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Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Humor: Videos and Comics Oh My

Well, none of my own humor today, but I did want to spotlight some great videos and comics created by others.

Magson recently linked a bunch of the "Medieval Weapon" videos in
this Aggro Forums thread. I may have linked one before, but there's a ton of them now. They're basically parody videos set in EQII and while I don't think they're super-hilarious, they are funny and worth watching.

Rather than link to each one individually, I will link you to
the new EQII channel on Machinima.com. There are 13 of them on there (along with some other videos) so you have plenty of EQII machinima entertainment. I hope this channel grows because I think EQII is really well suited to machinima work. Let me know if you submit a video there or anywhere else.

Moving on to the comics portion of this post, I thought the comics posted in
this thread by Lesca were absolutely great, so be sure to check them out. I hope more are on the way. I saw someone die in a non-combat zone once and the hilarity of it was never ending.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Class Action

Back in January, I wrote a post about a group of students who were playing EQII as part of a college course. They played on Antonia Bayle with the help of the Vindicators, the guild run by Scott Adams.

Well now I see (via Terranova) that they have not only completed their study but have provided us with fifteen papers related to MMO's. You can read them all here. I haven't read them all yet, but the ones I have read so far are excellent. And I plan to finish the rest because the topics are wide-ranging and interesting. So check them out and see what a semester in Norrath can teach you.

The professor who taught the class, Dr. Aaron Delwiche, was interviewed on EQ2-Daily Podcast 19.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Oh Deer Me

I originally started writing this post as sort of a humor piece, because the subject matter is so bizarre. However, I decided to attempt to provide a serious review so I'm going to stay away from obvious jokes.

The subject at hand is
the Endless Forest. It's a bit tough to explain so I'll let the creators try:

"The Endless Forest is a social screensaver, a virtual place where you can play with your friends. When your computer goes to sleep you appear as a deer in this magical place."

Let's get the technical stuff out of the way first. First of all, it's free. And yes the main product is a screensaver which you can download. However, I strongly recommend that you run it as a regular program by downloading the optional launcher. As a screensaver, it's just too disruptive when it launches because it takes some time to exit. You want to be able to exit a screensaver instantly (especially at work).

It also froze my computer a few times, though when I used the launcher it worked perfectly. You'll also probably want to "name your deer" on their webpage or you will miss a lot of functionality.

Okay, so then what happens? Well, you sort of run around this forest as a stag (you can only play as a male) with a humanoid face. To find places of interest or other deer you watch the icons on the border of your screen and move towards them. This "map" system actually works very well.

And what do you do? Well, you have a range of "emote" type actions like "Anger" or "Roll on the Floor Laughing" or "Hop." Some actions are place specific. For instance, when I found a shrine I noticed I could worship. When you are near flowers you can pick them up and carry them on your antlers.

There are other players, or deer, in the forest but you have no way to communicate with them beyond simple actions such as roaring or shaking your head yes or no. There are no shouts, ooc, tells or any form of typed communication.

You can do magic to change a deer's form, but the trick is that you can't do it on yourself. You are reliant on others to cast spells upon you. If you wish to perform magic on other deer you first need to do an action like eating mushrooms (there are others but I guess I won't give them away) and then find another deer and cast your spell. You can change another deer's antlers and coat and so on in this manner. Any deer is free to immediately "shake off" these enchantments if they don't like them. A problem I ran into is that there usually weren't more than one or two other people online.

And that's pretty much it. I know it doesn't sound like much of a game, but it wasn't intended to be.

Is it art? Sure, since I have a broad definition. But is it good art? That's a bit harder to say. As interactive art, it's not on the level of, say,
Somnium Orbis or even Echo Genesis (though neither of those is multiplayer).

Graphically, I think it is average at best, although some of the animations are quite nice. The online space itself I found very limited - almost the antithesis of the promised "endless forest."

During Abiogenesis, which is like a live event/performance of sorts, I would say that Endless Forest might rise to the level of good, interesting art. But those are rare and the rest of the time it's mediocre art at best.

I did find it a unique experience to be in an online space with others but unable to communicate with them in any standard way. What's more, the feeling that they could not really communicate with me gave me a feeling of freedom. Honestly, it made me want to grief people. But whether that's a statement on human nature or just my own issue is left for you to decide.

In the "Questions and Answers" section (they're too special to call it a FAQ) they wisely deflect criticism that the main art in the game is derivative of the movie Princess Mononoke (great movie by the way).

"When we asked our concept artist, Lina Kusaite, to design a deer for us, she drew one with a face like that. We know that, like us, she admires Miyazaki's masterpiece. But there are several other occurences of similar creatures in different cultures.
Frida Kahlo's self portrait as a hunted stag is one. And Buraq, the horse that carried the profet Muhammed to heaven and back, is often depicted with a human face."

Okay, but it's still derivative. But what I found really troubling is the attitude of the creators (did I mention they have an in-game shrine to themselves?).

"We claim the game space as an area where art can be made. Not the hip and oh so conveniently ironic art that we find in elitist galleries or museums."

Ugh. So all art in museums and galleries is not worthy become they just don't "get" the transcendent Endless Forest? I saw the video game Rez in a museum not too long ago so I don't know what elitism they're talking about. And while the downtown art galleries can still be pretentious, that's really a thing of the past. And even at their peak, they weren't as pretentious as this:

"The Endless Forest is probably one of the early steps towards a "jeu d'auteur", a much needed evolution of games towards a medium with the artistic expressiveness of cinema and literature. So far, games have been mostly consumer goods with little or no artistic merit....Pleasure is a vital ingredient of life. It is the cure against any malaise. But only if it is true and deep. Shallow pleasures like pumping bodies full of virtual bullets or winning some cyberrace, do not give people any defense against the threats of our contemporary society. On the contrary. Perhaps they even train us to become a threat ourselves."

I'm not sure how Endless Forest provided me a defense against the threats of contemporary society. I sure wish it provided me a defense against smug and pretentious webpages.

Art will always be a part of my life. And interactive art using the internet will be a part of art. But pumping bodies full of virtual bullets will also always be a part of my life. Because it's fun. So I've had enough of the Endless Forest for now. I'll be over in the corner, winning some cyberrace. Or at least trying.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Test Update 25: How Much for The Forest Maiden's Innocence?

I was reading the notes for Test Update 25 when I found myself drifting off to sleep. I awoke and began reading again but I nodded off immediately.

I kid, I kid. Okay, so there's nothing super exciting or controversial there but that's fine. I prefer smaller updates like this to crazy large ones like LU 24.

I'm definitely really looking forward to the consignment containers. Since I've been tradeskilling I could use the additional sales space. So that's the main part of this update for me.

The tailored clothing of various colors sound neat and I think it is a great idea. It lets people express their personalities and roleplay. Okay, so they are just color swaps as you can see
here on EQ2 Traders (thanks Bandit for the link). I believe they are still working on remodeling the character skeletons to make creating new armor/clothing pieces much easier. I really hope this is progressing well because I think it is a key component to the game's future success. But for now, some different colored clothing will be fun for the people who buy it and the tailors who make it. And the clothing pieces do have snazzy names, I have to say. I referenced one in the title to this post but they are all pretty entertaining.

The master spell trade system on the PvP server is definitely something I'm looking forward to. It has a nice element of risk and reward to it.

There's a mention of a mystery surrounding earrings, many of which will now have the lore flag added to them. If you put your mind to it I'm sure you can come up with a pretty good guess as to why this would be.

And I think putting voice over back into the newbie zones is a good idea for new players to draw them into the game. It will be fun for alts as well.

I'm looking forward to this one going live. But next time, give me some controversy to pontificate on!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Craft This

Aggro Note: If you're looking for Friday Humor, please scroll down. You don't want to miss this one. And yes, this counts as my Monday post even if it's Friday night.

So what is this post all about? Well, as part of our MMO Round Table, Moorgard, Blackguard and myself swore an infernal pact to comment on certain previously agreed upon topics without prior discussion or reading each others posts. We decided that midnight EDT would be an auspicious time for our simultaneous posting. So be sure to check out the posts on their sites as well (here and here).

Rumor has it that those two are waiting until 12:01 A.M. to fiendishly copy and paste this post. And ask yourself if they care enough about your mental well-being to provide hilarious cartoons to go along with their posts. Okay, so my comics are horrible and I didn't even want them to clutter up this page, but you will find links to them throughout. So, on with the subject of hand...

Is Crafting Necessary?

It depends. If you are going for a non-subscription, casual MMO meant to be played for an hour at a time, then perhaps resources would be better allocated elsewhere. But if you are trying to create a full, rich virtual world, then crafting can be a huge plus. It makes players feel like there are many options in the world and that it has more depth than it might otherwise. It can allow players who are not that fond of the core game mechanic, adventuring, to still have a place in the virtual world. Likewise, it allows those players who tire of that core mechanic to have other gameplay options while still remaining in the virtual world.

The truth is that many players have come to expect crafting in major, high production value titles. Now, if someone can come up with another game segment which provides the same benefits of providing gameplay options and increasing the depth of the world, then that's fine. But until that crafting alternative arises, crafting is a major plus.

Comic here.

So, how should crafting be implemented? Let's first look at how not to do crafting and then we can look at some solutions.

The Wrong Way

Crafting as Tedium

If you look for macros related to MMO's you will quickly find that the most common and best designed ones are related to crafting. Why is this? When a gameplay element is tedious, players will look for ways to circumvent it, even if it means breaking the rules. And crafting is certainly tedious. It is actually a black hole of tedium which sucks in all that is boring and from which no fun can ever escape. So it is not surprising that players use macros to circumvent this.

Also, what are computers good at? They are good at doing simple, repetitive tasks. And there you have crafting. If a macro can play your game, it is probably not a fun game. Now, some players will endure all that tedium, especially in a virtual world. But why make endurance of boredom a gameplay element?

Comic here.

Crafting in Groups

I understand some upcoming games seek to make crafting more fun by making crafting a group activity. I don't think this is the right way to go. Crafting is generally a solo activity. Note that I did not say it was a solitary activity. It certainly involves social interaction with other crafters and buyers. But it is hard enough to find a group to adventure with. Do you really want to find a group to harvest with?

Plus, remember that one of the stated purposes of crafting was to provide other options. If you are merely expanding the core gameplay to include crafting, you are not adding that option. If killing a level 7 orc by casting "fireball" is replaced by cutting down a level 7 tree by casting "saw wood," you may as well kill the orc. Because it's probably more fun.

Comic here.

Aggro Solutions (TM)

From the Ground Up

Harvesting is a rather tedious and predictable proposition. To improve it you can make it a more skill-based affair through either "twitch" type skills or strategic thinking.

Let's say you want to go the twitch route. Have players dodge through a cave-in in order to get to the ore they need. When cutting down a tree, replace the Progress Bar Snooze with a bar that moves at random speed. Require players to click at a certain point for power and accuracy. Have them finish by thrusting the mouse up in a straight line to represent the swing. All these factors would play into the quality and quantitiy of the items harvested.

But perhaps you feel "twitch" type skills are out of place in an MMO. I can understand that. In medieval times, hey, even in ancient times, no one harvested stone by walking around and mining random rocks on the ground. They built mines and quarries. So why not do the same in the virtual world?

Let's use the mine as an example. Allow players to purchase a mine which will be a special instance. Players can select from a wide range of employees to hire. Do you want expensive, skilled artisans? A crew of cheap ruffians? A mage trained in dowsing for minerals? All these choices will play a factor.

The mine will run even if you never visit it. But quality and quantity will suffer. To truly be successful, a player must visit and make decisions. Perhaps all of your employees hate your skilled foreman. Do you want to fire him and lose his skill or deal with an unhappy crew of workers. Decisions like this can play into factors like morale, teamwork, skill, and so on. You could eventually buy a larger mine with more workers.

When technology allows it, you could move these mines, forestry operations and farms out into the shared world space. Even with instances, these harvest operations would accomplish the dual goals of making harvesting more interesting and allowing players to have a feeling of ownership in the virtual world.

Comic here.

Crafting as Fun

I can go on the net and in a few minutes find cheaply made flash games which are more fun then crafting. So why not dedicate some time to making the process of crafting addictive and fun? Whether you want to include elements of twitch play, turn-based strategy or real time strategy, the key is to make things interactive and require player skill. Just take a look at my harvesting examples and apply them to crafting. Memory, reflex, sound recognition, spatial visualization, puzzle solving and strategy are just some of many elements that could make crafting a game and not a chore. Of course, you do not want to completely remove players from the world. You do not want to have them sit down at the forge and then Tetris pops up. But working great gameplay into the theme and feel of the world is merely a challenge and not a barrier.

Crafting as Art

This suggestion is more for the future and not for every game. But when:

* You buy a tapestry because you love the designs a certain player-artist creates and you would buy anything she made.

* When hanging your tapestry you find your home is too small and dark so you hire a player-architect to create an airier abode with wood tones you enjoy.

* You realize you need some money to pay for your new home and decide to go adventuring. You have a choice between two breastplates with equal stats. You buy the one that has the player-made design you prefer.

Then crafting will truly be art.

Now as I said, this will not work for every game. You may wish to control the art assets because you want to retain a certain theme and feel in your virtual world. But I think it could work in some games. If you want to start with baby steps you could allow players a selection of colors and patterns.

Comic here.

Tricky Questions

What about the inter-dependency of crafters and adventurers? You want one group to rely on the other, but not too much. It's merely a question of balance. And what about the desirability of crafted items as opposed to items received adventuring?

Let's take the example of a special sword. Since your main gameplay is adventuring, you really don't want that sword to be made by crafters. So what do you do?

* It may take a certain type of ore only available from difficult mobs to make the sword. Adventurers would then give this ore to crafters to make the sword.

* You gain the special sword by killing a dragon. A crafter can create a hilt for that sword. Now, by itself, this hilt may only give plus one to a few stats. Nothing special. But who wouldn't want to add that hilt on to their already fabulous sword?

Comic here.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday Humor: Motivate Me

Update: Visit our new website, Always Go Right, featuring the writing of some of the contributors to this post.

When I came across this tool for making motivational posters, I knew I had the makings of a Friday Humor. But considering my limited brain power, I realized I had to reach out to the Aggro Forums for help. The members there contributed their wit and wisdom, so prepare to get motivated!
Flashman gets things rolling with this trilogy of hilarity:
Looks like Bandit has been reading SOE press materials again...
Karnatos delivers a one-two punch of motivation:
Knock, knock. Teh Chunt is at the door and he's got a poster for ya:
I'd be content to let others do all the work, but they said they would gank me if I tried. So here's a foursome from your friendly neighborhood Aggro:
A huge thanks to everyone who contributed! A sequel is already rumored to be in the works, so feel free to offer your own submissions in this thread.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Blast From the Past

I have another EQ related YouTube video for you. This one is a real trip down memory lane. Well, for a noob like me it's more of a history lesson but I'm sure some of you will remember it. I found it pretty interesting. Here you go:

The person who posted the video, "bootstrut," had this to say:

"This is the original introduction movie to the greatest MMORPG game of all time, Everquest! This video is back 1999, and was removed after the first few expansions. While browsing the EQ files, I found this file and converted it to an AVI."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

EA Acquires Mythic

Yes, the title of the post pretty much says it all, as this press release will attest. Quotes from Mark Jacobs on the Warhammer Online forums here and here and here.

I happened to come across this news first on the SA forums but it's all over the place. And you'll probably find plenty of commentary in various locales from people who care more than I do. I only say that because I never really got into DaoC and I was never a Warhammer fan, so on a personal level I have very little emotional investment in Mythic's welfare. I will say that I was impressed with the E3 video for Warhammer Online and I thought the game was shaping up well.

It's pretty trendy right now to hate on EA. And while I usually like to punch holes in things that are trendy, in this case I can't argue. EA has been criticized from everything to their business dealings to their treatment of employees to their exclusive licenses to their handling of popular game franchises. And that criticism seems justified. Their track record in the online sector has been especially poor. I'd go so far as to call it horrendous. And their track record in dealing with employees who come over in acquisitions is equally bad.

This is quite different from the Sigil/SOE deal. EA now simply owns Mythic. End of story. But along similar lines, Mythic may lose some players who hate EA just as Sigil may lose some players who hate SOE. I'm not sure how big a factor brand reputation alone is, but it is a factor.

A lot of people on various forums are somehow mad at EA because of this deal. But an important fact to remember is that no one held a gun to the people at Mythic's heads and made them sell the company to EA. That was completely their decision. So if you think it was a bad one, blame them and not EA.

Now, that doesn't change the fact that EA might have a future impact on Mythic games, and you can certainly blame them for that impact when it arises. Will they have a noticeable impact on Warhammer Online? I'd say doubtful. The game is probably pretty far along and there is no sound business reason for EA to mess with it in any major way prior to launch. They will probably let Mythic ride on that one. But for future games or expansions? Yeah, I'd say EA will certainly have an impact. And if I had to guess I'd say that impact will be negative. Hope you like ninjas and samurai.

If you're looking for a positive, you might assume that this deal will somehow supply Mythic with limitless money to use on their projects. But I'm sure EA will be monitoring that budget closely so I wouldn't get my hopes up. I don't think we'll ever see Imperator (which had a great back story if nothing else), by the way, but I didn't think we would before this news either.

As I said before, you'll find commentary similar to the above in various places, with some differences of opinion, of course. So I was trying to think of a unique perspective that most game blogs and forums would not mention. What I came up with is: What about EA? Is this a good acquisition for them?

As I suspected, it was hard to find commentary on that issue. I had to turn to the
Yahoo Finance Message Board for ERTS (the EA stock ticker symbol). I warn you that the Yahoo Finance Boards are often far worse than your typical MMO forum. But here are some quotes:

The first comment on the deal was from microsoft_pizza who asks:

"Why can't they buy Blizzard from V? Buy Blizzard and dominate in that space."

Austin5547 doesn't like the move, stating:

"I'm rapidly beginning to tire of these poorly-advised acquisitions by ERTS. First, that befuddling buyout of JMDT for three times fair market value. Now they buy a small-time and has-been MMO developer that has no chance whatsoever of competing with Blizzard's World of Warcraft. Mythic's asking price may have been in the bargain bin as far as acquisitions go, but they're not going to add value to EA's bottom line. I can understand why EA would want to take some of the sting out of a transition year, but moves like this aren't going to do it. Still bullish, but not happy with this move."

Jcradd42 takes a more measured approach:

"Others will pick up on the strengths of WoW, some better ideas will come along, some of the shine will wear off, and eventually there will be another king or a splintering of the audience. One thing that is for sure is MMO isn't going away, so it's good to see EA taking a serious interest at least. It's hard to say much about the wisdom of this move without knowing the price."

As for myself, I completely agree that's it's impossible to judge the acquisition from the EA side of things without knowing the details of the deal. If they made the deal on the belief that Warhammer would even come close to approaching WoW numbers, I guarantee that they will be sorely disappointed. But if they were merely looking to get into the MMO field with a title that is a bit more solid than many others out there, I think they could have done a lot worse than Mythic. I predict that Warhammer Online will turn a profit, if not a sizable one.

I just thought it might be interesting to look at things from the EA perspective for a bit, even though I happen to dislike them.

I do have one other note. When I saw the press release, my mind immediately turned to something that is a bit of an obsession with me, real money transfer. If I don't tell you every day how much I hate RMT, it's only because I don't want to be a repetitive bore. But believe me, I never stop hating it. So when I saw Mark Jacobs' name a bell went off in my hazy memory. Sure enough, I found a quote in an
old anti-Station Exchange post I wrote (I can't find a direct link to the original quote) in which Mark stated that Station Exchange was "one of the worst decisions in the history of the MMORPG industry."

So what happens now in terms of Mythic games and RMT? I have no idea. But I'm pretty sure that EA couldn't care less about the evils of RMT if they thought they could turn a profit. So it doesn't make me sleep any easier knowing a vocal RMT opponent is now under the control of EA.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Live Update 24: Part II

More notes on LU 24:

New Consignment System

I at least understand why some people don't like the tradeskill changes in LU 24, even if I completely disagree. But I have trouble understanding the complaints about the new consignment system. I understand it is a minor headache to transfer your goods over for the first time, but after that I find it to be a better system.

I've seen many complaints about space. But I had two house vault slots before and now I have two broker slots. It's no difference. Actually, I now have more non-sales storage than before with the same amount of sales storage.

Now, I understand that some people sold online by leaving their computer on and loading their character up with boxes in their inn room. If you did that, you did, indeed, lose selling capacity. Plus, you can't bypass broker fees at the moment. But
read on:

"With an upcoming live update we will be adding the ability to bypass the broker fee once again by allowing buying from placeable vendors or displays in your house. This was previously accomplished only if the selling character was left online in their house. These vendors will grant larger capacities than bags or boxes of the same level range. This should also resolve the complaints of those who have had reduced selling capacity from not being able to sell from their online character."

So people like me who didn't sell online (and I have to think this is the majority) will have far more sales space then we ever did before. And those who did sell online will soon have their capacity back. I don't know the details but I assume it will be a similar capacity if not a higher one. So the space complaint is only valid for the moment. Plus, it will be great to have special containers in your house like an armor rack which will make your house more fun to visit and will add immersion and roleplay elements.

So that's the sales side. But what about the new broker system for searches? Is it perfect? No, not by any means. I'd like the advance search window to be the default. And I think the searches could have better functionality. I'd also like the ability to save multiple searches (unless you can already and I'm missing something). But that can all be fixed.

One positive is the ability to save a search, even if it's only one at the moment. And another, which for me far outweighs any benefits of the old system, is the ability to search for an item you are selling with one click. That is a huge improvement. Previously I would have to look in my house vault to find the name of the item then open a broker search window and type in that name. It may not sound like a lot of work but it got old really fast. The new one-click search function is a tremendous improvement. Especially for someone lazy like me.

The new consignment system is just better. And that's not even taking into consideration the fact that its primary purpose was actually to prevent duping and exploits.

Zone Revamps

I can't really say too much on the zone revamps because I haven't checked them out fully. But some of the new stuff in the Commonlands looks better graphically and breaks up the monotony a bit. And the travel in Nek is an improvement. I also love those plants or fish you walk by in Nek which have negative status effects. That makes the environment seem more interactive and adds an element of fun. Great idea.

I do hope that when zone population changes are made, SOE takes into account what mobs are needed for what quest. I recall a quest from the scarecrow in EL which required deer. EL used to be a festival of deer. But the populations were changed a bit, probably for the better. Only now, deer are one of the toughest camps in the game which makes the difficulty of this one quest outweigh the reward tremendously. Now, obviously, this has nothing to do with LU 24. But I'm just hoping the mob population tweaks didn't have a similar effect.

I'll discuss things like the new betrayal system and the Fallen Dynasty when I have time to explore them. For now I just wanted to add this note
from Archonix related to the PvP servers which has nothing to do with LU24:

"With that in mind, here are the details for the Master I Transcription Service:

Only Master I scrolls of the opposing alignments classes can be turned in (excluding neutral classes).

Randomly rewarded scroll(s) are of equal level to the scroll(s) turned in and useable by a class from that alignment (including neutral classes).

In addition to handing in the scroll, the cost for transcription services is equal to roughly twice the sellback value of the spell scroll."

I love that idea and can't wait to see it go live.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Live Update 24: Part I

Here are some comments on the portions of LU 24 I've had direct experience with. I thought the launch itself went quite smoothly.

Tradeskills & Harvesting

On a personal level, I'm actually enjoying tradeskilling since LU 24. I'm going to stop short of saying I'm having a blast tradeskilling but I am having a good time. This is totally new to me. The spreadsheets and inventory annoyances of the previous system were just not for me. And I'm seeing a ton of people who never tradeskilled before really get into tradeskilling and have fun doing it. And while I understand there are those who do not like the new system, I know that there are many who do.

For those who see the changes as easier or dumbed down, I understand your reaction. But to the best of my knowledge the core mechanic of tradeskilling has not changed at all. I'm referring to the screen you get with the progress/durability bars and the skills you use to counter events and so on. That is the "game" portion of tradeskilling.

Now, you may not like that "game" or think it is fun. I don't think it's the greatest. But it's not terrible either. If you really want to make tradeskilling more difficult or complex, SOE can make that core mechanic more difficult or complex. Add more strategy or pure difficulty to that mechanic and thereby make it harder to make a pristine. That would make tradeskilling harder, in a good way, if people feel it needs to be harder.

The subcombines made tradeskilling harder in a bad way. It was just a time-sink of tedium. The spreadsheets and lists you needed to figure out how many subcombines and what subcombines you needed were just an annoyance to me and not a "game." Managing tons of subcombines in your inventory was not a "game" either, just another annoyance.

Now, after LU 24, the majority of tradeskilling is based on how skilled you are at the core mechanic I discussed before. So, if you don't think that tradeskilling is hard enough, direct your complaints to that mechanic, not the removal of subcombines. Personally, I have enough trouble making pristines as it is but I get the feeling that's due mostly to my own incompetence. But even still, I would never complain if tradeskilling was made more difficult. As long as it was not tedious and annoying the way it was under the previous system.

I'm not blind to the fact that sub-combines in some way had an immersion factor but for me they were far too tedious and cumbersome. Under the new system, a friend asked me for a bag and I was able to make it as he stood there. For me that was a fun and rewarding experience. In the old days I would have needed 8 Stromo Oils or 4 Tin Buckles or whatever which would have each required subcombines and and so on.

What can I say, I'm a tradeskill convert with these changes.

I understand that some worry the economy will suffer with all the new tradeskillers out there. But you can't manage an economy by making a gameplay element so unpleasant that people don't want to partake in it. I think the new tradeskillers are a great thing for the game. I now actually look forward to tradeskilling for an hour before I start adventuring. And that element of variety makes the game as a whole more fun for me.

As for harvesting, it's still harvesting and it's never going to be pulse-pounding excitement. But the ability to harvest multiple nodes does add some amount of fun and variety to it. And the introduction of harvesting tools brings a new element to the process.

I like the fact that the tradeskill instances are open to all now. If the tradeskill societies ever had any purpose, I might feel differently. And it might have been cool if they did. But they didn't, so why bother restricting tradeskill instances? As a new player I found it annoying to go around to various instances to see which one I was supposed to belong to. And under the new system I can work in the same tradeskill instance as a friend, even if we are of a different race. I understand that people might have role-playing issues with that, but in practice it's a lot more fun and convenient.

All in all, I think the tradeskill and harvest changes are fantastic.

Access Quests

I haven't seen an official rationale posted for the removal of access quests to a large number of instances. That doesn't mean it wasn't, I just haven't seen it. And I'm having trouble understanding the reason behind the change.

I'm not going to buy a generic "artificial restrictions are bad" argument. Instance access quests never felt unduly restrictive to me. And gaining access to a certain area is a valid part of many heroic stories. I suggested previously that perhaps the change was made because people simply weren't visiting some instances.

But I've thought about that some more. I think that people are always going to visit awesome instances like Nek Castle even if there is an access quest (after all only one group member needed access). And I think that people are still not going to visit dull instances like the Lair of the Necromancer even without the access quest. I'm guessing that it's the quality and content of the instance that dictates use and not the access quest. I've visited some instances since LU24 and it just seems odd to be zoning in to some random instance without the backstory of the access quest.

Now, it's not all bad. I did get to check out some instances I'd never seen before and that was fun. I probably wouldn't have seen them otherwise, I have to admit. So that's like adding additional content without creating new content. And I didn't see any complaints on the forums about this as opposed to the morass of complaints about other portions of LU 24. So I might be the only one who cares and I'm torn on it myself. But if I had to pick one or the other...I probably would have kept them in.

I'll have more tomorrow on other aspects of LU 24.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday Humor: Marketing Genius

Via Broken Toys comes a link to this gem of an old EQ marketing concept:

I was going to list some of my favorite parts from the video but it's just too hilarious to pick favorites. It's disheartening to know that I could never write humor as funny as the SOE reality. But I have to try so....

Other Brilliant Viral Marketing Concepts for SOE

A video with two cool dudes carrying snowboards. They look really extreme with their parkas and energy drinks. They begin to talk:

Dude 1: Wow, that was extreme the way you jumped out of that plane and then snowboarded off of a cliff while drinking a 40 ounce!

Dude 2: Yeah, but the way you snowboarded over that shark while beating yourself in the head with a hammer was double-extreme! To the max!

Dude 1: You know what else is extreme?

Dude2: What?

Dude 1: Everquest!

Dude 2: Wow, what an extreme title!

Dude 1: Oh yeah, you can do all kinds of radical stuff in Everquest. Like jumping off cliffs, kicking dragons in the face and making pasta!

Dude 2: Wow, are you serious?

Dude 1: Serious to the max! They have these things called Guilds which are like gangs of people who like to do extreme stuff together.

Dude 2: I want to join!

Dude 1: Yeah, and there are all these hot chicks who play. There's a lot of hot chicks.

Dude 2: Really?

Dude 1: Yeah, but you don't know who they are!

Dude 2: Awesome! I can't wait to play Everquest!

Dude 1: You know it! High-Five!


Two stoners are sitting in a room with black-light posters and lava lamps. They begin to talk:

Stoner 1: You know what would be cool right now?

Stoner 2: Cooking up some Bagel Bites?

Stoner 1: Yeah that too. But fighting angry mushrooms would be cool.

Stoner 2: Wow. Bagel Bites. Wow. Too bad we can't do that.

Stoner 1: But we can. If we play Everquest!

Stoner 2: Everquest? That's deep, man.

Stoner 1: Yeah. Everquest is this game where you're totally connected to people from, um, all over the universe playing together in unity and togetherness.

Stoner 2: Wow, so you can be, like, at one with the planet!

Stoner 2: Oh yeah, and you can see these crazy elves and rats that talk and people with wings and all kinds of crazy stuff. And when you use certain items in game the screen gets all crazy and you can't see straight.

Stoner 2: Trippy!

Stoner 2: Totally.

Stoner 2: What if I just feel like chilling?

Stoner 1: Oh, you can just chill out in your inn room with weird artwork and your crazy monkeys and lizards and what not. You can even build your own sofa to chill on.

Stoner 2: Wow. Bagel Bites. Wow.

Two businessmen are sitting in an airport drinking mocha frappucinos. They begin to talk:

Business Guy 1: Way to close a deal! We just made ourselves a cool billion today, my friend.

Business Guy 2: What can I say? I'm a closer.

Business Guy 1: How did you become so skilled in the art of the deal? Was it from the Wharton Business School? Reading Dale Carnegie's books? Watching the Apprentice?

Business Guy 2: Not at all. It was all from Everquest, my friend.

Business Guy 1: Everquest? Is that a new brand of Italian suit?

Business Guy 2: No, it's a game about making money that you play against people from all over the world. In Everquest, you can monopolize markets, employ cheap labor and scam people out of money and items!

Business Guy 1: Amazing! Sounds like my internship at Enron. Only better!

Business Guy 2: Yeah, and they have these things called Guilds which are kind of like corporations. You can rise to the CEO or whatever and then you can rob the whole Guild of every dime they have. Then you rock some fabled suit of armor which is kind of like an Armani suit and you get an armored horse which is kind of like a Mercedes. And then you look down on the lesser people.

Business Guy 1: You are the man!

Business Guy 2: Tell me about it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Once in a while I come across a new (newish?) website that I think is worth mentioning. EQ2HQ is one such site.

It's basically just a handy, dandy way to keep track of your guild's heritage quests. Each member of a guild can sign up and fill out their heritage quests. You can mark a quest as complete, leave it blank or select what stage you are up to. The benefits are obvious.

I may need to kill Everling for Hadden's Earing and by checking my guild page on EQ2HQ, I can find out who else in my guild is on the same stage quickly and easily. If you have too many people in your guild for easy viewing you can compare certain members. You can also have your alts available on the same account and the chart will tell you whose alts are whose.

The chart is clear and simple and you can export it to a file or print it if you wish.

I have zero affiliation with whoever runs this site (I'm hoping it's just a player and not a devious corporation). I only mention it because it's not only completely free, but because I didn't see any advertising. We're using it for our forums PvP Guild, Aggroculture (now recruiting for a limited time - say hello on the forums if interested) on the recommendation of Aggro Forums poster Tpnew. And so far so good - nothing fancy but an effective system. I love to see community projects like this which make my game experience better.

I'll have some more topical stuff on Live Update 24 and Fallen Dynasty when I check them out a bit more.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bad Price Point

I was actually going to give them my hard earned dollars.

I was going to ignore the pre-EQI graphics and the miasma of outright despair surrounding the
forums (worth browsing for entertainment value).

I was going to pretend I never saw "glowing" commentary like
this (worth clicking).

I even, somehow, managed to con someone else into possibly trying it too.

Yes, I was going to play
Dark & Light.

I figured it had to be good for a laugh and there would be fun to be had amongst the ruins and mayhem. I wanted to be a part of what might be one of the worst MMO's ever released.

But $54.99 to download? Um, no thanks. That's just bordering on offensive.

Sure, there's a choice between a $14.99 a month subscription and some kind of free plan involving credits ($14.99 for 15 credits). But that initial $54.99 is asking a lot.

We all know this game is going to be free or a lot less expensive down the road. There's no way it's going to survive at $54.99. From every impression I can get it would have a hard time surviving if they paid you to play. So why punish the early adopters when you're trying to build a population? Go with a low price now, get some subscribers and hopefully improve your game.

I'm not paying $54.99 to play Dark and Light, even though I really really want to. Must resist overpaying for comedy gaming...must resist...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Producer's Letter Time

Yes, it's that time again. Time for a Producer's Letter. This one comes before the launch of Live Update 24 and Fallen Dynasty. Let's hope that goes smoothly. I haven't checked out Fallen Dynasty at all yet so it may be some time before I formulate an opinion. And I'm still curious to see the final form of Live Update 24.

Scott lists some of the many improvements to EQII. There have certainly been a lot of great changes in EQII as I mentioned myself
recently. I only have to take issue with one:

"Meaningful factions." I'm not really seeing that yet outside of Maj. Unless that's referring to changes coming in Live Update 24 (i.e. betrayal).

In the list of future plans, new creatures and quests for all levels are mentioned. This should be fun for casual players or those who are playing through again with alts. There will be a revamp of Commonlands and Nek. Nek is probably my least favorite zone (though I think it has the best Griff flights) so I'm looking forward to that one. And while I've grown to love the Commonlands, I think some of the itemization there is awful and there are a lot of "dead areas" with little going on. Nek Castle is also mentioned. They have a good storyline going with the Everling Clan so I'm looking forward to the next chapter.

They will also be adding a big chunk of NPC voiceovers. I'm kind of torn on how much of a difference this makes to me. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, it's just not a priority to me. And I actually prefer hearing voiceover from mobs as opposed to NPC's but that might just be me.

I'll once again discuss some of my own desires for the future of EQII soon.

So far, I agree with the Exile ruleset and I like Scott's separate explanation of it
here. It will be attractive to some players but it will be a rough route.

As for the rewards for the Adventure Pack, I could use a Bonsai tree to bring some peace to my zoo of an inn room. I just have to figure out if I'm feeling tranquil or harmonious. As for raising the level cap for Adventure Pack purchasers, I don't have any problem with that. It lets people who choose not to buy either expansion advance a bit. (I actually read it quickly the first time through and thought purchasers would magically have their levels raised to 55. I was in the process of flipping out when someone told me to get a clue and re-read it. It just raises the level cap for those players, not their actual levels.)

Scott also gets into some class balancing. I guess he has to but it's rough because 99 percent of the thread replies become class grievances and debates. And if I have to read one more forum post about DPS tiers a thousand Tranquil Bonsai trees aren't going to help me.

Monday, June 12, 2006

SOE Podcast Review

Those crazy cats at SOE really like to keep up with the trends. Smed's been blogging a bit. And now, they're podcasting.

I'll start off with the positives. Is it a nice feature to have? Sure. What's great about a podcast is that you can listen to it on your way to work, at the gym, or while you're tradeskilling. I've been curious about the whole EQ Progression server, but not curious enough that I wanted to take the time to look up the information on it. But, since I was able to listen to the SOE Podcast while I was doing other stuff, I was able to get a good overview. The sound quality is great and vocally I thought everyone did a nice job. And the content is there.

My main problem is the style in which that content is delivered. And that may be subjective. But it's absolutely overly scripted. I can even see the monologues being scripted but a scripted interview is deadly. You need a much more conversational tone and you need people answering off-the-cuff and not reading off a sheet. It's even okay to know the questions beforehand. But don't write down the answers and then read them.

If you look at most popular podcasts they are conversational and unscripted. Or at least they do a good job of giving the illusion of being unscripted. A good example was the brilliant Ricky Gervais podcast from Guardian Unlimited which was number one on the charts for a long time and basically just featured three friends talking about various subjects and messing with each other. Same thing with
EQ2-Daily - it's the jokes and conversational nature that make it fun to listen to.

Again, the SOE podcast is a good feature and I'd rather have it then not have it. But I'd like to see them liven things up a little by not pre-writing everything.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

More Lore

I think we would all like any MMO to have more of a story than just acquiring loot and slaying monsters for no reason. And I know there is a ton of lore surrounding EQ and EQII. But the problem is how to convey that lore to the players and immerse them in the game world.

Here are some means you can do so:

Out of Game: Information is provided on forums or in guides outside of the game. But I doubt the majority of players read it (even though Vhalen's posts are very interesting).

Visual: The art of zones and of mobs paints a picture of the world's lore and history.

Events: Events provide a storyline of sorts.

Names: The names of places, mobs and items provide some sense of the world.

NPC Text: This is a major one. The text from NPC's can give players a good amount of lore. The problem is that not all players read it.

Quests: The actual requirements and text in your journal can provide lore even if you didn't read the NPC text.

I'm sure there are other means but I can't think of any right now.

Back in my very first month of blogging, I
suggested adding flavor text to items, mob descriptions and the zone loading screens. I thought this was a good idea and it never really left my mind. That's why when I was on a raid the other night scanning some of the myriad of buffs on me I got very excited when I saw the following Warlock spell:

Aspect of Night

An augmentation that increases the power pool and noxious resistance for the warlock's group. The noxious resist protects more against poison than disease.

"Revel in the darkness! Hold the night close to your heart, and shut out the light!" - Lord Grimrot

Wow, that's exactly what I was talking about. I'm not saying they used my idea, I never mentioned doing it on spells. And flavor text is obviously not on all spells - that's the only one I've ever seen it on. But it shows that adding flavor text to spells is certainly something SOE can do and actually has done. So I don't see why every spell in the game can't have flavor text. It would add a lot of lore to the game in a fun and painless way. I wrote up an example for each class because it's enjoyable to write this stuff.


Heretic's Fate

An impairment that deals instant heat damage to the enemy's allies when the enemy is slain.

"If your heart is holy, you need not fear," said Vokrin tenderly. The flames from the heretics' corpses seemed to bow in response.


One Hundred Hand Slap

Launches a flurry of attacks that cause high damage to the enemy. If any one attack misses the series stops at that attack.

Rascan thought he was quite the fighter with his fifteen hand slap. But he soon learned from the Master that he was still a mere apprentice. He learned that lesson one hundred times.


Melancholy Requiem

Deals a difficult to resist medium amount of mental damage to all enemies in an encounter.

As Tera sang on, the sighs of contentment in the tavern turned to screams of woe. Yet somehow, the screams blended with the melody in perfect harmony. And still Tera sang.


Wisdom of Zephyl

Increases the attack speed of the group.

"Be as light and quick as the Mantis in your movements. Victory goes to he who strikes first and most often." -Master Zephyl


Display of Devotion

Wards a target group member, and increases the paladin's hate generation.

It is the duty of a true Paladin to protect those in need, even at the cost of one's own safety.


Tellurian Avenger

Summons an inhabitant of the Plane of Earth to do the Conjurer's bidding.

"The boundaries of the Planes are not immutable. They are merely guidelines." -Klicknik the Conjuror


Infernal Pact

Wards a target group member and grants a chance to lifetap foes.

The Shadownight Marcase had made so many deals with the darker powers that all his humanity had long since been bargained away. He found that to be a benefit in his "activities."


Mad Cry

Increases hate towards the berserker and interrupts enemies.

The fierce battle cry of Zarv the Bezerker struck such fear into the hearts of her enemies that they welcomed the death blow as a release.



"Dig deep, you heroes. We stand here and we die or prevail. There is no other option. Dig deep, my brave companions!" -Lord Valemus

Slows the target's attack rate and movement rate. Increases the target's armor class.


Zumaik's Wincing Posture

Coerces target to perform an action.

"Free will is the true illusion. It is a clay that can be molded to one's liking and then broken." -Archlord Zumaik


Personae Twin

The illusionist summons a replica illusion that inherits some of the illusionist's spells. Although not as powerful as the illusionist's spell damage, the illusionary replica retains the power of their control spells.

"How does one man expect to face all of us alone?" laughed the bandits. Bellirin simply smiled.


Null Distortion

Deals instant poison damage to an enemy and returns a portion of this damage as power replenishment to the warlock.

As his enemies grew weaker, Kraylith seemed to grow even stronger.



Deals instant heat damage to the targeted enemy.

"The evil ones wish to scare us with the power of the darkness. But there is strength too in the light." -From The Teachings of Al'Cenari.


Death Rot

Quickly deals disease damage over time to the enemy.

"Death awaits every living creature. I merely speed the proceedings." - Nylph the Dark.


Beg for Mercy

Lowers hate on the target.

The knight grinned at the Brigand's debasement. The same grin remained fixed on his face for eternity when the dagger plunged through his heart the moment his back was turned.



Mesmerizes the target.

"Light sweetness surrounds,
Surrender gently-
Sleep's gift comes easy."
- From The Ballads of Bria.


Flamboyant Strike

High damage attack that generates extra hate.

It wasn't so much the cut to his leg that incensed the Warlock Yreth. It was the style it which it was delivered. Even in the midst of this fierce melee, that blasted rogue had to be flashy.


Miracle Shot

A ranged arrow attack that does not require line of sight.

The archery contest had just ended when suddenly an arrow split through the others to the dead center of the target. The archers looked about to see who had delivered such a magnificent strike. Phyn crested the hill far behind them, holding his bow and grinning.


Spirit of the Oak

A group augmentation that increases the physical and magical damage resistance of the warden's group.

"Even here, even in this desperate wasteland of rock and lava where nothing could grow, Rowyl called to the forest. With a rustling breeze which smelled of life, it answered." - From The Journey of Rowyl.



Reduces the target's hate towards the scout.

"The careful strategem of the Lizardmen was perfect. But Greth had a way of making even the best of plans work to his own advantage." -From
Greth: Business or Pleasure?


Blaze of Faith

Deals instant divine damage to the target and nearby encounter members.

"Lesser men laugh at Faith. They say it is a concept, a dream, a child's philosophy. But it is also a Sword." -From Pinzarn's Faith Everlasting.


Ancient Terror

Forces target to flee in fear. The fear effect has a chance to break each time the target is attacked or cast upon.

"Men place so much stock in their young Gods. But there are older Powers whose names make even the Gods tremble." -From The Speakings of Turgur.


Dreadful Lethargy

An impairment that decreases the attack speed of the enemy and surrounding encounter members.

"Kill them!"
"I'll get right on it..."



Cures elemental and noxious impairments on the fury's group.

"Someday perhaps you'll spread your vile poison through every creature in Norrath. Someday perhaps all will falter before your dark might. But not while I still stand." - Liara Vell from Great Battles: A Study.

Okay, so those were just examples. To be more effective, the flavor text would optimally convey more lore than I provided. I just don't know that much (which kind of proves my point considering how much I play) and I didn't feel like looking any up. When the spell list provided a name (i.e. Al'Cenari) I used that. Otherwise, I just made one up. But flavor text like mine could easily be tweaked to revolve around famous battles or events in the history of Norrath.

I'm sure the people at SOE know plenty of lore and are more qualified to write this stuff then me. So I hope they do it. If I started playing and there was flavor text like this on the spells, it would actually make a difference in how much I liked the game. Maybe that's just me.

I'm going out of town for a long weekend so no post till Monday.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


"Nothing endures but change."
-Heraclitus, from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers

Someone in-game recently asked me what my favorite change was since the launch of EQII. I gave a quick answer about Splitpaw being the time I think the game turned around in terms of content. The player called me out on that answer, stating it wasn't a change. I answered off-line selling, but I'd like to change that answer. Sure, off-line selling was a great thing, but it should have been in the game from day one. I don't consider that a change as much as a feature which didn't make it into the game at launch.

So I've thought about it some more and I'm going to go with the removal of the archetype system. By that I mean the way you now pick a subclass before you start the game.

Before that change, I never took an alt past level 20. It was just too dull to play a generic class, especially if you had played it before while going for a different subclass. Now, you get a really good idea of how your subclass plays in the early levels. What's more, by the time you get to the Armor Quests and you want to start grouping with people (if you do) you have a pretty good idea about the correct way to play your class.

This change greatly increased the replayability of the game for me. And that's important because it's actually really fun to try playing other classes. That's especially true at times like the present in the days before a new adventure pack or expansion when you might be bored with raiding or other max-level content.

Because of the archetype system removal I've not only had the chance to experience different classes, I've had the chance to explore content I never would have explored otherwise. I've found parts of zones I never knew existed the first time around and discovered quests I'd never done before. That's a lot of fun for me and it keeps me playing EQII instead of trying a different game.

I now have my Wizard, my Troubador and my Guardian, plus I've played a bunch of other classes through the early levels. It also gives me perspective on other roles in group. I now know how tough it can be to hold aggro in a pick-up group or how important being able to get behind a mob is to scouts. And that first-hand knowledge of how other classes work helps me play each class better. Theoretically, anyway.

So that's my favorite change in EQII to date. But there have been a lot of changes so I'd love to hear your personal favorite in the comments. Or feel free to throw in your least favorite if the mood strikes you.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Good Morning Norrath

Curt Schilling was on Good Morning America this morning to promote the ALS charity event in EQII. So, of course, I recorded it and checked it out this evening.

The EQII segments were split up and appeared throughout the show so a lot of fast forwarding was involved. But the segments went well. I think two factors figured into that:

1. The segments were shot out in Times Square with a live crowd and some awesome looking monitors set up to run EQII. What's more, EQII was actually running on those monitors. The outdoor setting and crowd added some excitement.

2. Schilling's 11 year old son Gehrig was present as well and playing EQII. He is not only cute but articulate and prevented the interviews from becoming stale PR pitches.

Here's the rundown of what occurred.

Segment 1: Lead-in with the famed bloody sock footage. Charlie Gibson intros the segment. He doesn't refer to EQII by name during this segment but refers to it as a video game you can play "on the net." Schilling briefly discusses ALS and how EQII helps him relax. In the background, Gehrig moves from the tower on the newbie island to the beach where he battles a crab. Looks like he's a playing a monk and doing well.

Segment 2: My favorite part of the whole show comes when Charlie Gibson refers to EQII as either "Everart" or "Everheart." Whichever it is, it's not even close to Everquest, which is odd because it's spelled out right on top of the monitor next to him. Someone corrects him from off camera with "Everquest." I'm not sure but maybe it was Diane Sawyer, who is present for this part of the segment. Perhaps she's a closet hardcore raider.

Segment 3: Marysol Castro takes the reigns for this segment. Schilling talks about how the game lets him hang out with his children even when he is on the road. Then, perhaps in revenge for Gibson's error, he forgets the name of the show he is currently on. Marysol is ready to challenge Schill in EQII and goes from a professional demeanor to throwing on a Yankees hat and warning that she is from the “Boogie-Down Bronx.” She sits down at a computer but then launches into the weather with absolutely no transition.

Segment 4: Marysol claims she is "getting her butt whipped" in Norrath. You can see Blackguard (who survived an Aggro NYC pub-crawl this past weekend) in the background of this segment standing about in a purposeful manner for about .5 seconds. Moorgard, you
missed out on your .5 seconds of air time! From there we transition to a segment on "Summer Feet" which changed my life immeasurably.

Segment 5: Schilling talks a bit about ALS and even praises the sainted Joe Torre, skipper of the Yanks. Robin Roberts quizzes him on his new sinking fastball which even I have to admit was a well-researched question. Gehrig does a great job of answering some questions.

That's about it, although they do show Schilling and Gehrig at the end of the show in the studio.

All in all, it could have been cheesy, but it wasn’t. The segments were fun and involved every host at one point or another. The EQII PR people did a great job getting the game on a popular television program. Schilling and Gehrig did a great job of answering questions. And most importantly, it raised awareness about ALS which is always a good thing.

You can read about the segment on GMA’s website
here. And you can learn more about ALS here. And according to this post you can now use the /ALS command in-game to contribute to the cause.

Schilling is scheduled to pitch this Wednesday evening against the Yankees.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Fallen Info

Excitement is starting to build for the Fallen Dynasty Adventure Pack, especially since it seems robust in terms of content.

It's great to see that people on Test get to play it before the rest of us because they certainly deserve it. I find that Test players are some of the most intelligent and helpful community members out there. Of course, I suppose anyone could start a character on Test and beta buff to check out Dynasty. But still.

For those worried about bug reports on the
Fallen Dynasty forums, that's what they are there for. It's only natural at this stage and I'm sure most will be straightened out before release.

There's a write-up of some of the info from the forums on
Wondrous Inventions, so I won't rehash it all. I will say I'm happy to read that tradeskill quests are involved because that's something I requested only a few days ago.

The only real negative I gleaned is that some people are unhappy with the way the NPC's look,
as per this thread. I only mention this because when I saw the video a few weeks ago, I said I wasn't sure I liked the NPC models (from what I could tell). But I'm not going to make a final determination until I really see them up close. And if the content is great, this is really a minor issue. I'm sure some people will love them - it's a subjective matter, just as the choice between SOGA and original flavor is a subjective matter. Plus, as I stated before, some of the Fallen Dynasty mobs look fantastic to me.

I haven't read too much because I'm trying to avoid spoilers but I am looking forward to the new outdoor zones and the tough single group zone.

In EOF news, Lotus
revealed that the recent horse animation bug was actually part of a plan to make mounts better on the whole. It's weird because I was one of the 1 in 3 who had the animation sync up and I was wondering why people termed it a bug. It actually looked better to me. In any case, I definitely agree that the mounts in the game could use major work, so I'm happy to hear they are getting it.

I also thought this forum thread was pretty neat (via EQ2-Daily). It's always great to see players being creative and artistic.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Friday Humor: You Might Be Hardcore If...

The other night I was reading Jeff Freeman's "Are You Hardcore?" post while Jeff Foxworthy's tired "comedy" routine ("You Might Be a Redneck If...") happened to be on the television in the background. I combined these two like peanut butter and jelly to create the following:

You might be hardcore if...

When playing EQII you punch yourself in the face every time you die because the death penalty is not severe enough.

You might be hardcore if...

You solo even con triple-up heroic mobs - using only auto-attack.

You might be hardcore if...

You clear an entire zone of mobs using an arcade style trackball instead of a mouse.

You might be hardcore if...

You make group chat more hardcore by rolling a six-sided die each night and then chat only using words which have the number of syllables you rolled.

You might be hardcore if...

You post more on the Vanguard forums than
Brad McQuaid.

You might be hardcore if...

When tradeskilling, you make every item you craft in real life using the forge and woodcarving table in your bedroom.

You might be hardcore if...

You mock people playing in closed beta for not being around during the "good old days" of the friends and family beta.

You might be hardcore if...

You spend more time playing in a week than most people spend being awake.

You might be hardcore if...

You wear cloth armor on your Guardian to "up the challenge factor."

You might be hardcore if...

You have more accounts then your age.

You might be hardcore if...

Your elite raiding guild is so selective that you haven't taken in a new member since the late 80's.

You might be hardcore if...

You left the newbie isle wearing all fabled gear.

You might be hardcore if...

You mock Vanguard for not being hardcore enough.

You might be hardcore if...

You cleared a high level dungeon zone - blindfolded.

You might be hardcore if...

You give a plat to the beggars in Maj instead of a silver because you've just got it like that.

You might be hardcore if...

You use
this keyboard.

You might be hardcore if...

You send messages to your hardcore friends by naming your characters words in the sentence you want to create and then getting them all to the top of the PvP leader board in order.

You might be hardcore if...

Your computer costs more than your car and home combined (and you built it yourself, of course.)

You might be hardcore if...

You use hardcore emoticons like this: *()(!!!@)&^ which only other hardcore players can understand.

You might be hardcore if...

You cross each zone seven times before zoning to simulate old-school travel times.

You just might be hardcore if...

Aggro Me is your home page.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Aggro Service

"I prithee, remember I have done thee worthy service,
told thee no lies, made thee no mistakings, serv’d
without grudge or grumblings."

-Ariel, The Tempest, Act I Scene II, William Shakespeare

This post is just about MMO customer service in general and is not by any means EQII-specific. To be honest, I've never contacted customer service in any game so I probably have no idea what I'm talking about. With that glowing intro, read on!

The Present

Do you ever get a non-macro form letter response from a GM? Do you ever get any actual human interaction whatsoever? Have you ever gotten an actual positive result to a petition or other query?

Getting a polite but generic response with no resolution only serves to make people angry. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little to make a point but my view on current customer service in MMO's is that it's just a complete waste of money. It serves very little purpose and it likely costs quite a bit.

The way I see it you have two roads to go down:

Route A

Spend a ton more money on CS. Bring back personal interaction and employ skilled and knowledgeable GM's who have the tools and ability to react to actual specific situations. Have them converse with players in non-macro responses and resolve issues. Surprise players with fantastic service.


Route B

Spend a ton less money on CS. Sound crazy? Maybe so, but what if you automate everything? I've been trying to think of typical CS issues.

Improper names: Could be sent to a giant list that one person could go through once a week or more frequently. Does not require actual interaction.

Improper language or harassment issues: Could be sent to a list that one person could go through. This person would have to review chat logs and make a determination so it would take a lot more time. But again, does not require actual interaction.

Stuck Characters: Could be completely automated with a /stuck command of some kind that had several measures to prevent exploiting of said command.

"I lent such-and-such item to so-and-so and now they won't give it back": This is never going to be resolved in your favor anyway so there's no point answering it.

Quest Issues (i.e. problems with the wording of a quest or steps which are bugged in certain situations): A GM is never going to help you with this so the forums are probably a better place for it anyway.

Farmers & Exploiters: Automated tools which raise red flags based on certain parameters and allow for batch bannings seem to be the wave of the future rather than just going after individuals based on a player's report. And they're probably far more effective.

"The server crashed when I was about to kill X" : You're not going to get resolution to this currently anyway.

I'm sure there are a ton more I'm missing but you get the idea. Wipe out as many customer service issues as possible on the design end and then automate the rest.

Now, in a vacuum, I would probably choose A. Who wouldn't? But what if I said you could only have half as much new content due to budgetary restrictions if you chose A? Would you still want it? What if I told you that you could have fifty percent more new content if you chose option B? Would you go for that? Or would you prefer the current system?

Of course, there is no way to say that companies which minimize CS spending are going to put that money back into the game. And maybe we're already at System B and everything is as automated as possible.

A combination could be good, if you were able to automate as much as possible and then use the money to hire highly skilled GM's with proper tools. Maybe that's the way it works already. I really don't know. I only formed my opinion on this by reading various game forums and obviously forum posters are going to be far more inclined to post negative outcomes.

I do know that expectations and opinions about customer service in many games seem quite low. Maybe that will always be the case and there's no point trying. Or maybe people will gravitate to games which have terrific customer service. I just don't know how important it is to people. Is it a luxury or a necessity? A strong selling point or an added bonus? Any ideas?

I'm guessing there's a tipping point of sorts at which customer service is so terrible that people will avoid that company entirely. And conversely, there is also a tipping point where customer service is so great that it will actually increase new subscriptions and retention. I'd say you want to either be just above the negative outcome or just above the positive one and not blandly sit in the middle. But perhaps it's more an issue of degrees.

And perhaps those tipping points can be mitigated by other factors such as a very well run forum, articulate and honest devs and a fantastic community (which EQII, for example, has). Or by an in-game help system which actually helps players (which EQII does not have - it's perfect technically but substantively lacking).

It does seem like customer service in the so-called "real world" has gone downhill in the past few years based on my personal dealings with companies like Dell or Verizon. Will MMO's follow this trend or buck it? Or am I just being nostalgic for some "golden age" of customer service which never really existed?

And let me pause here to say that MMO customer service sounds like a tough and thankless job. You probably deal with a lot of repetition and a lot of argumentative and, let's be fair, flat-out idiotic people. So perhaps retaining the kind of highly skilled and motivated employees needed for Route A is simply impossible. And while I've been knocking form letter responses, they do provide consistency, which is an important part of the customer service picture.

As of now, customer service has never really been a factor as to my decision about whether to play a game or not or how much I enjoy it. But it's one of those things where if you do need it, you really want it to be there. And be effective.

For me, it's a very tough issue. I guess I should /petition it.

Edit: Good news - the terrific audio tradeskill segments on EQ2-Daily by Vaddir I mentioned yesterday are now available as a single file. They contain excellent information presented in a clear and entertaining manner and you can listen to them while you're harvesting. So check them out.