2018 in review

My only gaming-related resolution for this year was to stop playing stuff when it isn’t fun anymore, and I adhered to that. Looking back I can say that, yes, I indeed had more fun and less headaches with gaming overall due to that, so mission accomplished.

One consequence was that I alternated between games even more than I did in the past. While that’s not an inherently bad thing it means that I still haven’t found a proper home game.

That being said, for the last two and a half weeks I’ve played the heck out of Black Desert Online again after shelving it in April, and I’m having tremendous fun right now.

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To boldly go…where I hadn’t gone before. More on that soonish.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

From January to April I played mostly Black Desert and EVE Online. In BDO I was very excited about the adventures that I had, and also about gathering, cooking and crafting. In EVE we had some great fights and participated in moon mining for the first time.

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But mostly we just kept shooting stuff

I also mused about randomness, player made music  and non-consensual PvP in MMOs.

In April I started to play Path of Exile again, which absolutely dominated my playtime until mid-August. I talked about how much fun I have playing summoner characters, playing the Incursion challenge league and things that I love about the game in general.

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I also killed Queen Atziri for the first time…only 4 1/2 years late

In June I celebrated my blog’s first birthday.

In August two things happened. One: the venerable Belghast revived Blaugust, and I signed up intending to reach the goal of posting every day during that month, which I managed to do. Two: I returned to Everquest II after a break of almost seven years. I fell in love with it again and wrote quite a bunch of posts about it since then.

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The terrific ‘Crafting Epic 2.0’ netted me this sweet mount a couple weeks ago

During Blaugust I also talked about playing American Football, our participation in EVE’s Alliance Tournament and some more MMO-related stuff like level scaling, soloing and faction grinds.

In November International Picture Posting Month came along, and I posted a couple of themed screenshot collections.

During the year I also expanded my fledgeling columns Memorable Moments, where I share gaming related adventures I had that are special to me, and Stay awhile and listen, thoughts about music that I like.

As I said in the beginning I recently picked up Black Desert again, but I also still play EQII and EVE regularly.

The gaming industry in general and MMO industry in particular gave us a crapton of headscratchers and serious fuckups this year, I think more so than in any other year before. I don’t want to talk about that though, this is supposed to be a positive post after all.

Ok, well, I’ll just say this: yes, Blizzard, I indeed do have a phone, but that’s none of your goddamn business because in my opinion quality games and fucking phones don’t have anything to do with each other!

Anyway. I don’t really have any resolutions for 2019 except continuing to have fun doing what I love, and I feel exceptionally blessed that, barring any disasters happening to me, I’ll be able to do just that.

I wish you all a happy and above all healthy year 2019!

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Trying out Co-Op PvE in EVE Online

Last month EVE’s Onslaught update – one might call it a mini-expansion – went live and brought a couple new features with it. The one most interesting to Lakisa and myself is the addition of Abyssal PvE sites designed for up to three pilots working together.

Before this there really wasn’t any type of PvE that worked well for duos or small groups. Sure, technically you can run sites or missions together, but why share the spoils when you can solo everything easily as long as you bring the right ship and setup? For example, my mission running alt handles every level 4 mission currently in the game with ease, and while bringing along another player would speed things up a bit it wouldn’t cut the time in half, so it’s more effective if both players do their own missions by themselves. We’d like to do stuff together though. Also, mission running is boring, no matter if you do it alone or in a group.

So how do Abyssal sites work? You basically open a portal anywhere in space which can be entered by up to three frigate sized ships. This teleports you and your friends into an instance not accessible by other players. Each site consists of three pockets that have to be cleared of all NPCs before you can proceed, and some loot containers. After 20 minutes the whole site collapses, and any ship still inside is destroyed along with its pilot’s pod.

Considering the risk I cooked up some cheap Tech I frig fits for starters, two of which should be able to run tier 1 sites successfully going by early reports. Not wanting to go in completely unprepared I also looked up a bit of info on EVE University’s Wiki on the matter, then off we went.

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My Kestrel heading into the fray

The very first thing you notice is how much more is going on visually than anywhere else in New Eden. It’s quite beautiful. You don’t have much time to marvel at the sights though, because the NPCs are all over you in an instant and the clock’s ticking.

Turns out tier 1 sites really aren’t all that hard, and we didn’t have much problems disposing of the enemies while zipping from one loot cache to the next.

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Passing by a destroyed cache, picking up the goods

There’s not just enemy ships though. Nebulae give penalties to various ship systems if you fly through them, and automated towers have similar effects. There’s even one that attacks drones and missiles when in range.

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Defense tower all guns blazing

All of this doesn’t only affect players, the NPCs also get every bonus and penalty, so you can actually use it to your advantage.

Even with the info we had going in we still needed to learn some things on our own. For instance, Lakisa used a Tristan at first, but her drones missed their targets very often. A bit of research revealed that the penalty “Dark” sites apply to turret optimal range and falloff not only applies to player and NPC ships, but also to drones. So she uses a Kestrel too now when we run Dark sites.

Once all NPCs in a pocket are killed the gate is unlocked and you can proceed to the next, or, if you’re in the third pocket already, back to the spot in normal space where you started.

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Unlocked gate waiting for us to jump through, with another defense tower next to it

You have to be aware that the entrance/exit is visible on D-scan in normal space and can be scanned down by combat probes, so other players could be waiting for you and your loot. In high sec chances for that happening are slim, if you run the sites in low or null sec though – which we have to because high sec’s NPC police doesn’t like us – you should choose your point of entry wisely.

So what’s the early verdict then?

The first couple of sites we ran were tremendously thrilling and fun. No surprise really; it’s new, it’s shiny, it’s quite a bit more unpredictable than other types of PvE, and you’re racing against time. Once you get used to it the effect starts to wear off, unsurpsisingly. Still, it’s much more engaging and exciting than the alternatives. And we’ve just scratched the surface. We’ll take a shot at tier 2 sites soon and work our way from there.

It’s not the Holy Grail of PvE by any stretch of the imagination, but in my opinion that’s not what you play EVE for anyway. For us it’s a way to play together while there’s no PvP going on and earn some ISK in the process, and it’s doing that job pretty well.

IntPiPoMo – Bugs, glitches and other funnies

If you’ve played video games, especially MMOs, for any lenght of time you’ve probably encountered your fair share of things that didn’t work as intended. Getting stuck, falling through the world, physics going crazy, wrong or missing translation, what have you.

Sometimes it’s funny when stuff like that happens, but it can also be a bit annoying if it impedes your ability to, say, progress a quest or even continue to play at all.

Fortunately you don’t have to deal with such consequences if you just look at screenshots of those things happening to me. Yes, I went through all kinds of hardships so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

IntPiPoMo_ArcheAge1
1998 called, it wants its graphics back

This happened to me regularly when I played longer stretches of ArcheAge. I don’t know if it was due to my graphics memory overflowing or whatever, but it looked funny. It kind of felt as if the game had spontaneously transformed into a retro version of itself.

IntPiPoMo_ArcheAge2
So this is what pushing up daisies actually looks like

Another one from ArcheAge, this time the old ‘falling through the world’ classic. After I’d dropped through an invisible hole in the ground I was treated to this rather surrealist view. I had to swim quite a stretch to reach solid ground again, but at least I could do so under my own power and didn’t need to wait until a GM got me out of there.

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Again…?

Different game, same drill. This time Everquest II didn’t want me to walk on firm ground anymore and had me literally sink into nothingness.

Over in Path of Exile I tried to complete a couple of league-specific challenges while playing its Incursion League. Whenever you manage to tick one off you get an on-screen notification informing you about it. One day though, I got this:

IntPiPoMo_PoE1
Yes. No! Maybe… I don’t know. Can you repeat the question?

In 2010 my EVE Online client occasionally produced the weirdest glitches. The first time it happened I was convinced that my graphics card had just imploded.

IntPiPoMo_EVE3
Proof that drugs and gaming don’t mix well after all

Whatever the problem was, it looked completely different every time. I can’t remember if I reinstalled the client or if a patch came out to fix it, but until then I was treated to some really strange sights.

IntPiPoMo_EVE2
Holy crap, that’s Matrix code! I knew it!!!

I don’t remember the exact circumstances leading to the next one, but after some kind of teleport or other scripted movement in one of SWTOR’s operations (raid zones) my character remained in this pose. I had to /stuck myself to get out of it. Until then my guildmates had their laughs at my expense of course.

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Guys, lend me a hand, will ya? Guys???

Lastly I have two shots for you that technically don’t belong here because they don’t show a bug or something like that. I’m including them anyway because I think they’re just really funny.

Behold my Final Fantasy XIV Dire Wolf mount.

IntPiPoMo_FFXIV
If you can unhinge your jaw like that go see your orthodontist right away

I was taking screenshots of my surroundings while my guild assembled for a raid in Everquest II when our Necromancer’s pet suddenly decided to photobomb me without warning.

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OH HI THERE!!

I don’t know about you, but unscripted, hilarious stuff like that is the main reason why I love playing video games.

IntPiPoMo picture count: 9 (this post); 36 (total)

IntPiPoMo – putting the ‘Massive’ into MMOs

It’s been a highly debated question amongst gamers since the dawn of MMOs – when exactly has a multiplayer game earned the right to actually call itself ‘Massively Multiplayer’?

Personally I don’t care much, as long as the game is fun to play. Yet there’s no denying that there are games wearing the MMO moniker where in reality you hardly ever meet another player.

Today I’m going to share some gaming moments that truly put the Massive into the experience, for better or worse. As always, click to enlarge.

IntPiPoMo_TSW1

The Secret World is (or rather was) one of those MMOs where encountering large amounts of players was common pretty much only in it’s hub areas, like Agartha seen above. As long as you were out in the world you’d only rarely meet another soul. In my mind this was actually beneficial to it’s great, gloomy atmosphere, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way while questing.

Thankfully though, that loneliness went out the window whenever there were world bosses to fight.

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What do you mean, ‘unfair’?

What looks like total mayhem…was exactly that. Shouts would go out in event chat when a boss had spawned (or was about to get summoned by players) and people would pile into the instance until it couldn’t hold any more. The fights itself were mostly a dance of doing as much damage as possible while continuously dodging the boss’s AoE attacks, many of which would one-shot you. I had to dial down my graphics to potato mode and still had a hard time to dodge or execute my rotations properly, but it was so much fun nonetheless. These were world bosses done right as far as I’m concerned.

IntPiPoMo_APB

Here a couple of clans had arranged a big racing event in APB Reloaded. I had participated in some races organized by my own clan before, which already were a lot of fun. In terms of player numbers this one beat everything else though, and the ensuing chaos was just terrific. My own car is somewhere in there, but I have no idea where exactly.

The rules and race course weren’t as clear and well thought out as they had been for our own races, and most of the time I just tried to tail other drivers who seemed to know where they were going.

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And this is how you dispose of your car when all is said and done

I had an absolute blast and wish such events would occur more often.

As it also doesn’t happen often that we have this many clan members online at the same time we also did a posing session of course.

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Say cheese…no, wait, you gotta look badass! No smiling!

Whenever EVE Online gets big headlines in gaming press it’s either because someone pulled a giant scam or theft, or a massive battle took place.

IntPiPoMo_EVE1

Here you see the biggest fight Lakisa and I found ourselves in the middle of so far. It wasn’t nearly as big as those headline battles, which had the upside of the server being more than capable of handling it without time-dilation or hiccups. Still, if I remember correctly there were well over 500 players in system and on grid, so compared to other games it was more than massive.

IntPiPoMo_Aion

Aion is one of the few MMOs I played on release day, and this is the first screenshot I took, right after logging in. All those players shared the experience with me, which unfortunately wasn’t all that pleasant. Somewhere in there an NPC is waiting to give players their first tasks, only that it took him minutes (!) to actually respond when you hailed him due to server strain. When I finally got the quest I couldn’t find even a single specimen of the creatures I ought to kill. It wasn’t a bug or somesuch, there were just too many players for far too few mobs, and it took ages to tag enough for getting the first quests done, even if you grouped up for it. Not fun.

So here we have three instances of many players being in the same place at the same time which, to me, were really great, and one where the high player density actually was to everyone’s detriment. What were your experiences with massive player numbers?

IntPiPoMo picture count: 7 (this post); 14 (total)

150 million skill points and counting

I haven’t played much EVE Online recently. When I decided to finally participate in a fleet roam again last week I was in for a surprise: my main character had just surpassed 150 million skill points, something akin to a round birthday. Seems like a good opportunity to have a look at how I got to that number and what I use those skillpoints for.

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Still a bad egg, but a highly skilled one.

I created the character on December 22nd 2005. At the time characters started with less skills prelearned than they get today, so I couldn’t do a whole lot of anything at first. Since EVE is a very complex game and I was content learning the controls and systems by doing easy low-level missions for a while that didn’t really discourage me though.

Something that did suck were ‘Learning Skills’. Putting in the time to train those did nothing but improve your attributes, which in turn have no other purpose than determining how fast you train your skills. You had to choose between ignoring them, knowing full well that you’d hurt yourself in the long run by doing so, or training them early on, forcing you to wait for days – weeks even – before you’d finally train skills again that enabled you to actually do stuff like fly bigger ships and such. I hope that whoever had that idea isn’t working in game development anymore, because it was pretty much the antithesis of fun.

Fortunately I was intrigued enough by the game to stick through that. I indeed pushed the advanced learning skills up to level 4 very early on and hence trained relatively efficiently going forward. I also started to use attribute-enhancing implants as soon as I got my first ones as mission rewards.

Skill training nowadays can be done more efficiently than ever before. You can redistribute your base attributes once per year, which thankfully are much higher overall since they’ve axed learning skills, and citadels enable you to jump back and forth between clones at your leisure, enabling you to use a full set of +5 attribute implants whenever you’re safely docked up and switching to an appropriate combat clone before an op.

Had my account been active without timeouts I’d have surpassed the 200 million mark by now. I’m not complaining though, with those 150 mil I can do a great many things at a high performance level already.

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Like fly very tiny ships…
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…as well as pretty huge ones.

Let’s have a look at how my skillpoints are distributed by category:

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With the exception of Fleet Support I’d wager that at least 90% of combat pilots have about the same categories in their top ten, more or less in the same order. In a game mainly about internet spaceships shooting each other it’s no surprise really.

A couple of things about my own skills did surprise me though.

There’s a bigger discrepancy between Armor and Shields than I would have thought since I consider both categories as ‘finished’ for my purposes. The explanation lies in the fact that passive armor hardeners, which boost your resistances without having to activate them, are very important for most if not all armor tanked ships, while shield setups pretty much exclusively use active hardeners. Hence I trained the four skills which raise the effectiveness of passive armor hardeners to level 5, while the corresponding shield skills remain at levels 2 or 3. That’s a difference of about two million skillpoints right there.

I couldn’t quite remember having trained Scanning skills on this character at all, but somewhere along the way I obviously did. I think I went on an exploration trip once or twice after I’d researched about activities in the game I’d never tried yet and continued to train those skills for a while. In the end Lakisa liked the feature more than I did, and I completely forgot about having those skills.

I’ve done my fair share of mission running in high sec with this character prior to his pirating days, quite a lot actually, so I definitely should’ve trained his Social skills a good bit higher to maximize profits. I thought that I had, but apparently I always had more important stuff to train.

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It’s all about the connections, man!

When I began preparations for getting my first capital ship, a carrier, I decided to train those skills on this character instead of an alt like most people do. The reason being that I don’t like dual-boxing very much in general, much less in combat situations. In hindsight that was a mistake for various reasons. Capitals just aren’t ships you fly with your main. Because of this he has another couple million skillpoints in skills he doesn’t use, the biggest bunch of it in Navigation. I won’t extract those skills though.

Actually I’ve neither injected nor extracted any skillpoints to or from this character, and I never will. This is ‘me’ in EVE. The character has grown with me, every decision to train certain skills at a certain time was deliberate and has contributed to his adventures one way or another. I’m not going to mess around with that.

Overall I still like this progression system a lot. It came at a perfect time for me back in ’05 when I was seriously burnt out from trying to power-level to the cap in EQII. You need to have patience, sure. It’s also true that a new player will never be able to catch up to my skill total (without using injectors) as long as I don’t stop adding to it. I don’t see either as a problem though.

People tend to forget that the importance of a character’s skills in EVE is greatly surpassed by the importance of strenght in numbers as well as individual player skill. You can contribute to many types of fleet fights with a freshly created character right away simply because you’re not on your own, and a 10 million skillpoint character could (and probably would) beat me in a 1vs1 because I just plain suck at that.

Anyway, here’s to the next 50 million.

Memorable Moments – Chapter Two

Today I’m going back to a great experience I had in 2009. As a line member of KIA Alliance I was living deep in nullsec for the first time in EVE Online.

Our home base was the TN25-J system in Period Basis. As long as we were part of the anti Band of Brothers coalition spearheaded by Goonswarm we had often traveled to Delve and Querious to fight BoB. After their defeat we didn’t have a clear focus or purpose for a while – which lead to most corps leaving the alliance in the end – and we mainly roamed around Period Basis and Stain shooting everything that wasn’t blue (i.e. allied with us).

Naturally Stain’s residents were keen to return the favour, so gangs of pilots from THE KLINGONS, Systematic-Chaos and Reikoku (a former BoB corp) came to harass us regularly.

One day nothing was happening and I ran missions to earn some ISK on my second account. Fortunately I was on Teamspeak just in case because suddenly one of ours called out “Guys, I need help, they have tackled my carrier in GR- !”.

At the time capital ships weren’t nearly as abundant as they are today and the prospect of losing one, no matter the circumstances, was devastating (well, at least it would’ve been to me), so we knew we had to save it. We didn’t have an experienced fleet commander online though, and there were a few moments of ‘Oh god, what are we gonna do?’.

The pilot reported that there were about 20 of them, all sub caps, and that he could tank them for quite a while. There was still time.

I quickly checked what ships I had ready to go, and since no one else seemed willing to step up I decided to at least get the ball rolling.

I asked everyone to grab any ship fitted for close range gank with a bit of tank and tackle, undock and meet up at our jump bridge in TN25 directly leading to GR-J8B. I hopped into my blaster fit Deimos and headed out to the bridge.

EVE Deimos
A more recent shot of a Deimos of mine – I was much too nervous to take screenshots then

While everyone scrambled to get their ships ready someone was mindful enough to contact our allied neighbors, Zenith Affinity, who would join us on site.

After a while a dozen or so sat on the jump bridge good to go. Some more weren’t quite ready, but the carrier was taking more and more damage. The clock was ticking.

I said “Jump, jump, jump! Latecomers just catch up when you’re ready.”

We landed in GR- and I let everyone align to our outpost. The carrier had been caught 15km off of it (how or why we’ll never know) and was still sitting there, tackled and slowed to a complete halt.

As soon as we got word that the Zenith guys were also in system and aligned I gave the command to initiate warp to the carrier.

To be honest, I don’t remember many details about the fight itself. I was in a frenzy, my heart pumping, my hands sweating. I think I called the enemy ship nearest to me when we landed primary, after that the carrier pilot took over the target calling. Astonishingly he seemed to be the calmest of us all.

Their DPS consisted mostly of Tech I cruisers, so our mix of battleships and Tech II cruisers was superior from the get-go. We destroyed the first ship, then the second, and on it went. More and more reinforcements trickled in on our side too, and before long we had wiped out the majority of their fleet. Only a couple managed to avoid being tackled and got away.

We rescued the carrier and didn’t even lose much – actually hardly anything – in the process while delivering a decent blow to our hostile neighbors. Op success!

The battle report consequently shows a very one-sided affair, but for me it was one of the most exciting battles I’ve had in EVE, and one of those rare gaming moments that was not only fun but also really meant (and still means) a lot to me.

Farewell to Wildstar and other MMO news

So I come home from a 12-day vacation and the MMO-gaming world has pretty much turned on it’s head. Huh.

Pearl Abyss is buying CCP Games. Since I play EVE Online and intend to continue to do so I hope this will be good for the game. There’s much doom and gloom going round of course. I prefer to share Wilhelm’s more upbeat view. Also, in my opinion Black Desert’s cash shop isn’t as P2W-heavy as many people claim it to be. I didn’t aim for being competitive in PvP though, so what do I know. We’ll see.

A billionaire doctor has invested in Daybreak. Any news concerning Everquest II that’s not decidedly good news makes me very nervous right now. I just fell in love with the game again and would very much like to make up for lost time as long as I can. A shutdown announcement would be heartbreaking. Bhagpuss is cautiously optimistic, and I hope he’s right.

Speaking of shutdowns, the time has come for Wildstar. Unlike others who said their farewells I’ve never played it, but it makes me sad nonetheless.

The game was on my radar since I first saw it’s brilliant gamescom ’11 trailer. It’s funny, it’s action-packed, it has Sci-Fi and Western style…it’s basically Firefly. What’s not to like?

Wildstar
Well, ok, Firefly with WoW-sized shoulderpads

Obviously a render trailer like that doesn’t tell you anything about how a game actually plays. Once details about the general gameplay direction became known I started to doubt if this was going to be a game for me: a themepark with action combat and ‘hardcore endgame’. This is what the devs themselves said about their raids:

How hardcore are our raids? So hardcore that they floss with BARBED WIRE!!!

Okaaaay.

Despite my fondness of playing solo I do like raids. The more people the better. I went from 24-man raids in EQII to 8-man raids in SWTOR and was like ‘this is no raid, this is a group with two extra people’.

My EQII raiding days have taught me one thing though: it’s hard to find enough players of compatible playstyles, skill levels, goals and schedules for raid groups that big. Even if you do find those people, keeping them all engaged and happy for a period of time isn’t just hard…it’s fricking impossible.

So how does the prospect of 40-man raids with super high difficulty sound? Awesome in theory if you do like that sort of thing, but very much at odds with reality.

Once I had read about ‘attunement‘ I definitely knew Wildstar was not for me.

It’s a shame, because I would have very much liked to at least check out it’s player housing. More than a few call it the best they’ve experienced.

Which makes me wonder, again, who exactly the game was meant for.

I have never, ever, met a player whom I’d call at least semi-hardcore who was into housing and other kinds of ‘fluff’. Those people want their game’s devs to do one thing only: design more dungeons and raids. Everything else is deemed a waste of time and resources. From their point of view it’s understandable.

Statistics show that they are a minority though. A vocal minority for sure, but still a minority. Enough to pay the bills for a AAA MMO? Apparently not.

And so it goes. It’s sad because the game has a lot going for it. I think I’d have liked the setting, style, music and non-hardcore features very much.

Farewell Wildstar.