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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Stealth Speed

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Sometimes, things that are stealthy are not that fast. The Stealth Bomber aircraft, for instance, is actually slower than some conventional bombers. But if you can't locate it, it doesn't really matter how fast it's going.

Of course, ninjas are stealthy and are also known to be quick. Um, where was I going with this?

Up until now, being stealthy in EQII has resulted in a movement penalty. Since the combat change, my invis has really slowed me down to a painful crawl. But speed is on the way with
Test Update #14A. I think you're gaining a lot in enjoyable gameplay and I fully support this decision. Some posters in this thread on the Aggro Forums raised the issues of a hit to immersion and the possibility of invising through content. While I agree that these are valid considerations, to me the convenience factor outweighs these concerns, especially since some zones now appear to garner more mob aggro than before the combat changes.

Gambling also appears to be on the way and it sounds pretty cool. I'd rather see some type of original and strategic card game as the gambling in EQII but I suppose a Keno style game is okay. From what I read, the chances of winning are not that good, but I guess EQII is as good a place as any to learn that gambling doesn't pay. That doesn't mean it can't be fun.

While they're covering vices, what happened to the alcohol skill? I understand alcoholic drinks did have an effect in the original beta for EQII. I'm guessing taking this out was a ratings/public relations move but I think it would be a pretty interesting feature.

I'll have some more expansion comments in the future but a quick one for now on group xp. Edit: Heh, it looks like SOE beat me to the punch on this one. I'm going to leave the comments that follow anyway as an argument in support of what they are doing rather than as the complaint it was originally intended as.


Does full group xp seem a little slow as compared to solo, duoing or three-person xp? It seems that way to me. If this is a case I believe it is a problem because I feel full group xp should have a bonus. I have been soloing quite a bit and enjoying it lately so this is not a knock on soloers. But, I think even hardcore soloers would understand that full group xp should be at least a little better. There are two reasons why it should:

1. Soloing is pick up and go. From the moment you log on you can fight till you log off. Grouping can take a half-hour before you fight your first mob. Putting a group together and getting people in the same zone takes time. I think this should be factored in.

2. Grouping should be encouraged for the long term health of the game. While soloing is great to have as an option it is the social connections which really keep people playing. And really, it is the interplay of the classes that is meant to be the focus of combat.

My evidence for the fact that full group xp is currently slower than soloing or small grouping is purely anecdotal based upon my own experience and people that I have talked with. Also, I am no rush to grind out to 60. I'm enjoying the expansion and the new content and I urge you to do the same. It's just an observation. I'd also like to see quests (especially those with no item rewards) give a little more xp to encourage them as an alternative to grinding.


If you haven't purchased the expansion yet, you might want to check out the three overwhelmingly positive reviews linked to from the EQ2Players news page. I'm not a fan of reviewing MMORPG's or their expansions so quickly but I'm happy to see people getting the word out to the WoW-centric masses. Keep in mind that the Gamespot review is a "Community Review" which I presume means that the review was prepared by a volunteer contributor. For what's it's worth, all three reviewers actually seem to play the game.

While I have some issues I'll get around to mentioning eventually, I continue to actually like the expansion more and more. Rather than getting bored with it, I'm having fights that are the most exciting I've had, finding some of the spells and arts very interesting, and enjoying the fact that the zones have an absolute ton of hidden nooks and depth that was not originally apparent. Riding dust devils is just one example. There are plenty more secrets in the Sinking Sands alone that I won't ruin for you here.

Okay, I'll be back from my SOE trip on Tuesday, hopefully with some good material. Until then, stay safe and have fun.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Big Picture

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Every time I try to write something about how SOE fits into the big picture at Sony, I end up driving myself crazy.

Let me give you an example. Where, exactly does SOE fit in on Sony's organizational chart? You would think this would be an easy question. Well, their press releases say they are a subsidiary of Sony Digital Pictures. And in turn, Sony Digital Pictures is a business segment of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Sony Pictures Entertainment is a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America. This finally leads us to Sony.

Have a headache yet? I sure do.

It's worth noting that Sony's main game development studio, Sony Computer Entertainment, seems to be under an entirely different section of the corporate umbrella.

To make things more confusing, SOE apparently publishes PSP games like the Brotherhood of the Blade game I gave away. They even have a "label" called "
Platform Publishing" which seems to specialize in games with mediocre reviews like Gripshift and Frantix (to be fair I haven't played either). I'm guessing this is an SOE undertaking because the PSP's wireless capabilities put it under the online entertainment aegis. But then again, Sony Computer Entertainment also publishes PSP games, like Wipeout Pure.

Sony Computer Entertainment
recently announced that it would be combining the North America, Europe and Japan divisions of its game development studios under the catchy banner of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide. And, no, that doesn't include SOE. But with quotes flying around like: "By combining the wealth of creativity and talent of games development we can dramatically change the landscape of computer entertainment," you have to wonder, why not? When I ask this question, I'm speaking not as a gamer, but as someone looking at the vast Sony tree from an organizational standpoint.

And it's pretty gloomy around Sony these days. Profits have been down, the IPod is the new Walkman and Sony electronics just don't have the same premium in the public eye that they used to. The new Welsh-born CEO of Sony, Howard Stringer,
recently announced massive cuts:

"Sony Corp. revealed a reorganization plan Thursday that includes cutting 10,000 jobs, closing 11 manufacturing sites and trimming $1.8 billion in costs over the next couple of years. The consumer electronics firm also said it plans to sell more than $1 billion in non-core assets by the end of fiscal year 2007. The company said it has identified 15 business categories it may downsize or dispose of, and it plans to reduce the number of models by 20 percent compared to fiscal year 2005." Rumor has it that poor little puppy Aibo may be on the short end of the money stick.

What's more,
Business Week Online calls it a "fight to unify Sony's fractured organization." It also seems that stock analysts were unimpressed because the measures were not drastic enough.

Do I have an EQII point here? Okay, maybe.

We have a gigantic corporation that has been having a problem turning a profit. We have a new CEO who is gung ho for slim-lining the organization and reducing redundancy. And then we have a relatively small gaming subsidiary which for some reason is not part of the main games division.

I think a lot hinges on whether SOE is still turning a profit or not. I imagine they were raking it in pretty good back in the glory days. I'm even willing to bet that the original Everquest is still a money-maker. But is EQII earning enough to surpass its costs and ongoing expenses? I honestly have no idea. I'd love to know, but I don't see that happening.

And why does SOE seem to have such independence from the mother-ship (which is probably a good thing from a gamer standpoint)? I'm pretty sure that when Verant agreed to be re-acquired by Sony as SOE, Smed and the rest of the Verant crew were probably able to wrangle some pretty great assurances out of Sony that they would be left alone to do their own thing. If you consider that Verant had gone out on its own and basically did the hard work of turning EQ into a huge success, the Verant team was in a position of power. And I'm thinking that the SOE management has worked hard to retain that independence. They have apparently done a good job of that and I congratulate them on it.

But how long does the leash last? Is it when SOE stops making a profit? Is it when the old network is replaced by new management who doesn't remember or care about the old days? Or is SOE completely immune to the trials and tribulations of its parent company?

And will any of it affect the game? Has increased pressure been behind some of the more controversial SOE money-making schemes of late?

I have no answers to any of these questions, but I'm just trying keeping you up to date on the big picture at Sony.
And my knowledge and understanding of these issues is limited at best, so take this post with a grain of salt.

Stringer said, "We must fight like the Sony warriors that we are." I just hope warriors weren't nerfed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

One Does Not Simply Ride Into Mordor

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Well, it's time to equip my ring of +12 SOE mitigation. I've been invited to attend some sort of SOE community summit in San Diego from Thursday, September 29th through Sunday, October 1st. And, yes, I am aware that the whole thing is probably a thinly veiled cover-up for my assassination at the hands of the infamous SOE ninja-death squad. But I'm willing to match my overnuking and NYC street-smarts against their dark ninja arts and hope I can make it through the lair of the dragon unscathed.

I figured the opportunity to find out some juicy information and hopefully question the SOE crew was too good to pass up. Some sort of round-table discussions are planned and I promise to take notes so I can pass on any tidbits to you, my readers. I may even venture within the dark fortress that is SOE headquarters, where my previous research has led me to expect
Red Bull and Rasterbation.

So, the upside for you is that I will probably come back with some good material. The downside is that I will be skipping the usual Friday and Monday posts. If you have any reasonable questions that you would like me to ask, post them in the comments section and I'll try to ask them if I like them.

I do think it says something positive about SOE that they invited someone (namely me) whose comments have been far less than glowing at times.

If I don't come back, you'll know that there were too many SOE adds and I went down nuking. There will be regular posts tomorrow and Thursday.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Behind the Red Name

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Most of us read the dev tracker on the official forums and we see the posts made by the people with the red forum names, the SOE employees. Sometimes it's easy to forget that these are real people who, shockingly, have lives outside of the official forums.

I have to give credit for this whole post to the crew over at EQ2 Daily. Best known for their podcasts, they have also been doing a nice job of aggregating EQ2 news. Last week I came across a link on their site which led me to
this EBay auction of Everquest collectibles. Yeah, some nice stuff there I suppose, especially the sword. Not really my cup of tea. So what's the story?

Well, take a closer look. The person putting the stuff up for auction says, "I am a former employee of Sony Online Entertainment and was on the Dev team of EQII from pre-beta until last week." Sound familiar? Can you think of anyone who recently left the EQII team? Well, don't strain your brains too much, because she makes no mystery about it in
her Live Journal.

"So yeah. I was Faarwolf on the EQ2 forums, for those of you who might know the name. OMG I have been UNMASKED!" It's an interesting read as she discusses forum stalkers and reviews SOE, "Totally depends on the dept. Customer Service [is] awful QA isnt much better, Dev is pretty fun." I edited that quote slightly for language. Let me note here that this person is claiming to be Faarwolf, and I have no way of knowing for sure whether she really is. So please mentally add "allegedly" to every word in this post.

I wasn't really that familiar with Faarwolf's work on the official forums because I mainly read the Dev Tracker and occasionally the Wizard forum. But she seemed to do a good job. I could tell she had a bit of a fan base.

Her Li
vejournal info page (which also contains a chest x-ray), lists such varied interests as Neverwinter Nights, brass knuckles, women with small feet and, of course, violent porn. Oh, it gets better.

Apparently (and allegedly), Faarwolf, under the name Malice, also runs BeautyDestroyed, a soft-core porn site. Obviously, the link is not safe for work.
But here it is. I'd call it, I don't know, intellectual-goth bdsm porn? I can't keep up with the lingo. It's a pretty well designed and wordy site for a soft-core porn site and it seems to have a bit of a following.

Let me pause here to say I personally make no judgments on any sites of this nature. I only found this of interest because we're dealing with an ex-SOE employee who held a prominent public position. I just think it's kind of funny, to be honest.

There's plenty more biographical info (2 dense pages) on the biography page at BeautyDestroyed
but I kind of lost interest in playing internet detective at this point. And, um, frankly she kind of scares me. "My 3rd grade journal has an entry that states 'If I could be any animal, I'd be a gigantic wolf bigger than White Fang and no one would dare defy my power.' Some things just never change." That's kind of a coincidence because my 3rd grade journal has some squiggly lines and the sentence, "I hope we get cookies today!" Some things just never change.

I have no idea whether SOE knew about or cared about Faarwolf's extra-curricular activities. I'm guessing they didn't know. That would be too much of a public relations disaster waiting to happen and we all know they've had enough of those.

I actually thought twice about posting this entry, because I do have respect for people's privacy. But, I guess when you sell EQ stuff on EBay and post about it in your live journal, you don't mind the world knowing. Maybe this post will even net her a few bids.

By the way, I'm curious how the
EQ2-Daily gang found this link in the first place, so if you guys are reading, let me know. Be sure to check out their site for news and podcast action.

And, remember, I have no way of verifying that it's actually Faarwolf selling the stuff. I've found, much to my surprise, that not everything you read on the internet is true. Shocking!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Friday Humor: The Importance of Being Uber

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I usually try to write some original stuff for Friday Humor but this week I ran across a piece that I thought was so funny I wanted to focus this post solely on it.

It's actually a double reblog, because I'm stealing the link from Krones.

The humor in question is a hilarious post entitled "How to be an MMORPG Snob." I'll give you a little taste:


"But lack of sleep is the sacrifice that is demanded for grandeur. Caesar must have felt this same rush, and Pompey, and Hannibal, and Napoleon, and Patton, and now you feel it too—from the comfort of your couch. So don’t let any of the hoi polloi tell you that you aren’t in the same league as those great generals. Truth be told, you are actually greater. War was so much easier back in those days, and their simple tactics and plans for storming the beach of Normandy, laying siege to Antioch, and conquering the world and the high seas didn’t require as much forethought and management as say, an Onyxia or Avatar of War raid. Indeed, what you are doing is more important."

It only gets better and there's pictures as well.

I suggest you read Krones' intro first because he has some hilarious additions himself.

"My guild is so hardcore that we watch raid videos of ourselves and recongratulate each other over the drops we whored with our hundreds of million of dragon slayer points after our daily 14 hour mandatory play sessions."

You can find it here.

The post actually appears on the Flowers of Happiness guild page which I linked all the way back in March in what was only my second Friday Humor ever. That post was a discussion of that greatest of comedic heroes, Fansy the Famous Bard.

Can you imagine a world where MMO players are truly revered in the fashion discussed in the MMORPG snob post? Let's take a look:

On the Set of Inside City Hall

Dominic: Well, today's guest is Jim Smith, who is currently the candidate leading the polls in the race for the Mayor of the City of New York. Now, Jim, you have absolutely no political experience. How do you think you're qualified to run this city?

Jim: When you say no political experience, you're not taking into account my eight years of service as the Leader of the Flying Dragons Guild. I guided our Guild to dominance on the LightKnight Server. As I'm sure your viewers know, we defeated every raid put before us with style and grace. My motto is, "A fabled item in every household!"

Dominic: But how do you defend your refusal to allow alts in the Guild as full fledged members?

Jim: You're not seeing the big picture. My handling of the infamous drama-bomb of 'o5, in which my top female officer was revealed to be actually a man, is legendary.

Entertainment Tonight

Ted: Well, it looks like Brad and Angelina are no more. Angelina Jolie was spotted canoodling with a mystery man at fabled NYC hotspot, Bungalow 8.

Mary: Wow, she's cheating on Brad Pitt? That's crazy.

Ted: Maybe not, Mary. We've learned that the mystery man is indeed UburTank, the top ShadowKnight on the Bloodmore Server. He has a full set of Irridium Armor and is first on the Server in Kills per Death Ratio.

Mary: Sorry, Brad, there's no way you can compete with that.

Well, we can dream, right?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Answer Me

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Okay, time for the results of the Aggro Me MMO Trivia contest. Thanks to all who entered.

The answers are:

1. We hear the word "proc" all the time but what is the origin of the term?

Well, since I initially asked the question I have researched conflicting origins for this term: Process Request on Contact, Special Procedure and Programmed Random Occurrence. Credit was given to any of these three. Since the winner won by two points, this was not a decisive question. I'm pretty sure the real origin is the answer I initially had, Special Procedure. But I'd love to hear from someone who knows for sure.

2. What multiplayer space action game features the "Skithzar Kragath" craft? Cosmic Rift by SOE

3. What MMO features "tests" such as pilgrimage, marriage and safari?
A Tale in the Desert

4. Prior to 1998, 989 Studios was known under what name?

Sony Interactive Studios America

5. In what parody game can you play as a Panda Man Tickle-Mimic?
Progress Quest

6. What does KEI stand for?
Koadic's Endless Intellect

7. Name a playable race from Hibernia.
Celt, Firbolg, Lurikeen, Elf, Sylvan, Shar (Dark Age of Camelot)

8. What game features Notum?

Anarchy Online

9. Rise of Chaos is an expansion pack for what game?
Shadowbane

10. In what MMO does drinking alcohol turn the body red and increase attack speed for 60 seconds? (this is a tough one)
Mu Online

11. Over what internet platform was Gemstone first played?
GEnie

12. What console was Phantasy Star Online released on?
Sega Dreamcast

13. What was a "door game" played on?
A BBS or Bulliten Board System

14. What was the MMO Lineage named after?
A series of comic books by Shin Il-sook

15. From what game did the term "zerg" originate?
Starcraft

16. In what game would PED be useful?
Project Entropia

17. And the answer to the bonus question: What has been the most common search engine keyword or keywords (besides "Aggro" or "Aggro Me") that has brought people to this site? (Hint: It's funny)

Believe it or not: Ceciliantas! The topic of my
sixth blog post ever. Thanks Cecil. Lately, "Anna Wainscoat" and "Soga Models" have been creeping up the list, but Cecil still retains the all-time historical top spot.

And now to announce our grand prize winners! Who is the MMO master? Whose cuisine reigns supreme?

First Prize: Anskiere (Out of a lot more entries then I expected, Anskiere was the high scorer with 16, getting all correct with the exception of the final question).

Second Prize: KirkGibson (who scored 14 and told me in his e-mail that he actually quit playing EQII but still reads the blog - oh well, he can use his EQII Map as a sunshade).


Grats to the victors and thanks again to all who participated. I will be contacting the winners shortly to send out their prizes. Keep an eye out - there may be another contest in the future. Next time I might even know all the answers!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Desert of Flames: Continued Impressions

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Yep, I'm back with more impressions of the expansion. Let's get right down to business.

Alright, I know why SOE defaulted the tooltips to full view. With the combat changes they wanted to help everyone easily see what each spell or combat art could do. But let's face it, with the gigantic tooltip pop-up box each time you hover over a spell, the game is basically unplayable. The most asked question I've seen in my time in time playing is "How do you turn off tooltips?" And then someone has to give the stock answer. It's in the options, by the way.

Speaking of the options, that's not where you change the voice-over for your emotes. You do that in the Persona window. Frankly, people don't seem to enjoy the voice-emotes as much as I thought they would. This may be because they had a set idea of what their character's voice would sound like and the voice-emotes sound different. To SOE's credit, there is an insane amount of choices for what you want your character to sound like, although some are honestly absurd.

What about some of the other features of the expansion? The truth is people are too concerned with leveling and exploring right now to really focus on two of the major aspects of the expansion, the faction system and the Arena. It seems to me, just from talking to guildmates, that the faction system looks to be a lot of fun in the long run. Guilds will have a strong desire to take over as much of Maj'Dul as they can. In a way, it's kind of a light version of the geographically based PvP that is so popular in games such as DaoC. Only in this case, the combat takes place in a PvE style. I look forward to the battle.

Just be aware that gaining status with a faction will make getting around Maj'Dul a bit difficult. People still seem to be under the impression that it's a city zone akin to Qeynos or Freeport. It's really more of an adventure zone with a city setting like Rivervale. If you want to explore Maj'Dul at your leisure, you might want to hold off for a bit on the faction stuff. I've played around with it enough to see that it is very well done.

As for the Arena, well, if you don't like PvP you might feel that it is a waste of resources. I think it is a pretty good way of providing some alternative end-game content. Let's say you are level 60. What can you do? In pre-DoF your choices were basically to either play an alt or raid. Now you can do that, but in addition you can work on your faction or fight in the Arena. I will say that I strongly believe that the implementation of some type of reward or at least ranking system will have a great deal of impact on the success of the Arena. In an MMORPG, you can have the most beautifully balanced PvP system in the world, but, if there is no motivation for players to succeed in it, the majority will not be interested. People seem to think the Arena is fun so that's a good start.

It does trouble me a bit that all these additional features, which are pretty significant, along with all the solo content, may have taken resources away a bit from what the core gameplay of EQII is: group-based content and raids. I just hope there is enough content for, say, levels 56-60. For now, I'm pleased with the content I have encountered.

Okay, I'm not really going to get into the combat changes here. It's too large a topic and frankly, I've had so much conflicting information that I don't know what to think anymore. Without actually playing each class, I don't feel I can give a fair analysis at this time. All I can tell you for sure is that as a wizard, I can solo mobs that are a higher level than me fairly effectively. In group, my dps is usually at or near the top. Now, you wizards out there might say, but Aggro, aren't we supposed to be number one with a bullet? Well, yes and more often than not I am. Some scouts do out-dps me occasionally on single target mobs. Yes, wizards are supposed to be the top dps, but not on every mob and in every situation.

Let me give you an example. My level 51 spell is a nuke. A ranger's level 51 spell is a slow/debuff. I haven't parsed group combat since I hit 51, but I'm willing to bet that might put me over the top against rangers in group. It also depends on the type of mob, what spells I have up, and how much my comet hits for.

The complaints in-game have been legion. Some may have validity. But I will not for a second listen to anyone who tells me that the game sucks because they can no longer solo group mobs. Do people not even stop to think about that statement?

All I will say is that the combat changes seem fine for my class and group combat is exciting and fun. I do believe there may be issues with the combat changes for certain classes but I really don't have enough hard evidence to make those arguments yet. Another thing I'd like to remind people is that it's hard to tell just how well you are doing because of the changes to the con system.

Which brings us to the con system. I thought the con system was perfectly fine the way it was at release, but it was changed and has now changed again. I find in unintuitive and overly complicated. I realize that in an MMO many things have to change over time and I have kept an open mind about the combat and other changes. But to me, a con system should stay consistent.

Speaking of consistency, I was a bit disappointed that the orange heroics were made harder not once but twice. Yes, I think they should have been harder but this seems to me an obvious change that could have been made before the expansion went live. After the combat changes, people really need a little stability.

As always, I'm fairly clueless about tradeskilling. It does sound like there are some bugs. More importantly, it seems like little or no progress has been made in improving the fun of tradeskilling. What happened to the batch refines that were promised, lo these many moons ago?

I still haven't touched on everything I'd like to. I'll hit you with some more next week. I'm off to the Living Tombs for some more fun.

The deadline for the contest is today at 11:59 EST so get your entries in now. Thanks to both Krones and EQ2 Stratics for putting the word out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Monkey Madness: Preliminary DoF Impressions

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Alright, as the title says, these impressions are preliminary. I never understood how review sites claim to review MMORPG's when they are only out for a few weeks, so I'm definitely not going to do that. This is just a scattering of minor issues I had. On the whole I am enjoying DoF immensely thus far. This post is part one of a two-parter.

Okay, let's get the monkey mayhem out of the way first. As you probably know, the whole preorder situation was a disaster. Many reported that retail stores ran out of the preorder boxes and my personal experience was that no one at my EBGames even knew what I was even talking about. "Jim, we got someone out here who wants a monkey!" Whether this is SOE's fault or EBGames' fault is unclear to me. But SOE has to shoulder a good part of the blame.

To me the situation is absurd. Why? These are virtual items we are talking about. That bears repeating, EBGames ran out of virtual items. And yes, I know they ran out of the preorder boxes with contained the code which unlocked the monkey, but, seriously, there has to be a better way to accomplish this logistically. How about when you preorder you are e-mailed the code? Would that be so crazy?

But, the funny thing is, the whole incident actually gave me a better impression of SOE in the end. They realized they made a mistake and they fixed it. I believe it was only one or two days after the release date when a server wide announcement was made that all retail customers would receive the monkey. To me, making things right in an effective manner is a very positive thing. By the way, the sounds my monkey makes while I'm trying to focus on setting prices for my vault items made me consider feeding it pepper (a la
Patches the kitty).

So how was the launch? From my personal experience (note: personal experience) it was pretty close to being perfect. I came home the day of the launch, installed, patched and was in the Sinking Sands minutes after. But, before you angrily e-mail me, yes, I am aware that I was one of the lucky ones. People on other servers, notably the largest, Antonia Bayle, reported major problems with characters being locked and serious zoning issues. This is a shame. Still, I'd say the launch was not terrible by any means. Yes, I know there were and are bugs but I don't think anything was major. From my experience, it was a B+/A- launch. But considering the problems on other servers I'd have to drop it to a C+. Well, since I initially wrote this I have been hit with some severe zoning issues where the game freezes up on the Loading UI portion of the zoning screen. Also, the epic Angler was bugged. Sigh.

Moving from launch to launch window, I enjoy the layout of the new launch window. The design is nice, the character links are cool and the Did You Know? link is a good touch. But, I have one problem which would make me prefer the old window. Whenever I log in after any patch (even a minor one), which is often, I have to start in windowed mode or my firewall freezes the game. On the old launch pad you merely clicked Game Settings and unchecked the full screen box. Now, you have click Preferences, then click Game Options, then wait for a new window to pop up, then uncheck full screen, then close the Game Options window and finally click Save on the Preferences window. Yes, the whole thing only takes a few seconds but it is an annoyance.

Let's move on to the actual game. One of my first impressions in the Sinking Sands was "Wow, there are way too many solo mobs." What's more, there is an entire zone (and it's not a small one) called the Clefts of Rujark which is essentially a solo zone. Well, it can be a bit tough (though fun) so possibly a duo zone. But then, when I wanted to solo before my group got together, I was loving all the solo stuff. So, it turns out I'm enjoying the solo flexibility.

I'd like to say that as much as I complained about the climbing feature, I did run into people who thought it was fun. And there definitely are places where it is very cool, adding something to the geography of the zones. However, I can not climb down. I immediately fall and have to hope to grab on again before I hit the ground. At first I honestly thought that I had impaired motor skills or something. But I soon found that
this was a bug which effects certain genders of certain races wearing certain armor. This should have been picked up in beta.

The zone design is fantastic in my opinion in terms of visual appeal and geography. The graphics are truly incredible. There is so much to the Sinking Sands and the Pillars of Flame that I continue to be surprised with. Just last night I was nuking harpies while perched on a rocky desert ledge with a steep drop to beautiful water on one side and dramatic mountains in the distance. Truly impressive. I will say that certain areas of the zones, while visually beautiful, seem a bit dull because there is nothing special going on. There are large areas with "friendly" mobs that seem like nothing more than a place to run through.


So far there are not enough quests for my taste and too many NPC's that have literally nothing to say. Some of the quests are, of course, the usual kill ten mobs quests, but it would be unfair for me to rate the quests when I have so little experience with them. I did enjoy the Genie arena-style quest and the beetle herding quest a great deal. And some quests do lead you to explore more of the game and help you get an idea of the zone layout which is nice. Also, there are roughly two million new collection quests. I happen to love collection quests so I'm really enjoying that. On the negative side, at least some quests do seem to involve lengthy camps.

I'm going to touch on dueling for a bit. As I've mentioned before, PvP is not really a big draw for me, although I am not opposed to it. But let me tell you, when you are waiting for a group member to arrive, it is a great deal of fun to break out the /duel command. I am by no means going to comment on PvP balance here but I have seen the following:

1. Duels both long and short
2. Interesting strategies being employed
3. A person in one class defeating a person in another class and then losing again to that same person.
4. People enjoying dueling and even enjoying watching duels.

These are all good signs. Since you can turn off the duel invites, I find it hard to understand how even the most vehement anti-PvP'ers could protest. Even if you never duel once, I think it can still have a positive effect. Why? It's so cool to walk into a nomad camp in the Pillars of Flame and see a Guardian battling with a Swashbuckler in a wild duel. People always want more of the elusive "immersion" and to me that is immersion right there. It just adds to the atmosphere.

As I stated before, this is not a review, just some random impressions and comments. I have many more impressions but this post is long enough. You can count on another post with more impressions tomorrow.


Oh and don't forget, Wednesday at 11:59 P.M. EST is the deadline for the swag contest.

Monday, September 19, 2005

EQII TV: Hail to the Queen

Well, I'm thinking of renaming this blog TechTV Me because I always find myself discussing it. But then I remember it is now called G4TV, so that would be a pretty stupid name. Anyway, this will be my third G4TV post, the first discussing the graphics on level 3 and the second reviewing the Everquest Icons show.

This one is about the EQII feature on Attack of the Show, formerly the Screensavers
. In case you missed the notice on the Launch Pad or the news page or just didn't catch the EQII Attack of the Show episode which aired on Thursday, September 15th, I will recap it for you.

Let's jump right in, shall we:

0-8:00: Well, it looks like the holy triumvirate of G4TV females is running the show today, although Morgan Webb is sadly absent. We have:

1. The overrated but bearable Sarah Lane
2. Laura "look at me I'm alternative with my cool hair and nose ring - Grrrrl Power - alternative browsers rule!" Foy
3. Tina "I straight-up shill for Nintendo at E3 but I'm an objective journalist I swear!" Wood

8:00 - 9:00 The ladies throw it over to Brendan Moran for a teaser of the EQII feature. You get a quick video feed of Antonica from the Butcherblock server. It looks like they are near the entrance to NQ. There's a nice selection of characters there. Enjoy it, because it's pretty much the most you're going to see. Someone runs past with a large text bubble proclaiming that someone or something "ROCKS!" in all caps but I couldn't make out the rest.

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Brendan then begins his usual flirting with any female who appears on the show. In this case, it's Anna Wainscoat, our Queen. First impressions: Wow, she's short. She looks like a hobbit next to Brendan. He asks her some stupid question about her costume and she answers, sounding like a California surfer girl.

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12:00 - 17:00: An interview with the producer and director of
Bang the Machine, a documentary about competitive Streetfighter players. Actually looks fascinating but there's no way to buy it or see it. Great, thanks.

20:00 - 23:00 Sarah visits the set of Threshold, some new TV show. I fast forward.

24:00 - 28:00 Sarah and Laura look at a music recommendation service. It takes Laura until the end of the segment to understand the concept and, in her alternative way, she references such extreme artists as Britney and Pink. As they go to commercial we get a video feed of Antonia (the character, not Anna) pounding her fist angrily. Why they chose that emote is beyond my comprehension. Then they flash to Anna, I assume to show just how little the two look alike.

29:00 - 33:00 Okay, this is the EQII segment. To clarify, EQII is not really being featured as a news topic, per se. It's the Lan Party game of the week. Or, excuse me, the AT&T Wireless AOL Broadband Lan Party sponsored by Alka-Seltzer on Alienware! Or whatever they're calling it these days. The Lan Party is a segment they do every Thursday where they feature a multiplayer game. It's usually an FPS game and they always have some model or booth babe type as the guest (occasionally they have a musician). The normal routine is for Brendan to flirt with the guest and then show two seconds of gameplay in which she shoots someone on her own team and giggles.

Now, I saw some people complaining on the forums that the segment was short. But this was actually by far the longest Lan Party segment I have ever seen, or at least the longest Lan Party "interview."

It turns out that Brendan was one of the judges of the Quest for Antonia contest in Vegas and they show a clip of Anna with some of the other contestants who actually look like Antonia. Back on the set, Brendan serves up the softball question, "Now who, exactly, is Antonia?" Now come on Anna, I know the SOE people prepared you for this one, or they should have.

Her eyes roll back in her head as she attempts to scan her memory and haltingly gives her prepared answer. Brendan makes a joke implying that she and Antonia look alike on the basis of breast size, although he does phrase it a little more subtly. Then comes my favorite part. Brendan, sounding actually curious, says, "Do you really think you look like her?" Anna says yes.

Brendan insists on holding the scepter and they show some shots of the Stuff shoot which is coming out in December. Anna says that no, she is not in the Antonia outfit for the photo shoot. SOE PR team for the win!

The future for Antonia? She is "going to, um, keep kicking butt."

33:00 - 36:00: The Feed. Sarah seems depressed.

39:00 - 43:00: Interview with American McGee who is promoting Bad Day in LA. It looks smart and funny but the gameplay looks lame. American states that the game was produced in Hong Kong because, "I was one of those people who said that if George Bush wins I'll move out of the country and I did." Laura replies, "I said that too! But, um, I'm still here." She's X-Treme!

47:00 - 53:00: Something about buying some girl's birthday party on EBay. Everyone does a terrible acting job of pretending to be drunk.

56:00 - 57:00: This is a segment they have been doing lately where they play Oregon Trail and fans vote on the choices the party should take. Amazing, classic game but a lame idea for a segment. I actually downloaded Oregon Trail a few months ago and it still holds up. Ah, the memories.

57:00 - 57:37: Okay, this is the actual Lan Party part of the Lan Party. Time for some EQII footage. You see a crowd of people for about half of a second. But then, whoever is controlling the character whose view they are using (it looks like Anna is but to be fair I can't tell for sure) decides to run the opposite way into the wilderness of Antonica where we see nothing but landscape and one Froglok. Truly hilarious. I couldn't make this stuff up, folks. They then cut to Anna who is tapping at a keyboard. Game over.

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They move on to the three hosts who are sitting on the couch with one of those stuffed DoF monkeys SOE is selling at the Station Store. Good thing Kevin Rose isn't on the show anymore or he would probably figure out a way to install Linux on it.

57:37 - End: The three hosts answer questions. Someone asks the truly insightful question, "If you could switch bodies with anyone on the couch, who would it be?" Tina asks if Anna is included in the choices and they cut to Anna. They then get into the discussion of whether Brendan would want to switch bodies with Anna. Seriously, they do. And, we're out.


Oh, they also show a person I believe is Blackguard at one of the other "Lan Party" computers as they are going to commercial at one point in the show. But they never interview him or refer to him.

As usual, it's more fun for me to take the negative viewpoint, but I do give kudos to the SOE PR people for getting EQII on the show and doing a pretty good job of it. Anytime you can get gameplay footage out to a decent audience, it's a victory. I think Anna will grow into her role as time goes by and, regardless of whether you think she looks like Antonia or not, she did seem to garner a lot more attention then the women they usually have on this segment. This translated into more EQII-centric airtime. So I congratulate her on that.

While we are on the TV subject, they have been showing that short WoW documentary on Al Gore's new cable channel, Current TV. Current is an easy channel to make fun of and they definitely need some work but there is actually a lot of great short content. I found a link to the WoW documentary for you so you can view it
here.

It seems to me that now is the perfect time for a longer documentary feature on MMORPG players which I think would be pretty interesting to the general public. So, if you are a documentary filmmaker with a suitcase full of money, be sure to look me up.


Some expansion impressions incoming tomorrow.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday Humor: Roses are Red...

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Credit for this Friday Humor goes to Karnatos from the Aggro Forums. He started us off with some Roses are Red, Violets are Blue style EQII poems and we rolled with it.

By Karnatos


That mob cons Red
This one cons Blue
To get next Ding faster
Which mob should I do?
**************************
I'm level 50
and never been fed.
If I'd known about eating
I wouldn't be dead!
**************************
"But Gnolls are not food...",
the little pup cried.
"If you live near Qeynos,
you'll end up stir-fried."
**************************
I hate Brian Nichols!
His voice makes me sick!
I'd love to kill him,
even at ^^^ 8xEpic

**************************
Antonia, in person,
she isn't so hot.
I betrayed Qeynos to meet her,
t'was worth it I'd thought.

But now that I've met her,
I'm no longer in lust.
Now to find
Anna Wainscoat...
... I will meet her, I must!
**************************

By Warm Machine

Nagafen is red,
Venekor is not.
It doesn't really matter,
their breath is still hot!
**************************
Lady Vox is a bit frigid,
but Nagafen is one scaly playa.
Want to come on down baby,
and see what's in my lair?
**************************
Ladon lives in Antonica,
and he's kind of bitter.
It's because no one visits him,
since he's not pick of the litter.
**************************
Run kitty, run!
What's your hurry?
Oh, nevermind.
You're a SoW, SToW, and PoC stacked Fury!
**************************
I sit here in this dungeon,
slowly growing older.
It wouldn't be so bad,
if I knew which one was the place holder.

By Yours Truly

Why bother to taunt?
It's a bother I bet!
Just go AFK-
I love XP Debt!
**************************
This group's going places!
All storms can we weather,
But, um, just in case
Better hand out the feathers.
**************************
I love the chat
In channel double-O C
"Where is Hwal?"
"Please PL Me!"
**************************
The changes came in-
To the Forums I surfed
5,000 threads for the win:
OMG NERFED!!!1!!
**************************
Rough Rubies are Red
Ebon Clusters are Black
AFK BIO
BRB

Hope you enjoyed our mini-poems. This was actually just a selection - feel free to pop by the thread for more. Of course, you're more than welcome to join in with some of your own.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

MMO Trivia Contest

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Okay, I've come down a bit off the crack-like high of getting new xp for the first time in months and have begun returning to my critical self. I do see some negatives in the expansion but I am having a really great time playing it and I still see a lot of positives. I'll try to write up some impressions for Monday. But now, down to business:

It's contest time! First prize: brand new, unopened Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade for the PSP. Second prize: an EQII Map.

Alright, number 2 pencils at the ready? Here goes:

1. We hear the word "proc" all the time but what is the origin of the term?

2. What multiplayer space action game has the "Skithzar Kragath" craft?

3. What MMO features "tests" such as pilgrimage, marriage and safari?

4. Prior to 1998, 989 Studios was known by what name?

5. In what parody game can you play as a Panda Man Tickle-Mimic?

6. What does KEI stand for?

7. Name a playable race from Hibernia.

8. What game features Notum?

9. Rise of Chaos is an expansion pack for what game?

10. In what MMO does drinking alcohol turn the body red and increase attack speed for 60 seconds? (this is a tough one)

11. Over what internet platform was Gemstone first played?

12. What console was Phantasy Star Online released on?

13. What was a "door game" played on?

14. What was the MMO Lineage named after?

15. From what game did the term "zerg" originate?

16. In what game would PED be useful?

Since I suppose you could google all of these (though it might take some time) I am adding in an Aggro Me trivia question as a tiebreaker of sorts. You're going to really have to guess at this one.

17. What has been the most common search engine keyword or keywords (besides "Aggro" or "Aggro Me") that has brought people to this site? (Hint: It's funny)

In the event of a tie I will assign each entry a number based on the order it was received and then log on to EQII and do a /rand.

Contest Rules: All entries by e-mail (find it on the right side of the page under /who). This contest is not open to employees of Aggro Me (um, me) and my relatives, I guess. All e-mails must be received by 11:59 P.M. EST on September 21, 2005. So go ahead and enter - this contest has probably the best odds you're ever going to get of winning a PSP game.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

SOE Swag

Okay, I'm having way too much fun in the Desert of Flames to write anything new. I'll just say it's been a blast so far and I'll try to write some intelligible commentary about it next week. For now, a contest announcement I pre-wrote, heh. The contest will begin September 15th.

The prizes, well they are courtesy of SOE, indirectly.

I was invited to submit some information to be a part of the EQII Community Fansite contact list. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I don't consider this a "fansite" and I hope you don't either, even though I am a fan at heart. But I figured this would be an opportunity to bring you, my readers, the inside scoop.


Well, a few days later, I received a Fedex from Sony with the following:

Letter from Blackguard

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EQII Map

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Brand New Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade PSP Game

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Well, I'm keeping the letter. But I feel compelled to pass on the swag to you, my readers. Hey, I might not feel that way if I didn't already own Untold Legends since the day it was released, but who knows.

Since I do own it, I'll give you a quick review. It's actually a bit better than the initial reviews it got, in my opinion. It's basically a Diablo type game with a choice of classes (that are pretty nicely differentiated). The skills you can choose from as you level up are actually very well done and fun. The big negatives would be the excessive loading screens, the lame music and the repetitive gameplay (dungeon after dungeon). The game has very nice graphics and a subtle sense of humor I enjoyed. I especially liked the way you start the game with a hangover. If you can find someone to join you for multiplayer the game gets exponentially better. And hey, we all know the majority of PSP titles are basically terrible right now (don't email me about Lumines), so this is a nice one to add to your library.

I would love to see a SOE PSP title that would allow you have some interaction with EQ or EQII. Perhaps gaining the gold in-game would let you transfer a small amount to your EQII character through the PSP's wireless capabilities. There is so much more that could be done with this, but I am really going off on a tangent here.

So, I intend to give away the game and the map. The contest will be MMO trivia, so hopefully all that grinding will finally pay off.

Hey, I'll even sign the game and map, thereby reducing their value by 98%.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hire Power

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Wow, I have been ranting about how bad the whole Station Players services are for quite some time. Here's an example. If you don't know how bad the guild site service offered by SOE is, well, you've never tried using it as much as I have. It's an exercise in frustration we eventually had to abandon. The most recent problem was news articles not posting in the proper order. There's a thread about it and I have tested this and found it to be accurate.

So, I was happy to see SOE is
looking to hire someone to "assist with the ongoing development of Station Players services." I hope that means fixing the Guild sites and some of the other "features" I've complained about.

Unfortunately, it
looks like that person's job will also entail Station Exchange work. But I'll try to let that slide.

I question the wisdom of using the EQII Players news page as a recruiting tool. It's not that I have a problem with reading job announcements. It's not that I don't realize this is a low cost way to do a candidate search. It's just that I can guarantee that there will be a very large number of resumes from people whose qualifications include "being an UBER zerker lol" and running a Geocities Lindsay Lohan fansite. But I guess that's the problem of the person who gets stuck reading all these resumes and not me.

In this case, I would suggest hiring the best qualified person in terms of web design talent for the job regardless of how much EQII they play. If it was a game design position or something like that, then obviously I would feel differently. But I just want someone who is going to come in and help get things running smoother on the SOE web pages. I love the web-based Guild Chat (which I pay extra for) and it hasn't worked for days.


Okay, I know you're thinking, "All this employment news is fascinating and all, yawn, but what about, um, the release day for Live Update 13 and DoF tomorrow?"

Well, I hope it goes smoothly. I'll be at work most of the day but I'll be checking the forums to see the status. Two minor things worth noting:

1. SOE injected a little humor into the beta with these temporary bobbleheads (screenshots courtesy of EQII Vault). Nice to see some joking in EQII. I find the in-game humor to be somewhat lacking.

2. There will be bonus xp for a week because of the combat changes but it will not extend to those at level 50 or above or to tradeskillers. Personally, I probably wouldn't have gone the bonus xp route at all, but I can't say I have a problem with it. If I was to give bonus xp for a week I would have hooked up the tradeskillers as well. Tradeskill grinding is painful. I agree with the decision not to do it post-50 as I don't want to rush through the expansion content too fast, as tempting as it may be to do so. It might actually be a nice idea to play a lower-level alt for a week to rake in the bonus xp and the let the expansion settle down for a bit. But we all now I won't really be doing that.

And, just in case the EQII servers or your expansion download are stressing you out today, you might want to consider this EBay auction for some relief (via Kotaku
).

Good luck with the combat changes and the expansion. See ya on the other side.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Stay Cool

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As some of us prepare to head into the scorching heat of the Desert of Flames, my advice is to stay cool.

I'm pretty excited about the expansion. Even though I definitely had some negatives in my beta impressions (how about some Guild housing by the way?), my overall outlook remains positive. I noticed a few of my friends came back to EQII in anticipation of the expansion and that is better than any new zone. Let's hope the expansion can retain their interest.

But we all know the expansion is not the only thing we have to look forward to, right? Oh, no. The combat changes are coming. Even if the combat changes were the most brilliant piece of game design ever to grace the planet and they could magically cause peace on earth and grant free Gummi Bears to everyone, there would still be roughly five million threads on the forums saying the combat changes killed their puppy and then laughed about it afterwards.

And believe me, I feel your pain. Many a time I have gotten very frustrated in MMORPG's when I feel my class is underpowered or the balancing is off. And change is inherently stressful. But here is what I have to say:

1. Don't take it personally. "OMG SOE hates me so much because I can't solo group mobs anymore!1!1! Why me??? Why ME?" Believe me, SOE wants the classes to be balanced, the game to be fun and you to be happy. That is kind of how they make money. They don't have a personal vendetta against your class. As far as I know.

2. Look at the big picture. In my above example, let's say you can't solo group mobs anymore. But now take a step back. You see no one else can. If every class is nerfed equally can that even be considered a nerf? I don't think so.

3. Give it some time. If I had my way, I would lock the official forums for a week after the combat changes because I just can't take knee-jerk reactions. It will take you a while to relearn how to play your character and how your group dynamics should work with the new system. And, yes, there will obviously be tweaks and changes after they go live. I'm not asking you to give SOE forever - I say give them a short leash. But you have to give it a little time.

I'm not trying to be super happy sunshine. The whole thing is not an optimal situation. You know I think releasing the combat changes at the same time as the expansion is a terrible idea. You know I think they took far too long to get to this point (refer to
this picture). And, I might end up hating them. Right now I am still unsure of whether they are going to succeed or not.

But, before I start ranting about the combat changes, I will try to stay cool, look at the big picture and wait a reasonable amount of time. If after that, I do have issues, I'll try to consolidate them. If you want to e-mail me or post on the forums about how the combat changes adversely affected you, I'll even take up your cause if you can convince me.

Not to say I won't be ranting until then, just not about the combat changes.

Now don't blow it, SOE.

Just a little warning: It is looking like you will no longer get spells from 51-60 automatically. You will have to acquire them from a faction merchant (which would require you to be in somewhat good standing with a faction) or, I suppose, buy them on the broker. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet. It may change - just a heads up.

On a rare personal note, Happy 60th Birthday to my Dad, who takes a break from his studies of Joyce or Proust to read my MMO ravings every single day. I appreciate it. Grats on your ding, Dad - you're at the new level cap already
.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Friday Humor: Pickup Group

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Sure, I've done pickup lines before, but with the expansion my repertoire has expanded as well! Check these beauties out:

"Hmm...a level increase, eh? I can take you to a whole new level, baby!"

"Am I on a magic carpet or is that just my heart taking off?"

"I just got a new spell with the combat changes, it's called Mind Reading Adept III. Hmm...I used it on you and it says you want to come back to my inn room!"

"You're hotter than the desert sun!"

"If I told you that you had a great body would you kill me in the arena?"

"You must be out of Power because you've been running through my mind all night."

"Did that Ice Comet blur your vision? Oh, just wait till later tonight..."


"Honest Ali told me you wanted to hook up with me. Are you calling Honest Ali a liar?"

"Do you have a map of Maj'Dul? I keep getting lost in your eyes."

"There's no voice emote for the way you make me feel."

"I am a member of the Court of Truth faction. Therefore I have to tell you how hot you are."

"Have you tried the new climbing feature? Let's climb the stairway to heaven!"

Last but not least: "Do you want to come upstairs and play with my monkey?"

Okay, I know these were even more cheesy/nonsensical than last time, if that's possible, but, er, don't hate the player, hate the game! Or something like that...

For enduring that, the genie of the lamp grants you three humorous links:

I thought
this post at Kill Ten Rats was not only funny but very accurate. One of those things I wish I had thought of myself.

Okay, this one is a bit dated, but it's worth checking out if you haven't seen it. It's a parody music video entitled "Ding! You're 65!" and you can
find it here. They have some more recent videos as well. I especially enjoyed "Beta is Over."

To stay on a musical note, swing by
Tarsk's Tavern for such old school hits as "Don't You (Evac Without Me)" and "You Can't Hurry Buffs."

Thursday, September 08, 2005

DoF: The New Hotness

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Okay, before I get going with my Desert of Flames beta impressions: full disclosure. I was really excited to get a chance to participate in the beta. But, I have a more than full-time real life job, I write this site and I'm in an EQII raiding guild. And believe it or not, I even go out once in a while. So needless to say, my time in the beta was somewhat limited. And, of course, a beta is only a beta and not a final product. You can count on my reviewing the final version a few weeks after it is released. If you don't want to be spoiled at all, don't read any further.

The Arena: Okay, a major feature of this expansion is PvP in the Arena. There are some who will probably completely ignore this area of gameplay, and that's fine, I am not a huge PvP person myself. There will be plenty of other stuff in the expansion for you to enjoy.

But back to the Arena. Well, you can forget about immersion. The fact that there are tons of health and mana power-up potions laying around everywhere makes it feel more like a Quake map than anything else. And that's not a bad thing, online FPS type games are a ton of fun and have a huge following.

So far, I prefer playing as my own character rather than an Arena champion. You will soon find that strategy is a huge part of team combat in the Arena. If you have a team where everyone is just running around randomly fighting you will be decimated by an organized team that works together in a concerted effort. And that is a great thing.

Even though I said I prefer playing as my own character, the Arena champions are quite cool too. They each only have four skills so team makeup and strategy are again important. Obviously, the type of game you are playing (i.e. capture the flag) is also critical. In the beta, arena champions were going for 1c but I am sure that price will be increased on launch. It's a nice break to play as a totally different character. Plus, they make fun house pets.

If you like PvP play and group strategy I think you will love the Arena. My main motivations to play MMORPG's are carrot-based (i.e. desire for levels and items) and social. And I have a feeling (and it's a pretty good hunch) that the rewards for the Arena will be not be enough to pry me away from working on my character. But, if my in-game friends are into it, I will likely join them for some PvP fun. And hey, I don't think you can overnuke in PvP, right?

Zones and Mobs: Basically, the zones and mobs are some of the best I have seen in the game to date. They are creative and visually appealing. I spent a lot of my limited time in Beta just walking around zones, invised, to oooh and ahhh and the cool areas and mobs. There seemed to be too many solo mobs for my tastes but there are plenty of group mobs as well so I guess I shouldn't complain. How quickly I forget how much I enjoyed soloing in the Nightblood area of northern EL before I found a great static group to play with.

Voice Emotes: I expected to poke fun at this feature but it's actually very cool. You have some options as to what you want your character to sound like and the voice work is very well done. However, I doubt they will really be useful in combat. With all the other stuff going on, I don't think you will be able to hear "heal me" and heal someone. It would be better to just look at their health bar.


Climbing: Bah. I
chastised SOE for hyping this up as a major feature. When I did Twodragons posted a comment giving some really neat examples of how climbing could be used. However, in reality, the climbing seems pretty dull and used in an unexciting fashion. It's not a selling point by any means and, what's worse, it seems a bit quirky. I found a place called the Chimney where it is necessary to climb down a nearly vertical cave. Pretty cool looking area but I died three times trying to climb down. Also, since climbing is in the game it just makes you more frustrated when you see vertical surfaces you can't climb. My first opinion of climbing was neutral or mildly positive, but it's now heading towards negative territory.

Collection Items: Yeah, not a surprise or anything, but I was happy to see some new collection items. As some of my guildmates know, I'm a certifiable collection freak.

Music: I'm sure it gets old after a while but so far what music was in the beta was really good.

Armor: Meh. As always, I'm disappointed in the armor models, especially in the lack of diversity. Of course, what I've seen is very limited and the models may change. But, at this point in the game's life, seeing different robes that are identical or near color-swaps is getting to be unacceptable. I think it's time to dedicate some more resources to this area, as superficial as it may seem. The SOGA models are rumored to be coming soon, but that addresses the character models and not the armor models.

Factions: These are huge in the Beta. There are three main factions in Maj'Dul and you will have a reputation with each. People seem to love doing the faction quests and storming other factions' guard towers in Maj'Dul. Successfully storming a tower and planting a dagger in the captain of the tower guard can change it, and the surrounding territory, to the control of another faction. From what I can see so far the whole faction system will be a major aspect of play in the expansion and should up the fun quotient quite a bit. The risks and rewards feel very real. I questioned whether factions would be a big factor based on their limited effect up until now, but I am here to admit I was wrong.

Maj'Dul: Don't expect to come to Maj'Dul and relax by a stream the way you might in the Baubleshire. Pretty much everything you see in Maj'Dul is attackable. Guards for certain factions will probably want to kill you on site because of your faction standing. Meanwhile, the factions for a geographic area are changing from time to time as groups storm a faction's guard towers, as I discussed above. Then you have these mages flying around on carpets to enforce the law. There is plenty more craziness in this city which I will not spoil for you.

Spells and Combat Arts: I am not going to get into the combat changes here. But I will say some of the new spells are very imaginative and fun. Be prepared for a nice break from the usual. With that said, the majority of spells are just upgrades of the old ones. When I see a spell named "Improved Descry" as a new spell to replace "Descry" the creative part of me wants to shrivel up into a ball and cry.

Quests: So far I have not been blown away by the quests to the degree I was in Splitpaw. But my experience with questing in the Beta was pretty limited. The quest for a magic carpet will be sure to continue to raise controversy on the forums, though it is slower and looks different than the status carpet. Trust me, everyone will have a quested or status carpet soon enough because it has a game function other than just speed.

Tradeskill: You're asking the wrong person, sorry. Nothing to do with the expansion but I really liked this blogger's ideas for tradeskilling.

Raiding: No idea at all. But reviews from other players are quite positive.

Summary: I did a few informal polls of the large beta guild I was in, Testers of the Desert (thanks to those who answered me in Guild chat). Most were happy with the beta (I had to ask them to differentiate the beta from the combat changes). I asked, "What is your favorite part of the expansion?" The most common answers were "more levels" and "itemization done right." I have not really touched on the items due to lack of experience with them but several people did mention this. The answer to least favorite was overwhelmingly the climbing feature. I am not making that up to support my previous complaints, it was just what people said.

On the whole I am very excited about the expansion and can't wait to start playing. I'm not willing to call it a Splitpaw style homerun yet, but the ball is heading for the right field wall with some nice velocity.

However, if you are not level 50 and do not like PvP there is no reason why you shouldn't hold off on purchasing the expansion. Enjoy some of the great high-level zones and content EQII has to offer rather than rushing your way through to get to the desert. You won't find much to do other than PvP until you are 50, or at least close.

If you are level 50, well, you're probably going to be buying the expansion regardless of anything I say, but if you do so I don't think you will be disappointed. If you are not level 50 but into PvP, I think you will have some fun times in the Arena.

Just a note, I've focused on the expansion rather than the combat changes. But the main thing you will probably notice when the expansion hits is actually the combat changes, for a while anyway. You will have to do some serious relearning about how to play your character, and that is likely an understatement. Remember, I was reviewing the expansion here and not the combat changes so don't e-mail me saying, "Troubador's were nerfed and you suck, Aggro." In all honesty I won't be able to have a real handle on the combat changes until I do some extensive group play.

I may mention some of the stuff I probably forgot early next week.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Free Game Time

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Sometimes I like to mix in a free game to break up the EQII mania. This one isn't really an MMORPG or a MUD, though it has aspects of both. I guess I would call it a web-based multiplayer game. Did I mention it's about zombies? Did I mention it's free?

The game I'm talking about is called
Urban Dead. There are other games in this style out there but I like this one for several reasons. The gameplay is creative, the registration is very painless (you don't even need to put an e-mail address in if you don't want to), and it's the perfect five minute work-break game.

The game has basically no graphics but it does have a nice interface. The setting is a city overrun by zombies. There are four classes: military, civilian, scientist and zombie, with some subclass choices. I'm currently playing as a fireman and chopping some zombies down with my trusty fire axe.

When you're starting off, make sure you are near an empty building. With your full action points, venture out and take a few swings or shots at a zombie. You are not going to hit it much at first, but keep trying. When you are low on AP, make sure you head back into the building and shut the doors so you will be safe when you log out. Your action points return over time. Eventually, you will gain xp, which you can trade in for skills. Then you can start to explore some of the more advanced aspects of the game.

If you do die, fear not. Just consider it a special invitation to join the growing zombie horde. You will be less powerful than if you started the game as a zombie, but you can get stronger. It is rumored there are even ways to restore yourself to human form eventually, if you know a good Necro-Tech scientist.

Whether you want to fight the zombie menace or devour your way through humanity, be sure to check out
the forums. There are some good roleplaying groups that do some pretty wild coordinated stuff.

Oh, and if you feel like having some more free fun, be sure to check out
Supernoob's roleplaying game that is starting up soon on our very own Aggro Forums.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

SOE Me

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I've gotten a lot of e-mails asking when I'll be posting my Beta impressions, so I will be doing that on Thursday.

If you're wondering what the title of this post means, well, it looks like one of SOE's writers has been reading Aggro Me, or at least the Friday Humor. Take a gander, if you will, at my
Friday Humor: Team Fashion! feature from July 29, 2005. Now take a look at SOE's Norrathian Fashion Review feature from September 2, 2005. See any similarities there? Two humorous fashion gurus discussing EQII fashion? I'm just kidding - great minds think alike, as they say, and I enjoyed their feature. Plus, I think I stole that idea from somewhere myself.

Anyway, on to actual news. When the
dueling concept was first announced there were probably over a thousand posts on the forums complaining about two things: the lack of an auto-decline toggle and the fact that the loser of a duel would face a death penalty. I had the same two issues myself.

Well, they put in an
auto-decline toggle so you don't have to worry about that. What's more, by using the /duelbet command as described here, you won't have to worry about xp debt either. I think this should satisfy both duelers and those who would prefer to ignore PvP. I think SOE has done a nice job here.

Curious about the SOGA models? You might want to check out the link to a movie posted by Anskiere in this thread. There are some issues with the brightness level. All I have to say is, in the words of the main character, "Oh Yeah!" and "Baby I'll be Back!"

I'd like to take a quick moment to wish a fond farewell to Tonya "Sassee" Shields who is
relinquishing her post as E2 Vault Manager. She definitely put her personal stamp on EQII Vault and the forums there and will be a tough act to follow. From our limited interaction she also seemed like a genuinely nice person who cared about the EQII community. I sincerely wish her all the best.

If you're just checking the site for the first time after the long holiday weekend, be sure to check out the post I did yesterday on SOE's great efforts in relation to Hurricane Katrina.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Well Done

Since I'm always quick to blast SOE when they screw up, it's only fair that I applaud them when they do something well.

Regarding Hurricane Katrina, SOE was able to quickly release this statement. "Additionally, for our 13,000+ players actually in the affected areas, we will be suspending billing until such time as they are able to play again. In addition, any items or structures in any of our games, which decay over time, will be preserved until the user's next login."

We all know this is so minor in the grand scope of things but it is a very nice gesture and a well-handled one. I have to say I am more than a little impressed that SOE has the organization and technical flexibility required to identify a subset of users and modify game mechanics at will.

In the same announcement, SOE stated that using the /donate command in EQII would open up a window to the American Red Cross. Blackguard assembled a link of other charities you can donate to and posted them here. There are also noticeable links to the Red Cross on the EQII Players main page and on the forums. All in all, an excellent job.

When considering charitable giving, I always find it helpful to check out this website which rates a large database of charities on organizational efficiency and let's you get an idea of how your donation will actually be spent.

It is also worth noting that Mythic
suspended all in-game house rent in Dark Age of Camelot in response to the hurricane.

A good Labor Day to all celebrate it.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Friday Humor: Roleplay

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Inspired by that "Night Kittens" thread from yesterday's post I tried to come up with some ideas for EQII guilds who "roleplay" in an interesting fashion.

Victorious Vegans: Members in this guild refuse to harm any animals because they are roleplaying vegetarian characters. You can forget about completing the "Oh Deer Me" quest if you are in this guild. They also only eat non-animal food. The guild is currently rife with drama over the debate of whether centaurs count as animals or not. (I think it would be very tough but possible to get a character to level 50 playing this way. Might actually be a lot of fun to try).

Glitterati: This guild roleplays as the most fashionable and trendy elves in Norrath. They are always wearing the latest robes and armor and finding the most "in" place to hang out. The tavern in QH? That's so yesterday. Everyone knows the inn in Rivervale is the cool place to have an ale. Guest list only. Players in this guild mock mobs for their poor fashion sense before killing them.

ENN (Everquest News Network): A guild of intrepid reporters that request interviews from famous mobs like Naggy and try to catch GM's with compromising screenshots.


Knights of Prozac: All players in this guild roleplay characters with personality disorders. Meet Frozlo, the halfling who thinks he is an ogre. Then there's Garvin, the dwarf guardian who is always depressed. His pulling macro is: "*Target mob* incoming, we should kill it I suppose. But what's really the point...we're all going to die eventually. Sigh." Paranoid wood-elf Relthisa has delusions that she is just a character in a video game. Crazy, I know. Just don't get into a pick-up group with Bobo, the warden with a split-personality. Bobo will be healing you one minute, but then when his evil side, Gobo, surfaces, he will be healing the mob instead.

Balco Boys: A guild of ogres and trolls dedicated solely to power leveling their characters and getting juiced to the max. Alchemists welcome.

Reality Norrath: One guild. One three room house in South Qeynos. No one leaves the house for one month. Guild drama ensues as Pikor the gnome is caught flirting with Varg the troll's half-elf girlfriend. Will Varg eat Pikor? Will true love prevail? Tune in to Reality Norrath to find out.

Legal Eagles: Members of this Freeport guild roleplay, gasp, lawyers. Thinking of a guild merger? Better consult the Legal Eagles first to draw up a mountain of paperwork. Feel like you've been kill-stealed? The Legal Eagles can help...for a small fee of course. Did you hastily jump into an in-game marriage and then catch your spouse cybering with a half-elf hottie? Better call the Legal Eagles. The Legal Eagles are currently filing a class-action suit against a harvesting node in Feerrott for "being stuck in a tree."

Feel free to add your own roleplay guild ideas in the comments section.

I've also got a pretty funny WoW link for you. It involves roleplaying, cybersex and "dwarven hand cannons." You can check it out
here but be warned it is obviously a bit vulgar. My favorite line, "Gedran tries to disguise himself as a tree and makes crow noises." Enjoy.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Guild Drama Roundup

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Wargut recently mentioned on the Aggro Forums that there has been a lot of movement between guilds lately. I've noticed the same. Is this a natural thing at this stage of the game or a result of the changes to the patron system? I'm guessing it's a little bit of both. I think guild stability can be an important factor in keeping people playing a game but freedom of choice is important too.

And then we have this hilarious thread (thanks for the link Anskiere). In it, the guild Halycon Affinity puts this offer out there:

"Have you ever wanted one of those guild level 30 rewards but just didnt wanna put in the effort? Well heres your chance We are opening up shop on letting people buy the guild level 30 items.

We charge a premium in order for a person to join our guild to purchase those items. Basically you give us the premium, we invite you and allow you to buy certain items then remove you from guild once you have bought your items. If you buy a carpet or steed then you can get any other items at no extra premium.

Also If you are buying a title, clothing and a house item, the total charge would only be 1 plat. prices include: Spirit Steed 15 plat Carpet 15 plat Title 1 plat Clothing 1 plat House items 1 plat"

Yes, this is for real and not a parody. I can understand why people in that thread are getting angry but I'm still laughing at the hilarious brazenness of the whole thing. This is on the "good" roleplaying server to make things even funnier.

Speaking of roleplaying, I recently ran across this 32 page thread on the World of Warcraft forums about the "Night Kittens," a guild who roleplay as, er, prostitutes. And from what I could gather (I couldn't get through more than 4 pages), that entails engaging other players in a cybersex for gold transaction. This is probably old news to WoW players but it's the first time I'd seen it.