Monday, February 24, 2020

Backlogging - Killzone: Shadow Fall

Every time I tried to play Everquest 2 this weekend the game either froze at the character select screen or crashed while loading into a new zone. That's not very conductive to leveling up my crafters, which was my game plan.

My hand forced, I switched gears to a different gaming project: clearing out my console gaming backlog before the new round of consoles release in the fall. This isn't a strictly necessary exercise. If the rumors hold true then both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X will both have some degree of backwards compatibility. But I'm running into the problem of physical space for both consoles and games. It's probably about high time I start actually playing through some of these things and maybe purge anything I've decided I'm not in love with. It is almost time for spring cleaning after all and it can't hurt to get a jump start on it.

I have this thing where I like to play games in chronological order. Firstly, it helps take some of the decision paralysis out of deciding what to play. Just pick some parameters and then pick the first game on the list. I use GameFAQs for this usually. The advanced search feature let's me pick different parameters and then order the list by release date. Secondly, I like watching games evolve over the years and watch developers steal each other ideas and hopefully improve upon them. It's the stuffy English major in me, I tend to view art as creators having a conversation with both the audience and amongst other creators.

Anyhow, I'm only interested in playing console exclusives right now. My desktop is far more powerful than my base model PS4 or Xbox One S, so if I have the choice I'd rather play a game on PC. The PlayStation 4 was already conveniently setup next to my desktop because of my racing rig, so I went with that instead of the Xbox. The first exclusive launch title by alphabetical order was...:

Killzone: Shadow Fall
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: First Person Shooter
Release Date: November 15, 2013 (NA)

There's no two ways about it: this is a pretty looking game. I have apparently not been giving this generation's consoles enough credit because the vistas and environments in Killzone are damn impressive. Especially for a launch game that only used half the system's available memory because they were working with dev kits that only had 4GB of RAM instead of the 8GB that the PS4 shipped with.

This is less true of things when you get up close. There are some ugly textures here and there, particularly near the end of the game where a developer's efforts always seem to lessen under the presumption that most players won't actually get that far.  The game also retains that "chunky" face on NPCs that most seventh generation games had. It's not Oblivion bad, but the NPC you tag along with the second half of the game looks like took some bad bee stings to the noggin.

If your game doesn't do faces particularly well, maybe don't have cut scenes that highlight that.

This was the biggest PS4 exclusive on launch, so Guerilla Games were clearly under orders to make the game look as pretty as possible. Unfortunately, the overdid it a bit. On some of the more wide open levels, there is so much foliage that actually finding enemies or objectives because tedious. 

The core gameplay loop is fairly simple. First you scan an area to get X-ray vision of all the enemies and objectives in an area, then use your drone to provide a distraction while you flank the enemy and shoot them dead. Occasionally, you get an enemy type that needs to be stunlocked by your drone. Sometimes you need to do basic puzzle solving. The gameplay isn't terribly deep, but for a 10 hour or so campaign it doesn't overstay it's welcome too much.

The gun play is decent. I feel like in the post-Destiny world every shooter wants to pad out it's run time by making every enemy take entire clips to kill and Killzone mostly avoids that. (It pads its length by having unskippable scenes of your character very slowly riding elevators or conveyor belts. Very, very slowly.) Even with my potato aim on a controller I was able to kill enemies fairly decisively.

The gun variety is incredibly poor. There is a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a rail gun, a Gatling gun, and 4-5 different assault rifles with next to no differences between them. I don't know why there are so many assault rifles in this game. They may have slightly different zoom or power, but they are more or less indistinguishable. Maybe it makes sense in the multiplayer, but it serves no purpose in the single player.

I was surprised by how much narrative there is in the game. I was also very surprised by how much I really needed to have played the previous Killzone games in order to understand the plot to this one. I picked up the first Killzone game for $5 this weekend, so maybe I'll start playing through the series soon. The quality of the story is fine. It's a war movie but in space. There's a lot of "big reveals" that were probably pretty cool to people with an understanding of previous games. The story line did get confusing in parts. There is some incredibly poor audio mixing in the game, where background noise is louder than the dialog, resulting in me missing out on important story information. I didn't even realized I had traveled to another planet at one point until I read the story line summary on Wikipedia after I had finished the game. It also does that annoying thing every fantasy or Sci-Fi work does where they name drop a bunch of proper nouns and expect me to actually keep tracking of all of it. It was cool when Tolkien did it. Nobody is doing it for generic shooter #75,648.

All in all, it was fine. It would be a rental if that was still a thing. On 'The Grand Everwake Scale of Reviewing Things'. It was a 3/5. It was slightly above average. If you are a hardcore shooter fan and don't mind playing with a controller then it's worth the $10 or so it goes for used. For most people its probably a pass.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Everquest 2: The Enchanted Lands

A work project from hell combined with actual socializing have conspired to keep me from playing video games.

I've never cared for this being an adult thing.

The work project itself wasn't really the problem. Unclear expectations from the client led to a lot of staring at the screen and wondering what in the hell I should be doing.

Thankfully I had the good sense to charge by the hour on this one.

Last weekend was also Valentine's Day. Which is also Mrs. Everwake's birthday. And the anniversary of our first date. And her work's rescheduled Christmas party.

I did find the time to get some gaming in. More particularly I bought a dedicated frame for my racing wheel and pedals.

The racing wheel itself works on a clamp system, and the only piece of furniture I had in the house that fit with these clamps was the wife's desk for her computer. Obnoxiously, she insists on using her computer so playing Gran Turismo required the setting up of the hardware every single time.

The rig alleviates the need for this. Now I just have to slide it's bulk slightly to the right to line up with my computer's monitors and away we go. It's pretty much a perfect solution. Except it seems to collect an extraordinary amount of dog hair. I don't know why.

The culprit.
As a result, I did Gran Turismo Sport's version of their "license tests". In the series, these tests are a series of challenges that teach one the basics of how to drive a fast car. They always start with obnoxiously easy tests such as accelerating in a straight line and then breaking. But by the end they are usually the hardest challenges I've ever experienced in a video game.

GT Sport's version of these license tests are far from the hair pulling difficulty of games past. Since this was a niche release meant to focus on online racing I can sort of see why it wasn't made a priority. But really, if more people had to go through a significant challenge on how to actually drive their car, then maybe online racing wouldn't be the clown show it currently is.

Either way, the last test still took about 15 tries for me successfully gold medal, but the deed was done.

The achievement says that 9.7% of players have got all gold on these tests. I thought that number seemed high but it makes sense. It is easier than games past. Additionally, this game was not well received on release, and was probably only bought by diehards. I don't think a game that featured almost exclusively online competitive racing on release attracted a lot of the mainstream crowd, especially since "realistic" racing games are a dime a dozen these days.

I haven't made it very far in my Everquest journeys. Working from home means that procrastination is my number one enemy, and MMOs are just too good a vector for that.

I did knock out the Enchanted Lands, an original zone that only covers the 5 levels, 30-35. I think it's better for that however. Previous zones were way too reliant on grinding placeholder mobs and stupid amounts of traveling to pad out game time. The Enchanted Lands isn't too much smaller than the Commonlands and Antonica, but is able to rely a bit more on actual gameplay because of it. It does feel like maybe the zone was simply rushed at released. Most of the questing is concentrated to about half the zones. The northern half is barely used at all. It's fully populated with mobs but there aren't many quests. I wonder what led to that.

This is the first weekend in a while in which I can play games guilt free. It's also shaping up to be one of the first weekends with a wind chill above 'doesn't hurt to go outside'. I might dig out a little spot on the back porch and play Switch outside just because I can.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Everquest 2: The Thundering Steppes

Another zone bites the dust in Everquest 2. The Thundering Steppes is finished, despite the zone playing host to a 'kill 100 skeletons' Heritage quest that caught me unawares at the end. Thundering Steppes might have been my least favorite zone just because it's the least coherent. The themes are essentially "large open field that got hit by giant falling moon pieces a couple of times" and "giants, centaurs, and gnolls fight sometimes". Once I delve into the attached instance Ruins of Varsoon then we start to get some lore again, but there is surprisingly little breadcrumbing from the main overland zone to it.

Thundering Steppes is easier to navigate at least. Nektulos Forest was annoying because the dense foliage made flying difficult, but in general I preferred it's atmosphere.

There's not too much more to comment on. Thundering Steppes is a bunch of quests that encourage grinding. The smart way to play is grab as many quests as you can and try to sync them up so that you are constantly always killing what's in front of you without having to double back too much. When it works it feels great. When it doesn't it feels a bit like spinning your wheels. It's still a very old school zone that I don't think was ever updated in any meaningful way. It has it's place, but I think I'm glad to be done with it now and moving onto other sights.

Notably I'll be taking on the dungeons and instances featured in this zone: The Cove of Decay and the before mentioned Ruins of Varsoon. I enjoy the dungeons maybe a little bit less than the over world zones just because they tend to be mazes and I have little to no sense of direction. Nektropos Castle almost had me bringing out the graphing paper. The only reasons I didn't is because I literally couldn't find it. I have notebook of the stuff around here somewhere but who knows where I squirreled it away to during one of our moves. I don't think I've used it since replaying through some of the Ultima games a couple of years past.

Anyhow, the dungeons are also important to get through because most of the Heritage quests require runs through them as well. Heritage Quests involve equipment and items that were notable from the original Everquest. I don't do every single quest in the game, I don't hate myself that much. There are a lot of quests the rely on either low percentage drops or farming enemies that have placeholders. A placeholder is when another type of mob spawns instead of the actual useful mob, and you need to kill the placeholders and hope to spawn the useful mob. There are quests the require killing mobs for a lower percentage chance to drop an item to start a quest, that then require killing placeholders to spawn mobs that drop a quest item, and when you do kill the primary mob, may have low percentage chance of dropping the quest item you need. It's layers upon layers of RNG stacked on one another and I'd rather blow my brains out than deal with it.

But Heritage quests, and all the grinding and mucking about in dungeons they require, do feel important. They are a nice bridge between the two Everquests, and usually help spotlight some of the changes brought by the Shattering that separates the two timelines. Even if the gear you get from them isn't useful in the modern game, most can be converted to a furniture item and placed in your house. My Dark Elf is apparently quite the hoarder of old school items now, which feels nice from a role playing perspective.

I had some unexpected company today. Yesterday evening, I urged Mrs. Everwake and Everdog to do a snow-day dance. I don't know if dogs really have a concept of dancing or music, but Everdog certainly does not posses anything that could be described as rhythm. So the two settled for spinning in circles. The circle method proved to be plenty effective as witchcraft. When the wind chill is -48F (-44C), and the snow is being blown around at 30 MPH, even Minnesotans take the day off. With the local highway closed by the state, the wife's work place was closed.

I'd be a little more excited myself, except I work freelance and from home. The hallways between my bedroom and computer room were unencumbered by snow. Alas I must still work. And work has been a problem. I normally do technical editing, either cleaning up technical documents like academic papers for publication or translating them into something normal people can understand. This project is the latter, but requires a lot of graphic design work that I simply don't know how to do. Combine that with a client that isn't 100% sure of what they want in the first place and it's slow going. At least I had the good sense to charge by the hour on this one.

My complaints about the tedium of running on my treadmill aside, I did just knock out a workout. I use an app called Couch to 5k, which slowly ramps you up to running 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) over the course of 10 weeks. I've used it before with success so I'll use it again. Mrs. Everwake is also running with me and has picked out a 5k run for us to do together in about 10 weeks time. We actually did this run last year, and I did fairly well. I don't remember my time or what place I got but it was well within the upper half of people. I did get passed by a guy running in jean shorts and a hockey jersey, but that's just Minnesota.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Doldrums of Winter

The Everquesting1 goes on steadily. I'm mostly playing it in the mornings as a way to wake myself up to the usual horrors of the day. The slow, casual pace meshes well with checking emails and sipping coffee. For as many hours as I put into EQ2 I think I like it best when it's not my "main" game. An hour or two in the mornings, maybe a few more on the weekends, or the occasional binge, it's role in my life right now is to give me a consistent breather during the lower energy parts of the day.

But that can be a bit dangerous for me. EQ2 is very much also a comfort game, which is another way for me to say lazy game. If I'm not careful, EQ2 is less of a way to relax my mind and more of an excuse to will away an entire day without accomplishing anything I've set out to do.  I've intentionally set myself a limit on how much I'm allowing myself to play everyday.

And boy do I need it right now. My current day job's project is kicking my butt in a way that hasn't happened in a good long while. Nothing about this project is unusual from what I normally do, but I've also been stuck inside during a very long Minnesota winter and my chances to go out and socialize have been mostly limited to visiting family during Christmas. I really ought to get more exercise than I do, but my current options for that right now are really just the treadmill in the basement. The monotony of running towards the same wall for months at a time is a bit wearisome.

I'm not sure how the locals do it. I originally come from Ohio which has a cold but modest winter. Getting outside is a hassle of undercoats, coats, hats, gloves, etc. I'm also in a small town that has considerably less to do in it than my own previous big city. I'm quite used to going on several mile walks to shake off the doldrums of working from home. But in my new town I'm barely a mile away from the city limits no matter which direction I walk towards. The closest big town is 30 minutes away and is mostly just congregation of retail spaces. The closest city that I find genuinely interesting to explore is an hour and a half away. I'm a wanderer by nature and I feel I've been stuck in my nest.

Since I'm not in the best headspace right now, it's not really a surprise that my non-EQ2 gaming hasn't been particularly rewarding either. I've shuffled through Kakarot, Wargroove, Jump Force, Division 2, and Gran Turismo Sport but nothing is really sticking with me. These are all quality games. (Maybe not Jump Force.) But my mind is really just having difficulty dealing with learning new gameplay systems or the concentration needed to compete in Gran Turismo Sport. It's likely I have a bit of depression kicking in right now. And when that happens my cognitive abilities take a hit. It's not unusual for me to get like this during this time of year and I've went through some fairly huge changes in my life in the past two years that I haven't properly reckoned with.

I'm enlisting the aid of a therapist. Hopefully it goes well, there isn't a terribly huge selection of practices to pick from in this part of the world. I've done therapy before and it was just okay. It mostly just became someone to vent to and feel validated from, which is nice but I have people in my life I can already do that to. I'm hoping to get into a situation that can focus meaningfully on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) practices. I have both an extremely pessimistic world view and line of thinking and having some structure to catch myself in those thoughts and rerouting towards something more constructive has long been a goal of mine.

Unfortunately, this one wasn't much of a gaming post. I'm finishing up The Thundering Steppes and am still probably a couple weeks away from being satisfied with the content in the base game. I did make a number of purchases on eBay recently. I bought the Everquest 2 Collector's Edition to display in the game room. I think I may take some pictures and make a blog post of it, there are some interesting items included in it. I also purchased both the Everquest 2 and it's first expansion's strategy guides. I love collecting guides for MMOs. They act as time capsules for games that tend to change itself many times over or just flat out go offline.

I may also experiment with more non-gaming related blog posts. My interests in gaming can tend to ebb and flow. When I'm not being a miserable shut-in I'm usually easily excited by a great many things. Be that auto racing, cooking, pictures of my dog, etc. I think it would be nice to capture some of that here.

1. So I've been titling my Everquest-related blogs 'Everquesting' for a couple months now. I just realized the other day that MassivelyOP has been calling their weekly column on Everquest the same for a good long while. I have been reading Massively since it launched in 2007. I may have been a bit too lazy on my naming scheme there.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Motivations and Shattering Lands in EQ2

For the first time in a while I picked up an editing gig for my "real job". This has resulted in me writing considerably less for the blog. It's also lessened the amount of time I've had for video gaming.

This gives me the big old sad.

What gaming I have been doing has been mostly of the Everquest 2 variety. I'm still following my plan of locking my character's experience levels at the original level caps of the base game. This isn't strictly necessary since you can adjust your own level downward at nearly any time, but gives my gameplay a bit of structure. And as I said during my inaugural blog post, I like structure.  Last night I finished up Antonica and it's related instances (Blackburrow and Stormhold). This means I'm effectively done with all the content level 20 and below. Well, almost, I still need to betray my home city of Freeport so I can do all the various Qeynos/Qeynos Sewers/Qeynos Suburbs quests but I don't want to do that until around level 80. At that point I'll have finished the main city questlines in Freeport. Also, I'm still working on some low level collectibles. And some of the more annoying book quests.

There might be some stuff I end up skipping.

I was originally going to level a good character and an evil character simultaneously to avoid the betrayal issue. But I decided to do everything on one character for three reasons. Firstly, I've never betrayed before in the game, and I want to see both the betrayal questlines and I want to experience being a Exile. Secondly, I got tired of juggling two characters. Do I worry about maxing out the spell ranks for both characters? How about collectible quests; should each character do them all or should I split them up? Once you hit level 30 and the distinction between good zones and evil zones lessen will I still care about keeping up with two characters?

And thirdly, I had difficulty deciding if my playthrough was character-motivated or content-motivated.

I guess we should define our terms, but I think it's all pretty self explanatory. Some games I play are character-motivated, like say, Diablo 3. The storyline for Diablo 3 could literally not be any dumber if you tried (and I honestly suspect they did). What kept me playing was improving my character: better gear, higher paragon, etc. But I tend to play most games in a content-motivated frame of mind. I want to experience the world, the storyline, the atmosphere, and etc. In a single player game, once I hit the credits, I'm out.

MMOs tend to blur the line for me. Usually there is more storyline in the 'endgame'. Raids, content that is unlocked through daily grinding, events, etc. But I also grind rep, improve my gear like I would in a more character-motivated game. Usually I just play until I burn out, and then come back in the next patch and play through that new content.

(I also think there is an obvious third motivation: increasing ones skill at the game. But that feels less relevant for me in Everquest 2.)

It's not something I consciously think about. Not usually. I play until the game feels stale and then I play something else. But when you're faced with a gigantic magnitude of content that Everquest 2 has you have to come up with some home made structure. I have a level 110 character boost sitting in my inventory. If my goal was more character-based I'd be at max level right now with everyone else and grinding out whatever it is that you grind out in the EQ2 endgame.

So it's a cause of conflict for me. Having a good and an evil character would be a more convenient way of experiencing ever drip of content that Everquest 2 has. But the divide between the factions doesn't seem to be very important in the big picture, at least from what I understand. It's not like WoW's Alliance and Horde divide, with significantly different single player content for both sides.

I think ultimately I'm going to focus on just one character, and I'll betray factions if I think the content warrants it. I really do like having a "main". One character that has seen and done it all. Even if it was done 15 years after it was initially was released. In the game world, it all counts the same.

I suppose there might also be a fourth motivation for me: nostalgia. Or maybe even a fifth: a fear of having missed out, which is distinct from the fear of missing out. I oscillated a bit between WoW and EQ2 when they first came out. I was confident the veteran MMO franchise with the emphasis group play would win that duel. It did not. Also, all of my friends were playing WoW. After a couple of months it became clear which game I was going to end up playing. But I still missed EQ2's charm even if I ultimately found WoW to be the better game for me. That's the nostalgic bit.

But I also wished I could go back in time and do a lot of this content when it was new. I don't even really know why. I don't really love progression servers because they tend to be overcamped and I don't get to play at my own pace. Also, you just can't put the magic back in the bottle. The EQ2 and WoW that I played in 2004 can't be brought back in it's entirety because that audience, and my own experiences, have changed. Playing through the old content in EQ2 is a combination of what was and what could have been.

So I don't super know what my motivation is. I'm having fun, that's the only motivation I really need. But I have huge backlogs on both PC and console and here I am playing a 15 year old game that doesn't even work correctly with my monitor. I'm chasing something, even if I'm not 100% sure what it is.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Warcraft 3 (Months Since the Hearthstone Incident)

I read my RSS feed as part of my everyday routine. Nowadays, I read it while doing my crafting dailies in Everquest 2, but before I simply read it during lunch or other down time. That RSS feed has a lot of MMO blogs, some specific news sources about my other interests like motorsports, and a couple video gaming news websites to keep me generally up to date with the industry.

So consider me plum surprised to find out that Warcraft III Reforged, a game that I had at one point pre-ordered back in Blizzard's more halcyon days, was already out.

And consider me slightly less surprised that they fucked it up.

Or at least that's what I'm hearing. I cancelled my pre-order after Blizzard's nonsense regarding the Hong Kong protests back in October. It is, of course, difficult to parse some of the concerns through all the typical Internet whinging, but it does seem pretty bad.

To start with, the fancy cinematics shown off at Blizzcon? Not available anywhere in the actual game. And they promised 4 hours of the stuff. Even worse, they still use these graphics in the official marketing. Massive UI changes are missing as well. This leaves 'Reforged' as not much more than an HD update of some of the content.

Then they consolidated the original Warcraft 3 game into the new Warcraft 3 Reforged engine. This sorta makes sense, they did something similar with the Starcraft 1 HD upgrade. People who owned the original game through the Battle.Net launcher now have the Warcraft 3 Reforged engine, but are unable to toggle over to the HD graphics. The Classic game and it's executables are gone. The problem is that the Reforged client is missing quite a lot of functionality that's existed for over a decade in the original Classic client. Ladders, clans, and general community features are gone. Competitive matchmaking is gone. And perhaps more importantly custom games are missing.

And that last one is a biggie. Blizzard wants iron clad control of custom content for Warcraft 3, and presumably, all of their games going forward. They don't want a repeat of DOTA, the mod for Warcraft 3 that Blizzard ignored until Riot made their own version in League of Legends and Valve hired the original designer to make DOTA 2. Now, if you make any custom content compatible with Warcraft 3, Blizzard owns it in whole. And I do mean whole. You forfeit all moral rights, which means that not only can Blizzard take your design, creative, and tangible work, but they don't even need to thank you in the credits while they do it.

I mean who isn't chomping at the bit to work for a multi-billion dollar entertainment conglomerate for free? Custom content is what's kept Warcraft III relevant for so long. Sure the campaign is well regarded, but lots of games have had popular single player modes. Warcraft III had legs because the custom content that's been made for it over the years, and Blizzard just snuffed all that out for no reason other than fundamental misunderstanding of why people make this stuff in the first place.

The sky isn't falling. This isn't the first piss-poor HD upgrade and it won't be the last. This certainly isn't Blizzard's first time letting the lawyers and business types run amok (RealID anyone?). But Blizzard really needed a win, and somehow fell flat on it's face. Blizzard screwed the pooch so hard they went back in time and made one of their previous games worse. They are literally finding new and innovative ways to fuck up.

Adjacently, the Blizzard merchandise store has been spamming my inbox a lot since just after Christmas. I don't like spam, but I do like Blizzard's merchandise team, they make legitimately good stuff. The clothing I've bought from the Blizzard store was high quality and has stayed looking spry even with my lazy laundry habits. I have a Heroes of the Storm duffel bag that has survived as my carry-on luggage and has taken an absolute beating without losing one stitch. What I'm saying is that at least one department of this God forsaken company is actually matching that premium image Blizzard keeps projecting.

Anyhow, I though this email bombardment was pretty unusual, at most they send maybe 2 or 3 emails a year during some of the bigger sales. So I scrolled down to the bottom of the most recent email and clicked unsubscribed. This not only brought up a web page that 'conveniently' never loaded the unsubscribe form, but I noticed it wasn't a Battle.Net website at all. It was Fanatics.

For those who are not hardcore American sports fans, you probably haven't heard of our friend Fanatics. They make sports apparel. Really, really, bad sports apparel. Stuff Wal-Mart would be embarrassed to sell in their stores. If you hang out in communities such as Reddit Hockey Jerseys you'll find out just how bad a reputation Fanatics has. Considered on par with with wearing actual sacks of flour, anything you buy from the local ballpark isn't likely to survive more than a wash or two.

So of course the one functioning bit of Blizzard has been replaced with cheapest possible 3rd party contractor.

None of these things are that big of a deal. But it's been a nasty couple of years for Blizzard. As I stated way back when in October, I'm not interesting in boycotting Blizzard. I'm not going to make a political move that the other side isn't functionally affected by. But I was uninstalling Battle.Net because I play games for fun and nothing about the company was facilitating that.

But now it's evolved into just outright ambivalence. Blizzard is the company that fucks things up. They used to make good stuff and now they don't. Their portfolio is Overwatch, a couple of live service games that are functionally abandoned, and some other miscellaneous garbage like Hearthstone for people with more money than sense. Shadowlands isn't going to be that good. The next Diablo game will probably start off poorly and eventually become fine but won't set the world on fire. We aren't seeing another RTS anytime soon. There are fewer and fewer genres for Blizzard to capitalize on with their trademark polish because the rest of the industry is more competitive and Blizzard couldn't polish it's own brass. Nothing from here on out is going to challenge the games industry in anything other than how far you can milk once beloved IPs.

Can I go back and retroactively call this a boycott? Because this is the easiest boycott that ever happened.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Everquesting Through Shattered Lands

I have quite literally killed thousands of orcs this week. My Everquest 2 playthrough continues unabated, my Dark Elf Necromancer has reached the lofty heights of level 50. I think I'll be locking myself at this level for a while because it represents the original level cap in the base game. I'm interested in clearing a few more zones with her before moving on to the next expansion, Desert of Flames.

I tend to play my MMOs like de facto progression servers. I specifically play through the content in the order it was released as much as I can. I don't actually play on progression servers though for two reasons. Firstly, progression servers tend to have more population that I want to deal with in the beginning zones. I like MMOs more for their style of play than for the 'community'. Other players usually just means competition for quest mobs. Secondly, I prefer the quality of life changes we have in the updated games. I would not have made it to level 50 without Everquest 2's fast travel feature. As bad as World of Warcraft Classic may have been about long travel times, Everquest 2 was worst. Every zone intentionally placed quest givers and objectives in obnoxious spots. With fast travel and flying mounts it's not a problem.

My original goal was to do as many of the zones as possible on one character but I've reevaluated that. I'm well ahead of where I "need" to be in AA levels so mentoring down and tackling old content with one character feels a bit like spinning my wheels.  Combine that with the handful of "good alignment only" quests and it makes sense to split this work into multiple characters.

I've divided the "responsibilities" as such:
  • Aurella - Dark Elf Necromancer [Evil]
    • Isle of Refuge [Evil] (1-5)
    • Freeport Suburbs/Sewers (6-20)
    • Commonlands (11-20)
      • Wailing Caves (12-20 HEROIC)
      • Fallen Gate (20-25 HEROIC)
      • Gobblerock's Hideout (25-30 HEROIC)
    • Nektulos Forest (21-30)
      • The Cauldron Hollow (30-35 HEROIC)
      • Nektropos Castle (30-35 HEROIC)
    • Zek (31-40)
      • Deathfist Citadel (40-45 HEROIC)
  • Flinte - Dwarf Templar [Good]
    • Isle of Refuge [Good] (1-5)
    • Qeynos Suburbs/Sewers (6-20)
    • Antonica (11-20)
      • Blackburrow (15-20 HEROIC)
      • Stormhold (20-25 HEROIC) 
      • Condemned Catacomb (25-30 HEROIC)
    • Thundering Steppes (21-30)
      •  The Ruins of Varsoon (25-35 HEROIC)
    • Enchanted Lands (31-40)
      • Runnyeye (30-40 HEROIC)
    • Rivervale (35-45) 
      • The Tower of Drafling (35-45 HEROIC)
This still leaves Feerot, Everfrost, and Lavastorm (and their respective Heroic zones) behind. I'm not certain how I want to handle them quite yet. I may lump them in with a character that also does one of the revamped starter zones and both "Adventure Packs" (Bloodline Chronicles and Splitpaw Saga). Yet another character will handle all the zones introduced in Echoes of Faydwer later down the line.

This feels perhaps unsustainably ambitious. But that's okay. The worst that happens is that I get bored and simply move on to the next expansion pack. That's a problem I can live with. It's honestly impressive just how much there is to do even when limiting myself to the original base game that came out 15 years ago.

I'll leave a write up for my thoughts on each of the zones I've played through for a future blog post. I still need to clear out The Cauldron Hollow and Nektropos Castle on Aurella. With Mrs. Everwake out of town for meetings all week, I suspect that post will be sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Everquesting ... Evily

Bhagpuss has rolled a new character in Everquest 2 and given us all an update, and I feel I should do the same about my newbie alt.

My character is a Level 30 Necromancer/Level 38 Weaponsmith with 115 AAs. We've cleared out the Freeport suburbs, the Freeport sewers, and the Commonlands. Nektulos Forest will be done by the time I hit publish on this thing. I've been going for a fairly completionist run, doing just about every quest the EQ2 wiki has listed. Some of the quests, particularly some of the book quests, are just too darn grindy to bother with. My main goal is to get a feel for each zone: hit the important quests, learn the important landmarks, soak in the excellent background music and art.

I'm not necessarily playing through slowly, but instead deliberately. I do have the nasty tendency to optimize the fun out of things, and I fear I've done that quite a few times in Everquest 2. The things I like about EQ2 have more to do with it's charm rather than the endless treadmill of progression. Mindful playing is something I've concentrated on doing every since I started this blog last August. I've found it to be a mixed bag however. Stopping to smell the roses is good, but some games aren't roses. They're poop. A lot of games are somewhere in between. If you let the game have it's way, the pacing becomes unbearably slow. I'm currently playing through Kakarot in the evenings and it's exactly like that. I'll write more about that game in the future, but in summary, it's a guest that will stay just a little too long after the party is over if you aren't forceful enough with it. EQ2's pacing is mostly fine, although some of the quests can be a bit much. Needing to clear out entire camps of mobs in hopes that the rare placeholder's spawn is pretty annoying. Those rare placeholder's not dropping quest items 100% of the time is even worse. I've made the executive decision to skip most of those quests.

I'm trying to focus on zones that I've really not done before. I don't remember doing the Freeport Outlying Areas (I always called them the Suburbs). I almost certainly did them back when the game first launched, as they and the Sewers were needed both before you hit the Commonlands and during your teen levels.

At least I think. There are so many bits and pieces from EQ2's first year that I sorta remember but then discover I was wrong about. EQ2 is already an unfathomably deep game, but the fact that the developers keep reinventing it makes it that much harder. I don't mind any of this, if I enjoyed the old ways well enough they have a perfectly suitable legacy server at the ready. But I do often feel like I've lost the "thread" of the game. The evolution of the game itself, from it's move as a group game to a more soloable game, getting it's ass kicked by WoW but then finding it's long term niche, feels as much as part of the 'story' as the actual storyline in the game. Part of the reason I started blogging in the first place was to have a way of capturing that feeling in a way I could access myself.

Back on track, I've not done the "evil" zones in probably close to a decade. I always found the NPC interaction on the evil side to be off putting. Everyone mean mugging each other is a child's idea of evil. The writers tried to build up this sense of treachery around every corner with every quest giver stabbing you in the back at the completion of every questline but I found it all a bit too corny. EQ2 moving away from the Freeport vs. Qeynos dynamic was probably a good move. Either way, after I finish Nektulos Forest, I'm making my way to Zek. I don't actually know if I ever did Zek. I've always did the Enchanted Lands with any character that made it high enough. I'm pretty happy I get to see some new content this early in my playthrough.

As I'm writing this, word has come over the chat that Daybreak has created studio names for the developers of it's franchises. I think this was already known since leaks of their various trademarks happened months ago. I don't know what this means for the future of the EverQuest franchise. I hope it's not Daybreak imminently being chopped up and sold for parts. It seems both EQ and DC Universe Online have found themselves stable footing finally and I'd hate for that to get disrupted. Planetside is probably in trouble after the failure of its Battle Royale split off, which was almost certainly a Hail Mary play that I think most people knew would fail.

Mostly this just means I'll have to train myself yet another name to call the developers of EQ2. I was just finally breaking the habit of calling them SOE all the time. And now I'll be editing out 'Daybreak' for 'Darkpaw' in all my posts. At least I'm not still calling them Verant.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Warning: A big rant without much of a point. Buckle up.

Oh levels. You old buddy. You old pal. You old so-and-so. Always around. No MMO feels complete without you. Even if we aren't always sure why you're here. But we're always chasing after another one of you.

Levels are on the mind. Everquest 2 increased it's by ten levels, even if they go by so quick as to make one wonder why. World of Warcraft Retail will be undergoing it's customary reinvention of the wheel by crunching theirs down to 60 again. Black Desert Mobile has them, and yet a gear score-esque number called Combat Power seems to be the vastly more important number to raise. As I'm leveling a necromancer through EQ2, the most exciting power gains seem to come from Alternate Advancements, not levels.

I've never cared less about levels. It's a thing I've done, leveling. I've gained all sorts of levels. I'm gaining levels in genres that aren't even RPGs. I'm getting meta levels; I'm now level 8 on my PlayStation trophy thing. A spam email wants me to 'level up life' with some of their dick pills. I think my bank account has levels now.

D&D had them and thus forever it will be. But levels signified actual meaning in D&D (at least all the versions I played). Level 1 said something about your character. Level 5 and things start getting interesting. A level 20 is nearing the power of a small God.

But levels in MMOs are in a weird place. Battle for Azeroth had the inexplicable power downgrade from levels 110 to 120 because of content scaling. But that's in addition to standard new expansion leveling paradox, a fresh level 120 feels like a peon relative to a fully Antorus raid-geared 110. We go from punching out Cthulhu and his minions to being mauled by random wildlife.

We pay to bypass levels. DC Universe Online is giving away a max-level character to everyone for its own birthday. Mobile games include a button to let the AI level for you.

It's turned levels into a frivolous, meaningless thing. Which, granted, levels were always mostly a frivolous, meaningless thing. But it was a thing you could attach a meaning to. A level 60 in WoW was an impressive feat for a long time. Now max level is just the standard. Get to max level so you can increase your item Level instead.

It's an arms race by every MMO to shortcut it's own design. Playing Black Desert Mobile is just a constant stream of scrolling text, flashing buttons, and layered game mechanics all trying to shove as many Skinner boxes in front of your eyes as your 3.5 inch screen can handle. I have no idea what level my character is in Black Desert Mobile, and the game doesn't seem interested in making me care either.

It's gotten to the point where it's now difficult to walk into a MMO, new or old, fresh to me or an old favorite, and figure out which of the billion numbers on my UI matters. Hearing the old school Everquest ding was the ultimate dopamine rush, now it's just part of the game's background noise.

I know this is a rant, but I miss every level mattering. WoW Classic brought this feeling back for me. It was fundamentally built from the ground up to make a level gained feel like a level earned. At worst you got a talent point to be chucked into a meh passive. At best you got new skills or an increase in movement speed. But they did feel like they all mattered. I don't think it was 100% the novelty of it all. I had played plenty of RPGs before before WoW, and I've played plenty since.

EQ2 used to be the same as well. You didn't even get your proper class until level 20. You were a commoner until level 10. The game had its unpleasantness back then but the levels did matter. I've talked with someone who gained nearly 2 levels just on zoning into the new expansion. Why bother raising the level cap at that point? If were going to have a system of progression, let's actually make it feel like progression. Not every game needs to be a grind, but the number going up really ought to mean something.

It's complicated. How an MMO handles levels is indicative to the dev's overall strategy on a number of fronts: player retention, new player attraction, power scaling, how to sell new expansions, etc. But I'm advocating making levels a little bit more important than just a bullet point on a game's Steam page. I'm asking to bring back the journey to the top level and to make reaching max level mean something special again. Maybe the answer is a level crunch. Maybe it's more progression servers. Maybe meaningful levels are just a relic.

I keep a bell on my desk. I've had it for well over a decade now. I hit it everytime I gain a level. As I was leveling through the Freeport sewers yesterday I didn't remember to hit it once. Give me my dings back, dammit!

Friday, January 10, 2020

Everquesting and Racing

I've not had a blog post in a while, apparently the holidays had discombobulated me more than I expected. It also affected my dog a fair bit as well.

Herberta S. Everwake is my spirit animal.

But since getting back home,  I've found myself in a bit of gaming bliss. Normally around this time I begin to get burned out on video games. I've feasted on the glut of Black Friday and Steam sales and start looking towards other hobbies. But I've been playing a ridiculous amount of Everquest 2 lately.

Sadly, I've dropped the Let's Play series I was blogging because frankly it was too much work. Getting linked on Massively was cool but the constant start and stop of taking screenshots and translating the in-game story line into something bloggable was becoming a drag.

I'm playing EQ2 freely now and enjoying myself. Dusting off my main and getting her ready for the recently released expansion is simply too daunting. I've done a small bit of the last several expansions and literally don't know where to pick things back up again. The new expansion seems to have perquisite quests from all these different quest lines and putting it all together is more paperwork than I prefer in my games. Crafting wise I think I'm current up through Terrors of Thalumbra? That was the last expansion I actually remember buying but who knows. Sometimes it would be nice to have a little direction in Norrath.

But that's besides the point, I'm enjoying playing my lowbie Necromancer. I'm currently killing my way through the Commonlands, having completed the Freeport Outlying areas that I've never done before. I've also been decorating up the Isle of Refuge prestige house I got as a Veteran's Reward. Placing objects in an actual zone is a lot of fun; it almost feels like I breaking something or I'm playing with the same tools the dev team gets. Dungeon Maker or whatever it's called also felt a lot like that, but that feature has been functionally dead for some time now.

Sometimes I get into a gaming rut because I'm not really playing the correct game for what mood I'm in. EQ2 is great for a more relaxed, beginning or end of the day kind of thing. But I also want a faster paced game to pour some excess energy into. Since I have more money than sense I decided against simply playing any one of the many action games in my Steam backlog, and bought a racing wheel instead.

I struggled to find a desk that would work with the clamp system the wheel uses to stabilize itself. We did have one desk that worked. Unfortunately, it's my wife's desk for her desktop computer, so this is going to have to be a temporary setup. I'm playing Project Cars 2 right now and having a lot of fun.

What appeals to me in racing games is really the same thing that appeals to me in MMOs: small, constant, and measurable increases in ability. While just about every game has borrowed progression systems from RPGs these days, I'm talking about the core gameplay loop. The thing that drives me in a good MMO is getting just a little bit better at playing a more and more capable character as I go through content that gradually challenges my abilities. That's exactly the same gameplay loop as a racing sim. Starting with low power, easy handing cars and shaving seconds off of lap times, and then graduating to higher power and harder to control cars and shaving tenths of a second off of lap times. If only we could combine these two genres! My money to whomever can make me a wizard in a go-kart.

While a lot of games theoretically feature that same gameplay loop, I feel many games obfuscate it with a bunch of stuff I don't super care about. Cut scenes, open world markers, overly long tutorials, etc. I just want to do a thing until I'm good at it, and then do another slightly harder thing until I'm good at it, and so on. Every game used to do this, if for no other reason than there wasn't enough physical room on the cartridge or CD to do anything else. I don't want to sound like a boomer about it, there are times when I want fluff in my games. But what I want is what I want, and EQ2 and racing sims are my current preferred flavor of that right now.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

First Impression: Mirage Online

I'm in an experimental mood today, so I decided to sort through the various tags on Steam to look at what's come out the last month or so for MMOs.

Mirage Online Classic implies some sort of lineage that I am wholly unfamiliar with. If there is a Mirage Online Current I can't find it in a Google search. In fact, I'm having difficulty finding much of anything about it with a Google search. There's a very basic official website, a Youtube with a couple of short gameplay videos, and not much else. It seems to be a HTML5 game as I can play it either in a browser or in the standalone client downloaded from Steam. It must also be a mobile game as you can toggle to mobile controls in the game itself.

Character creation is bare bones at this point.

You get to pick a name, a gender, and a drop down list of Professions. The professions seem to have access to different spells, according to this chart on the official website. As far as I know, space bar is the only way to attack. There is an inventory slot for spells so I presume each class can pick up appropriate spell books. In the first hour or so of playing I didn't find any.

The game starts of linearly enough. It plays from a top-down perspective and control uses the traditional WASD keys. Spacebar attacks and E picks up items. Shift is a toggle for running. I don't believe there is anything to the controls other than that. 

The game gives you some starter items, asks you to kill a bunny and then teleports you off to the first town. A message in your chatbox sends you to the local well, where you navigate a simple maze to the end. You kill rats along the way that don't fight back and slowly accumulate gold and XP. The end of the maze gives you a full set of starter gear and dumps you to the beginning of the next quest.

I chose to navigate the overworld a bit and got some King's Quest vibes from the art style. I saw the idling of what could have been other players or NPCs, I'm not sure. The chat log showed about 25 players on when I logged in. Chat was busy enough. Exploring done, I descended into the sewers to take out a sewer dragon. It was slightly more complicated maze, this time with snakes and a bad guy who was a carbon copy of my character. Finally we made it to the sewer dragon.

The first time I faced him I died. In hindsight, tanking and spanking a dragon as a mage was a poor choice. On my second attempt I realized that kiting was possible in this game. The floor would occasionally give off a puff of smoke, and I needed to move to avoid the incoming flames. The dragon eventually went down and I was immediately teleported to a room in the overworld with bags of gold and health potions.

Unfortunately, I'm now stuck. Whereas the two previous quests were simply handed to me on screen or in my chat log, what I need to do from here on out is obscured. Supposedly, on certain maps, a UI button will light up to let me know there is a quest in the area. But that button never lit up. Chat seemed just as confused as I was. The official website gives a list of quests so I tried to follow that. I found the next 'boss' (after confusingly needing to teleport into some boxes) and tried to manually complete the nonexistent quest anyhow. Unfortunately, most of my attacks missed and the boss couldn't do enough damage to me when I'm kiting to outpace my innate healing. I got bored and closed the game.

The game isn't actually listed as Early Access on Steam, although the official website calls each update a beta release. It's fun to get in on the ground floor of a game sometimes, but it seems like I'm about to be asked to do quite a bit of grinding right from the get go. After dealing with Ultima Online last month, I'm not sure if I'm really down for that.

I do love the aesthetic and simplicity though. I reminds me of the simple flash and downloadable games I would gravitate to in my teenage years because of our tepid 28k modem connection. The game makes me want to give Realm of the Mad God a spin again. I'm not sure I'll give this one too much more play for the moment. But it's free to play and takes up virtually no hard drive space. No reason not to keep an eye on it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

New Year, New Me and Some Thoughts About Black Desert Mobile

New Year, New Me

No not really. I have survived the holidays as tired and grumpy as I always am. Overall, a good time was had in between two brutal 20 hour car rides. Major props to Everdog, who handled all that traveling with minimal complaint. She's earned all her treats for the year.

I have no interest in doing a year retrospective or even New Years resolutions. I've read enough of those in the past two weeks and I suspect so have you.

My MMO play was limited over the holidays to Black Desert Mobile. I had written before the break that I found BDM surprisingly enjoyable on my desktop. Granted, that wasn't as a full-fledged distraction, but as something to click on in the background while doing other digital chores.

I found playing on the cell phone to be a similar experience. The game proved to be a nice thing to do with my hands during the downtime between lunches and diners and trips to the mall. There is always something to do; a fact that I found to be both a plus and a minus. There are just systems packed on systems and progression interwoven with progression that it all becomes very overwhelming. The game does fill your screen with alerts on what you can be doing, but after a while it feels like you are just blindly following prompts and watching various numbers go up.

There's also limited combat gameplay. Questing and battling in BDM can be automated and I found that the only viable way to play on my phone. I'm simply too clumsy or ogre-handed to reliably deal with the controls on touch device games. So my gameplay experience is mostly of a management sim. Handle my character's camp with its upgradeable buildings and workers who can be sent out to gather or other various tasks. Redeem all of my "Boss Rush" stamps and have the game clearing those. Keep you inventory from overflowing by discarding unused equipment to upgrading your familiar. Use your black stones and skill books to constantly upgrade your gear and abilities. And try to get some overworld leveling done in between all of that.

I'd argue that it plays closer to a Tycoon game than a hotbar MMO. At the end of the day, BDM serves it's purpose. It's a casual distraction. It has a niche in my life for now but I think I'll continue to rely on Everquest 2 for scratching that traditional MMO itch.

On a final, non-MMO note. My family introduced me to an arcade that had recently popped up in their area. It took over the first floor of the old Sears in the local mall. It had the carnival games to earn tickets like the basketball hoops and skee-ball. It also had dedicated fighting game systems, racing games, and lots of rhythm games. Playing an Initial D machine co-op with Mrs. Everwake was a very enjoyable time. She got to try a legit Miku Hatsune arcade game out in the wild.

More importantly, I got to relive the high school days with a Dance Dance Revolution machine that I was able to squeeze 13 or so songs on in a row. I would have done more but I literally didn't have the stamina to continue on. Now I'm shopping for a USB DDR-pad online. If anybody has any leads to reliable controllers that are compatible with Step Mania please let me know.