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Monday, October 31, 2005

Mystery SOE MMO

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Wow. You think you know SOE and they throw you a curveball.

Am I surprised they have MMO's in development? Of course not, that's what they do. But the fact that they have one due out in the fall of 2006? Yeah, that came as a surprise. So did the fact that it will not only be free but have no subscription charges.


Okay, I don't have much information to go on here. Smed apparently delivered the
opening keynote at the Austin Games Conference. Unfortunately there's no transcript at that link, just a glamour shot and a bio. However, I did run into this post on Joystiq which led me to this little news story.

First, let me address the timing. I think it's refreshing that they are releasing a game so soon without the massive hype that other MMO's seem to have for years before release. It's a nice change of pace and I definitely think that the hype cycle has gone on way too long with certain upcoming games (you know which one I'm talking about).

But how about the fact that it's not subscription based? This is certainly a departure for SOE. What surprises me is that I thought they were really pushing the Station Pass idea (pay more for access to all SOE games). Joystiq seems to think it is "inspired by Sony’s
success with EverQuest’s Station Exchange." Well, first off the servers are Everquest II and, second, I would like to argue the numbers that lead to the "success" claim, but that's a story for another post.

The actual quote from the Next Gen news story is, "get the game for free, pay for only for new content (e.g. expansions, item sales, etc.)." That's a quote of their summary, not Smed's actual words. That encompasses two separate ideas of how to make money without using subscriptions.

One is what I call the
Guild Wars model. Make money by selling the retail copies and also by charging for expansions. We all know that SOE can churn out the expansions and they have proven they can also do mini-expansions or "adventure packs" in EQII. So this may be a viable option for them. In this case, though, it sounds like they won't even be charging for the initial purchase.

The second way is what I would term the
Project Entropia model. Project Entropia is a game where real money can be converted to in-game cash (Project Entropia Dollars or PED) at will. They make their money on item decay and other cash sinks, and, I suppose, people who leave the game and never bother to convert their money back. You can play without transferring any real money, but believe me you have to do so actually enjoy the game at all. The Station Exchange is a little different from this in the fact that it was tacked on as a real money transfer system to an existing non-real money transfer game and makes money on transaction fees. Project Entropia was designed from the ground up as a real money transfer game.

Now, if you've read this site for a while, you know I've ranted hard against Station Exchange. My main problems were SOE's hypocrisy in saying they were against such things in the past as well as what I perceived to be a decision that would weaken the legal standing of other MMO companies attempting to protect their games from secondary market companies. I also felt it was a bad move from a public relations standpoint and a bit of a conflict of interest. But, if a game is marketed from day one as a real money transfer game, well, that's just a business decision that I can't object to on "moral" grounds. So I'm not going to get in an uproar about it. I would still argue that it's a faulty game design concept.

I beta tested Project Entropia, by the way, and I found the gameplay awful. That's not to say SOE can't make a real money transfer game with great gameplay. I will just never be able to enjoy it knowing that people can buy their way into game success. And I think the majority of the market will want to play games where real money transfer is not a part of gameplay and everything possible is done to protect the game from secondary market companies. But I am willing to admit the market is big enough for both styles of games.

But I'm getting way ahead of myself. We don't know the details yet and Joystiq guesses that it may have something to do with the Playstation 3's online plan. I can also pretty much guarantee that the game will have in-game advertising similar to Planetside.


I'm also very curious about what the setting and concept for this mysterious MMO is. My first thought was that this was the DC Comics MMO that SOE has in the works. For those of you that don't know, SOE acquired the rights to a DC Comics MMO when they purchased Matrix Online. In fact, most commentators, including myself, believed that getting the DC license was the main reason they did the Matrix deal. But, word on the DC Comics game is that it is scheduled for a
fourth quarter 2007 release. So I don't think that is this game, but who knows? The fact that there will likely be in-game advertising makes me think it will not be the usual swords and sorcery setting.

Anonymous tips are welcomed and encouraged. Also, if anyone has a transcript of the Smed speech, please post a link.

Getting back to the subscription issue for a bit, I personally would like to see game companies go in the opposite direction. I don't think games that rely solely on retail and expansion sales will ever give me the quality and depth I look for in an MMO. Nor, as I stated above, do I really want to play real money transfer games.

I know people complain about the $15 or so a month EQII costs, but the amount of time I play EQII makes it well worth it for me. I have spent far less money on other games and forms of entertainment since I starting playing consistently so it's a net budgetary win for me. I'd pay something like $30 or even $50 a month for a game that had a massive production budget, a huge and skilled staff, tons of content and constant live events. It would be worth it to me.

But right now the market seems to be going in another direction. These things are cyclical though, so you never know. We may see a company in the future try the model I suggest.


Edit: Via Damned Vulpine: Another write-up here and a live-blog of the Smed address here.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Friday Humor: Fun with Googlisms

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Well, since I expended my brain power last Friday doing literary parodies, this week I'm counting on Googlism to provide the humor. Googlism is a site that uses google (shocker) to tell you what google thinks about the word you type in. Hmm, that doesn't make much sense. Try it yourself but be warned it's a bit plagued with ads. All the following googlisms are taken verbatim from the page. You can verify them yourself.

Anyway, I started of with "aggro" of course.

aggro is a very difficult thing to manage

Tell me about it...

aggro is ruining people's lives

Well, that's a little extreme.

aggro is a young man's game

Time to get out of the aggro game already?


aggro is not considered intentional

That's what I always say.

aggro is all very well when you put your bat where your mouth is

I'll put my ice comet where my mouth is.


Next up was "everquest."

everquest is a huge and amazing world that will capture you with its depth and beautiful images

From the positive...

everquest is the worst game ever created

To the negative.

everquest is not just a game its a way of life

For some of us.

everquest is a video game that is so seductive that ben stein claims it almost destroyed the life of

I actually
researched this one because I was curious. Apparently Ben had problems with his son playing too much EQ. He lost me when he said that his son had gotten too "self-referential." Um, okay.

everquest is not uo aside form the obvious differences which i will not list here

I finally understand Everquest.

everquest is the most absorbent game which i ever saw

Better than a paper towel!


Hmm, let me try "Smed."

smed is sexy

Damn it Smed, how much did you pay googlism to get that to number one!

smed is beautifully crafted

Sigh, googlism loves Smed.

smed is illegally parked

Don't you have your own spot?

smed is simply an acronym for single

Now that's kind of harsh.


Maybe I'd have more success with "Smedley."

smedley is also a registered nurse who worked in the home health field of nursing

A man of many talents!

smedley is all too real

Heh.

smedley is entitled to the benefit of that doubt

Sigh, I guess you're right googlism.

smedley is six inches

No comment.


Let's give "uber" a shot.

uber is a versatile word

So true.

uber is german isn't it?

You're supposed to have the answers, googlism!

uber is when the druids in your guild are wearing grey suede boots

Finally, googlism is making sense.

uber is going to that website

Hope it's talking about Aggro Me.


How about our fair queen, "Antonia?"

antonia is an average looking woman for her age

Some might disagree.

antonia is a very athletic person having attained certificates in basketball and high jump

Well, she does seem athletic.

antonia is suffering from severe malnutrition

Sigh, what people do to stay skinny.


Let's try the word "blog."

blog is mantasmic

Umm, okay.

blog is so boring

Hey, I try!

blog is the best thing ever

Now you're talking!


Feel free to try some googlisms yourself and post the results in the comments section.

I'd also like to point you to the great
MMO-style horoscopes by Van Hemlock. They are very funny and something I wish I had thought of myself. A sample:

"SCORPIO Oct 23 - Nov 20 A good week for new encounters and a pick-up group may end up giving you a lot more than you bargained for. Generosity with loot rolls will be repaid a hundredfold. Characters with misspelled Anime names will be lucky for you."

Head on over and check out the rest yourself.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Weak Carrots

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Yeah, I'm back to discussing carrots again, this time in the guild level context.

I have to admit, I have not really paid much attention to my guild's level lately. It's somewhere between 36 and 40, I know that.

This is a surprising change for me, since, in the old days, I was all fire and brimstone, arguing behind the scenes to deny people patron status based on my crazy spreadsheets. It was a grind to be sure. But part of me misses those times in what we called "writ valley," laying the smackdown on pioneers and doggies. The emotional payoff when we were the first on the server to 30 was worth the journey.

But now, I'm not even sure how we have jumped from 30 to the upper-30's. I know I turn in my status items, so that helps, and people seem to be doing a bunch of heritages. But I don't see the kind of concerted writ-mania that got us to 30. We're also much larger now, so I'm assuming that has a lot to do with it. Obviously, the changes to the Patron system must account for some of it as well. It may also just be because I'm not as involved in the guild level business these days so it seems painless to me.

I'd be interested to hear what other people have noticed about guild levels.

But, I am losing track of my point for writing this post. Yesterday, I decided to check out what the rewards were for hitting 40. I remembered that the rewards for 30, though now gathering virtual dust, were fun at the time. There were paintings, titles, a cool formal outfit and the option to buy a magic carpet or spirit steed if you had the funds. Of course, I would have also liked to see a new raid or some sort of special quest connected to the lore of the game. But I was relatively okay with the level 30 rewards.

I did some research and the sum total of guild rewards I was able to find for level 40 was some extra slots in the guild bank. Wow. I have to say I was surprised and not in a good way. You have to give people something to strive for, some reward for attaining a goal.

What's the deal here? I can't think of any possible reason why SOE dropped the ball on this one other than lack of time and resources. Would it have taken that long for someone to add in a title or two? (Not that I would purchase one, anyway. I've come to realize that most people drop the titles after a few weeks.)


I really don't see how anyone can argue against me on this one, unless I'm mistaken and there are guild level 40 rewards. If there are not, that's just weak.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Aggro Interview: Kwoung of EQ2Test.com

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When picking community members to interview, I like to focus on aspects of the game I am unfamiliar with. One such aspect is the Test server. Before conducting this interview, I was honestly pretty clueless about what playing on Test was like.

My subject today is Kwoung, who runs
EQ2Test.com and was introduced to me at the Community Summit as "the Test Server Guru." I hope you enjoy this look into life on the Test server. *************************************************************************

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your website, EQ2Test.com?

As for myself, I have been gaming and running websites for a while and computers are my work and hobby, I think my first MMOG was Meridian 59 back in the day and I left that to beta EQ. I first got involved on test servers back in EQ many years ago, where my wife and I re-rolled as a last desperate attempt to have fun, since our live server friends, guild we were in, etc had all fallen apart numerous times and we just were not enjoying the whole experience, even though we did enjoy gaming in general. All in all, we feel it was the best move we ever made and have seldom regretted it.

We have played a few different games along the way and I guess what started the test server website thing with me, was DAOC. I played their test server and started a small casual guild, which somehow ballooned into the largest guild on the server and our website sort of became the unofficial test server website there.

After I moved on to SWG, I created www.swgtest.com as a community forum away from all the chatter on their official forums and it caught on. So when I came to EQ2,
www.eq2test.com was one of the first things I did.

As for the why, well it is pretty hard to have a community board for a Test Server on the official sites, as we tend to get more folks from outside the community posting there than the people who actually play on the server generally. The various testing forums over on the SOE boards are a good example of that, especially the In Testing Feedback and Dev Request Forums, which are a constant source of amusement for me. I will give you a couple examples;

Here is what it says in huge red letters at the top of the forum:

This board is for feedback from people who PLAY ON TEST. If you don't, then please post your reactions on another board. Responses that don't fit this criteria will be deleted.

Here are some snippets of typical responses from the Offline Selling thread there;

-I have a question . May not be the right place for this. What happens when the Server reboots in the morning.

-I am not a Test server player but I wanted to comment

Anyways, the thread goes on, I saw a couple responses from people that actually tested something, but most responses were typically from people that have never stepped foot on Test to check the change, tossing in their two coppers worth in hopes a dev will read it. And people wonder why the dev’s don’t listen? It’s called signal to noise ratio and thankfully, the people that do play on test have other channels at SOE to give direct feedback and testing reports to the dev’s, so bugs that are caught and changes that are tested can actually be adjusted correctly and www.eq2test.com is there for us as a place to hang out, get to know each other, share knowledge, setup groups, raids, etc. :)

Are there issues related to the small population on Test? How have you tried to overcome them?

Well, playing on Test is definitely not for the faint of heart or the easily aggravated, it is most definitely a different play experience. The issues due to the population can be pretty harsh, but before I go on I will say; as you will read further down, the low population also offers many benefits.

First off, for the person new to Test, not doing your homework before logging on will most likely result in massive frustration, as getting groups can be a real bear. Also, a trip to the broker will more often than not, result in you not finding what you were after and finding a crafter in game to make something you need, can also be an exercise in frustration. Raiding on Test is also a challenge, as getting four groups together is not something that can happen at the drop of a hat. Related to this as well, is a players ability to complete quests. It is generally impossible to show up in an area, join a group and kill that mob you need, because chances are, you will be the only person in the area when you show up.

Another issue of the population is personalities. Test is like a very small town and unless you are a complete recluse, you get to know pretty much everybody in your level range. Unfortunately, there will always be someone who rubs you the wrong way and since there is no massive population and the resultant anonymity to get lost in, you have to deal with it, as that person or persons will be in your face on more than the rare occasion, probably even grouped with you here and there. Working out your issues with people sooner or later is almost a requirement; as it is that or let it end up spoiling your game time.

For most other things, my community forums help out. Players can plan hunts, put together groups to finish quests, look up crafters names or ask for items to be crafted. To help in-game, we created a server-wide community channel called Test. The Test channel is a great place to get help while online and chatter with your fellow Test players. I will add though, that it is a community channel to help make playing on Test a more enjoyable experience and people dropping in or joining cross-server to ask questions about recent changes, etc, are not generally well received.

What improvements would you like to see SOE make regarding the Test Server to make playing there more enjoyable?

I would like to see the Test Server marketed better by SOE so we get more full time players here. As for most else, there is not much to not like as long as you have the basic understanding that this is the Test Server and everything that goes along with that.

When I say marketed better, it is because I believe there is a lot of misunderstanding among the general player base about what the Test Server actually is, what goes on there and what “Testing” is in general. I will expound on this a little;

Testing on the test server is not, in general, taking a character to some specific spot and testing change X, as that is what SOE does on their internal QA server before stuff ever gets patched to Test and not what they need from the players on Test. What they need and want out of the Test Server, is players playing the game as normally as possible and seeing how any changes they made play out under regular game play. They also need to know about the unintended and side effects of changes, which never show up when doing spot testing. These types of things can only be found while players are going about their normal questing, hunting, raiding, etc.. and are normally the hardest to find.

Also, I think a lot of players still think that Test can or will get wiped, have rollbacks and experience a lot of downtime, none of which is true. As a matter of fact, I believe the live servers have had more downtime and rollbacks than we have and as for a character or item wipe happening, the possibility is so remote due to constant database backups and other fallback positions, it is not even worth considering in this day and age.

So in short, it is not only possible to have a “real” character on Test, that is what we need more people to have here.

How is the communication between SOE and the Test community?

Well the one way communications from players to the dev’s is excellent, they give us numerous ways with which to contact them. Players dedicated to Test Server have access to a private forum over on the SOE boards, thanks to Moorgard and the dev’s read it religiously. Also, our in-game feedback and bug reports get handled separately from live servers so they can as much as possible, catch things before the live publishes.

The two way communications however, tend to not be as good as some would hope. Responses to our postings, feedback and bug reports more often than not, come as just another line in the patch notes. One to one responses are not the norm and although the dev’s are reading and fixing based upon our feedback, a response from them in a thread is rare.

We do however, have QA’s assigned to Test Server once again (they seem to come and go a lot) who are in game quite often and responsive to anything testing related.

Do you feel SOE listens to the feedback of the people playing on Test? Or do you see changes go Live with problems the Test community already pointed out?

I think SOE listens pretty well actually, as I pointed out above. However, that does not mean that bugs that were found are not going to go live anyways. There are numerous reasons for this, but in general, they have a timeline they need to follow and that has priority over everything else. So while a great number of bugs are found and fixed before every publish, there are always those that were known but go live anyways.

Can you sell us on some benefits of playing on the Test Server?

Ok, I will give it my best shot, but I am not much of a salesman. I will start with what hooked my wife and myself and I think I can sum it up in one simple sentence;

I believe I get to play the perfect game, the way the designers originally envisioned it.

You see, they keep having to put in systems and make changes to the game on live to combat the population and get the game back to what they envisioned. Things like overcrowding, KSing, training, camp checks, etc, just don’t exist on Test Server. How many players can say they have ever done and experienced a true dungeon crawl in a MMOG while your group was the only one in the zone? How many players can say they have never had the disappointment of planning or attending a raid, only to find someone else beat them to the punch and the mob was already killed?

Those are just a few of the things that I never have to deal with on Test and how I get to play the game. Nothing, in my opinion, is more fun than getting a group of friends together and doing a dungeon crawl or an adventure, you get to see the game from an entirely different point of view and it is really cool. Quests are a lot more fun as well for the same reason, there is no waiting for your turn to get mob X, all you need is a few friends and you can go get what you need. In short, what is one of the hardships of playing on Test, also happens to be one of the major benefits if you overcome it by making a few friends.

One last benefit of playing on Test, is that you can help shape the future of the game by giving your ideas directly to those that matter and if they are good ideas, you may get to see them implemented. I lost count long ago, but I have seen a great many of my ideas get implemented in the various games I have played over the years and that is a pretty good feeling when it happens.

Do you advocate free copies of characters to Test? How about free transfers?

I am emphatically against general character copies to Test Server, because they are almost completely worthless for testing at best, destructive to the testing community at worst.. Someone copying over, popping on for ten minutes to see how change X affects their character, then griping about it on the boards, without ever bothering to see how it actually affected them in normal game play with other players, does absolutely nothing to help test the game. Thankfully, Dev’s I have chatted with, all share my view on this.

I do however, support limited copies brought over to Test Server for specific Testing. It is not that unusual to see an entire guild copied over to test some new content and that is a good thing and needs to be done, as there are things the regular Test Server population is just incapable of testing properly. Character transfers on the other hand, are something I support and would like to see a LOT more of, although they are not without their problems and the players transferring, really need to know what they are getting into before they make the jump. This goes hand and hand with my previous statements about marketing the Test Server better. The more people that come over, the lesser the culture shock will be on those that do.

Is there any raiding on the Test Server?

Yes, but it is probably what most would consider to be casual raiding. Due to our server’s population we created a server-wide raid organization, all are welcome to join whether they are guilded or not.

What is your advice to players who are new to the Test Server?

Drop by our community board, read up a bit and introduce yourself.

“/join Test” as soon as you log on;

Don’t try LFG, just start a group. LFG is worthless, “/who all 20 25” and sending tells is the only reasonable way to make a group in game. If you want to join a guild, seek out their members and group with them.

None of the regular guilds on Test actively look for members, nor do they join players they do not know. If you want to ask about joining a guild, do not send a tell like “can I join ur guild/”, ask nicely what it takes to join and where you can find out more information about the guild and who you may be able to group with to get to know them better.

Be nice and be mature. Most of the players on Test talk like regular people and treat each other with respect, we use full words and not lazy speak like U or UR. If you want to make a good impression, do the same. Also, Test is like a small town as I mentioned above, do not expect to be able to act like a jerk and get away with it. The players who exhibit anti-social behavior generally do not last long on Test, as finding groups, getting stuff made, etc… goes from hard to impossible for them pretty quickly.

I read on your forums about Meet & Greet events. What are those?

These were originally started and wildly popular way back when on the DAOC test server and we re-started it here on EQ2 Test. Since our general form of trade is to just give stuff away to those that can use it (thus the mostly empty brokers), it helps to have the occasional server get together where those that want can bring whatever extra stuff they have collected and pass it on to those that need it. It is also a great way to meet the other players on the server who you may not see in your general day to day activities, due to level differences.

What do you think of the current state of the game in general and what changes would you like to see, if any?

I will pass on the “state of the game” part of the question, as I do not feel I am qualified to answer. The current state of the game is something that changes constantly on Test and to be quite honest, I have no clue if our current “state” is in synch or not with live right now.

As for what changes I would like to see, well the only thing that pops to mind in general is pretty huge. I think that players should be made to “feel” more powerful, please do not misinterpret that as “be made” more powerful. You see, I feel I pay SOE for the fantasy, and although they have created a great world for me to adventure in, I do not feel that powerful or heroic at all, as the way the con system works, is to label stuff as to level and how much of a challenge it is to me. By design, I am mostly equal to a regular mob of the same level as myself, how heroic is that? I spend my entire game life adventuring, honing my skills, upgrading my equipment and an insect or madman of my same level wandering around in the desert is an even fight?

It is all about psychology in my opinion. Make me feel like I am a hero, like I am special and all that I have done to date has set me a step above a run of the mill mob. Do not let me see the actual levels of what I am fighting and if I have good gear and skills, I should as the norm, be able to kill something labeled as “difficult”, not “even”. I realize that this varies by class and some can actually do this already, but this should be the norm in my opinion. I want to feel like a hero, that’s all I am asking for, not extra experience, not easier leveling, not more effective soloing or anything of the sort. I am simply asking that SOE should deliver one of the main reasons I play the game… to be a hero and grand adventurer in their fantasy world. Design stuff to be even to me, then label it as hard so I feel like a hero instead of a gimp. :)

*******************************************************************************************
Many thanks to Kwoung for taking the time to answer my questions in such an informative and entertaining fashion. I'm grateful for the peek into this aspect of EQII and I'm also appreciative of those players on Test who help to make the game better for everyone else.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Carrots

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"What percent to level?" and "How close are you?" is what passes for "How are you today?" in most MMO's. There is a strong drive amongst players to get to that top level. But what makes level 60, say, different from level 59? Is it purely status? Acceptance into raids?

Part of the carrot for me as a wizard to hit 50 was Ice Comet. Ice Comet is a real class-defining spell that every wizard wants and loves. It is single-target DPS in it's purest form.

A few days ago, I was in a pickup group with a Swashbuckler friend of mine. I always watch other wizards closely and I noticed this one wasn't casting Ice Comet. I sent a tell to my friend.

"I don't think this guy is casting Ice Comet."

"Are you kidding me? If I had Ice Comet I'd be casting it constantly. Hello, mob, Ice Comet. How are you? Ice Comet. I couldn't not cast it."

And that's just how I feel. If my Ice Comet is up, I want to cast it on something. And yeah, I know, I have to watch my aggro. Tell me about it.

Okay, this post isn't about my torrid love affair with Ice Comet. My point is that Ice Comet was a big part of my motivation to get to 50. And now, believe me, I'm definitely hungry for 60. But the spell motivation is not there. The level 60 spell for wizzies is a weird little proc that really doesn't seem like that big of a deal.

And that got me thinking. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I mean, do you need the extra motivation to get to 60? There's enough motivation from other sources anyway.

Might this encourage people to slow down and smell the roses a little more, rather than obsessing over one ultimate spell they need? Or do you want people to feel that with the final level, they achieve something really special? Which is more important and which is better game design?

I'm not sure, I just like to think about this stuff while I'm waiting for the recast timer on Ice Comet.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Holiday Road

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Well, if you've been playing EQII lately, you couldn't have missed all the Halloween fun. I really enjoyed it and was surprised by the many different aspects of the holiday celebration SOE put together. Decorations, quests, games, costumes - it was all quite enjoyable. Some parts managed to be funny and others scary, which was a nice way to implement things. If you haven't tried it yet, I urge you to and I won't give anything else away. You can check out Quylein's report for a fuller review.

It's unfortunate that the great show SOE put on was marred by some bugs. There were some graphical issues, some lag issues and a problem with planks in one of the quests. That's just a shame because the overall picture was so good. But it's the bugs that people seem to remember so being careful is important.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that WoW also did a holiday event. My account is not active at the moment but I did read a lot about it and it certainly sounded fun as well. I direct you to the coverage of
AFK Gamer or Kill Ten Rats if you are interested. From what I can tell, EQII's implementation was somewhat deeper, but WoW's appeared to be more polished. And that is the old cliche about the difference between the two games, fair or not.

I really like holiday events in MMO's. CoH had a good Halloween one as well last year and I really enjoyed that. I hope we see more of the same. But, because I'm always playing devil's advocate, I tried to think of some negatives with all the holiday festivities. I came up with two.

One, you are raising player expectations, which is always a dangerous thing. If you don't do the same next year, and do it in an even better and different fashion, players will be disappointed because you led them to expect it. It may get to the point where too large a percentage of developer resources are being allocated to these types of things.

Two, there will doubtless be some griping on the forums about which holidays are included and which are not. That is just the way it is.

Those are just thoughts, and, as I said, I personally enjoy these events and look forward to more. Before I move off the topic, I'd also like to credit SOE for the Valentine's Day quest they did way back when. It was simple but sweet.

Two quick EQII notes, one positive and one negative. The Tears Grifters quests in Maj are an absolute joy and a pleasure for soloers. Very nice job. And for the negative, the Clefts of Rujark has been a major lag festival lately. I've gotten reports on this from enough people to convince me that it is a problem. And that's a shame because it is a great zone with a ton of stuff going on. From solo, to groups, to instances with named mobs, the Clefts has it all. But if people don't even want to go there because of lag, you're tossing content out the window for no reason.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Friday Humor: Literary Humor

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To continue on the literary theme after my book review yesterday, I figured I would base this Friday Humor around some of the great novels of the 20th century. I used this list as a place to pick my titles.

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Player: I'd like to report a problem with the bug reporting interface.

GM: All bugs must be reported through the bug report window.

Player: But that's just it, the window is broken!

GM: Then you should report that bug through the bug report window.

Player: But I can't! This is crazy. Next you'll tell me everything is working as intended.

GM: It's working as intended.

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Humby: A/S/L?

Lo: 14/F/US

Humby: OMG you should join my guild!

1984, George Orwell

Big Brother is
watching you.

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

I was deep into the Feerott, following that winding cobra of a river so far into the jungle that I forgot what sunlight felt like. The heat was beating me down like an angry Fury and we had already lost some members of the group to the spears of the Tae-Ew tribe. There, at the heart of it all, in that crumbling stone temple built with savagery and blood and darkness, was my enemy. The lizard-men revered him as some sort of god. Who knows what dark pacts he had made, what savagery he had sunk to? All I knew is that he had my frogloks captive, and I meant to make him croak.

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

Lennie: Can I nuke it, George? Can I nuke it?

George: Sure, Lennie, you can nuke it. Just don't nuke it too hard or you'll take aggro from me.

Lennie: Hehe, the spell effects are so pretty, George. We're going to have a nice Guild house someday right, George? With monkeys? And I can pet the monkeys?

George: Sure, Lennie. Sure.

Charlotte's Web, EB White

Charlotte: Salutations!
Uburtank: WTF?
Charlotte: Salutations!
Uburtank: R U some kind of farmer?!1! LOL
Charlotte: It's my fancy way of saying hello :)
Uburtank: Whatever, noob. /duel.

My Antonia, Willa Cather

From the Back Cover - Reviewer Blurbs

"Pioneer women? You mean this isn't Anna Wainscoat erotic fanfiction? I want my money back!"

Ulysses, James Joyce

Riverrun through 'tonica curling round and around the aqueduct pillars a glimmering shimmering snake. Made for the tower, pushing upwards from the hills like a bulbous beacon, stony and rough. The stately, plump Oracle was inside, Oraculus, Oraculo, Oracle.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Jake: "I loved her. She was light and love and cruelty all rolled up into one with elf-ears on top. But I had lost something. In the war. I had lost my Prismatic Dagger and I knew I could never group with her without that. But I just take a another drink and try not to think about anything anymore."

On the Road, Jack Kerouac

The first buff was sweet and I popped another totem feeling the ecstasy of it all wash over me. And then I was off and running and sprinting and feeling the sun on me and yelling to Dean for the pure joy of it and I knew that this was the time to be free and this was the time to be fast and this was the time I would finally get my J-boots.

Animal Farm, George Orwell

All tanks are equal. But some tanks are more equal than others.

The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler (cheated - this one wasn't on the list)

The elf dame walked out of the steamy rain and into my inn room. She had eyes that glimmered like a collection item and curves in all the right places. Rainwater was dripping onto the seedy wood floor from her cloak but I didn't even blink. It just classed up the joint.

"You're a wizard, right?" she said, in a voice that restored more of my power than the Robe of the Invoker ever did.

"On my good days," I replied. I didn't tell her that my bad days involved fizzles, resists and the bottle of Jum-Jum juice I had stashed in my desk drawer.

She said all I had to do was kill ten rats. Sure, that's how it starts. But with dames like this, it always gets epic in the end.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Aggro Book Review: Everquest Companion

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Welcome to the first book review here on Aggro Me. Don't worry, this isn't turning into a literary criticism blog. This book is Everquest related. The full title is Everquest Companion: The Inside Lore of a Gameworld by Robert Marks. It's available on Amazon, though only from secondary sellers (blasted book farmers!). I'm not going to link to it because I don't want you to think I'm getting wild amounts of Amazon referral dollars. I'm sure you all know how to search Amazon.

Ah, before I start, I have to thank the guys at
EQ2Daily. I heard about this book on one of their podcasts and I really appreciate the fact that they mentioned it.

So here goes:

Price: Unbeatable. I got my copy for 87 cents. Yes, that's right, 87 cents and it was in perfect condition. The shipping was a few dollars I believe, I forget how much.

The Title: Terrible. It's too long and the Everquest Companion part makes it sound like a Prima Strategy Guide, which it certainly isn't.

The Writing: Not good. I don't want to beat up on the author here with specifics but I'm also not going to lie to you. It's just flat, ungainly prose.

The Content: Ups and downs. I think a big part of the problem is that the author was trying to write both for people who never played Everquest before and those who did. I think that was a mistake because I really don't think it would appeal to the non-EQ audience. The title doesn't help in that regard. The decision to make the book palatable to "newbs" leads to questionable decisions like a long and quite boring summary of a night of gameplay.

But some of it is absolutely great. We get a wonderful insight into the history of the game, the problems it faced and the people who worked on it. There is a lot of fascinating stuff about the technical struggles and very newness of the game concept that the team was trying to present.

We get a peak into the creation of the EQ lore. For example, the character Lucan D'Lere was based on a character named Sir Lucan deBoterlere played by Tony Garcia in one of Bill Trost's D&D campaigns. According to the character sheet, he's "immune to fear of any kind" so don't be stepping to Lucan with the fear spells.

I think the fact that this was an "official" book prevented it from relating what I really wanted to hear, the dirt. There's a quote by Smed about McQuaid being big into debating politics but that's about it.
And that's a rare personal item, most of the stuff on SOE/Verant is rather dry. It does get personal again when discussing controversies like the guy who got banned for posting "a story about a Dark Elf slave master trying to have his way with a 14-year old Elf" or the suicides/fake suicides involving EQ.

Another problem with the content is that it's oddly repetitive. Also, there's a whole chapter on the future of gaming which is really pointless and out of place.

Still though, there's a lot of other great stuff I'm not even getting to. I might use some of the other material as a source of quotes when I write future posts. It's a great reference for me.

Sidebars: The sidebars are some of the best part of the book. Most of them were taken from the news group alt.games.everquest and a lot of the little vignettes are great. I would have liked to have read even more stories from players and coverage of the in-game drama. They capture a lot of the laughter and flavor of the Everquest world that the main content misses.

Artwork: Very nice. There are full color pages in the middle that make it worth the 87 cents right there. Heck, it's worth the 87 cents as a paperweight. But the artwork, specifically the concept drawings, is great. However, like some of the content, it is strangely repetitive. Certain artwork appears on multiple pages. For example, the same concept art of a female dark elf appears on three separate pages. That's just lame.

Outside the Game: The book covers the "spamming" (my term) of EQ into such varied elements as a tabletop game, a comic, a Pocket PC game, a cellphone game and an RTS game. Some were successful, others were
not. And to me, it's not so much the lore or intellectual property that made EQ such a phenomenon, it's the fact that it was a great game with a fantastic community. That's a lesson that is well worth remembering.

The Greatest Quote Ever: This was worth the price of admission for me.

"A person's out-of-game status should not be able to affect their in-game status," Smedley said. "For example, a rich person should not be able to buy their way into a great character. My personal feeling, and that of the rest of the team, is that it is something that could be harmful to the game."

Ah, okay. You
sure about that one?

Overall: I've been pretty negative in my review, and I had a right to be. It's a flawed book. But the truth is, I couldn't put it down. Maybe part of that is due to my fascination with the subject matter, but it's really one of the best looks at the whole Everquest phenomenon that you're ever going to get.


So, confusing as it may seem, I was disappointed in the book yet I still recommend it to EQ fans. Welcome to the strange world of Aggro Me Book Reviews.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Wednesday Humor

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Okay, this is not actually a Friday Humor post that is two days early but rather a discussion of humor in MMO's. This is one of those posts I wrote and then never posted because some type of news came up. Now I'm finally getting around to it and things have changed. I'll comment at the end.

Everyone knows the really hilarious, "I-spit-on-my-keyboard," "rofling at this" moments in MMO's come from other players and not from the game. But still, MMO companies can make a conscious decision to include humor in their worlds. One way to do that is through pop culture references.

During my limited time playing WoW I really got a laugh out of the many pop culture jokes contained in the game. I recently found this site which lists many of those references. As long as it is, it is still quite incomplete.

Following is a list of some of my favorite references in WoW which I either ran across while playing or read about on the forums:

A stableboy named Wesley, a reference to the main character in the fantastic Princess Bride novel and movie.

The series of Linken quests in Unguro, referencing the classic Legend of Zelda. You will also find monkeys there that drop barrels, another obvious video game reference.

The gnome spy named Tyrion and the Direwolves and Night's Watch in Darkshire. Not that obvious, but I like to think these are a reference to the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. I include this because it is, perhaps, one of my favorite fantasy series of all time.

The discussion of crossing the streams being bad by npc's in the mage area of Stormwind along with the
item called Egan's Blaster. Great Ghostbusters references and there are a few more I think.

An
item called the 1 Ring which is "not quite as good as the 2 ring." Good LoTR joke.

An NPC Guard in Ironforge wonders "Why didn't I take the blue potion?" A Matrix reference.

There is a crashed rocket car on the road from the Shimmering Flats to Tanaris, a reference to the great Buckeroo Bonzai movie.

I could seriously go on for hours with music, novels and other references. But I guess my point is, do you enjoy these allusions while you are playing?

I can't really think of any in EQII except for the obvious references to the original EQ, which don't really count, and the fact that Qeynos is Sony EQ backwards. Oh, and I did recently run into someone who had a Ring of Xanth, which I assume is a reference to the pun-filled Piers Anthony series. There might be others I'm missing.


I'm not saying the lack of pop culture jokes in EQII is a bad thing. I guess modern references can break immersion in the fantasy world. I think WoW goes way too far. But maybe EQII could use a few more laughs? There are ways of being funny without breaking immersion.


Well, since I initially wrote this, EQII has gotten funnier. There was the introduction of /cutemode and the naming of items after prominent community members. I also recently encountered a DoF quest which was clearly a parody of LoTR (or actually the Hobbit). There are some other funny incidents in DoF which I don't want to spoil. The Halloween costumes look pretty humorous too.

So is EQII at the right humor level now? It seems pretty close to me but what do you think?

Oh, just one more quick note. The Haven Match service I wrote about in this post has dropped their subscription model as I suggested they should (though I'm sure that's not why they did). Anyway, it's apparently now totally free for the foreseeable future so check it out if you're looking for MMO love.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My Digital Life

I don't really have any great insights from my time at the Digital Life convention here in New York last Friday, but I'm writing about it anyway. I love to see gaming conventions come to New York and I hope Digital Life gets bigger and better each year.

The convention was held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, which is due for a
much needed expansion in the near future. The last time I was at the Javits was when I was sitting for the bar exam so it really brought back the memories. Digital Life is not only a gaming convention, it covers other aspects of technology. There was definitely plenty of gaming booths but it sure isn't E3 or even E .5. But, one of the cool things about Digital Life is that anyone can attend for the very reasonable price of $12. It ran for three days but I only made it on Friday. There were some celebrities in attendance, notably one of the members of Run D.M.C. I also saw Cliffy B there doing some sort of interview.

SOE definitely had one of the better booths at the show and it was quite popular throughout the day. They had nice monitors showing the expansion and SOE's PSP games (
Field Commander looks intriguing), trial packs for SWG and some booth girls with PSP's attached to their belts on which people could play Gripshift and Frantix. It was a lot of fun to see people play EQII for the first time on one of the demo machines. They really seemed to enjoy it. I did get to see the Shimmering Citadel zone and it looks fantastic so I will be striving to gain access.

Of course some of the SOE team was also in attendance. I was again impressed with their energy and enthusiasm and they did a great job of drawing people in and getting them excited about the SOE games. Props to Blackguard who survived the Aggro Me & Co. New York City nightlife tour the night before and still managed to have tons of energy and do a great job of explaining EQII to the people who played the demo.

Of course, Ms. Anna Wainscoat, better known as Queen Antonia, was also present. I was honestly impressed with her positive attitude and the way she handled the fans. The convention ran from 10:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. and I know Anna (and the whole SOE team) were actually there much earlier so they were really on their feet for a very long time. She never stopped smiling or signing autographs and there was always a line of people waiting to meet her. So, I have to say SOE got lucky with a Queen Antonia who can handle these types of conventions so well, because I know many people couldn't.

It was a fun time and, as I said, I hope more gaming events come to New York. I apologize for the quality of the following two photos. I'm not much of a photographer.

A portion of the SOE Booth
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Anna
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Monday, October 17, 2005

PvP

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Okay, I'm sure you have all seen the PvP poll on the official forums. Quylein the Mage also ably covered the subject already. I'll just add a few comments.

One thing I've learned at work is that you never give your clients a set date for the completion of a project unless you have to. Sometimes things just take longer than you expect no matter hard you try. While SOE doesn't give an exact date, saying that a new PvP system will come "in the near future" is a mistake in my opinion. It's just setting an unnecessary and arbitrary time deadline for yourself.

And I hope they take the time to get it right. I honestly can't say if PvP is balanced right now because I haven't dueled or played in the Arena enough. But I find it hard to believe it's perfectly balanced at this point. I would rather see the new PvP go live as balanced as possible rather than see SOE introduce a system and then have to do major revamps and tweaks.

It is also difficult for people to make a choice in a poll when they have so little information to go on about how the system will work and how it will effect the usual gameplay.

The truth is that some PvP is on every server now. It's just limited to dueling and the Arena. I hope SOE doesn't consider the Arena a failed experiment on the basis of how many people are using it at this time. Sure, it seemed pretty dead the few times I have been there. But there's a reason for this. The expansion recently came out and people are busy leveling and doing quests. I bet that when more people reach 60 the Arena will become more popular.

I'd also like to remind SOE that the people who vote on a forums poll may not accurately represent the majority of the player base.

Okay, on to the issue at hand. I don't think SOE should introduce widespread PvP onto existing servers. EQII is, at heart, a PvE game, and it was billed as such. It would be unfair to bother those who prefer PvE with widespread PvP style play.

Would I like a PvP ruleset server? Of course. More options are always good and I would love to play the game in a different way. I'm not saying I would abandon my main or transfer to a PvP server. But, I can guarantee that the day the PvP Server opens, I will roll an alt there.

I don't really see any negatives. Okay, I know the one argument people will hit me with is that SOE should focus their resources on other aspects of gameplay. But that argument is unfair and could be applied to any new feature introduced to the game. Yes, SOE has to continually work on and improve the current game. If you read my Community Summit coverage you will know they are quite focused on making the new player experience better. And that's just one example. They are not going to stop fixing bugs just to introduce PvP. People are assigned to work on different aspects of the game. Adding new features is a necessity for MMO companies.

I would also like to remind people that the poll does not necessarily mean open PvP warfare in the manner people assume. I have absolutely no idea what the "new PvP system" entails. It might not be as far-ranging as we think. Perhaps there will only be PvP in certain limited zones or under certain conditions. We'll just have to wait and see on this one. Is it the near future yet?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday Humor: Sexual Healing

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I try to keep this blog relatively clean (I'm not sure why, but I do) and the following jokes are really pretty tame. But if you are easily offended, you might want to skip this post.

I know I said I wasn't going to make any jokes about the upcoming sex-based MMO Spend the Night, but I lied.
Van Hemlock and the people in this comments thread on Broken Toys also have some Spend the Night jokes. Following are the top fifteen comments you can expect to overhear in Spend the Night as sex meets MMO lingo:

1. "I'm a heroic mob, baby - group only."

2. "I think he's a botter - no one could be that good!"

3. "She promised she was faithful and then she hits on my alt!"

4. "Be gentle..I'm a noob!"

5. "These guys on dial-up really wear me out - they take forever."

6. "Wow, are those things fabled?"

"They're mythical and they're fabulous."

7. "Honey, would you mind, you know..."

"Sorry that's been nerfed."

8. "Ever since we got married in-game, it seems like she's AFK whenever we're being intimate."

9. "Bring back precasting!"

10. "Can you tone down the AoE stuff?"

11. "He runs out of mana way too fast!"

12. "I feel like she's just using me to rack up DKP."

13. "I think he might be gay. For some reason, every time we're about to well, you know, he yells some guy's name."

"What name?"

"I think it's something like Leeeroy Jenkins!"

14. "It was lag, I swear!"

And, last but not least:

15. "Are you blogging this?"

On the sex humor topic, I have a
link to a video of an actual Canadian television commercial for the Nintendo Micro. It's pretty funny.

I also have to link you
this cybersex chatlog (thanks Aly). When a chatlog features lines like, "I put on my robe and wizard hat," I know it's going to be good reading.

Finally, I've linked to "
A Love Story" by Jeff Freeman before, but I like it so much I'm going to do it again.

Have a safe and sexy weekend.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Leveling While Driving: The MMO Future?

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I can see it now. A man is having a romantic dinner with his wife.

"Oh, it's so nice to be out for a change. I thought you were never going to stop playing that game," the man says.

"Sure, honey, you're more important than any level," she replies.

Beep, beep.

"What's that noise?" he asks.

"Oh, that's my cell phone. Oops, gotta go - a contested mob is up! You understand, right dear?"

If a company named
Froghop has it's way, this may just be scratching the surface of mobile MMO integration.

They are
working on various ways to connect cell phones and other mobile devices to the MMO world. Now, it's not like you're going to be able to play the actual game, for now at least. The uses are threefold.

The first is the most obvious, to communicate (say to be able to chat with your Guild). This doesn't seem like much of a stretch with current technology as you can log onto guild chat via the web now in EQII. It would be pretty useful if you were in a serious or even casual guild to let people know that you weren't going to make it to a raid or were just running a few minutes late. Now, you might say, why can't you just call? Well, many people like to maintain the real life/in-game barrier and a mobile-based guild chat app would let you do that.

A second use would be to access data. The example of this would be to see what was up for auction at the WoW auction house. Again, a useful application so you wouldn't have to feel chained to the computer if you were waiting on some epic item. An EQII equivalent would be the ability to check the broker from your PDA or cell. Kind of a cool idea, eh?

The final and probably the most interesting use would be playing mini-games which could actually effect your items or character in an MMO. Any such game would have to be carefully balanced and checked for exploit capability before it was released. If your recall, I
mentioned that I was hoping Sony would do something like this with the PSP. It's worth noting here that Smed said SOE was working on some type of cross-platform gaming, I assume independently of Froghop. I hope they are also working on some of the other ideas I mentioned.

I imagine this will be quite profitable for Froghop or Sony when these technologies are implemented. I also imagine they will be popular with players. Or will they?

Do you feel you need a break from your MMO? Do you not want your guild to be able to text you on your cell at work? Is it just too much? Since it all seems optional, I think it's a positive step. I don't want my cell phone to take pictures, play "hot ringtones for only $3.99 a month," or have some terrible joke of the day service. But would I pay extra to be able to check the price of Vanadium or do a little tradeskilling? Sure.

Well, one way or another, this technology will come, so it's something to think about.


And yeah, I saw the official, bright red PvP poll on the top of EQII forums. I'll comment on it next week.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Aggro Interview: Gaige

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When I heard the name Gaige at the Community Summit I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I really knew was that he was one of the most prolific posters on the official forums. But when I got a chance to hear him talk EQII, I realized he knew the game inside and out and argued his points convincingly. I also learned a lot about the high-end raiding game just from listening to him and some of the other hardcore raiders in attendance.

I’m not saying I don’t raid, because I do, and my guild is working hard to be able to handle any raid in the game. But we’re just not on the level of the top raiding guilds, yet. That is okay with me, it gives us something to strive for. But, I knew that Gaige was a person I wanted to interview here to give you a perspective on the game from the point of view of a hardcore raider. I hope you enjoy his responses as much as I did.
*****************************************************************
Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. You have the title “Posts Way Too Much” on the official forums. Why do you post so much and when do you usually post?

I've been a pretty avid forum and irc user since 1995.I have a little over 5k posts at
www.sharkyforums.com and had about 6k on the official SWG forums. To me the forums have always been a part of the MMO experience and the community. I usually post whenever I'm not working or even when I am if I'm doing computer hardware stuff.

You recently had an actual in-game item named after you. What was your reaction to that?

Ha Ha. Funny story about that. It was the second day DoF was live and I was grinding with some guildies when my friend Ledbetter (of Vagabonds) said "Hey Gaige since when do you have your own potion?" This was the first I had heard of it. I thought he was joking obviously, because I get a lot of people throwing "favoritism" in my face on the forums. He tried to convince me it was real though, even told me which alchemist book it was in. So I pm'd Moorgard to ask him, but of course he wouldn't tell me. I think it was a week or so later when I found out for sure, when a guildie bought the book from Maj'Dul. I believe our alchemist, Hagann, got the Permafrost server first of it, but he wouldn't give it to me :( Anyway, the only thing I feel about it really is appreciation. I'm not sure what I did to deserve it, but I think it was a really amazing thing for the devs to do.

What class do you play and how do you feel your class is currently in terms of balance?

I play a monk, currently 56th lvl (my work schedule in October is horrid). I've played a monk since beta. I was the 11th to 50 World Wide, sometime last January. I played through the agility nerf, the light armor mitigation increase and a lot of other class specific and archetype balance problems. I truly think now, aside from some minor tweaking, that the monk class is right about where it should be.

Can you describe the commitment required to be in a hard-core raiding guild?

I'm sure it varies for all the guilds out there, but I can tell you a little about Fires of Heaven. Pre-DoF launch our required raid schedule was 5pm pst until 12am pst, everyday. We normally did every instance that we weren't locked out of every single night in order to equip everyone. Aside from that we had about a four hour block on Thursdays that we devoted to the Spirits of the Lost raid. In addition we also try to be online as much as possible so that we can kill every contested spawn on Permafrost. I'd say people like Noah easily put in 60+ hours a week. When I'm under a normal work schedule I routinely play anywhere from 40 to 80 hours a week. When new things go live we of course commit even more of our time to the game trying to be the first to finish new raids or zones.

What is your answer to casual players who say they pay the same price per month as you and they should be able to defeat every raid in the game?

Players pay SOE for access to the game and all the content it has to offer. What they do with that access and content is up to them. I understand the mentality. I never played EQ1, FoH is my first raid guild, and EQ2 is my first raid game. Up until I joined FoH on May 12th, I was in a "family guild" where I had about 25 levels on all the members. I helped them quest, harvested, etc. I became interested in raiding and through some ingame conversations with Noah I became a part of Fires of Heaven. So I guess you can say I've done it all. The difference being when I decided I wanted to raid and defeat all the encounters in the game, I made a conscious decision to do what was necessary to position myself for success. I didn't try to change the game to suit my needs. I try to be open minded with all issues, even those that concern raiding, but I think a lot of the casual players who deem us selfish are just being selfish themselves and not seeing it. I think anyone would be hard pressed to say that EQ2 doesn't have content for everyone, from the hardcore raider to the ultra casual player. Like Scott said at the summit, the ratio is about 60/40 instanced to contested, so even players who would like to raid on their own schedule can do so.

What was the hardest mob in the game your guild has defeated and how many tries did it take?

Lord Nagalik. I lost count but I'd say it probably took us 25 to 30 tries or more to beat him after the contested raid revamp. We easily spent 4 hours or more down there one of the first nights wiping, rezzing and repulling trying to get the strat down just right. There were numerous half hour trips down into Sol Eye after gating to repair, fun stuff! The Kra'Thuk and Brutal Acts of War were right up there too, but Lord Nagalik was the hardest mob pre LU13 in my opinion.

I recall you saying at the Summit you were actually a full-time crafter in SWG. Can you explain why you don't craft in EQII?

Sure in one word: subcombines. I hate the "reverse engineering" aspect of crafting, I hate the tedium of subcomponent crafting and therefore I refuse to utilize the system. I loved crafting in SWG for numerous reasons, but mainly because it utilized a factory system which allowed you to mass produce all the subcomponents you needed while you were doing other things. I'd really love to see EQ2 move its crafting to be more focused on harvesting, final combines and playing the market. I somehow doubt I'm alone in this sentiment ;)

Could you give us a non-spoiler review of some raids in the expansion we may not have seen?

All I'll say is that I seriously doubt anyone will be disappointed in the raids offered in DoF.

What kind of raids do you want to see in the future?

I would love more contested. I would be thrilled if we had more instances like Spirits of the Lost and Brutal Acts of War. I want contested raid mobs to continue to be the hardest mobs in the game (without WoF!!). I want to go against a raid mob and wipe over and over. I want it to take awhile before we are able to defeat it. I don't want the same strategies to work on every raid in the game. I want to be on the edge of my seat when we fight dragons. I don't want to know if we'll be able to win before we even pull. Basically, I play this game to raid with my friends. We enjoy working together to do things that are pretty damn close to impossible. So anything they can throw out there that can whip our asses a few times is fine by me.

How is the itemization in DoF?

From what I've seen so far its decent. Not quite what I was expecting but they have a lot of time to work on that. I'm sure once everyone starts raiding full time we'll see a lot of nice loot.

Do you feel the combat changes were necessary? Do you feel they were successful?

I think they were 100% necessary. Combat pre LU13 was absolutely broken in a number of ways and the majority of the game was trivial because of it. My opinion so far is that they were successful, yes. Sure not everyone likes them or is happy with them, but you can't please everyone. I do not miss anything about the old combat system at all.

What do you feel EQII needs most outside of the tradeskill/raiding areas?

I'm pretty content with EQ2 really. I've played a lot of MMOs and EQ2 is the only one that successfully addresses various playstyles. As long as they keep adding content throughout the game, I think it'll be just fine. I'm also excited to hear about the team looking into the IoR and various other newbie experiences, to ensure that EQ2 remains accessible and fun to new users. It always difficult to manage the game when the majority of the population reaches the higher levels. So I'm hoping that whatever SOE has in mind for the new user experience works out.

What would be your advice for guilds who want to improve their raiding?

Practice. Be willing to put forth the time and effort it takes to succeed. Don't get discouraged after one wipe. Raiding is about teamwork, strategy and dedication. If your guild wants to start raiding the easiest way to do it is against the various x2 mobs. Learn how to coordinate two groups and what group setups work the best. After you feel confident against those mobs move up to some of the easier x4 instances. I think the main difference you see in successful raid guilds is the willingness to keep trying, no matter what.

In closing I just want to say y0 to everyone in Fires of Heaven. I wouldn't want to raid with anyone else.
********************************************************************
A big thanks to Gaige for taking the time to share his insights into the game. I happen to agree with him on the tradeskilling, raid difficulty and combat change issues.

You can expect more interviews in the coming weeks to give you different perspectives on EQII.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Love is in the Air...

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Some of the links in this post are not safe for work.

If you haven't heard about the sex-based MMO (no, not Second Life) that's coming out soon, well, there is one. It's called
Spend the Night by Republik. I'm tempted to make jokes like: This gives grinding for levels a whole new meaning, but I'm going to try to stay focused on the facts. Van Hemlock is way ahead of me on this one so I'll also link to his post. It was also covered on Broken Toys.

You can check out the company's website
here. I will critique the concept briefly. From their own site, the description is: "Like a fantasy date without the hassle and ramifications of meeting in person, Spend the Night let's you make friends, chat it up, then if things get hot, find a virtual room for an erotic romp." Meeting people in person is such a hassle! And think of the ramifications! But anyway, this doesn't actually sound like a game, per se, just a glorified chat room with some cinematics thrown in.

And I don't think it's particularly well thought out. The article says that characters will be customizable, but not to a deep degree. That's a terrible design decision for this type of "game." Here's another quote from the article:

"But we can control, in terms of our product, the settings because we are building it. We are trying to design this to stay on the high end. We're not supporting off-beat things."


Not supporting off-beat things? (I am not going to make the reverse pun there.) Hello, this is the internet. Do you think your target market is some group of straight-laced moralists? Believe me, the people who subscribe to a sex-based MMO are going to want off-beat things.

It's worth noting that this is not the only sex-based MMO around. There's
Sociolotron, which seems to cater to the rape market. To me, it seems like a much less restrictive game and it has typical MMO elements like mobs and crafting. But the graphics look awful.

The academics always seem to get overly excited about the whole real/virtual sex thing. I don't think a game based solely on a sex gimmick will ever be a good game.

Now is the point in this post where I bring things back to EQII. No, no mentions of Ceciliantas here, I promise. I'm just going to briefly mention
Haven Match, a new dating service for MMO players. There's not many people signed up now (I saw ten in total) and some seem to be more interested in gaming friends than finding love. But hey, you never know when that Rognog Raid could light the flames of passion.

I'm not here to make fun of Haven Match, I actually think it's a good idea. It may not be my style but I certainly think it's a useful tool. I do think they should drop the subscription cost model and go totally ad-based if they ever want to get enough subscribers. But, it's totally free for now so go over and check things out.

I'd like to mention that Haven Match is actually not the first site to have this idea. I wrote about a site called
MMO Dating (I have some funny in-game marriage quotes in that post as well) back in March and the EQ2Faces site (which I also wrote about) could be used for a similar purpose.

At some point I'd like to write a story on how things worked out for people who met in MMO's and started dating. I know there
was mention of a German magazine doing a story like this on the EQII official forums but I never read the actual story.

By the way, best post in that official forums thread is clearly, "How about the exact opposite....my wife left me for a guy she met in EQ! " Bet he was a rogue.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Walk of Shame

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I was going to let them slide on this one. Honestly. I was going to walk away. There's probably only a handful of people who even care about this issue, let alone get up in arms about it. I've been quite pleased with the game lately, specifically with the boost in quest xp, which I previously stated I found lacking in this post. I have seen players who normally just grind get excited about quests again and I think that's a great thing for the game.

But they had to push me. They had to /command it. They had to put it in the update notes. They had to aggro me.

If you don't know what I'm talking about. It's the
Game Walk of Fame thing. I found out about the voting on some game site or other early on and when I checked, Lara Croft was in the lead. I laughed. I noticed Everquest was somewhere in the middle and I moved on with my life.

Then I started to see the links on the top of the official forums for the SOE games. "EverQuest has been nominated for a star on the Sony Metreon's "Walk of Games. You will be able to vote once per day (per IP address) for EverQuest."

Well, my first thought was that it reminded me of a Geocities Baby Spice fansite begging you to click this link to "vote me in the top 100 best Spice Girls links on the web!" Kind of cheesy, in other words. Those top 100 site lists are basically one big scam by the way.

But, hey, I thought, it's kind of plucky. They really want to win and that's kind of cute. I'm going to shut up about it.

I noticed EQ climbing up the ranks.

Then came the update notes:

"*** Vote for EverQuest ***

- Here's your chance to help EverQuest be recognized for its role in gaming history by receiving a star on the Walk of Game!- Gamers worldwide can cast their votes on
http://www.walkofgame.com/ to award EverQuest a star on the Walk of Game at Sony's Metreon entertainment complex in San Francisco, CA.- Typing the /vote command will open your web browser to the Walk of Game website where you can register and cast your vote for EQ.- Vote daily to help EQ secure its place in history! Voting runs through October 31. "

Seriously gang. What are we talking about here? What the heck is the Walk of Game anyway? Is it some prestigious award by independent critics? Is it some governmental salute to gaming? It's an internet poll. It's a marketing scheme located in a
glorified Chuck E. Cheese.

I'm not saying it's against the rules to mobilize the forums even though Pac-Man, for example, can't very well do the same thing. And I do think Everquest should eventually be inducted into any such list. It's an incredibly important piece of gaming history.

But is it really necessary to sleaze up the patch notes and have in-game commands for this? I'll tell you what, I'll build a Gaming Heroes display in my kitchen and SOE can be the first inductee. /vote? Come on.

One positive I take out of this: this is the second time they have been able to quickly reconfigure a /command to link to a website since the slow death of /pizza. Kind of handy. And I do give them points for cleverness and good execution.

As I write this, EQ has a convincing 7% lead over Final Fantasy. I hope you're very proud. I guess my questions would be, "Do you want to act like the historic game company you say you are or a third-grader with a webcomic? Do you want some mild publicity at the cost of diluting the prestige of your brand even further?"

Bah, I didn't study branding or marketing. It probably is worth it from a PR standpoint. But I don't have to like it and SOE didn't have to push it quite so hard.

Anyway, I did my part. I followed the link from the forums and voted daily at the Walk of Game website.

For Doom.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Friday Humor: Things I Didn't Do at the Community Summit

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Sure, I partied like Estil Verraine (from Supernoob's roleplay game on the forums) at the Community Summit, but I was fairly well behaved. Maybe Blackguard slipped some happy pills into my, uh, "tonics." Here was my original list of things to do at the Community Summit:

Things to Do at the Community Summit

* Check
Faarwolf’s old desk for whips, chains and, er, artistic photos.

* Check Smed’s desk for whips, chains and, er, artistic photos.

* Reset every internet browser at SOE so that Aggro Me is the home page.

* Get the spell guy drunk and make him change the recast time on Ice Comet to .5 seconds.

* Print up and wear a fake nametag that said "Brad McQuaid."

* Throw the servers for the Station Exchange into the lion cage at the San Diego Zoo.

* Make the rival guild leaders cede supreme power to me over a game of Tiddlywinks.

* Move the vast majority of the official forums to the Glass House.

* Convince SOE to buy Mourning just so I can make fun of them for it.

* Print up fake memos from Smed to all the EQII devs telling them they are now assigned solely to Matrix Online.

* Accuse SOE of stealing all their ideas from the brilliant minds at the Vanguard Forums (
Krones does a hilarious job of detailing just how idiotic this accusation by a Vanboi poster was).

* Change the dialogue on the tradeskill NPC on the IoR tutorial to say, “Are you sure you want to be a crafter? Working in a salt mine would be more fun...”

Because I usually like to have a link for you, I have a link to a WoW movie I enjoyed called "Got Sheep." Now, I know what you're thinking, but instead of going for the obvious sheep sex joke, this video goes for a more subtle, nonsensical type of humor like having a sheep play musical chairs. The brightness levels are terrible but the music is great. I fully admit I stole this link from
mmodig, but I am at least hosting it on my own bandwidth (for now) because I didn't want to sap his bandwidth. It's available here.

In the same
post at mmodig I stole this link from, there's also a link to the "World of Warcraft is a Feeling" video from Pure Pwnage which is worth checking out for a good laugh.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

EQII Community Summit: Part III

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Alright, back to business. Let's chat about raids. At the Community Summit Roundtable, one player raised the fact that it is hard for casual guilds to complete the tougher raids. The hard-core raiders in attendance answered that there should be some separation betwixt the casual and high-end raiders. I am going to get into it in more detail when I hopefully interview one of them, but the work and time put in by the top raiders is daunting to say to the least. I have to agree that they deserve to have certain raids which are challenging to them, at least for a period of time, because frankly, they are the best. An analogy I would give is that a pick-up softball team is not going to beat the New York Yankees.

Don't get me wrong, as a member of a more casual raiding guild, it sometimes burns me when raids seem impossible. But I know that is the way it should be based on the level of commitment we put in. As long as there is enough content I don't think it is a problem and it also gives us something to strive for. I got the impression from the SOE comments that this separation will continue.

Scott Hartsman told us that the contested to instanced raid mob ratio is somewhere between 50/50 and 60/40. He stated that the scaling of zones, which worked so well in Splitpaw, would continue to be used, but not in raid zones. Someone also asked if there were large raid zones like Spirits of the Lost to come and the answer was yes. It's worth mentioning here that the players in attendance who have tested some of the DoF raids spoke very highly of them and it sounds like they are pretty interesting.

I piped up and asked what the deal was with the old world raid mobs. I had noticed that some of the old raid mobs were now ridiculously hard. This was apparently known by the SOE team and they intend to fix it. But each raid mob is a unique "snowflake" as Scott put it so it will take some time. My advice to you is just chill on the raiding of old world mobs until you hear otherwise. The DoF ones are working as intended. While this situation is not optimal and I do wish they had fixed this before the changes went live, I must admit the timing is fortuitous because people are currently more focused on leveling than doing the old world raids.

While they're fixing raids, one thing Scott mentioned as a possibility is to make the way damage is handed out different on different raids. That way some healers would be more suitable in some situations rather than just one subclass being the uber-healer. As an example, some mobs might do AoE so that a healer with good group heal would be needed. Some fights might have huge damage spikes so large instant heals would be important. Others might be drawn out affairs. Well, you get the idea.

With regards to the future, players mentioned Alternate Advancement. Scott told us that the whole issue was a tricky subject. It is difficult to make content for level 60 players when some have 500 AA points and some have zero. Also, you don't want "must-have stuff" or the whole point of customization is defeated. In general, I would say this might come at some point but it won't be what you are used to. Scott also mentioned that he would like undo paths in for any system of this type so that you could change your choices, possibly by making exponentially increasing coin payments.

As for future expansions, they didn't want to release any specific information at this time, which is understandable because DoF just came out. Players were saying Faydwer a lot but I stress that was only players and probably wishful thinking. Frankly, I don't care where the next expansion is set, as long as it is good. I wouldn't be surprised if the expansions roll out somewhere along the lines of the original EQ timetable of every six months, but that is just a guess.

The discussion on the combat changes was pretty peaceful, to be honest. Most agreed that combat was previously broken and I don't think anyone had any major issues with their classes. Someone raised the issue of wizzie roots being overpowered and though a part of me wanted to leap across the table and stab him with my pen, the rational part of me realized he was probably right. With my root fiesta, I've been soloing pretty nasty heroics without even breaking a sweat. There were some minor complaints but the basic answer to everything was that the classes are pretty much as they intend them to be. SOE does intend to fix the upgrades on some spells so that upgrading actually does something or, alternatively, to just make certain spells non-upgradable if upgrades don't make sense.

I raised the issue of the annoyance factor of mobs being green which were not green before (i.e. trying to get to Drayek in PF) and the aggro being a nuisance when you have already fought through the zone a hundred times. Scott said the reason for that change was increased target availability for players and we agreed that the stealth speed changes might help alleviate my concerns.

Saavedra spoke a little bit about re-tiering some of the zones to add more heroic mobs. He stated that the initial down-tiering was done in somewhat of a blanket fashion and so he went back in and raised the mob tiers where he felt it made sense (i.e. the scarecrows in Antonica). I haven't really checked this out but I do know that after the original downtiering I was playing a low-level Guardian alt in Antonica and I could not find a group mob for the life of me. It was actually pretty embarrassing for me. "Let's try the scarecrows!" "Umm...they're solo." "Oh." I'll have to go back with my Guard or Bard alts when I have a chance and check out the new mob tiers.

I know there’s stuff I missed here but I did write three long posts so this is the end of my summit info.

For me, the game has gotten markedly better since the first time I entered Splitpaw and sat down at the feet of Sarchel the story teller. The content has been much improved since that point and I’m glad combat now actually works. It was a painful adjustment, but for the most part, it’s over. I’m pretty convinced that they have a good team in place who are very familiar with the tools they need to use. I believe the philosophical direction the game has been going is a good one. So now, there are no excuses. Make this a great game and make us proud. I’m watching you.

As I said, my time in San Diego also inspired me to seek the perspective of other players, so you can hopefully expect some interviews here on Aggro Me in the next few weeks.

Now that I'm done with my Community Summit recap, be sure to check out the recaps written by other attendees:

Ethec, over at TenTonHammer,
has a three part summary up.
Tamat has an
overview up at EQII Vault.
Methos gives
his take at EQ2OGaming.
And, Radar-X
posted a recap on the official forums.

If I missed any, be sure to let me know.

Ah, one final note before I go. I'd like to wish a happy birthday to Aggro Forums poster Anskiere who has been a major part of our forums so far, even if Karnatos recently passed his post count (haha the gauntlet is down, Anskiere). And no, you certainly don't have to put your date of birth in to register for the forums. I just know these things. I'm Aggro Me.