparkle pony in World of Warcraft that Darren has become one of the most sought after guests on podcasts due to his stance on Runes of Magic's $10 horse. But the discussion was not limited to the pony. The panel ranged far and wide, looking at consumerism in our games, Blizzard's motivation at introducing the pony, DRM, and the future of real money transactions (RMT) in MMOs.

The second topic of discussion was Roger Ebert's blog post about video games never being considered art. I think Gary sounded better discussing the topic than he did on his own show. I'm not sure if that is because on his own show he was the host and thus couldn't express all his own thoughts, but I liked this discussion better. Also, I thought Jonathan included a couple of movie references that were a bit of a smack at Mr. Ebert. I really liked his example of how the view of Star Wars has changed over the years.

For those who have read the blog for awhile, my recommendation that you should listen to this episode should come as no surprise.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Listening To: PODDED Podcast #28

Podcast: PODDED Podcast #28 - The Final Show
Hosts: Dillon Arklight & War Childe
Release Date: 5 May 2010
Length: 81:08

The PODDED Podcast has been the most steady and frequently published Eve Online podcast I found over the last year. I ate up every podcast and always looked for more. So I was sad to hear that episode 28 was the last show. I recommend listening to this last one as the hosts talked with a couple of friends about the latest goings on in New Eden.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Civilization IV Sale On Steam

This weekend Steam is having a sale on Civilization IV. The complete pack for $10. Yes, I know Civilization V is coming out, but I've only played Civilization II. What kind of gamer am I? Oh yes, an MMO gamer. But this is just something I have to have, especially for $10. The sale ends on 10 May.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Listening To: The Instance #187

Podcast: The Instance #187 - "Bag Passion"
Hosts: Scott Johnson & Randy Jordan
Release Date: 3 May 2010
Length: 116:48

This episode of The Instance is why I shouldn't try to blog about 2 hour podcasts. Real life got in the way of writing a real post. Instead of writing about how insightful Scott and Randy were about all the new Cataclysm news published by Blizzard or how much I enjoyed listening to Reggie add color to the podcast in a Madden-like way, I spent my time looking at hotels in Sofia. That's right, I'm going to Bulgaria for a business trip. I think I figured it out, now I just have to call the travel agent and see about getting the trip booked. But I don't feel as bad as that one guy who left a voice message for the show asking advise after his wife left his casual guild for a raiding guild so she could get better gear.

The Instance, in case you haven't heard of it before, is one of the best, if not THE best, World of Warcraft podcasts. I've subscribed. Those two hour podcasts might come in handy and fill in some time on that long flight over the Atlantic.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Listening To: Declarations of War #13

Podcast: Declarations of War #13
Hosts: Alekseyev Karrde, Kan3r Blaze, Jimer Lins
Release Date: 2 May 2010
Length: 90:23

While browsing through iTunes I was pleasantly surprised to find a podcast published by one of Eve Online’s mercenary alliances. The podcast, Declarations of War, is put together by the Noir. Mercenary Group, which in the last few months has made news doing everything from coming to Chribba’s defense to being the first mercenary corporation since the Great War to take sovereignty in 0.0 space. So I was really interested to hear a podcast from this group.

The first segment of the podcast was a review of Noir’s contracts. The mercenaries completed contracts in Insmother and Providence plus busted up a couple of player-owned stations. I got a kick out of the business end of these contracts as seen from the mercenaries’ point of view.

Next was a segment on Eve news, which was interesting since the hosts helped make some of that news. First they covered the situation in Providence in which Against ALL Authorities finished booting CVA out of the region and help install small alliances into the space. Paxton Federation was singled out for their continuing presence in Providence, although it sounds like that future may not be long.

In additional war news the hosts gave their take on the Northern Coalition vs. Southern Coalition battle that has finally begun. They recommended a web site, Northern-Crusade.com, to visit to follow the war and gave their opinion on sov warfare.

Following the war news came commentary on the upcoming Council of Stellar Management elections. The hosts provided their endorsements for candidates which, not surprisingly, included Noir member Mynxee. The hosts bring some experience to the subject since Alekseyev is currently a member of the CSM.

The final two stories were the local invisibility exploit that some players were using against Russian players and coverage of the Alliance Tournament VIII selection process. Sounds like things are not running smoothly, but Noir is in and expecting to make a better showing than in AT7.

The last section of the show covered “The Week in Mercs” and covered some mercenary news. But for me the best part was when the hosts talked about Noir’s invasion of 0.0 space to take 4 systems. The stories were pretty good, including their take on Mynxee’s post on how she almost lost her jump freighter.

If you haven’t listened to an Eve podcast before, download this one. I loved it. Declarations of War looks like it comes out very often anymore, but I hope the hosts pick up the pace. After all, making a podcast is better than carebearing, right?

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Game for the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Commission

The U.S. federal budget deficit is out of control. Congress is totally polarized and the Congress critters can't work together. Even if they could, the options available are politically toxic and members of today's Congress are not what you would call politically courageous. So President Barrack Obama creates a non-partisan commission headed by the President of the University of North Carolina (and former Clinton White House chief of staff) Erskin Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming to come up with solutions. And what is one of those solutions? Pass the buck to the citizens.

As I found out by listening to Channel Massive #129, Mr. Bowles asked Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about the possibly of creating a game that would allow anyone to come up with a solution for the budget deficit. I don't think Mark & Noah really believed what they heard. But I've given the subject some thought and I'll give my analysis of the whole idea. Take it for what it's worth.

First, with the economic complexity of some of today's games, looking at virtual worlds as a model to use in the real world isn't as ridiculous a concept as it would have been 10 years ago. Eve Online is an obvious example, with game publisher Crowd Control Productions (CCP) employing Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson as its lead economist. If the BBC can interview the man known as CCP Dr.EyjoG to Eve players for economic insight in real life matters, why can't the U.S. government look to games for insight?

I admit that the BBC has a love affair with Eve Online, but Eve is not the only game getting attention as a virtual world economic laboratory. One game receiving serious academic study is Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest 2. SOE made over 60 terrabytes of logs available to researchers and one paper has already been published. While some people, including myself, have quibbled with the paper, researchers are looking at virtual worlds seeking insight into the real world.

So, video games are a valid way to look at the budget deficit? My answer is ... maybe. Remember, both Eve Online and EverQuest 2 are massively multi-player role playing games (MMORPG) and Mr. Bowles asked Microsoft to look into developing a single player game. In an MMORPG, thousands of players (and in Eve over 150,000 players) interact and form a complex economy. Even then, as University of Southern California's Dr. Dmitri Williams points out in his piece on Terra Nova, the game's coding can determine the behavior of the player base. In a single player game, the code that simulates the actions of those players in an MMORPG matters even more.

Let me give one example of how code decisions and assumptions can influence game play. Back in 1990 one of the first games I played on my Mac SE was Sim City. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what tax rate to set that would not only maximize the incoming tax revenue I received but also the rate that would spur the most economic growth in my city. Does this sound familiar? Like what Mr. Bowles and former Senator Simpson need to try to figure out? A graphical representation of how much revenue is collected by the government at particular tax rates is known as the Laffer curve and would need to be built into the design of a single player game.

The burning question is: who determines that point of greatest returns? Dr. Arthur Laffer? Back in 1992, with Dr. Laffer as a campaign advisor, former (and possibly future) California Governor Jerry Brown proposed a flat federal income tax of 13%.

Do we look to the gaming world and ask Dr. Guðmundsson of CCP? After all, if the commission is going to look to the gaming world for answers, Dr. Guðmundsson is probably the most qualified game developer in the industry today to provide the answer based on virtual world economies. Based on the raising of taxes in non-player corporations in the Dominion expansion, I would guess Dr. Guðmundsson has determined that for Eve players that point of maximum return might be 9-10%. By setting the tax rate to 11%, the CCP developers were trying to encourage players to join player run corporations. In effect, they were trying to set a tax rate that would discourage a certain activity. Players might have accepted a rate of 9% or 10% and the tax hike would not have had the intended effect.

Of course, basing economic decisions for the United States based on a game from an Icelandic company would be silly. But is letting someone on the commission or the Obama administration make the decision just as silly? They are, after all, supposedly looking for answers, not handing them out. But if the commission defines the game's assumptions, how many choices will players have? Will players only be presented with variations of the current progressive tax system or will other alternatives, like Steve Forbes' flat tax or the fair tax championed by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee?

The tax portion of the problem is just one (or many depending how you look at it) of the design decisions that needs to be made in the production of the game. Yes, a good economic simulation would benefit the debate greatly. But who determines if the game is a good simulation or just a propaganda recruiting tool for one side or the other? So maybe Mark's and Noah's reaction was right after all.

Listening To: ST:OKast #005

Podcast: ST:OKast #005
Hosts: Todd Gilbert & Brandan Higgins
Release Date: 27 April 2010
Length: 60:37

The ST:OKast is the first Star Trek Online podcast I’ve listened to. The podcast and hosts were clearly influenced by the World of Warcraft podcast The Instance, using terms like “rumors and scuttlebutt” and having additional content like Techno Babble and a lore segment at the end of the podcast. In fact, Todd and Brandan have even advertised on The Instance.

But while parts of the ST:OKast sound familiar, their approach to covering the game is one I haven’t really heard before. While some game podcasts will use a segment to cover the forums, ST:OKast is all about covering the ST:O forums. The verdict? I liked it.

The news the hosts featured came from the forums, featuring news on upcoming lower level content, efforts to make Memory Alpha less confusing, the possibility of purchasing bridge set-ups seen in the various Star Trek series, the results on a poll on what players want most in ship interiors, and an update in the death penalty. The hosts also have a feature in which they select the best post of the week. This episode’s winner was a thread about adapting the game so players can use voice recognition software to play the game. The fact that players have figured out how to do that has me tempted to try the game out just to see that in action. I've included a video of a player demonstrating using the voice commands below. Wow!


I do want to say that my impression is that Todd and Brendan are not die-hard fanbois for the game. From listening to the podcast I get the impression that the game was launched without a lot of content and needs a lot of work. But they are also not cynics either and believe the game is only going to get better. Fair and balanced coverage? I’ll let you be the judge.

One of the truisms about MMORPGs is that a good community can make a good game into something special. Eve Online is a good example of this principal as its player-driven stories are what drive the popularity of the indie sci-fi title. I was wondering how Star Trek Online could compete with that aspect of the game. Perhaps Turbine can’t, but I believe that Todd and Brandan have figured out a way to tap into the community to bring more to their podcast than just the game.

I don’t like to judge a podcast until episode 5 because, like a new MMO, I like to give the hosts of a podcast a chance to work out a lot of the bugs. I think I can now fairly say that ST:OKast has a good concept and a pair of enthusiastic hosts who show a lot of promise. I’m not going to subscribe to the podcast, but only because it is based on a single game that I do not play. But if you are playing STO, and especially if you don’t want to spend hours in the forums finding the best posts, then I would recommend giving ST:OKast a listen.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

About "Listening To"

Back when I created The Nosy Gamer, I started a feature called, rather unimaginatively, "What I've Been Listening To". Running every Sunday from February 22 - August 16 2009, I reviewed the podcasts that I had listened to during the previous week. But after 6 months I ended the series because not only was it feeling like work but I wanted to concentrate more on writing original content about MMOs.

Looking back over the last 8 months, THAT idea didn't work out too well. Real life got in the way more than once and at one point I almost gave up the blog. But I never did give up listening to podcasts about MMORPGs. Now that I have bought an iPod Touch and have subscribed to iTunes, I'm listening to a steady stream of podcasts on the train to and from work every day. Over the past two weeks I've spent more time listening to the podcasts than actually playing games. So the appeal of writing about podcasts has returned, since I've got two hours every day in which I am not connected to the interwebs and thus really can't work.

What I've come up with is something I'm calling "Listening To". The idea is to write a post about a podcast within one day of listening to it. I also want to post newly published podcasts to make my posts more relevant. One of the weaknesses of a weekly feature like "What I've Been Listening To" was that some of the posts were rather out of date. Hopefully the new format will be more useful as well as entertaining.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Listening To: Channel Massive #129

Podcast: Channel Massive #129 – Dowels of the Doomspeaker
Hosts: Mark & Noah
Release date: 28 April 2010
Length: 55:19

And then there were two. Since the last time I did podcast reviews last August Jason has left the podcast. In this episode Mark and Noah sounded a bit more subdued than usual without Jason or their many guest hosts wandering onto the podcast. I think they were suffering from lack of material due to a slow news week.

I don’t think their hearts were really into the story about how using a Wii Fit turned a woman into a nymphomaniac. I think the story about the death of a HALO MMO at the hands of MicroSoft was a reach since the game murder occurred in 2008. The story about the Eve player using bamboo to multi-box within the rules of the EULA got a bit more of a charge out of the hosts, but not much more.

Or perhaps the hosts just were more enthused about the first and last of the show’s news stories. The pair led off the news segment with the short-lived offer wall Turbine placed in Dungeons & Dragons Online. I missed seeing that myself, but maybe because the wall was only up for 24 hours. The story really needed Jason to come along and say, “Epic fail, Turbine, epic fail!”

Of course, Noah and Mark had to come up with a story that actually made me think. That story was about the bi-partisan commission that President Obama created to address the gaping federal government budget deficit wanting to create a game to encourage people to come up with ideas to solve the problem. They could not understand what the commission was thinking. The government creating America’s Army as a recruiting tool they could understand. But to solve the budget deficit? Who is going to play that game. Aren’t all the players who game with spreadsheets already playing Eve Online?

Damn you Mark & Noah for that story! Now I’m going to have to write a blog post this weekend to get what I’m thinking out of my system. But the short version is that the commission wants the game for the same reason the Army developed America’s Army: as a recruiting tool. Any proposal that comes out of the committee (and with 14 out of 18 votes required to produce a report, the committee may not even issue a report) will need some popular backing to get the Congress critters to accept them. So if people have played the game and maybe understand the issues, then maybe they would support the commission. Of course, that would mean developing the game in such a way that the players would come to the conclusions the commission wants. Higher taxes anyone?

I’ve listened to a few episodes of Channel Massive since Jason left and I’ve heard Mark & Noah do better, so the problem isn’t Jason’s absence. I think they just had an off show. But even listening to an off show from this pair was an enjoyable experience and doesn’t make me regret subscribing to this podcast.