Archive for June, 2006

What I want is what I want…

Posted: June 26, 2006 by Kendricke in Uncategorized

Like many members of my demographic, I was very much into Alternative music during the late 80's and into the 90's.  I got to thinking about an old favorite song this morning as I spoke to a few Everquest 2 players I've been speaking to and against since 2003 or so.  One particular song is by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, and it's called "What I Am". 

It's odd that I was thinking of this song during our conversations this morning, but there it was, like a soundtrack to the discussion.  Differing lyrics would come up throughout the process:

"I'm not aware of too many things
I know what I know if you know what I mean."

These players, like many MMO players these days, felt that their opinions were the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth.  Facts, schmacts – they know what's "really going on" at SOE.  I read conspiracy theory atop conspiracy theory from players I've known to be intelligent and respectful for years.  It was like coming home for the holidays and finding out your old college roommates had joined a cult, and nothing you said could convince them of the error of their ways.

How do you speak with someone who refuses to acknowledge that opinion is not the same as fact, I wondered?  You can't really hit them with logic if they're refusing to see it.  They'll just interject more opinions to counter.  The argument becomes pretty circular pretty quick in that situation.  My friend insists that SOE is clueless and managed by idiots and I try to point out where I think my friend's opinion might be a bit over the top, particularly since he was (at this point) just ranting on about internal organization structures at SOE he couldn't possibly have knowledge about.  Of course, because I didn't agree, I was immediately branded as uninformed, unreasonable, or uncredible – because my opinion didn't match to that person's "facts".  In my head, Edie Brickell wailed on:

"What I am is what I am are you what you are or what?"

The discussion always takes an ugly turn once personal attacks and judgements start to fly.  So, now, not only was SOE somehow clueless because my friend was upset by the recent tradeskill revamp, suddenly I was clueless for asking for proof.  I should have known my day was going to be a long one when I saw the conversation take that turn.  Stubbornly, I trudged on only to get hit with more personal attacks. 

Now, this isn't some sort of open forum whackjob that I expect to resort to "I know you are but what I am" tactics.  This is someone I've respected for some time – a leader in the Everquest 2 community.  Regardless, he keeps on keeping on, and the hits just keep on coming as well.

I do my best to ignore the personal slings and digs, and keep trying to keep on task during this roundtable discussion.  The drama keeps getting poured on.  At this point, somewhere in my head, the mental stereo cranks up a notch, and Edie starts screaming out:

"Choke me in the shallow water
Before I get too deep!"

I back off and back away, but this whole incident is a reminder to me that even the most level headed people have their boiling point.  It also reminds me that dedicated MMO gamers become very emotionally invested in their chosen pasttime.

Massive updates like Live Update 24 are going to rile some feathers.  Some of that "rile" is going to manifest itself in ugly ways – attacks against developers, other players, and even long time friends are going to bubble out in the heat of the moment.  Frustration and anger runs deep and it's only a matter of time before the right issue comes along to make a deep enough cut for some folks.

As humans, we're resistant to change.  We prefer security and comfort zones and predictability plays a large role in that.  We like to know that the sun's going to rise, the tide will come back, and tradeskilling will still play an integral part in the world of Everquest 2.

Though many players like the changes, there's still a selection that do not (see my last post for my predictions on this).  For these particular changes, it seems the balance of upset comes from the oldest, most veteran tradeskillers.  They've seen their profits drop.  There are more players entering tradeskilling, and at the same time, stats on most items have been downgraded.  This leads to massive changes in demand from the overall market.

Now, it's going to take some time to shake out, but in the meantime, some players aren't willing to wait.  They want changes and roll backs NOW – not later, but RIGHT NOW – and they're not afraid to use any tactic they can to get what they want.  It's leading to some ugly discussions on the forums, even in areas previously thought to be relatively mature.  Personal attacks are flying and not even the developers are safe here.  I've seen outright threats and demands regarding which developers need to be fired (briefly, before the offending posts are removed, of course), but nothing like I have over the past week or so.

Maybe it's just because it's so personal.  Those long time friends I mentioned?  One attempted to explain to me this morning that it's "justifiable" to "publically shame" developers if they don't move quickly enough to correct an issue.  That's just bad juju right there. 

The moment we all stand up and say "it's ok to attack someone, provided you have a good reason", it's game over for constructive discussion.  Logical points and reasoned arguments give way to zingers and one-liners.  The discussion shifts from "what can we do to fix this" to "who's fault is this?"

Moorgard once parodied some of the arguments raised on various forums with his "Open Letter to Big Timmy's Burger Palace".  Blackguard directly addressed the issue on the official forums some time back as well in response to some fairly mean-spirited posts at that time which implied the developers didn't care about the Coercer class. 

We allow ourselves to say things anonymously online that we'd never say to the faces of people.  Most players who meet a developer would be respectful, even when raising hot-button issues…but on the forums, there's apparantly no-holds barred when it comes to tactics. 

Are we all truly such children?  Do we even have a clue of what we're saying to each other – about each other? May we're just incapable of understanding the vitriol we spew at each other.  Maybe we're all just unaware of the thin ice beneath our feet when we start tap dancing. 

"Philosophy, is a walk on the slippery rocks
Religion, is a light in the fog."

Maybe we just don't realize that some tactics aren't working…and if they do, is it really worth the price we pay? 

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You’ve ruined your own lands…

Posted: June 22, 2006 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts

Well, if you haven't noticed by now, you've probably been hiding under a rock for the past week or so:  social ranges were increased slightly in Update 24. 

Now, for myself, I consider this to be a "Good Thing (TM)".  One of the challenges of old Everquest was the idea that if you tagged a Dervish Cutthroat who was standing near other Dervish Cutthroats…you'd end up getting a whole bunch of Dervish Cutthroats.  It not only just made sense, but it definately required some basic tactical saavy to "break a camp".  The concept of "pulling" was an art form which players from several classes (monks and bards included) considered to be a class defining ability. 

So, yes, I was more than a little saddened to find out that there was no real social aggression to speak of within Everquest 2 when I made the switch to the Shattered Lands.  You could nail a gnoll scout who was wandering next to a larger group of a half dozen gnolls…and only pull the single gnoll scout.  Say what!?  How does that work?

Yippy:  Bark, yip, yip.  Hey, look…it's Barky.
Barky:  Bark, yip.  Hi guys, what are you up t…..WAITAMINUTE!  ADVENTURERS!  I BETTER GET 'EM!
Yippy:  Barky, where are you going?
Barky:  Bark!  You've ruined your own lands, you'll not ruin mine! 
Yippy:  What's up with Barky?

Seriously, how…immersive is that?  I could smack you right now, and if you had a brother standing next to you, he wouldn't lift a finger to help you…unless he was linked to you.

Then Kingdom of Sky hit…and suddenly there seemed to be a little bit of social aggression.  You pull a droag in the Sanctum of the Scaleborn, you're gonna mess with him, and his whole droag family.  You pull a vultak in Nest of the Great Egg, you better be prepared to fight a whole damned flock of 'em.

I knew a lot of players who had to alter their tactics a little, but it wasn't too bad overall.  After all, it wasn't like you had to worry about social aggression everwhere, right?  Right?

Wrong.  Well, at least it's wrong…now.  Since Live Update 24 a week ago, anywhere you go at any level is more dangerous than before.  That isn't a bad thing, the way I see it.  However, you're likely going to hear an outcry from a segment of the population who isn't necessarily going to be excited to see the path of least resistance getting a little more resistant.  After all, people are generally adverse to the concept of change, and this one has enough of an impact to compell a change in tactics for a large segment of the playerbase.

Is it the end of the world as we know it?  Not by a long shot.  However, that certainly won't stop some folks from seeing it that way.

There's a great discussion taking place over at the Fires of Heaven forums (ironically enough) where the proliferation of racist, sexist, offensive language being spewn forth throughout World of Warcraft's chat channels has reached a bit of a breakpoint for a lot of players.  This statement is all the more impressive when you start to consider that a great many of the players doing the complaining aren't exactly shy of offensive language themselves.  In other words, do you realize exactly how much crap you have to pile on to finally offend a stable mucker?  

Now, as a primarily Everquest 2 player, it's a bit of a old saw to point out the infamous "b-net mentality" of World of Warcraft.  It's hardly a roleplaying paradise, and anyone who's spent more time logged in than queued up, understands how mind blowing the public channels can be anywhere near an Auction House. 

Really though, what's the big deal, right?  What is it about offensive language that drives the majority of players absolutely bonkers.  How many petitions are filed daily on offensive language in MMO's?  How many reports?  How much Gamemaster time is spent having to deal with it?

In a way, it's a reflection of "least common denominator" design.  At least, that's the easy argument to make – blame it on "lazy designers" or "money grubbing producers".  Though the characterizations really aren't fair, the general underlying thought here probably has at least a grain of truth to it.  Obviously game designers have to keep their eye on the ball – and that ball is the subscriber base. 

Now, I'm not going to get into social mores or the decline of western civilization here.  I don't want to get into issues of liability or legality, either.  What I want to stick to is success or failure of an MMO, and how language affects that.

For the many of the same reasons most producers of blockbuster movies do their best to avoid MPAA ratings which could be considered to be too harsh or really too restrictive, producers of games are going to do their best to avoid potentially restrictive ESRB ratings.  More to the point, you don't want to alienate the majority of your playerbase by allowing them to be verbally assaulted or offended. 

We're not talking about private games being played on private home PC's here.  Oh sure, we might think that's what we're talking about…but we're not.  We're discussing games played on massive, linked server farms which are owned by game studios or publishers which allow us to interact with huge chunks of the public.  MMO's are anything but private in that general regard. 

That's a lot of anonymous strangers bumping into each other right there.  Bumping leads to friction and friction leads to conflict and unfortunately, most people either don't know how to effectively deal with conflict…or they just don't care enough to put forth the effort while largely anonymous. 

Now, here's the where MMO designers and publishers are really faced with a choice:  Anarchy or Enforcement?  Sure, there's different shades of each, but realistically, that's the choice.  To enforce, or not to enforce – that is the question here. 

Most companies opt to enforce – well, on paper they opt for this.  Some companies are simply better at it than others.  Companies like SOE seem to be fairly hard nosed on the subject of enforcement.  Blizzard…doesn't.  And honestly, who can blame them right?  I can imagine Blizzard producers going home and swimming in olympic sized golden baths filled with piles of rare currency.  After all, 5 million players can't be wrong, right?  Right? 

Frankly, it's hard to argue with success.  Oh sure, it's not my cuppa Joe…but that isn't to say that it isn't right up the alley for some 4.999 million other Joes, right?  Some people just prefer their coffee black, and other people seem to prefer their coffee #$%& n*****.  I say tomato, you say mother $%&# j*****! Just one big happy, right?

Right?

What we had and what we have…

Posted: June 20, 2006 by Kendricke in Uncategorized

When Everquest 2 was first announced, many press releases and interviews trumpted the fact that this new game's design, though dramatically different from it's predeccessor, would profit from the experience of what came before.  It's been a few years now since most of us remember first reading those bold statements here and there, peppered around the web.  We gobbled it up, too – like candy. 

Yet, here we are, over a year and a half since the release of Everquest 2, and I find that in conversations from some of my older guildmates (those who remember the old Norrath), we're still missing some basic functionality from Everquest.  I'd like to bring up some of those lost features here, to see what else we (myself and my 3 loyal readers) recall from our Everquest glory days: 

  • Raid Window Functionality
    I can't begin to tell you how much I miss the Everquest raid window.  Released with the Planes of Power expansion in October of 2002, this was a set of basic, basic functions that we all absolutely appreciated at the time.  Here's a short list of functions we could perform in Everquest over three years ago that are missing today in Everquest 2:

    • Ability for Raid Leader to assign Looters/Loot officers (in EQ2, only the raid leader can assign loot directly)
    • Ability for Raid Leader to assign group leaders (In EQ2, you ask the current group leader to reassign leadership)
    • Ability to invite a single person to a raid (In EQ2, you can only invite groups to a raid – you can't invite single persons)
    • Ability to kick anyone from a raid (In EQ2, only group leaders can kick individuals from the raid – and only then if they are in the same zone).
    • Ability to recolor class text.  All your wizards could be blue and your clerics could be red.  (In EQ2, you can't customize colors on the fly.  This has to be created using a custom UI).
  • LFG/LFM window
    This came out with the Legacy of Ykesha extension, back in February of 2003.  You could filter which players/guilds you wouldn't group with, preferred to group with, specifically which classes you wanted, and by how much time you had available.  It was great!
  • Guild Tribute System
    Released with the Omens of War expansion in late 2004, just before the release of Everquest 2, the Guild Tribute system is still a great idea.  The basic concept would translate well to Everquest 2's current status system.  Basically, it's a way for guild's to spend status flat out, by having members donate status directly to the guild itself (in order to purchase the bonuses up front – think of an Achievement system for a guild as a whole) and then the individuals within the guild choose whether or not to opt in on certain rewards (which could cut back on personal and/or guild status).  By the way, having guild owned status would be a great way to lead into true guild halls…
  • Racial Armors 
    For the love of Marr, Brell, and anyone else who might care…give Halasians their kilts, humans their heraldic breastplates, gnomes their clockwork armors, and trolls their bone helms. 
  • Racial Tradeskilling
    Yes, it's nice to get a little bonus to provisioning if you play as a halfling…but can't we see specific recipes which are limited to specific races once again?  Right now, there's little to no difference – at ALL – between most characters.  (I seem to recall posting about this somewhere.)

The Fallen Dynasty

Posted: June 19, 2006 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts

When last we spoke, I was looking forward to the upcoming Adventure Pack, Live Update 24, and a load of other changes taking place within my own guild (all positive, I assure you).  Well, all of the above have come and gone, and let me tell ya – it's been mostly for the best overall, but I do have some observations which I feel compelled to share for all three of my loyal readers, regarding the latest Adventure Pack:

The Fallen Dynasty:

Sights and Sounds:

The first thing anyone notices, of course, is the eye candy and sounds.  Here, the art and visuals are brilliant overall, (though to be fair, I'm not a fan of the SOGA-only models used for the Wantia), and the fact that we have an Adventure pack which takes place above ground makes me a fairly happy camper.  The music is absolutely fitting.  Combine this with the architecture and "the little things" (TM), and it all comes together for a perfectly lovely general package.  You're transported into the world of the Isle of Mara. 

A problem I have is the "seen it" syndrome.  I realize this is just another Adventure Pack…but for the most part, I've already "seen it".  With the exception of the terracotta warriors and the Nayad, the overwhelming majority of creatures within this Adventure pack are simply repeats of what we've already seen for the past 69 levels.  Some of the same creatures you fought on the Isles of Refuge?  Yep, they're here. 

So, while the art for the overall landscape and environment is positively brilliant, the art for the creatures in general left quite a bit to be desired for me personally.  After all, how many times can you see a bear in Everquest 2 before you just don't care about seeing a bear in Everquest 2. 

Now, all of this said, there's some very interesting looking weapons coming out of this Adventure Pack.  The quality of art on these items is very high.  For example, there's a hammer which basically looks like a clenched, metal fist atop a wooden shaft.  There's a braided metal two-handed sword.  There's some fairly interested maces. 

Gameplay:

Ok, so many of you say you don't care about the "feel".  You want to know about the mechanics:  it's all about the gameplay!

Well, there's no real new bells and whistles here.  The first Adventure Pack introduced the idea of breakable walls.  The second Adventure Pack introduced moveable and stackable world items.  This third Adventure Pack introduces…um…not really anything new. 

This isn't to say that the Adventure Pack doesn't utilize previous features to new effect – because it does.  Swimming isn't optional here.  The ability to move on a bridge while being thrown around by a new version of the old recoil sentinel (or risking the death of a thousand papercuts..er, fishbites) is there as well.  You've got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em here, but overall, there's just nothing very "new" to the general, overall gameplay. 

In short, this Adventure Pack isn't about gimmicks.  It's very much about the fundamentals. 

That said, the gameplay is generally more difficult.  If you don't have your fundamentals down, you're going to have to learn them quickly or face a world of frustration.  You better understand how to move through a dungeon, and when to pull, and when not to pull.  You better figure out how to move as a group if you don't already have that down.  Frankly, if you thought Sanctum of the Scaleborn could get crowded, you ain't seen nothing yet. 

Now, for those of us who felt the Halls of Fate wasn't very "spicy", or who felt that the Vault of El'Arad was downright "mild", you just might finally get the kick you're looking for with Nizara, City of the Nayad.  Oh yeah – Epic encounters for a single group?  That's right.  This is not a casual, come as you are dungeon.  Bring your A-game or go home crying.  Basically, this is a one group raid zone.  It's tough.  It takes considerable class knowledge and a certain level of gear.  It requires attention, planning, and committment. 

Many players will never get past the first named in this zone.  That's fine.  In fact, it's not just fine, it's designed that way per the developers.  If Nizara is too hard for you, maybe you should hone your skills in the Forsaken City some more before coming back.

The Loot:

"Kendricke, that's all well and good, but what about the rewards?  Where's the "phat lewtz"?"

Ok, here's the thing…some of the loot is great.  Most is…not.  It's fairly average loot for the most part, and though there's some interesting drops being found on some of the raid targets, the majority of loot doesn't seem to up to par compared to the work or effort required. 

For example, Nizara seems abysmal for most players – with Epic x2 and x4's dropping wooden chests frequently.  At least within the Halls of Fate you just know you're walking out with some legendary or fabled gear for your hour or two investment.  In Nizara, you can spend a few hours fighting the hardest single group content in the game, and walk out with a handful of treasured gear. 

I'm actually hoping this gets looked at fairly soon.  Now, no one's saying that any single group dungeon (no matter how difficult) should be "monty hauling" cartloads of fabled gear every three days from the dungeons, but the current drop rates seem to be completely off.   The gear dropping from these targets simply seems to be subpar considering the relatively high level of skill and gear required to get through Nizara in the first place.  Hopefully, we'll see an announcement from the developers on the subject fairly soon.

The Story:

There's very little I can say regarding the storyline specifics without giving away too much, but suffice it to say that compared to previous Adventure Packs, the story within The Fallen Dynasty takes center stage.  For lore junkies, this Adventure Pack has quite the satisfying buffet, with an all-you-can-eat dinner special. 

You've got monk clans competing, shiploads of pirates, and you're going to learn quite a bit about why the Gods left…and why/when they might be returning. 

Honestly, this is where it feels like the developers pulled out some stops and just let loose.  Story is positively dripping from virtually every corner of the Adventure Pack. 

The Build-Up:

How was The Fallen Dynasty presented?  I gotta admit it.  I think SOE fell short on this part.  I don't like to say that, but it's something I think felt a little…"light".  And by "light", I mean, "next to nothing". 

When the Bloodline Chronicles was being released as the first new "pay-to-play" content, there was a world-wide plague introduced to Norrath.  When you claimed your ring the day after the Adventure Pack was released, you had an image of a location in Nektropos presented to you.  You became part of the story…and you couldn't avoid that.

When the Splitpaw Saga was released, gnoll "terraporters" started to show up all over the Thundering Steppes, and gnolls were kidnapping any adventurers that got too close. 

When the Kingdom of Sky was being released, entire servers came together to build new "spires" in different zones, and then fought off dragons to lead up to the release. 

When The Fallen Dynasty was released…there was no in-game build up at all.  None.  Nada.  Nothing.  One day, out of the blue, you can go click on a bell to get there…without any lead up at all.  That's it.  That's all there is to it.  Oh, there's an optional quest you can go on…but it's not required at all.

Raid Content:

I'm reserving this for now, as we haven't yet been able to fit this content into our schedule all that much (it's only been a week).  Suffice it to say there are two instanced raid zones (you can choose x2 or x4) and two contested targets.  We're hoping to hit this content more than a few times over the next month – and then I can speak up on the content with more of an educated opinion.

Overall Impressions:

Generally speaking, it's a solid Adventure Pack.  Splitpaw is still my favorite overall, but I'm really enjoying The Fallen Dynasty quite a bit.  The problem is that I don't feel compelled to play in The Fallen Dynasty as much as I was within Splitpaw.  It's a fun place to visit from time to time, but overall, I'm just not feeling like living there right now. 

Members in my guild seem to agree.  Even though the level range for Forsaken City is right in that 60-67 sweet spot, most of my members still in that range seem to prefer Sanctum of the Scaleborn or Palace of the Awakened for levelling up.  When I ask why, the general response seems to be that the hassle of building a group for Forsaken City isn't worth the generally poor loot chances. 

I don't think we've seen a master chest drop at all within this Adventure Pack – and we've killed most of the known named in most of the zones so far – multiple times in many case.  And though it may be just the luck of the draw…it's enough of a perception to keep some pretty good players away from what may be some great content.  The "carrot" simply isn't appealing enough yet to keep them down there.  That's a crying shame, actually…because it really is a lot of fun down there in Forsaken City or Nizara with a good group.