Sunday, 24 May 2015

Fifth Time's The Charm : Everquest

After a turbulent first couple of days, worthy of any full MMO launch, it seemed that Daybreak Games finally have all their orc pawns in a row. Ragefire, the new Voting/Timelocked Progression server (catchy...) is up, stable and devoid of Level 50s, although scuttlebutt has it there was a six-boxer already pushing Level 35 last night. As of this morning they even have a system up and running for handling log in queues and kicking AFKers.

With a couple of hours to go before bed, after finishing up my dailies in GW2, I thought I'd give it a try and see if I could make a character. It was still mid-afternoon on the US West Coast so maybe there was a chance I'd get in. And get in I did. At first I got the expected Server Full message but going with the launch-time vibe I kept on clicking and to my considerable surprise it took just a couple of minutes until there I was at Character Select.

In the last round of Progression, on the Fippy Darkpaw server, I went with a gnome necromancer. In the end, this time, I chose to do the same. I did toy briefly with the idea of going Magician but, while my highest level EQ character is a Mage and the class is arguably the most powerful solo specialist at the top end, I've always found the low level gameplay a little disjointed and frustrating. I also rather fancied being a Dwarf for a change but one look at the Classic options for Dwarves (Cleric, Warrior, Rogue, Paladin) quickly put a stop to that plan.


So, Necromancer it is. That makes my fifth in sixteen years. All gnomes. It's a class I have played and enjoyed a lot and yet with which I've never really made much headway. Over the years I've played alongside some extremely skilled and versatile Necromancers, not least Mrs Bhagpuss, who used to main one for a while, insofar as either of us ever "main" anything. A well-played necro can pretty much fill in for every role in the game. They, not Bards, are the real all-rounders of Norrath.

The trouble is, knowing how good they can be is quite intimidating, especially since a lot of them...aren't. You really don't want to be That Necro. There's a lot to take in if you want to give full service to a group as a Necromancer and I can't see myself putting in the hours. It's never to late learn, as Jeromai rightly observes, but I fear it would end up being a project almost on the scale of his latest venture and I don't think I'm ready to commit to that.

Apart from my Heroic Level 90, who has never adventured further than Plane of Knowledge, the highest I've ever taken a necro is somewhere in the 40s. It's extremely unlikely that this latest addition to Bertoxxulous's Dark Army will get even that far. Indeed, odds are very good that he'll get no further than his Progression server predecessor, who topped out around Level 12.


At least I think he did. I can't check because, even now, if you want to play on the old prog server, Fippy Darkpaw, (which I'm guessing almost no-one does any more) you still have to have a paid-up All Access account. Which, of course, I do - only not the right one.

Five years back I made a fresh account to play on the then-new Freeport F2P server in EQ2, which is how I ended up playing my best-geared, most rounded, highest level character, by far, on a free to play Silver account instead of the one I was actually paying for. Last year, finally, I decided to fix that. I cancelled payment on my longstanding All Access account, which in turn booted my best-geared, most rounded, highest level character in Everquest, the aforementioned Magician, who happened also to be on that longstanding account (which itself is registered in Mrs Bhagpuss's name because we swapped accounts almost a decade and a half ago for reasons which would totally have made sense back then, I'm sure...) onto a F2P account...

And so it goes... After sixteen years of chopping and changing, from illegal account sharing, borrowing and taking over each other's discarded characters, to server merges and payment model rationalizations and being sold off like chattels - twice - our SOE/Daybreak accounts are a hideous tangled mess, almost as much so as that paragraph above. It's something that is not going to get any better. Ever. So I just live with it.


Anyway, remind me; why am I playing on Ragefire, again? It can't be to get a nostalgia fix. I never stopped playing EQ. It's still a current experience for me and you can't be nostalgic about something you never stopped doing, can you? And don't I have a whole raft of characters I'm - verrrrry slowwwly  - working on, any of whom would be a better investment of the limited time I can find to spend in the elder game than a fifth necro?

And besides, the version of Norrath currently showing on Ragefire would surely make for a very poor nostalgia trip for anyone, wouldn't it? There's so much that just isn't even the tiniest bit like it was in The Good Old Golden Olden Days.

There are no real corpse runs because you keep all your gear on death. You can't even lose a level any more. Your pets zone with you and don't explode with a cry of anguish and despair when you thoughtlessly turn yourself invisible. Your spells scribe instantly. Come to that, the entire research system is different. When you arrive at a new city on a different continent there's no need to spam /ooc and /shout, increasingly desperately, "Looking for Bind at Gate", terrified that at any second someone could pull a train over your hiding place and send you back to your bind spot two hours travel away. Nowadays, in our Brave New Classic World, you just stroll up to the Soulbinder NPC and presto, safe.


There are a thousand ways the current version of "Classic" is nothing of the kind. I haven't played on the now officially sanctioned Project 1999 but I'm pretty sure that if you want anything that even begins to approximate the genuine Everquest experience that's where you have to go - and I bet even there it's a damn sight easier than it was in the one and only original 1999.

Thing is this: you can't turn back the MMORPG clock. Wish you could but you can't. Unlike static, offline games that genuinely never change, online games are living constructs. Their very essence is change. How can you hope to re-create the Classic Everquest experience when the game was patching in changes almost from the day it launched?

Have you ever read the patch notes for EQ from the first few years? Allakhazam has the full record archived for posterity. It's fascinating reading. The game changed, substantively, month by month, sometimes almost week by week and it never stopped changing. The EQ we were playing right before Kunark was already a very far cry indeed from the EQ that had launched just a year earlier and yet somehow we're supposed to lump it all together and call it "Classic".


Over in WoW, the game that snatched Everquest's ball, ran away with it and never gave it back, Blizzard will have no truck with Classic servers and programmed nostalgia. So they say. Yet they still seem to believe they can turn back time. To the dismay of many and the delight of, I would guess, very few, this week Blizzard announced that all flights over Draenor and any future New Lands have been cancelled - for good.

I say "Blizzard". All the recent controversial news from the world's biggest MMO seems to have come from interviews with Lead Designer Ion Hazzikostas. One assumes he has the backing of Management when he claims "Having looked at how flying has played out in the old world in the last couple of expansions, we realized that while we were doing it out of this ingrained habit after we introduced flying in The Burning Crusade, it actually detracted from gameplay in a whole lot of ways". Yes. It was almost certainly the detraction from gameplay caused by flying that cost the game three million accounts in the last quarter. Except, wait, didn't that happen just after the expansion that didn't have flying? I must be missing something...

Well, you can make a player a walker but you can't make him think it's for his own good. Grounding the mounts won't be taken as a joyful return to a golden age of exploration and mystery, just a bloody nuisance. As Pike's perfectly chosen quote from Leonardo da Vinci puts it "Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

Meanwhile I'll be out there today with the rest of the would-be time-travelers, trotting across the Steamfont Mountains with my bony pet, hunting down decaying skeletons for bone chips and kobold runts for cloth pants. It took me an hour to hit Level 2 last night so some things haven't changed.

Oh, and as to why I'm playing on Ragefire? I've remembered. Forget the ruleset - it's got that New Server Smell. Can't ever get enough of that.




Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Building The Future : GW2

It must be a strange job, working in ArenaNet's art department. You get to put your heart and soul into creating stunning visuals that will be seen and admired by millions of people, knowing all the while that sometime, probably sooner rather than later, out will come the metaphorical Eraser of Progress and all your work will be consigned to oblivion.


At least whoever worked on the Lion's Arch update that arrived out of the blue in yesterday's patch knew they were working on something that wouldn't be around for very long. After what seems like months...oh, wait, it is months... of pointless clattering and hammering suddenly, overnight, most of the rubble and detritus from Scarlet's Reign Of Terror has vanished.


Replacing it we have vast walls of scaffolding, huge barges of sand and even airships acting as skyhooks. Instead of inept and aimless hammerers there are confident, professional teams of architects and civil engineers, setting up theodolites while their asuran-manufactured golems busily ping asuran-manufactured receptors to measure...something.

Post-patch I eschewed combat in The Mists for once. It was hard to take the eternal battle seriously as an epidemic of bugs saw World Peace break out among players, who all found themselves on the same team, reduced to forming tripartite zergs 150-strong to hunt the Overgrown Grub, just to have something to do. Instead I took a tour of the building site that one day will be Our New Home.

The unfortunate Artist's Impressions released by ANet on the website yesterday, showing what we can expect when the work is complete, suggest Lion's Arch is going to be re-modeled as some kind of cross between a Las Vegas Casino and a Gulf State Shopping Mall. Huge swathes of land have been cleared already. I'm taking it that everything gone won't be coming back, which includes virtually every pirate-themed aspect of the last incarnation other than the hulls that used to hold the Bank and the Black Lion Traders.

It appears  the Age of the Pirate is over. The New (New) LA will be a fortified city, something which makes all the claims that it's going to be prefabricated elsewhere and then flown (or possibly ported) in overnight all the more impressive. That has to be millions of tons of masonry they're talking about. I have to ask, if The Ship's Council (or The Pact or The Consortium or whoever the heck is behind all this) has the capacity to move that much rock that fast, why don't they just drop the whole lot on Mordremoth and save us the trouble of going to the Heart of Maguuma at all?

On the other hand, when you look at the angle of the new lighthouse, which is supposedly now complete and ready to begin operation, you have to wonder if they have Clue One about any of this. It looks almost as bad as the old one after the Karka finished with it. That, by the way, has now been completely dismantled. There's nothing left but the rock on which it used to stand.

At least now we can get around town without falling through unfinished bridges or into holes. The jagged shards of Scarlet's machine have been pulled from the walls and the bitter memory of her near-triumph along with them. The refugees seem to have moved on too - or been moved on. Even the camp outside Vigil Keep seems emptier than I remember it, although there are still a few lingerers there, perhaps too traumatized ever to return.


Lion's Arch, between two states as it is, feels oddly serene. There's an unaccustomed sense of space and freedom. The views by night are superb. It's worth the trip just to see them.

And enjoy it while you can because it won't be around for long. Although, honestly, when it's Lion's Arch you're talking about, when was it ever?


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Catching A Wave: #NBI 2015

When it comes to giving tips to each year's new NBI intake it's often a struggle to think of anything that hasn't already been covered, not least by yourself, last year and the year before that. Of course, since the target audience is supposedly people new to blogging you might feel safe in assuming they haven't read your words of wisdom from previous years and it certainly won't do any harm to dust them off, make a few corrections and additions and offer them up again.

Murf did that with his excellent and entertaining piece on grammar and sentence structure. In linking to Murf, like I just did, I was offering a practical demonstration of one of Aywren's Tips for Connecting to the Blogging Community, namely "if you read a blog post that inspires you to respond with your own post on the same topic, link to that original post or to other posts on a similar topic". That's great advice.

You can even go a stage further and do a whole post made up entirely of links. It's a public service other bloggers will appreciate, both as readers and when you link to them and send them traffic. At any given time there will always be someone performing this welcome and often under-appreciated role. Tipa used to do it, then Spinks. Currently J3w3l has taken it on and is doing sterling service despite Wordpress's best efforts to thwart her.

One thing most regular readers of blogs will come to notice after a while is that trends and topics move through the blogosphere like waves rolling onto a beach. Sometimes the wave begins far out to sea, on some blog you don't follow or in an interview with a dev for some game you never played, other times it surges up unexpectedly right in front of you in your rss feed. Wherever the wave begins, before long all your blogroll boats are bobbing.

It's an easy in to a day's posting to ride that wave and bob along with the rest. If you watch the waves closely, though, you may see the hidden rhythm of the tide as separate waves roll back, under and across one another, gaining or losing strength as they absorb each other or dissipate. Topics, trends and themes throughout the blogosphere tend to demonstrate both synchronicity and synergy, which isn't surprising when you consider we are all reacting to subsets of the same stimuli.

Right now, there's a clearly-defined boost to the effect, caused by the multiple NBI Talkback Challenges and Screenshot Safaris. Often, though, it can seem almost magical. There's little in blogging more satisfying, to me at least, than the sensation that you're making connections between ideas as they hum and spit across the zeitgeist, the feeling you get when the architectonics of a post that will weave them all together begin to coalesce.

On a good day it feels like bottling lightning. The words tumble from the keys almost faster than your fingers can follow. Other times it's plain hard work. Sometimes those ideas that seemed so lucid and  transcendental in the mind struggle against codification. They need to be wrestled down onto the page, where they lie inert; defeated and flat.

And sometimes what comes out seems to have no connection to what went in. You look at what you've written with confusion and surprise. This post is one of those.

I sat down to write about Exploration in MMOs, bringing in the "What Made You A Gamer?" NBI Talkback Challenge and the whole repeatable content furore instigated by the WoW Dev Shoots Self In Foot interview. I was going to weave such a tapestry out of threads suggested by Gaming SF, Kill Ten Rats, Tobold, In An Age, The Rykter Scale and more. I had screenshots ready from GW2 and Dragon Nest Oracle, where I was going to use the patina of lichen on the red roof tiles and the angle of the wooden shutters on the windows to illustrate the ineffable nature of both compulsion and delight.

And then I wrote this.

So here's my NBI Blogger Tip for 2015: when the post you write turns out to be different to the post you thought you were going to write - just go with it. You can always write that other post another day. Although the chances are you won't. The waves are never still.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Why We Fight: GW2

Today my cat and I went walking.

It was another lovely day. The sun was warm. The water cool.

 We sat together for a while.

After, as we walked on, he said, "Everything is so beautiful. Why must we fight the dragons? Why can't we just play and fish and sleep in the sun?".

"Oh, Charlie", I said, "You are such a cat!"

And then I took him to The Brand.


So he would understand.


Saturday, 16 May 2015

It's Not What You Do It's - The Way That You Do It : Landmark, Dragon Nest

When it comes to combat in MMORPGs, given a choice, I'll always go for the traditional. I like my hotbars and most especially I like to have full and complete control over my mouse pointer at all times. I'm a clicker and proud of it.

For a few years now, though, sentiment among MMORPG developers has been set dead against old fuddy-duddies like me. Industry wisdom has it that conventions like hotbar combat, tab targeting and even WASD movement have been acting as a drag anchor on the genre's chance of a breakout. To remain a purist would have been to close the door on any number of hybrid MMO/MMORPG/ARPGs and my curiosity would never allow that.

The first time I wrestled with the new controls was in the DCUO beta back in late 2011.Was it really only three and a half years ago? It feels like a decade must have passed at least since then. Then there was the original Dragon Nest, Neverwinter Online, TESO, half an hour of Tera and now Dragon Nest Oracle and Landmark. Most likely several I've forgotten about as well.
Don't mess with me. I know Origami.

It's not a massive sample but it's certainly enough for me to appreciate that it's not a simple case of hotbars good, mouseclicks bad. Yes, my preference is always going to bias towards the classic Everquest select-execute-observe style of combat but I do recognize that feeling comfortable and in control with no mouse pointer on screen is not an absolute impossibility.

Yesterday I spent around an hour exploring a little of the first underground level in Landmark. For a good while I had the dark, twisty caves to myself but eventually I fell down some kind of fissure and found myself in a cavern where monsters dwell.

Four kinds of monster to be precise - Chompers, Wisps, Slaugs and Abominations. That's the entire bestiary so far. Oh, and there's a Mushroom that explodes, if you count that, which I don't. All of the above were lurking or hovering or slithering around in the large, dark, cavernous space and over the course of half an hour or so I killed at least one of every kind.

Why do I get the feeling the tide just went out?

It wasn't easy. I'm not entirely sure it was fun. It was certainly inelegant and awkward. All I had was the standard-issue newbie sword with its two basic attacks linked to right and left mouse. Since the RMB attack is a leap I didn't use that much. Positioning was difficult enough already.

Progression in Landmark, such as it is, rides on Achievements. Many of the things you'd naturally choose to do turn out to have rewards attached via this system. The very first monster you kill rewards a Pulverizer, a handy device that allows you to tunnel quickly through rock. I wanted one of those so when a wisp started to zap me instead of panicking and trying to run away I whacked it with my sword.

Okay, that was just a practice round.
I won the first fight to my considerable surprise. And the second. And the third. I had my Pulverizer but now I also had another Achievement in sight, the one for killing ten monsters in the first level of the underworld. Some of the fights were close but I only died once, to my first Chomper, a notoriously awkward customer at close quarters. I got him on the rematch though.

My impression of the combat was "it's not completely awful". As a very - very - basic template it has possibilities. Like just about every aspect of Landmark right now it feels like something that might be ready for commercial release with, oh, no more than another couple of years work. Still, I can now at least imagine playing a character in EQNext using some much more polished version. Whether I'd enjoy it is harder to say.

If I don't, though, it will not be because of any innate and immovable prejudice against the type of combat they've chosen to go with. Dragon Nest Oracle went for exactly the same center-screen cursor targeting, LMB/RMB attacks system, only there it is a sheer joy to use. Granted my diminutive protagonist is using the left mouse button to fire a hand-cannon the size of a pygmy hippopotamus and that's what does most of the damage but it's not all range range range. She's also got a six-foot spanner she swings with the right to knock things down!

I don't have any shots of DNO combat.
Here's a cat instead.
The differences are manifold. Above everything there's the responsiveness. My character in DNO looks and feels solid with a physicality that most MMOs lack. The animations all match perfectly to the actions I'm taking and the impacts feel concussive and reactive. It's a real ARPG so everything is speeded up, something I wouldn't expect or want in Landmark or EQN, but if a fumbling amateur like me can operate the controls comfortably at those speeds then surely a more stately pace should be even more to my taste.

Dragon Nest Oracle also has a lot of explosions. I really like my explosions. Often you can't see what your fighting in GW2 for the particle effects, which I have on maximum at all times. I'd rather see a firework show than an ogre's face any day. It might surprise people who haven't played but original Everquest also has particle effects that can be cranked up until there's little on screen but swathes of neon color and enough sparkles to keep a unicorn factory running for a year. I used to play with those on full, too, except when I was main-healing.

If Landmark has anything in the way of spectacular visual effects during combat I missed them. That might be because it is pitch dark in those caves and apart from the wisps the monsters are hard to see, although darkness is a bit of a thing for Daybreak at the moment, so maybe that will change. It's also likely my very basic starter weapon has no attached special effects. You don't really get particle effects with a rusty sword. Just tetanus.

I'm really not sure about having a forge inside my house.
I didn't have much time to worry about the candlepower in my Lightstone anyway. (I made it myself, you know). I was mostly concentrating on keeping the monsters in the center of the utterly ludicrous calipers that Daybreak are using as a "cursor". It was quite a while before I noticed that as well as bracketing the target those giant parentheses also show you the state of your armor and health. An uglier, more intrusive and, well, plain daft way of doing so would be hard to imagine. That really has to go.

Despite the very major limitations and shortcomings of both Landmark's combat system and my natural ability to operate it I emerged from the underworld feeling oddly pleased with myself. A click of my Stone of Recall took me back to my tower, baking in glorious sunshine beside the ever-rolling waves, where I made immediately for the Forge.

In the course of my battles I'd managed to loot enough Ether Shards to make myself a better weapon. I went for the bow which, under Landmarks' latest, highly streamlined crafting system, you do indeed make in a forge. The farther back I can stand when I'm fighting something that can rip my head off the better I like it.

I think I might pop into Not-Norrath and have a go with it right now.




Friday, 15 May 2015

We Got Game! : Landmark

It was around fifteen months ago that those of us willing to stump up real money for the opportunity got our first hands-on experience with Landmark. Back then it still went by its full, unwieldy and, as it turned out, misleading title: EverQuest Next: Landmark.

The launch blew up into kind of a big deal, mostly on the back of the enormous hype around EQNext that SOE had whipped up back in the summer and successfully kept on the boil thereafter. No-one was quite sure what they'd let themselves in for but Landmark was A Thing, you could buy a Founder's Pack and play it and people did. In their tens of thousands. Even though it was nothing more than the alpha test for a game that would eventually be Free to Play. Not that there's anything remotely unusual about that. Not any more...

The new world. It's busy but I still had no trouble finding a really gorgeous waterfront lot.

In what must have been the marketing department's dream and the design team's nightmare, all the news was about the numbers: would-be homemakers wandered the beautiful new lands that might or might not be Norrath, looking for somewhere, anywhere to stake a claim.  New servers opened in clusters just to accommodate the exceptional demand. It was the kind of publicity money can't buy and best of all SOE didn't have to: their players were the ones paying for it.

The NDA was dropped, stunning screenshots and breathless excitement splurged across the interwebs and all was right in the land of SOE for a while. Oh, there were a few people, the kind who don't even read the large print below the headlines let alone the small print in the terms and conditions, who complained that they thought they'd bought, y'know, a game and, like, where was it? There were even a few who imagined they'd bought EQNext. It is to laugh.

Tower courtesy the Norrath branch of Ikea. Wait...is this Norrath? I'm kinda unclear on that, still...

Those people all got refunds if they asked, though, so it was all good. The naysayers left and the rest of us got on with digging and building and generally having just a whale of a good old time. Only as the weeks turned into months and alpha turned into closed beta some of us began to wonder if those pleasure-deniers might not have had a point after all. Where was the game, indeed?

The servers emptied out. Upkeep went unpaid, claims vanished, much of the tamed land went back to nature. Mentions in gaming news and across the blogosphere grew thin. SOE's interests seemed to have moved on to zombie survival sandboxes and elsewhere. Then one day there wasn't even an SOE any more. Other than Massively OP's ultra-loyalist M.J. Guthrie, who even remembered Landmark was still there?

The new Deciduous biome: Ascalon in Norrath. Or, wait...Oh, let's not start that again...

And then, last week, it all started up again. Well, kind of. Landmark die-hards have long been expecting, craving even, their own Year Zero and it's finally arrived. There was a complete claim and character wipe, the servers came down for a couple of days and when they came back up everything had changed, from the number of servers (down to four) to the names and geography of the islands. It's quite literally a whole new world.

I wasn't one of those who'd forgotten about Landmark entirely. I've been paying distracted and sporadic attention, visiting the forums now and then, reading the very occasional news squib, wondering idly whether to patch the thing up and log in but always finding some reason to do something else instead. It didn't help that a while back Landmark started to run like a drunken pig on my five-year old PC, making even moving from one place to another feel onerous and tiring.

I hope my neighbors aren't pirates.

Even though I hadn't forgotten about Landmark I probably wouldn't have taken the trouble to make a new character and start over again from scratch right now had it not been for the enthusiasm of those who just did. Kaozz, who has a machine that can run the thing properly, posted some stunning screenshots. Aywren gave a great account of the way the whole experience has changed. MJ at MassivelyOP, for once, came over as the negative Nelly (her words!) and yet even her reservations made the game sound more interesting than it had for a long, long while.

In fact they all made it sound as though there might, at last, be a game there after all. So last night after I finished my dailies in GW2 I patched up, remade my character (with hair this time) and logged in. In just a few minutes I was feeling tired. I looked at the clock and  it was three hours later and one o'clock in the morning. Been a long time since that happened...

You can just make me out in the middle there, doing a rather fine Australian Crawl.

I was going to go through the whole new new player experience, chapter and verse:

  • How the new islands are so much better in shape, design, names and geography
  • How the sheer choice of landscape and location turns picking a place to settle into a deliciously difficult decision
  • How there are now things to do right from the moment you log in that create a feeling of progression and development that was often absent before
  • How many of the roadblocks to fun have vanished
  • How having a ready-made, attractive home all ready and waiting to be placed really roots you in the world from the start
  • How, in short, Landmark has finally begun to feel more like a game and less like a toolset

I was going to do that, but it would have been redundant. Aywren already covered everything in the piece I linked above. Go read it if you didn't already! Meanwhile, I'll just quote her conclusion, with which I wholeheartedly agree:

 "Overall, I feel this patch has made Landmark much more accessible to the general player".

About the only thing she forgot to mention was how fantastic the swimming is!

Come on in! The water's fine. In fact it's the best I've ever seen.

But don't run away with the idea this is job done for Daybreak Games. They still have a lot of work to do. As longtimers have said on the forums, Landmark isn't even ready for Open Beta yet. It does, however, at least feel like a real Closed Beta for something that might turn into an entertaining and worthwhile MMO some day. We're not in alpha any more, which for most of the year-long supposed "closed beta" until now, we might just as well have been.

Zubon has thought-provoking piece up about the difference between compelling and entertaining content. I have always found Landmark compelling - that voxel building is like virtual crack - but I was never sure whether I found it entertaining. It's often been hard to tell whether I've been spending time profitably in Landmark or just wasting it. The jury is still out on that one but the evidence is looking a lot more stacked in favor of a positive verdict than ever before.

I'm going to need a lot of planks. Maybe I should just get a rubber horsie.

Best of all the three hours I spent there last night made me feel optimistic for EQNext all over again. Landmark offers a useable interface, a non-alienating approach, a manageable hybrid between traditional MMO gameplay and console-friendly action gaming. I'll have to buy a new PC to run it properly but by the time EQN arrives I'm going to need one anyway.

And now, if you'll pardon me, I have a jetty I want to be getting on with. Can't really have a lakeside home without one, can you?

Monday, 11 May 2015

Prog Rocks : Everquest

The Open Beta for Everquest's third round of Progression Server fun has been up and running for a few days now. As Wilhelm observed, now they've been freed from the shackles of the Sony Megacorp, Daybreak Games seem determined to demonstrate their fleet-footedness and general joi-de-vivre. Everything is careering along at a breakneck pace that would have given the old SOE terminal whiplash. As far as I know there's no official launch date for Ragefire but I would bet on it being sooner rather than later.

As the years roll on, I am becoming increasingly certain that my days of doing volunteer Quality Assurance work in my leisure time are behind me, most especially for projects that I plan to play when they go live. My attempts to grab one of the dropped beta portals for the next round of Heart of Thorns testing in GW2 were desultory at best. Where some people devoted the entirety of their playtime for day after day until they got lucky I managed less then two hours.

Don't listen to Nusback. He's just our Belts guy. I'm your real Guildmaster!

Someone said in map chat that today is the last day the portals will drop and still it literally did not even occur to me to go and have one last try. When a couple of people linked their purple portals in chat at Fire Elemental this morning my immediate reaction was "Congrats! Now you get to test unfinished content on a temporary character!" I may even have said as much in /map.

As we move uncertainly into the era of buy-in betas, Early Access and the rest it seems likely that my interest in beta-testing will be limited to MMOs that are only available in that form, that are likely to remain so for a good while and that don't require me to do much more than give an email address to apply. Other than that I reckon I can manage without, thanks.

There's an NBI Talkback Challenge going on concerning Early Access vs Kickstarter to which I guess this post is some kind of response. Kickstarter doesn't interest me greatly. I don't have much faith that anything very significant will come out of it. I see it either as a way to place a long pre-order for projects that look solid and which offer good perks at an affordable price or as a way to express solidarity, as I did with both Project:Gorgon and Massively OP.
Oh come on! I can get through there! I'm a dwarf fer Brell's sake not an Ogre.

Other than that Kickstarter campaigns are a kind of low-involvement entertainment in and of themselves. Crowfall has been fun to follow, for example, regardless of how the game eventually turns out, as was EverJane before it. In the end any real choice and certainly any meaningful emotional commitment won't arrive until there's something I can actually play, and I don't mean a tech demo.

When it comes to Early Access, I'm a lot more interested. As I commented after the The Mystic Mesmer's post on the subject:

"Early Access is just a very straightforward purchasing decision like any other. The unfinished game is a product/service that you can examine and accept or reject according to whether you think it’s worth the price being asked. The only real problem (particularly for consumers who are not interested in buying unfinished games) is whether a wide acceptance of Early Access will lead to a drop in availability of “Finished Quality” products."

The apparent commercial and to some degree critical success of barely started, let alone finished, games like H1Z1 may set warning flags for those who prefer a polished product but it's still Skyrim and GTA5 that make the big headlines and the big bucks so I feel we're safe from any kind of sea change away from quality finished product for the time being. On the other hand, when Microsoft announces the end of discrete versions of Windows in favor of the kind of on-the-fly patching MMO players have come to know and love then I guess anything could happen.
Did the cracked staff go out of fashion or what?

With all that rattling around in the background, today I finally got around to making a character on the EQ Prog Beta. Since I definitely plan on playing it when it launches, albeit sporadically and to little purpose, I'm sure, it seemed like a good idea to download the client and make sure it worked, which it does.

I have it installed on a 64GB USB stick (it uses about 10GB) so I can in theory play it on my Tablet. I'm already playing EQ2 on the Tablet in my lunch hour now and then so I'm guessing EQ should run okay. So far the only MMO that won't play nicely with the Tablet is GW2, which won't even let me update the client.

I made a dwarf warrior and spent a quarter of an hour getting her out of Kaladim - and that was with the in-game map we shouldn't really have. Another fifteen minutes killing decaying skeletons and goblin whelps just in front of the gates took me to level two, at which point I logged off. It still has the magic but I'm saving my energy and excitement for a permanent character.

I might log in again while the beta lasts. There's some kind of reward for participation, most likely a bag, that will be redeemed when the game goes live. Well, sometime after the game goes live. Daybreak will decide what it is and when we get it. They're very clear on that in the new, plain-speaking style they seem to have adopted and which, I think, is going down quite well with their core audience.

They don't say how many of the tokens we need to acquire, which is very Classic EQ, but at least, unlike the GW2 portals, its a very common drop. I was getting one for about every three kills. While I was playing a serverwide broadcast announced that the progression-required raid target, the White Dragon Lady Vox, had been killed. The victor popped on to general chat to confirm that yes, he'd just soloed her and her loot was rotting if anyone wanted it.

The shape of things to come? Let's hope not. Even if it is, though, it's not going to affect me any. I very much doubt I'll get further than Blackburrow. Still, I fear it could be a long six months in end game for some.



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