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.

IntPiPoMo_TSW2
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.

IntPiPoMo_APB2
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.

IntPiPoMo_APB3
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)

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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.

EVE_150mil_1
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.

EVE_150mil_2
Like fly very tiny ships…
EVE_150mil_3
…as well as pretty huge ones.

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

EVE_150mil_5

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.

EVE_150mil_4
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.

The beauty of gaming

While good gameplay is always much more important to me than fancy graphics I too like eye candy. Who doesn’t?

I also like to have mementos of my adventures so I can revel in nostalgia later.

Combine the two and it’s no wonder that I take lots and lots of screenshots. Today I’d like to share some highlights. As always, click to enlarge.

Screens_BD

This is the city of Calpheon in Black Desert Online. It’s the most realistic depiction of a medieval town (as I imagine it) I’ve seen in a video game to date, and it’s especially beautiful at dawn.

Screens_Destiny2

Destiny 2 is a good looking game for sure. This was my favourite vista.

Screens_EQ2

Another shot of Everquest II’s Obol Plains. Not bad for a 6-year-old zone in an almost 14-year-old game.

Screens_EVE

Multiple fleets are fighting here in EVE Online, with Lakisa and myself right in the middle. Doesn’t look like death and destruction from afar, does it?

Screens_Arkham

The Scarecrow levels in Batman: Arkham Asylum were really special, gameplay- as well as graphics-wise. Damn, now I’d really like to play it again.

Screens_GTAV

And what could be a more fitting shot to end this post than Trevor’s supercool Unflinching Walk from GTA V?

The times they are a-changin’

Long running online games have a problem franchises like Call of Duty or Gran Turismo don’t: they can’t as easily re-release themselves with a new graphics engine every couple of years.

This leads to these games becoming less and less likely to draw in new players because in addition to not being the new hotness they also look more and more dated in comparison.

Developers try to tackle this with little tweaks and upgrades to their graphics that make the games look slightly better without needing a whole new engine.

WoW has done this for example, and the difference between vanilla (2004) and Legion (2016) is quite noticable.

wow-vanilla-legion

Noticable, but not groundshattering – at least not on screenshots, and I haven’t seen it ingame.

What I do have experienced myself are the changes to EVE Online over the years, and those are pretty huge. I didn’t actually realize how huge until recently. It’s funny how quickly you get used to the new state of affairs after something changes, and soon you’d swear it had always been this way.

When I browsed my old EVE screenshots in search for a picture I needed for the blog I stumbled across a shot of an old PvE ship of mine, the Raven Navy Issue. I almost fell off my chair. First, here’s how the Navy Raven looks today:

EVE CNR1

My Golem, which uses almost the same model as the Raven, looked like this in 2009:

EVE CNR2

That’s not such a big change over nine years, is it? Well, strap yourselves in, because this was my Navy Raven in 2007:

EVE CNR3
Holy crap, what the hell is THAT?

Seriously, I had no idea anymore that the game looked like this when I started to play. In fact I was already playing for almost two years when I made that picture.

And I clearly remember thinking that the game looked pretty great back then. That’s how much our perception changes with the times and everything we see and experience.

Kudos to CCP for putting in the effort, and thanks for another reminder that not everything was, in fact, better in the old days.

When reading about or watching games is more fun than actually playing them

I really like to watch Overwatch tournaments. I’m currently catching up on Season 1 of Blizzard’s Overwatch League. It’s a hell of a lot of matches, and I watch at least one or two maps every day.

I don’t play the game myself anymore though. I gave it another chance after a long break a couple of weeks ago, but was instantly reminded of why I just can’t play it and stay sane. So I keep my hands off it and just watch others play.

How is it possible to have that much fun watching others play a game that’s not fun to play yourself?

To give credit where it’s due, Blizzard does a fantastic job with those presentations. The tools they’ve implemented for good camera angles, slo-mo replays, bird’s eye perspective etc. provide an excellent and entertaining viewing experience. They also have a great pool of casters who commentate the matches in pairs and do a stellar job at it (my favourites are Monte and DoA). I wouldn’t just watch some guy play the game on Youtube or Twitch, but this is highly professional e-sports broadcasting.

Overwatch League

I don’t think I’d have this much fun watching if I had never played the game myself though. The fact that I know the heroes, what they can and can’t do and how they complement each other makes it easier to follow what’s happening despite the breakneck speed, and theorizing why this hero was picked over that one adds another layer of excitement. But I guess you can learn all of that just by watching attentively for a while.

Still the question remains why I can’t play the game without instantly becoming the Hulk, yet watching others is so much fun.

EVE Online is a game that poses a similar conundrum for many people. They love to read about events that happened there, yet give up after a short while when they try playing it because they find it to be too complex and/or boring.

While I’ve never given up on EVE myself I can still totally relate to that. I know from experience that reading Wilhelm’s chronicles of big fights, for example, is indeed more fun than participating in such fights myself most of the time. At the very least it’s much, much faster.

EVE Supers
Looks like epic fun, but might well have felt like walking through molasses for a whole day

I guess what both cases have in common is also the answer to my question. Just watching or reading about these games lets you experience the great and fun aspects while sparing you the frustrating or boring parts.

For a long time I couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that enjoying a game doesn’t necessarily require to actually play it. Whenever I had fun watching an Overwatch match I immediately thought ‘I really need to play myself again’. No, actually I don’t.

It’s a pity that I can’t enjoy playing Overwatch, but I think I’ve made my peace with that now. Instead of sulking and fretting about it I prefer to just be glad that there is, in fact, a way for me to still enjoy the game.