Monday, April 19, 2021

More On The Removed Asteroid Belts

CCP Rattati and CCP Swift (the player formerly known as Elise Randolph) appeared on The Meta Show Saturday. One of the questions that came up concerned the removal of asteroid belts throughout large portions of null sec. CCP Rattati explained...

We have two ways to spawn minerals into the game. Through anomalies which is newer, and belts, which is very, very, like, the original entry point of minerals. The belts need to be respawned every 24 hours during downtime because they are very, very old tech. Anomalies don't. They can be evergreen in that sense. 

The long term tech decision is obviously to remove the belts. Slowly but surely. And we have been removing stuff from them in anticipation to actually just remove them from the universe and replace them with anomalies that would basically behave in a similar way. So that's a tech decision. 

The actual thing is that there have been hundreds of people working on EVE in the last years and what you need to do to create an NPC to spawn -- you need to pick a place to spawn. And there has not been a singular -- the right way to spawn things. So sometimes NPCs respond to things like a literal asteroid or a part of the belt or somewhere in the vicinity, but you always have to pick like an id. Like a thing to spawn on. And that was not supposed to be in that way. It was supposed to be more generalized. In some cases in these belts, in these NPCs, they were just hardcoded to a point they were not supposed to hardcode in. So this never would have been like in a CSM discussion. This is just a defect in that sense. 

So we're trying to roll this back. Like, not roll this back. Sorry, using the wrong word. Trying to go in the right direction and fix it in the right way. 

We learned three things, none of which were very surprising. The first is that the issue of the asteroid belts was partially a result of bad legacy code. Going off my experience of listening to how CCP developed EVE, each of the asteroid belts was hand-crafted. Trying to change the ore composition of thousands of belts with the resource distribution changes by hand wasn't going to happen. 

I honestly don't understand the points about where NPCs spawn. In the early days of EVE, if the developers wanted NPCs to spawn in asteroid belts, wouldn't they have to tie the NPCs to the belts? I'm assuming that CCP Rattati is thinking along more modern lines in which NPCs are linked to a system or constellation and roam around. As far as I know, the first roaming NPCs were the Circadian Seekers introduced with a new artificial intelligence engine introduced in Rhea in December 2014. I don't think incursions, introduced in the Incursion expansion of November 2010, introduced NPCs that roamed between celestials. I was too excited about the removal of training skills at the time to notice if they did.

The second thing we learned is that the CSM wasn't consulted. I know. I get it. Developers don't run defect fixes past the CSM. Every couple of years, a bug is fixed that players adapted to. Go ask null sec players how they used those over the years. In the case of the asteroid belts, I get the impression that the developers made to just remove the belts since not only were the continuously empty belts causing confusion, but that was the direction the company is taking anyway.

That's right, the final point is CCP plans to eventually remove all asteroid belts from the game. Old tech means legacy some systems in EVE need Tranquility to reboot daily. One of those systems is asteroid belts. And we know CCP wants to eliminate the daily downtime. Back on 4 December 2019, CCP experimented by eliminating downtime on that date. Going back even further, CCP eliminated ice belts and replaced them with ice anomalies in the Odyssey expansion in June 2013. Add in player interest in removing downtime, and the removal of the asteroid belts might receive popular support if the servers could remain functional for a week at a time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

CCP Prefers Suspenders, Not Belts

Yesterday the latest patch for EVE Online dropped on Tranquility. CCP made a very interesting choice.

No, I'm not referring to increasing the amount of Mykoserocyn sites after reducing them with the great resource distribution update. Removing asteroid belts seems a bit ... strange. The change doesn't affect players in high or low security space, but null sec received a nerf.

No more belt ratting in Curse

I imagine the Curse Russians weren't very happy to log back in and discover all the asteroid belts in Curse had disappeared. The same probably held true for all the small groups living in Providence. What CCP did yesterday was eliminate belt ratting from large portions of EVE.

I honestly don't know how the change will affect groups in the affected regions in trying to raise the activity defense multiplier in systems they are interested in moving into. Raising the military index level requires shooting NPCs. If the true security value in a system is poor, how do groups get NPCs to shoot to make their systems more defensible?

Of course, CCP has the data and knows how many NPCs are killed in various regions. Perhaps the elimination of so many asteroid belts will have no effect. At least on the monthly economic report. But will the change make even more of null sec space uninteresting to players? Time will tell.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Downtime For Patches

Message logging into FFXIV from Steam

I do have to admit to chuckling over how Square Enix alerts everyone to patches and downtime in Final Fantasy XIV. In the last few days before a patch, the developers make crystal clear everyone who logs in knows a patch is about to be deployed. More importantly, everyone is notified about when the downtime will occur. No one will have an excuse. Make sure your retainers are out working and visit your house to make sure you don't lose it due to not visiting it frequently enough.

The message indicates an expected downtime of 9 hours. I should add, I've seen notices from Square Enix warning of 24 hour downtimes for larger patches. That's a long time, especially compared to EVE Online.

When I started playing EVE in 2009, downtime was a way of life. Each day, the game was offline an hour. And expansions? The joke was, train a long skill because downtime could take a couple of days. I never experienced server downtime that long due to launching an expansion, but the possibility existed.

Over the years CCP has really improved its performance around both the daily downtime and installing new content. If a patch takes longer than an hour nowadays, something bad probably happened. Which is a good thing, because both Square Enix and CCP are dropping new content onto the servers. So while I can't play FFXIV, I can still play EVE.

Friday, April 9, 2021

My New Mount And Final Fantasy XIV Quality Of Life Changes In Patch 5.5

Over the last week I spent my time in Final Fantasy XIV leveling my Scholar job from level 46 to level 55. Back when I laid out my plans for leveling the job, I only planned on running squadron command missions until I reached level 53. I altered my plans when I looked at the rewards offered in the latest Moogle Treasure Trove event.

Flying across the night sky

The Blissful Kamuy mount is a rare drop from the 8-man trial Emanation (Extreme) from Stormblood. A glowing wolf mount is a must have, even if I needed to gather 50 Irregular Tomestones of Esoterics. The Aurum Vale, the dungeon I needed to run in order to level up my Scholar job, gives out 4 of the tomestones upon completion, even if run as a squadron command mission. I could have gotten the mount faster by using the duty finder, but I also needed to level up the NPCs in my squadron. Now, I not only have the mount, but 6 of the 8 NPCs are level 50 and above as well.

In a sign I've played too much EVE Online, I'm more excited about the quality of life improvements coming to FFXIV in patch 5.5 than I am about the content itself. Yes, I think the changes are that good.

The new interface

The first change is to the achievement menu. Before patch 5.5, players have to visit Jonathas to collect their achievement awards. Visiting Jonathas is a bit of a pain, and I live in New Gridania. The change will keep a lot of players from having to travel back and forth to get their rewards.

The next change is one I've waited awhile for. The deck building rules for Triple Triad are changing to allow two cards with a rarity of 4 stars or more instead of just one.

The new rules as of patch 5.5

With the new rules I get to use my 4-star cards now. Before, those cards were essentially useless as I would always use a 5-star card. Of course, the NPCs might also have better decks, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Less button clicks please

The third change is to fishing. Currently there is a command to release types of fish automatically. I've never used the command for fear I'll start throwing back fish I really want. With the new interface, that worry goes away. Square Enix, my inventory thanks you!

The last change comes to the emotes interface. Square Enix loves emotes. So much so the devs have included over 100 in FFXIV at last count. But finding new emotes like the new pizza eating emote coming in patch 5.5 is a real pain. That is, until Tuesday.

Green dots > red dots

First, the UI shows newly acquired emotes the same way the minion & mount interfaces do. The tab with the new emote will display a green dot. Each new item in the tab also displays a green dot next to the name.

The second change to the Emotes UI is wonderful. The developers are adding a search function. The function will work with both the name of the emote as well as the text of the emote command. Between the two changes, finding the emote I want will become much easier.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

News On CCP Games' Next Shooter

Fans looking for news about CCP Games latest project received a taste last week of what is to come. The new head of CCP's London studio, Adrian Blunt, gave an interview with MCVUK/DEVELOP (Issue 967, April 2021, pp 44-46) the magazine published last week.

The project apparently is a shooter using the Unreal 4 engine, which I think was already known due to job postings. 

One of 8 open positions for CCP London found on 6 April 2021

The description of the game as a multi-player shooter is a bit different than the job posting found on CCP's website in February 2020, when the game was described as an "unannounced action MMORPG".

As seen on 19 February 2020

The change away from describing the game as an MMORPG is similar to Crimson Desert's, another Pearl Abyss title due to launch in 2021. We learned of the focus away from the genre in Crimson Desert's case back in December 2020. Does that mean that EVE and Black Desert Online are the last MMORPGs to come out of the stable of the South Korean company's stable of studios?

We knew from the news of Project Nova's demise that the people in Iceland working on the shooter were redistributed to other teams in Reykjavik. But the interview did make some news as we found out the number of employees in the London studio is now around 40. With the CCP job opportunities listing 8 additional openings for the project, the team is set to grow.

Perhaps the biggest news from the article was the unveiling of Adrian Blunt as the Studio Director at CCP London. Blount worked as a producer on mobile games in EA Mobile's UK Studio from 2005-2008 before moving on to become the lead producer of FIFA Online for 2 years. He spent a lot of time working in the Far East, not only at EA but at Ubisoft, where he managed the Singapore development of Assassin's Creed Unity as well as the development and launch of Ghost Recon Phantoms. After nearly 3 years at Ubisoft, Blount moved back to London to work as a producer for Square Enix for almost 2 years.

In 2015, Blount moved on to Fireteam and was present in 2016 when both Fireteam and Splash Damage were acquired by Leyou Technologies Holdings Limited, a Chinese poultry company. He would serve as both VP Platform and VP Operations at Fireteam before moving on to Splash Damage, where he worked until January of this year.

I want to point out one passage from the article that leads me to believe the launch of the game is still a few years out.

The game was in pre-production before Blunt’s arrival, and his first impressions were good: “When I had the opportunity to meet the team, play the game, and I was blown away by what the team has been able to create.” So, at very least, we know that this early version of the game was strong enough to entice Blunt from his previous position at Splash Damage.

The author leaves the reader with the impression that the game is currently in production, but was still in pre-production a few months ago. Giving the game 3+ years of development would appear to fit well with the release of Pearl Abyss' other upcoming games. Crimson Desert is due to launch at the end of 2021. DokeV and Plan 8 are still due to release in 2022 & 2023 respectively. A 2024 launch would allow Pearl Abyss to launch a new game every year for at least the next 4 years.

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Hunt - Finding Eggs

I managed to play a little bit of EVE Online yesterday. The Hunt is currently underway until 13 April so I decided to go out and hunt down some eggs. The problem? Lack of actual directional scanning skills.

I did manage to track down 15 points worth of capsules. The one trick I know is to make sure the overview is set up to see capsules. But not just any capsules. Irregular capsules.

If the box isn't checked, player skill doesn't matter, the irregular capsules will not show up in the results. Also, for some reason low sec is a much better place to find capsules than high sec.

I tried using probes to track down the capsules. While they helped locate where to find the prizes, the process was slow and I still wound up having to use the directional scanner. The last time I searched in a system, I just went to a spot close to the center of the solar system and performed a d-scan at maximum distance (14.3 AU) with a 360 degree radius. The results didn't turn up a capsule, so I flew to one of the two planets outside the scan range and found the general vicinity of the target.

Because planets have so many moons (and I didn't know about the trick about holding down the V key), I would fly to a spot off the planet and then do a search. I would slowly reduce the search radius until the capsule fell off the results. Once that happened, I knew where to look.

Holding down the V key while on the map view allows for accurate scanning results by just clicking on the celestial. Of course, I didn't bother searching YouTube for an instructional video until I started writing this post. I would have found capsules much faster. A video by EVEnton was very helpful in making my life easier.

I do have one more tip. Using a covert ops frigate probably wasn't the best choice to hunt down eggs. Finding a capsule at a moon poses no problems. Asteroid belts, on the other hand, frequently have rats. Besides, running the combat sites in The Hunt requires something a lot more tanky. Might as well use the same ship to both find the eggs and run the sites.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Black Desert Online: The End Of The Season And Final Thoughts

Wednesday marked the end of the winter season in Black Desert Online. Once I reached level 59 on my witch Tuesday night, I went a little farther, rode to Heidel, and logged out while standing next to Fughar. I now have 104 energy and 188 contribution points after playing over 90 hours (not including AFK time) in March.

My original plan was to spend $10 to buy a value pack and play a second month. I wanted to restart and expand my worker empire from the first time I played. After a month, though, I don't really want to play BDO anymore. I want to get back to Final Fantasy XIV and EVE Online. I've already done life skilling in BDO and I enjoy the economic activity in the other two games a lot more. With that said, I should finish up with a final post about my latest experience in BDO.

The Season: The concept of the season has its ups and downs. On the positive side, seasons allow players to create alts in a PvE environment. The concept of having beginning armor and weapons to practice concepts like enchanting is also good. 

The big problem with seasons is time. Jumping into a season at the beginning gives 3-4 months to level and do everything, giving players plenty of time to run around. I wound up coming back to BDO as a result of Pearl Abyss taking over as publisher of the game in the west. As a result, I was rushing to try to level as fast as possible. But overall, I think Pearl Abyss should bring back seasons.

Combat: I never did feel comfortable with the controls. I pressed so many wrong keys, even the AI managed to kill me a few times. With a character over level 50, I would have to compete with others in the open world now that I'm on regular servers. I'm so bad, I'd be easy pickings, assuming I was able to gear up properly in the first place. People who like action combat and using keybinds would definitely fare better than I did.

Autopathing: The autopathing function in BDO isn't really that good. I have wound up going into really bad places. One would think autopathing would keep one travelling on the roads, especially over long distances, but that's not what happens in BDO. Stopping at a cliff face is bad enough. One time, the autopath function ran me into an object and the only way out was to use one of the teleport maps to get myself unstuck. 

Maps: The mini-map in BDO is fine. If I could have figured out a way to expand the size to make it more readable, I'd give the mini-map higher marks. The larger maps though could use some improvement. Unless something major changed, the larger map is good for lifeskilling. I did wind up buying some storage in towns, so I can tell that works well. The problem comes when trying to use the maps for navigation. I think trying to use the large map for navigation led to some of the autopathing issues I experienced.

Personal Inventory & Storage: First, I have to note that I purchased inventory slots the first time I played BDO. I didn't buy account-wide inventory, so I shouldn't have received any extra slots on my new character. With that stipulation out of the way, I leveled a character from 1-59 without purchasing any inventory space. Pearl Abyss did provide additional inventory slots both via quests and daily rewards for returning to the game. I also purchased the maximum 8 inventory slots available from the loyalty store. 

Black Desert Online is unusual in current games because they also keep track of weight. One of the reasons for purchasing a value pack is the additional 200 pounds characters can carry. I did have to carefully manage the weight and purchase a 25 pound weight allowance from the loyalty store to get by. 

Because I already had a worker empire built from my first time playing the game, I already had town/city storage available. That's right, storage obtained in-game is account-wide. One of the beneficial nuggets of knowledge I received watching YouTube videos was the importance of running through the main story questline in order to get contribution points. In-town storage is purchased with contribution points as well as from the cash shop. I did manage to acquire enough contribution points to purchase enough storage without resorting to pulling out my credit card.

I do have to point out that part of not wanting to play anymore was due to my personal inventory beginning to become inadequate and requiring a visit to the cash shop. I also have to point out that the game starts flashing at the player when either the weight carried reached over 100% or runs out of inventory slots. As in, a button pops up to the cash shop. That button is way too tempting to push.

Pets & Servants: Pets and servants are two additional features in BDO I like conceptually. Pets not only loot the field so you don't have to, they also provide buffs and server as early warning against danger. Players can deploy 5 pets at a time. In my run up to level 59, I obtained 3 pets. Since pets are shared account-wide, the 2 pets I received the first time I played meant after 4 weeks I was running around with 5 pets for which I didn't pay any money. 

A feature I didn't run into the first time I played was servants. I love the concept. A servant can either run one item from a player's inventory to either the nearest town storage or the nearest marketplace for sale. I received two servants from doing the main story questline. All other servants are obtained from the cash shop. Did I mention there is no limit to the number of servants can own and they only cost 1200 pearls ($12) each?

Enchanting: The enchanting system required to get the most out of a character's gear is downright scary. I enchanted my Naru gear up to PEN and traded the set in for Tuvala gear so experienced the process. Honestly, I can see how players can spend hundreds of dollars upgrading their gear. I want nothing to do with that.

Appearance: Following the main story questline resulted in receiving 4 sets of appearance gear. I like the fact that one doesn't have to visit the cash shop in order to look decent. One part of the appearance gear I don't like is appearance gear has stats on it.

The Pearl Shop: I have to say, BDO's cash shop is very well done, if a little too expensive for my taste. The value packs are appropriately priced at 1500 pearls ($15), which is comparable to a subscription in other games. But many of the packages are definitely not microtransactions. Honestly, if someone wants to avoid spending a lot of money in a video game, run away!

As the title of the post implies, this post only covers content I personally experienced running through the season. As such, I left out subjects such as housing, resource collection, crafting, and other life skills that make up what some call the worker empire. I'm going to stop playing now and concentrate on the content coming to both Final Fantasy XIV and EVE Online on April 13. I have to say I didn't enjoy BDO as much as I do the other two games. But I did want to record my impressions as I have the feeling I may return to BDO sometime in the future.