Inequalities

In spite of what some folks might like to think, the one is not the same as the other.

  Comparisons are something that’s just a part of human nature.  But it’s not always a wise thing to do.

  It’s something I’ve noticed as I’ve bounced around MMOs-particularly where you find similar genres.  When Bioware opened up forums for their development of Star Wars: The Old Republic, there was no shortage of people requesting features that sounded eerily like features already found in the still-existing Star Wars Galaxies.  Star Trek Online suffers occasionally from people wishing that it was more like the single-player Bridge Commander.  And there are people who look at Champions Online and compare it unfavorably to City of Heroes.

  This sort of thing happens when a game is closing down.  SWG veterans (of both eras of SWG) try to deal with the fact that space combat isn’t remotely like the Jump to Lightspeed expansion, which was more like the computer games X-Wing, but more like arcade shooters like Zaxxon.  (Now that’s showing my age…)  City of Heroes veterans are migrating to what they feel is the second-best superhero game.  People are inclined to gravitate to the games they feel are most similar to the games they are leaving.  But here’s the thing:  these people are going in with the feeling that they’re settling for second best-they’ve been playing the game they liked better, after all.  But it’s going away.

  This general attitude doesn’t endear the migrants to the game populations they’re joining.  They’ve been playing what they feel is the better game, after all.  Having a bunch of folks coming in from a game that obviously wasn’t good enough to still be around telling them that the other game was better…well, that’s not likely to bring warm fuzzies.  You can see this to an extent with other games at different points in their lifespan too-how game X was better before developer Y nerfed everything.  And that causes conflict, too.

  People migrating to a new game need to realize and understand that what they had is gone.  The new game isn’t going to be that old game.  TOR isn’t going to be SWG with a new paint job.  CO isn’t going to be CoH with a different art style.  Appreciate the target games for what they are, not for what they aren’t.  TOR doesn’t have housing; don’t spend all your time complaining about that.  Appreciate the involved stories that make up the quests.  CO doesn’t have Mission Architect; but you can enjoy the Nemesis system.  The games are different-but this is only as good or as bad as you let it be.

  People in those games that are seeing a flood of migrants need to understand, too, that they come bearing fresh and raw wounds.  Speaking ill of the dead is tacky.  Don’t put your effort in saying how the old game stunk on ice-the migrants won’t appreciate it any more than you would appreciate them coming in and saying how bad your game sucks.  Help them see and appreciate the game you see-the game you fell in love with.  It might not work-but that’s the way it goes with anyone new to a game.

  This sort of thing seems pretty obvious, but I see the conflicts in forums and I see them in the games.  It’s really pretty simple in the end, though:  the people leaving a dead game are looking for something at least similar to their old one-not just in game mechanics but in community.  The people in the new games are (or should be) looking forward to a new influx of players who can help improve the overall health of the game.  There’s a middle ground here, where both sides can appreciate what the other can bring to the table.  It’s a better place to be than on the extremes where one side shouts, “My game was better!” while the other shouts back, “No, mine is!”

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“Foolish Earthlings! Who Will Save You Now?”

Not making any comparisons here; but Ming’s really the only guy who comes to mind with a blog topic title like this.

What do you do when your favorite MMO goes extinct?  What happens when you hear that it’s closing down?  If you’re like most people, you move on.  And then you have the people who not just say “no”, but “Hell No!”

And then you have the subsection of those people who actually do something about it.

Take Star Wars Galaxies.  Specifically, SWG as it existed before the NGE hit.  When the NGE was thrust upon the player base, you had two options:  learn to live with the new game, or to live without it and leave.  But some folks chose to pull a Captain Kirk and take a third option by changing the rules.  Over time and years, they carefully reverse engineered the code and created a working emulator of the game that was lost in 2005.  It’s not perfect, as I understand it, but to have even come close-and make no mistake, they have-is an accomplishment that nobody could have reasonably expected to succeed when they first set out.

Could this be the savior of a doomed game?

It’s probably not surprising that this train of thought comes from the impending closure of City of Heroes.  Some folks aren’t content to sit and watch it pass away.  The people behind the Titan Network are calling upon the players of the game to be as heroic as their counterparts (or perhaps inversely villainous, since some folks are exclusive villains) and attempt to do whatever they can to preserve CoH-by convincing NCSoft to reconsider, to get them to sell the game and rights to another publisher, to release the source code, and so on.  There’s even talk that they’re willing to try to pony up the cash to buy the game outright.

Is this a fool’s errand?

Could be.

Is it worth trying?

Certainly.

There’s something about the impending closure of long-running and beloved games that seem to bring out the best in some people-and in some cases, cause them to be extraordinary.  It’s an open question as to whether or not the players of CoH can succeed, in whatever form.  But the willingness to make the attempt is worthy of recognition.

The Evils of Camps

No, not THESE camps.

  There is something that MMO developers seem to constantly love putting in their games.  I saw it in almost every MMO I’ve played.  I saw it in Star Wars Galaxies with Axkva Min (Pre-NGE days).  I saw it in World of Warcraft with too many instances to count, and in Lord of the Rings Online as well.  I saw it in EVE Online at stargates in lowsec space.  I saw even saw it in City of Heroes with Sally.  Most recently, I saw it all over the place in Star Wars: The Old Republic and the Grand Acquisitions Race.

  Camps.

  Not the good kind, like your friendly neighborhood rangers would set up in SWG.  No, this is the bad kind:  the kind that players engage in for assorted reasons to get some benefit.  In some cases, it’s to try to get rare drops.  In others, it’s to blow up unsuspecting players when they enter a vulnerable spot through a choke point.  In all cases, they exist for the benefit of the few; you have to be pretty damned fast or lucky to gain the benefit of the camp for yourself.

  I got reminded of this during the Acquisitions Race in TOR.  The Race is a special event that ends tomorrow after starting last week.  Simply put, you are on a scavenger hunt that takes you across Nar Shadda and either Coruscant or Dromund Kaas, depending on your faction.  The hunt turns nasty, though, because everyone is trying to do these quests that will go away-the joys of a limited time event-and the items are often gated by a clickable object.  Which means you have crowds around these objects, all trying to do the event before someone else does.

  In some cases, this brings out the better in people.  Sometimes, I’ve observed people going into groups so that everyone could benefit from the clicked item, or help out in blowing away a group of hostile mobs-even if they weren’t teamed.  (It could be argued that they did this simply so they could get their turn at the clicky faster, but I’ll stay hopeful here.)  This is where you get the shining examples of humanity:  people willing to work together so that everyone benefits.

  And then there’s the other kind.  Frantic clicks when a clicky becomes available so you can go and do something else, without regard to people who were there first.  Cries of “you stole my crate!” and similar resound through the zone channels.  In other words, people just being jerks.  They justify this by saying that there’s a limited amount of time to play, and the spawn timers are long enough that going through a bunch of people will take disgustingly long.  A long time where you are doing nothing but waiting.  And that’s just not fun.

  What amazes me most about this was that the TOR devs seemed to see that this wasn’t fun.  Early in the patch cycle for the game, a number of bonus quests that relied on killing in-world targets got changed into a clicky that didn’t go away-or had a rapid respawn-that spawned in the targets.  In other words, they seemed to recognize that the only thing a slow respawning opponent did was irritate players.  It seemed like they got the message.  And then this comes along, and they make the same mistakes they made before.

  And this keeps happening with MMOs.  I just rattled off a number of games that did the exact same sort of thing.  You even see this sort of thing in Star Trek Online with dilithium mining (or mining on that Tholian Incursion map).  The devs just keep doing it.  Why?  It’s not like the gamer is paying by the hour to play the games.  Hell, most of these games are or are going to be Freemium games.  Is that really the kind of thing that leaves a good impression?  Do they really have a better opinion about the average gamer than is warranted-that they’ll group for mutual benefit instead of going all “Lord of the Flies” on it all?

  I don’t have any answers to that.  But it’s a damned shame that this sort of thing is going on for an event that lasts a week, which could discourage someone from even trying this event on more than one character.  It sure discouraged me from abusing myself beyond a single character.  And given the entertainment of doing the event outside of camps, that’s a damned shame.

MMOs With Friends

  One of the things that tends to be a real challenge in playing MMOs is playing with friends.

No, not THOSE friends!

  That doesn’t sound right, does it?

  But it’s also true to a certain extent:  especially if you’ve been playing a lot, and they don’t.  Or you’ve been playing longer.  Or anything at all like that.  The people who play more will usually find that their characters are many levels ahead, better geared, and generally would blow through content like Kleenex-at least, the content their less frequent friends are playing.  Some games help with that sort of thing.  Some don’t.

  City of Heroes is likely the finest example of helping friends team up.  Their sidekick mechanic means that the lower level character is bumped up to the same level as the high level character they team with.  That was great back in the day, but later patches kicked this to the next level, allowing everyone on the team to match levels with the team leader.  So in theory, you could have a level 1, 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 character playing at the same level.  It’s not all fun and games, of course; the level 1 character still only has two powers to play with (not counting any “special powers” that may have been gained through time or purchase), and is just not as effective as a level 50.  On the other hand, since you can conceivably be letting the level 1 guy be team lead, everyone else will have access to only a few extra powers over the level 1.  There are other disparities, of course, because it’s not just about number of powers, but you get the general idea:  friends can play with friends at any point in the leveling chain.

  Champions Online and Star Trek Online have a similar system-which shouldn’t be shocking, as those games were developed by the same people who developed CoH.  It tends to work in a squad leader sort of manner, where if you get too far away you lose the benefits of matching levels.  In STO, this gets mitigated a lot during certain events like Borg Red Alerts and some of the recent Fleet Events, where everyone is matched to level-but again, you still have disparities like equipment and available abilities.  No matter how you slice it, an Odyssey Star Cruiser is going to outperform a Constitution Cruiser; it just has more bridge officer slots, more consoles, more weapons.  I can’t speak much for CO, but since they also utilize special gear for the characters, I would imagine that it runs into similar issues.  STO is a tad more complicated since it deals with characters, AND bridge officers, AND their ships.

This is what happens when you don’t get special mechanics to help out.

  Not every game out there has taken this sort of thing into account.  Star Wars: The Old Republic is more old school; if you team with someone really high, you’ll probably get killed in your first encounter with something bad if you go after stuff at his/her level, or get no xp at all if you go after things at your level.  Not exactly good for playing with friends.  This is where liberal use of alt characters comes into play; if you’re lucky, you’ll have characters sitting around the various level ranges.  If you’re not, it gets hard to play with friends.  Given that the game rewards teaming with Social Points, allowing access to Social Gear, you’d think that TOR would seriously consider a “sidekicking” mechanic somewhere down the line.  But I imagine that’s way down the line, given the recent appearance of the group finder (which seems to be better for folks looking for high level instances rather than low level ones, based on my admittedly limited experience thus far).

  Ironically, one of the better games out there for teaming with friends of any level might have been Star Wars Galaxies, in its pre-Combat Upgrade days, when experience was based on use of your various skills; if you used pistols, eventually you got better with them and could rank up.  On the other hand, if my memory recalls, that tended to be based on damage output on the target, and if someone high level was blasting away with his uber-skills, odds are you probably didn’t get as much xp for the attack.  Maybe it’s those rose-colored glasses getting in the way again.

  For the record, I’m a big fan of CoH’s system, and I’ve felt for a long time that it should have been a standard for MMOs going forward.  If you’re an MMO developer and you want to encourage group content, you could do a lot worse than make it simpler for those people at a wide stretch of levels to play together.  After all, if you can’t play with your friends, you’re more likely to start thinking that another MMO might be better to play in.  And if you’re a developer, you’d hate to see that revenue stream go away.

Seven Years In

Holy passing time, Batman! Seven YEARS?!

On the original blog, I would have a yearly sum-up of my previous year of MMOs at around this time.  So guess what?  The tradition continues.

Seven years ago, I dipped my feet in, and then plunged into, the MMO world.  And now, seven years later, things are still going strong.  So what’s filled the time in Year Seven?

The winner, and still champion…!

Well, as usual, City of Heroes conquers as being the game I spend the most time in.  The biggest news of the year there was the advent of Freedom, the freemium conversion of the game.  Hasn’t changed much for me, though-because I’m still subbing, and still having fun.

A pair of characters reached the lofty heights of level 50 in the last year:  Professor Dredd, a Mastermind character I’d had for the longest time (one of my earliest City of Villains characters, in fact), and a Warshade called Skyshade-who had originally been named Magic’s Shadow.

The game itself has undergone some significant additions:  primarily the Incarnate Trials, allowing greater and greater power for those level 50s.  Still, I have a fair stable of 50s now, so only a few got to start walking the path.  The top incarnates are Winter Tornado, Operative Rostov, Ebon Thunderbolt, and Stellar Protector.  Amazing Kane had a run at it, but when the developers introduced a new powerset called Time Manipulation, I knew I had to reroll the character to use that set.  So for the first time, I removed a level 50 from the stable and made a new version.  The original one made use of a free server transfer to the VIP Exalted server, in case I ever decide this was an incredibly stupid mistake.  Another fun event was the opening of a new 12 potential character slots per server, making it possible to purchase to 48 character slots per server.  Past history assures me that it still won’t be enough….

On the supergroup front, things have remained more or less stable.  The Union Supreme is still around, although activity when I’m active is a hit-and-miss proposition.  Hyperion Force has come off a year of assorted storylines, some of which were bigger hits than others.  And I’ve also been pushing ahead full forward with a villain group, too-the Entropy Legion, with my representative being originally Baron Craven (who eventually left because he backstabbed the group) and currently Dracofire, an alien fiery flying lizard.  Have I mentioned I love the Virtue server?

On the other hand, by TKO…

The next major MMO was Star Trek Online.  And things are less pleasant there.  The year started pretty strongly-a new feature episode hit in February featuring the Romulans and Remans, and it was-much like the previous feature episodes-a hit.  The highlight was the “Coliseum” episode, featuring an arena combat with some classic Trek music, a huge map, a puzzle…it had a lot of stuff that was just right.  Unfortunately, that was pretty much the end right there.  Thanks in part to the sale of Cyptic from Atari to Perfect World Entertainment, there was very little that was released outside of the C-Store offerings.  A publish did include a set of mechanical options, like “shooter mode”, but the next promised feature episode was pushed back…and back…and back.  The only thing resembling content for a long time was a series of random space Borg invasions.

Then the developers announced (to the surprise of nobody) that STO would be going freemium.  This, however, has been handled far worse than the CoH conversion.  My recent posts have probably hinted (well, that’s a mild way of putting it) of my own dissatisfaction with things there, and my opinion hasn’t changed much recently.  Despite this, there have been some good things.  Special Task Forces have improved to a point where a relative noob like me can play in them via PvE queues, and not spend several hours in one.  The Borg Invasions (now including a ground attack on Defera) have been pretty fun as well-they get you running around in space sectors, and the ground one seems nicely complex.  It’s not all bad.  It’s just a number of other decisions and actions involving the game that has me thinking that my time there is limited.

The Corps of Discovery still exists, but mostly in name only; it’s a place to exchange items and the like between characters, but there hasn’t been much in the way of fleet activity as everyone has drifted off into doing different things.  The Freemium conversion may have changed that, however; I’ve noted more activity in the News section of the Fleet menu than I’ve seen in a while, with names I’ve not seen in longer.  We’ll wait and see what the future holds there.

And now…the new challenger!

And then there’s the new kid on the block.  Star Wars: The Old Republic has come among us like a titan.  I obviously don’t have much to report on this one-it’s only been live for a little under a month.  All the same, I have a new Coreth on Canderous Ordo server-a smuggler.  And Alcarin is an Imperial Agent on Rubat Crystal, a member of the Correctors faction of the Sith Empire.  The Hyperspace Outlaws formed up on Ordo (although technically they’re using the guild name of simply “Hyper”).  The game’s been great fun for me so far, and I expect to be writing more about it in the near future as I indulge in my altaholism.  This isn’t to say that there haven’t been growing pains-I read on the forums and on news sites about exploits and errors-but I’m not seeing anything I haven’t seen from other game launches.

The old fighter gives up the ghost at last.

Speaking of Star Wars:  we saw the sunset of Star Wars Galaxies.  Nothing to say on this one.  I actually did manage to resurrect Coreth Landwalker briefly when SOE managed to have a huge data breach, giving me a free 45 days of compensation time; granted, since Corbantis server was no more, he had to be transferred off to another server, but I did it-and spent time taking screenshots of places, figuring I’d never get a chance to see them again.  Ironically, not long after, they announced the end, so there you go.  The timing of its expiration and that of the release of TOR is probably not a coincidence, no matter how much some folks might say otherwise.

A couple of other games claimed some time from me, although to a far more limited extent.  I amusingly had another 45 free days from the aforementioned debacle also applied to Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.  Which I’d only done a trial for, when it was released.  Funny, huh?  My PC is able to handle that game a lot better now than the one I’d had then, but it still couldn’t capture me.  SOE being in charge may have also had something to do with it.  I spent very little time in Champions Online, even given its freemium status; I tried out their version of feature episodes, but they just couldn’t grab me.  I spent even less time in Lord of the Rings Online; just enough to ensure characters were still alive, more or less.  I did get a few free weeks back in EVE Online (but I missed the really entertaining period when the riots were ongoing in Jita); I trained up a few skills, picked up a new salvager-specific ship for Zhaven Rel, and managed to get a datacore which I’ll likely sell off if I ever visit again.  DC Universe Online also went freemium, and allowed me to poke around there a bit.  I did something I never thought I’d do again-give SOE any cash at all-but it’s also likely to be the last of the cash I give them.  I expect to stop by there once in a while, but it’s no competition to the best superhero game out there.  Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a bit of time in the still massive World of Warcraft, where I got to see the Cataclysm hit; my free time literally spanned the space before and after the patch that wrecked the world, although the expansion itself hadn’t hit by the time I was done.  Irritated as hell about the talent changes, and more is supposedly on the way, but I don’t have a horse in that race anymore.

As usual, I also sprinkled some fictional writing in for my various MMO characters, since that’s something I still enjoy doing.  In a City of Heroes, Stellar Protector got put through an emotional wringer after finding out his wife had been replaced by a clone for a year, and I explored his reaction to that in “Facets”; but at least he had one victory earlier in the year in “Fall of the Gems” where a significant monkey was taken off his back (and a potentially nastier one was being put on-deck).  The Old Ranger of the same setting also got a little play in “Web of the Spider” as a new set of villains begin to assert themselves.  Meanwhile, in the Old Republic, the Imperial Agent Alcarin Rost began to get some time in with “Tales of an Imperial Agent”, and is a player in the open-RP fiction “The Arrival”.  All of those stories are at present at the respective web sites (all linked to on this blog), but I’ve begun to consolidate all my work over on the current Hyperspace Outlaws site-a project which will likely take some time.  Plans for the next year are ambitious:  throw up a new story for each character I’ve written about in the past.  That’s a lot of characters….

Seven years in, and a small horde of MMOs under my belt.  When I took a glance over my earlier years’ thoughts, I can’t help but notice how much longer the posts have gotten; the first one was maybe four paragraphs and some odd sentences.  This one is…well, bigger.  I expect the strong emphasis in the coming year to be with the Old Republic, mainly because it’s new; but I won’t ignore City of Heroes, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Star Trek Online’s follies as well.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

One Door Closes, Another Opens

  Two big things happen today.  The first is, my early access to Star Wars: The Old Republic begins.  I expect to be in the first wave of invites today, but it could be later today.  But given what the devs have posted on their forums, I should be getting in sometime today.

  But the other is less pleasant.  Star Wars Galaxies will shut its doors for the last time at midnight Eastern Time.

  I’ve said before that this wasn’t a surprise; that technically, it died six years and one month ago when SOE murdered it in favor of a new game with the same paint job, figuring it would sacrifice the players it had for the ones it didn’t.  It took a long time for the body to finish twitching, but today’s the day.  Tonight’s the night.  At last, it completes the process of dying.

  I can’t take great joy in it, though, nor any real satisfaction.  In spite of what SOE did to the game, it was still my first MMORPG.  It inspired me to create the character of Coreth Landwalker, it guided him into choices I wasn’t initially planning on making-I mean, come on, I was looking to make a smuggler!  Through him, I explored the great planets of Star Wars, and some less known; killed rancors and krayt dragons; built a hunting lodge on the moon of Rori; help found a player city called Horizon, and not long after joined the Hyperspace Outlaws guild-which still has its influence to this day on me.  I’ve flown TIE fighters, X-Wings, and my own version of a Millennium Falcon.  I’ve blown up corvettes from the inside and the outside; I’ve even managed to destroy an Imperial Star Destroyer.  I’ve helped eliminate Imperial base facilities, entered and survived an excursion to their Warrens on Dantooine, and explored the depths of a Geonosian cavern complex.  While I didn’t plumb the depths of the Death Watch Bunker, I at least got my feet wet in there.  With another character, I learned the simple joys of entertainment, rocking the music in the cantinas of Naboo (especially in Theed, where I have many fond memories).  Set up a private yacht as a place to practice my musical talents.  Learned to build houses, and tended to harvesters gathering energy and minerals.

  And of course, made friends who I still keep in contact with, one way or another.

  Tonight, Star Wars Galaxies ends.  Something better is taking its place-but different.  The Old Republic is NOT Star Wars Galaxies 2.0.  It will not have a plethora of professions, it will not have player cities or even housing (you could stretch a point on the last one, given the “personal starship”, but it’s not the same as something you can decorate to match your tastes).  But with any luck, its developers will actually give a damn about the game and its players, not for a set of players it may or may not get in the future.  With luck, they won’t sacrifice the now for the sake of the hence.  If they can stand the heat, then I believe the Republic will endure.

  As a postscript:  I am most certainly aware that, from a technical standpoint, people may still be able to enter a version of Star Wars Galaxies.  If you look hard enough on the internet, you will find the location for emulators; not sharpened, not polished, but far better than what will exist in less than a day-which is nothing.  I have not tried them; after all, these emulators will not have the characters I have made, and the things they have gathered, and will not represent them properly.  My time with Star Wars Galaxies is over.

  Time to continue taking my steps into a wider world.

The First Known Image of Coreth Landwalker

MMO Lotto!

  One of the things that has often gained a lot of reaction from MMO players is the subject of microtransactions.  I think the view is that folks just are irritated at paying for things in the game that they feel should be part of the standard subscription; that this is a part of the way MMOs are done.  But that ship sailed a long time ago, and with the advent of Free to Play games, they’re an acceptable business model.  Still, there’s a fair amount of irritation that lingers as the line blurs.  Cryptic in particular got raked over the coals because of its subscriptions plus microtransaction store, especially as it became apparent that C-Store content was a priority over actual content.  (Don’t believe me?  Ask the average Star Trek Online player when the last feature episode was-the ones that were supposed to be coming out like clockwork.)

  I’ve never had a major issue with microtransactions as a general rule.  You pay for something, you get a service-whether it’s a starship from STO, a power set in City of Heroes, or a sparkle pony from World of Warcraft.  It’s a straight business transaction.  But even I’ve got a line I won’t cross, and it seems to be popping up recently in a couple of places that I’m not happy to see them appear in.

  This line is the online lottery.

  Oh, it’s not called a lottery, but let’s face it:  that’s what it is.

  Some background.  First time I saw that kind of thing done online was with the Star Wars Galaxies: The Collectable Card Game.  This lovely little feature allowed you to buy booster packs like your average card games (the real kind) such as Magic the Gathering.  The thing that got some SWG players up in arms about it was the inclusion of “loot cards”, rare cards that allowed you to claim items in the main SWG game.  Which meant, incidentally, that you couldn’t actually build them with the crafters, or loot them from the dungeons.  You had to pay money for a CHANCE of getting what you wanted.  SOE covered themselves well by promoting it as a card game, though-but not well enough to hide it from folks paying attention.

Yes, I've got tickets for you! Come buy!

   This kind of thing was one of the reasons why I refused to return to SWG.  Put the items on a microtransaction store, no problem.  Make it a damned lotto, and I’ve got a problem.

  I’d hoped the idea would die with SWG.  Unfortunately, it seems that two developers are looking at it as a good example.

  Paragon Studios has been working out how to put out “Super Packs” in the Paragon Market for City of Heroes, which are collections of random consumables-as well as potential unique costume parts and archetype-specific invention origin enhancements.  The player base made their opinion known fast:  “Do-Not-Want”.  No problem with the ideas of new crunchies and shinies, but as a random chance thing for real money purchase?  Nope.

  Even more recently, STO (man, they just keep coming up in my posts lately, don’t they?) has begun a Winter Event.  One of the little bits to it is that doing one of their events will give a random chance for a present:  a green present, which has holiday stuff you can turn in for goodies, plus a decent item; a blue present, which is the same except with more; and a red present, which has a random shot at having one of a number of minor C-Store items…OR a holographic bridge officer (previously only around for folks who managed to refer new players)…OR a new Jem’Hadar escort ship; or it can have stuff from the lesser versions of presents.  Still, this event is gated at doing it once per day for the gifts.  But the kicker?  You can pay C-Points at their store to buy red packages-which, again, have no guarantee of having any of the in-demand goodies.  That’s right, folks-it’s a cleverly disguised lottery!

  You know, with all the fuss a bunch of state governments put up about slot machines and their addictive nature, you’d think they’d pay more attention to the fact that some MMOs are beginning to do the same thing.  For my part, I’m not touching either of these with a ten foot pole.  If a developer wants my cash, they’ll have to earn it-not scam it away from me.

Big Month Upcoming in MMO-Land

  The month of December is going to be busy!

  The first event of note is the Season Five: Call to Arms publish for Star Trek Online.  Basically, it’s all the Freemium stuff without opening it up to Freemiums yet.  Kind of like City of Heroes Freedom was live for subscribers before it actually went Freemium.  The uncharitable would call it a Live test.  It brings with it revamped Special Task Forces, a radical change in how one levels, how one crafts, how one gets starships at each level, how one gets promoted, more Borg invasions (well, just one-on the ground), and increased prices in the C-Store (along with the stipend for subbers).  The time between the release date of sometime around the first week of December and the actual Freemium launch of January 17 will tell us a great deal about STO’s future survival and health.

  On December 6, City of Heroes slaps a new power set on the Paragon Market:  Titan Weapons, featuring REALLY give weaponry to heft around.  Additionally, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a new Incarnate Trial hit, as we’re still awaiting the TPN Campus trial that was supposed to hit with Issue 21.5.  There may be other things on deck, too, with the Paragon Market, but the new power set is really the big draw here.

  Then comes the end of an era:  Star Wars Galaxies officially closes its doors on December 15, six years and one month after what a whole bunch of folks consider the day the game actually died.  My own feelings notwithstanding, it existed longer in its NGE incarnation as it did in its pre-NGE incarnation, so its passing is worthy of note.  This doesn’t really affect me beyond that, anymore-I don’t have a sub in that game, and I’ve already said my goodbyes to my characters and have heaps of screenshots for my memories.  So I can watch it fade away without remorse.  Yes, I’m certainly aware that there are other avenues to look if I want to get my SWG fix again, but that’s just not going to happen.  The characters, the places, all of that is gone.  SWG will forever remain a monument in people’s minds as a symbol of what not to do with a Live MMO.

  Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Star Wars: The Old Republic begins its early access on December 15 as well-and launches officially on December 20.  To call that a Big Deal may be an understatement.  There’s a lot of strong opinions on the internet as to its worth; it may not be the Second Coming of MMOs, capable of conquering World of Warcraft, but it’s certainly a far stronger entry into the MMO-sphere than many others in the last couple of years.  It’ll be very, very interesting to see how things move ahead with it.  I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how they follow up with it; MMOs are very different than single player games; they require the producers to continually add to them.  With all the emphasis on voiceover work and story, Bioware may have its hands full.

  Finally, at some point, DC Universe Online will be releasing its “Lightning Strikes” DLC.  While no date has been officially given, they’ve said “later this year”, and there ain’t much year left.  Of course, this comes from SOE, the company infamous for missing deadlines and master of the overstatement.  Fortunately, I don’t have the warm fuzzies on the Flash like I had with Green Lantern, so my wallet is safe there.

  A bunch of MMOs are looking to finish the year strong (and one is just finishing, period).  It’s going to be a very interesting month to watch.

Blowing Off the Dust

RL’s been a bit hectic, and in the shuffle, I haven’t had the time to do as much as I’d like in MMO-land.  Which would be one of the reasons why there hasn’t been a lot of posting in the blog here recently.

So:  I ain’t dead yet.

Let’s see, where to begin.  Since the last post, my free time in Star Wars Galaxies ended, officially, so that’ll likely be the last time I log into that game-particularly since the game itself is heading out the door.  At some point, I’ll probably try to consolidate some of those screenshots and put them up somewhere for general viewing.  Given the volume of shots, though, from this latest period going all the way back to pre-Combat Upgrade days in early/mid ’05, it’s probably not very high on the list of priorities.

I spent a little bit of time in Vanguard-that other SOE game I got free time for.  I could certainly see the similarities in things to the pre-CU days in SWG; you’ve got a bit of triple advancement going on, with your class, your diplomatic skills, and your “craft related” skills (whether for making or for gathering).  My original character there was long dust-a victim of server merges.  The name was also in use by someone else (multiple someones, apparently, judging from the Vanguard website), so I went and created a Dark Elf Dread Knight named Zhaven.  Playing him was kind of rough; of course, I can’t rule out the possibility that he wasn’t awesomely geared, nor the possibility that I just didn’t get aspects of the playstyle of the class.  Only got him to level 10 via the Isle of Dawn, and it was only through the assistance of Pizmo-who had characters in Vanguard-that I even got that far.  Long enough to peek around the wider world-then RL intervened.  Life happens when you aren’t paying attention.  I’ll give kudos to the game’s designers on the diplomacy system; it plays like a trading card game, but it does give a certain rush of its own.  “I’ll destroy you with DIPLOMACY!!  HAHAHHAH!” came from my lips once or twice.  “I got my ass kicked” was another phrase that passed through my lips….

I’ve perceived for a while now that I’m in a bit of a rut in CoH.  My involvement with various supergroups claims a chunk of that precious free time, but the bigger issue is that I’ve paid a lot of attention on characters who-honestly-aren’t advancing anymore.  My stable of maxed level characters is substantial, and several are in SGs.  When I play with those characters, it’s a recognition that I’m playing for the enjoyment of socialization more than any thought I’m going to improve the character in any way.  This attention on high level guys tends to cripple the advancement of lower level characters-even ones who are at level 40+.  With this realization, I’m looking to concentrate more of my non-SG time to the characters who aren’t in a group to give them a boost.  Ordinarily, I’d use a villain for the upcoming double xp weekend in a couple weeks, but unfortunately, I’ll be out of town.  Ah well-there’s that RL again.

I continue to keep up with the details released by the CoH devs on where things are going when it goes free to play.  Some info is “eh” (hoverboard power?), some info is “awesome!” (“I can purchase to a maximum of 48 character slots on a server now?  Where’s my wallet..?”), and some info is “What the HELL are they thinking?” (Circle of Thorns costume redesign).  Some new powersets incoming that could be sweet (Titanic Weapons?  Time Manipulation? Beam Rifles?), and one I am a bit iffy on (Street Fighting) and one that may or may not be real since the info came from a “leak” (but if it’s true, it’ll be sweet).  Some of these are purchase powers, regardless whether or not you’re a VIP; I anticipate some screaming when the time comes.  Pricing will matter a lot, and we still don’t have anywhere near what we’d call a complete list.  However, due to some stuff released by the devs, it’s now pretty certain that sales will happen-which I never doubted for a moment.

My other MMO, STO, officially became free to play-for me, anyway.  So the first thing I did was dump ten bucks into C-Store points and went on a spending spree.  I can consider any and all C-store purchases to be part of my monthly sub (that no longer exists since I am a lifetime subscriber).  And conveniently, there was a sale on costume parts….  I have a feeling that my purchases there are gonna be on sales only, to take ruthless advantage of the spending power.  At the same time, of course, I also expect to stay in budget; microtransactions only have the power you let them have.  I admit I’ve made sure to drain all the points of a purchase down as low as possible, because I have no idea what’ll happen when the Atari sale finally goes through.  I do NOT want to discover that the “Atari Tokens” won’t be honored because Atari owns them, and wouldn’t I like to use them on the latest Atari game?  Content-wise, we’re in a drought; no Feature episodes rolling until September, although it seems that the Borg will be doing something near the end of the month.  Still, that’s a long time to wait.  Fortunately, I DO have characters to level in STO still, primarily KDF side, but one over in Fed-land.  So that should hopefully make the content gap easier (especially since free time should open up again-well, until the middle of the month again…).

Nothing else is coming to mind that jumped out at me since the last post; even the EVE Online controversy has died down in the MMO-sphere.  Well, okay, technically there was also the unleashing of the pre-orders for the Old Republic MMO, but as I won’t purchase without knowing what I’m getting into, there’s prety much no prayer that I’ll be doing that.  It’s free trial (even if it’s a 3 day trial) or a buddy key for me.  Or, yes, technically an open-beta slot, but I’m reasonably sure that given my luck at being selected for any betas, the odds are roughly the same as me hitting the big jackpot in Vegas.  That said, I do know exactly what characters I’ll mess with as far as concept goes, one Republic and one Sith….

That pretty much covers it this time.  Here’s to hoping it’s not another month before I post again!

An Insane Week in MMO-Land

First:  originally, this blog entry was only going to cover one subject.  However, the blog software here had a stroke and I couldn’t post anything until now.

Which may be for the best, because it’s been BUSY this week.  So time to scrap my original post I’d saved locally, and off to the wider view.

The big news of the week covers the riots in EVE Online.  I know-what do you expect out of EVE?  This is a bit different.  You see, the Incarna expansion finally came out-the fabled “walk in stations” expansion, although it’s a bit more limited than that.  Actually, that’s like saying the NGE was a minor change to SWG.  But that’s not what’s really causing fits.  What’s causing fits is the microtransactions.  Some enterprising souls did some calculations, and the cost for some of those vanity items-new clothes, mostly-is heading for the kind of prices you’d see in real life.  For single items.  Add to that a leaked memo that indicated that the devs at CCP were considering a business strategy that sounded like they were looking toward putting up stuff for a “pay to win” attitude-and gouging customers, although not phrased like that-and suddenly you have rioting spaceships in Jita.  Some folks are comparing this to the NGE; while that’s a bit extreme (nothing has compared to the NGE to date), the apparent attitude of those in power at CCP sure seems similar.

Of course, that doesn’t really affect me anymore, since I don’t play EVE these days, but I’m following the developments with interest.  In part because of the bigger news of the week.  City of Heroes is adopting a free to play model.  That statement still gives me a sinking feeling a bit, although it’s more emotional than intellectual.  It’s nothing new-ever since Dungeons and Dragons Online did it, it’s been the big thing.  It’s following a similar model type, although not identical, to Turbine’s.  As I plan to keep paying my 15 a month, however, I should be in decent shape.  But I’ll be watching the “Paragon Market” carefully, because it’s still ingrained into me to not trust this kind of thing.  My sense of paranoia is balanced by trust in the CoH devs, who haven’t really steered me wrong yet (aside from certain issues with the copyright filter in the Mission Architect, which still infuriates me quite a bit).  I expect this to hit in late Fall; I20.5 is being released on Tuesday, and I expect the beta to take quite a while before hitting Live.  I’m betting October; we’ll see how accurate my guess is.

That one was going to be the subject of this blog entry all by itself, honestly, but yesterday I got hit with the biggest news of the week.  Star Wars Galaxies is closing down as of December 15.

Now there’s a spot of mixed emotions if I ever had ’em.  Readers of this blog are well aware of my long history with that game.  NGE effectively killed it back in ’05, but like a huge beast, it’s taken a long time to actually die.  With Star Wars: The Old Republic on-deck at around that time, it seems that SWG has thrown in the towel.  On one hand, there’s a certain satisfaction to SOE doing that; I’ve been known to carry grudges for a long time.  But SWG was my first MMO, primarily because it was Star Wars, in the era that I knew best-the Rebellion era.  There’s a certain wistfulness at thinking about what could have been, if things hadn’t gone so wrong almost six years ago.  That disaster cut me free to see the other games out there, but SWG as it once was always held a special place in my heart.  And of course, I know that there were people who liked where SWG was going, what it was becoming; even though I wasn’t one of them, I couldn’t hate them for enjoying something that had soured for me.  And I don’t have any real sense of glee that they are now experiencing what I’d experienced back then (although they certainly got more warning than I’d gotten); it just brings back the memories.

But I’ve spent the last 40 days for free in SWG taking screenshots allowing me to preserve the best parts of my memories; I have the stories I’ve written about the character of Coreth Landwalker preserved.  They are my scrapbook of days gone by, and as long as I have them, I’ll always remember those days when Coreth walked on the worlds of Corellia, Dathomir, and many others, doing what he did best.