The Year I Fell Out of Love

I’ve never done reviews or predictions here. I’m not nearly timely enough in my posting to pull it off. That doesn’t mean I don’t mentally review the past gaming year, though, and this New Year’s brought the revelation that 2009 was the year I fell out of love with MMO’s.

I’ve gone through multiple stages of MMO burnout in the past, only to return with a vengeance to a new game/new world, but I suspect that’s no longer true. 2009 found me subscribing and unsubscribing twice to LoTRO and Eve (the closest current examples of the MMO design I prefer), and I don’t think I’ll ever play WoW again. I’m playing a lot of single player games and Team Fortress 2, and I don’t think I’m simply burned out in need of an MMO break any more. I might be done with MMO’s, unless something really interesting appears on the horizon.

MMO bloggers seem to be looking forward to Blizzard’s next WoW expansion, Bioware’s The Old Republic, and Star Trek Online in 2010. I have almost zero interest in any of them (TOR being an exception because of how much I’ve enjoyed Dragon Age, and I hold a shred of hope that Bioware will surprise me with TOR the way DA surprised me). I really don’t expect to buy or play Star Trek Online, and I can’t imagine ever returning to Azeroth. I had three good years in Azeroth, but I think I’ve exhausted that theme park. And honestly, I expect The Old Republic to be a similar theme park, albeit newer and shinier.

I don’t have the same sense of anticipation about new MMO’s that I once had. Maybe WAR broke me; I had so much hope for a DAoC-style game, and Mythic just abandoned so much of what I enjoyed about DAoC in WAR. It felt like it had been influenced far too much by WoW, and I have a fear the same will happen with The Old Republic. I’m still bitter about WAR, so much so that I can’t even bring myself to play the free trial to see what’s new.

The only game I can see myself perhaps trying again in the future is LoTRO. The new skirmish system in the Siege of Mirkwood expansion sounds interesting, and if they make the Book quests solo-able, that might be enough for me to give it another shot. I do enjoy my house, the crafting, and the huge world of Middle Earth, and there’s a lot I haven’t seen there yet; I’m not nearly as burned out there as I am with WoW. I suspect I’m going to have a long stretch of MMO-free gaming ahead of me before that happens, though. I just don’t feel the love any longer.

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Eve’s Certificate System and other shiny improvements

None of this will be new to current Eve players, or those of you who keep up on Eve developments.  I’ve never intended this site to be a news blog, so take my oh-so-late comments with that in mind.

I unsubscribed from Eve last fall, just about a year ago. There have been quite a few major changes which I assume were a part of the Apocrypha expansion. The two shiniest additions are the Certificate System and the in-game ship fitting tool.

If I was in college, or under-employed, or single with no kids, I probably wouldn’t need tools like these to better grasp the intricacies of skill training and ship fitting in Eve. I could scour forums and websites for more knowledge about the best fits for the ships I’ll be flying and the skills I need to maximize effectiveness. Unfortunately, as someone over-employed with a busy home life and taking grad school courses, my time to think about Eve usually occurs while I’m logged in and playing.

My last subscription period found me flying with Eve University, and I learned a ton about fitting and skill training from them, but I’m no longer in that corp (and don’t have access to the guides on their website). As I tried to re-orient myself and plan out the next couple months of skill training, I discovered the certificate planner.

Available as an option from your Character sheet, the planner identifies 9 key training areas and offers a map to achieving certificates of achievement within them. There are four levels of achievement: Basic, Standard, Improved, and Elite. Each level identifies the skills you need to successfully complete the certificate and shows what certificates become available as you unlock more skills.

I’m a pretty focused character, flying Minmatar ships, training autocannons and artillery, building out armor tanking skills and working my way (eventually) to being able to fit and tank T2 modules in Minmatar battleships. I also have pretty decent skills in most of the core areas like Engineering, Navigation, Mechanic, and Electronics, at least when they relate to flying and armor tanking Minnie ships. Still, the certificate planner showed me some gaps that I might not have noticed with my previous method of organizing my training (Sticky Notes and pages of notebook paper scattered god knows where, plus way too many bookmarks in my browser and not enough structure). Within just a couple hours of messing around with the certificate planner (mostly during typical Eve downtime like traveling, mining, and scavenging), I felt like I have a good path moving forward, with definite goals to achieve. The planner is a great addition to managing your character in-game.

The new ship fitting screen is similarly helpful in providing information and storing various configurations for the ships you can fly. I used Eve Fit in the past, and thought it was awesome, but now I can accomplish most of the same things in-game, and I like that. It’s much easier to mess around with different configurations while I’m sitting in the station, tinkering hands-on.

There are two other key additions since the last time I played that makes the Fitting tool even more useful The first is a Search box in my Items window. Type in a bit of the name of the module you’re looking for, and your window changes to just show items that match. It’s soooo much easier to fit a ship that way, and I can experiment without a ton of scrolling through module after module.

The second feature, the Compare tool,  was around last time I played, I think, but I never realized its usefulness. To figure out the stats for a module, you have to Show Info and check the attributes. There are usually five versions of that module with various benefits and drawbacks, plus a Tech 2 version. The Compare tool makes it really easy to figure the strengths and weaknesses of the modules relative to each other.

The combination of the interface improvements and additions plus finally understanding the usefulness of the Compare tool have greatly increased my understanding of how to fit ships, and the tradeoffs available to make a ship more offensive or more defensive, faster and more agile or slower and better armored, and I can fit ships for the situations I think I’ll be encountering the next time I’m out in space. Knowing what my ship can do will help me start to learn what fights I should pick, and what fights to avoid…when I have the luxury of making that kind of choice 🙂 It’s definitely helped me fitting out mission boats; I’ve increased DPS and increased the amount of time I can run my modules (like my armor repairer).

For an example of how this all fit together and improved my fittings, I’ll quickly walk through the light bulbs that started going off when I put all these tools together.

I mentioned that most modules have five variations, plus a Tech 2 version (and faction mods, which I’m not flying yet, and maybe never will 🙂 ). Using the Certificate planner helped me realize a couple places where I had missed skills that give me benefits like increased Powergrid or CPU capacity, or faster Capacitor recharging. With a little more cap room to play with, I started comparing the variations of mods that were maybe now within reach, like Tech 2 mods.

When I started checking Tech 2 requirements, though, the Compare tool finally helped me understand what Eve players mean when they say “Tech 2 modules aren’t always the best choice”. There are some Tech 1 variations that might be better options, depending on your fitting requirements.

For example, let’s talk about Rocket Launchers. Tech 2 rocket launchers might offer a fast firing rate, but they’re also heavy on CPU and/or Powergrid requirements (can’t remember which right now). If I’m already squeezed on room for CPU or PG, I might want to look for a Tech 1 variety that might not refire quite as fast, but has much lower CPU or PG requirements.

I know when I looked at trying to fit Tech 2 weapons last year, I was never sure how I could handle the heavy Powergrid requirements. On my Hurricane, bumping my six artillery weapons would cost an additional 120 PG, and I couldn’t figure out how to fit it, especially since I already had a Tech 2 tank fitted.

Finding Tech 1 versions with lower PG requirements for of a lot of my other mods gives me a lot more flexibility in the Powergrid area (and adding rigs helped too). I still have Tech 1 artis fitted (low CPU requirments, but still pretty decent damage), but I think I have room to fit it out with the T2’s now.

All these tools helped me finally see my ship in a more organized fashion, and I think I’ll be taking ships out that make better use of the skills I have trained. At least on missions…I’m still flying cheap throwaway Rifters when it’s time to drop into low sec or null sec.

*Edit* I added a couple links to the Ship Fitting and Certificate Planning pages in the Evelopedia. That’s another impressive addition since the last time I played, and a great resource for new players, or old players trying something new.

Return to Eve

It’d be wrong to say that I resubscribed to Eve Online just mention CrazyKinux’s Eve Online Fanfest schwag contest, but the contest is a good reason to link to a great blog. Plus, who wouldn’t want a fistful of Eve goodies?

I resubbed because I realized there are things in Eve that I haven’t accomplished. I spent more time on PvE, and not enough time in the sandbox. My last go-round, which ended about a year ago, was primarily all high-sec activity (mission running, mining). There was some PvP going on when my corp, Eve University, was war decced, but it was Empire wars and mostly consisted of us flying in blobs while bored PvP/pirate corps tried to catch new players solo or unaware. My lowsec adventures consisted mainly of quick flights to fulfill mission goals, and I don’t know if I ever set foot in 0.0.

This time, I have a different focus. I still have a solid mission running setup for cash, but I’m going to spend more time exploring (read: getting blown up) in 0.0. Cheap Rifters, outfitted in T1 gear, insured and cloned up, leaves me with little of value to lose. A couple quick level 3 missions will pay for an entire night of getting blown up.

I’ve run out of Lonetrek through lowsec into 0.0 a couple times now. Judicious use of the star map and the filters available let me know which systems have ships getting blown up and which systems are empty of players. My first trip saw me flying back home safely after making a run through a half dozen 0.0 systems, checking out the NPC spawns in the asteroid belts and trying to figure out what kind of ship I’d need to rat in there (answer: more ship than I’m willing to lose at the moment, and I’m pretty sure I’d lose it 🙂 )

My second night of exploring eventually found me warping into a 0.0 system with just one other exit, and 11 players in the system with warp bubbles set up on both gates. Uh oh. It could only end one way. I spent about a half hour testing the gates, discovering what it’s like to get pulled out of warp by what I think was an interdictor’s mobile warp bubble, and practicing escapes to safespots while the folks in the system tried to catch me when I probed the gate defenses.

When it was time to go home, I flew toward one of the players trying to catch me near the interdictor bubble, hoping to at least lock and hurt someone a bit before I was blown to bits. Instead, the rest of his friend arrived before I closed to locking range, and I was damped, webbed, scrammed, and blown to bits before I could even lock. They had my lock range decreased from around 29k to 5k, and I was a fiery wreck before I got to 10k . My pod popped a few seconds later.

One of the players was kind enough to say “gf” in local, which cracked me up considering I didn’t get a lock on an enemy ship, let alone fire a shot, but I sent him a message saying thanks and telling him it was my first time fighting in 0.0. He was very encouraging, saying I did a good job avoiding them for so long, and not getting caught until I decided to stand and fight. That made me feel good, and made me want to go back and try it again. It also made me glad I spent time in the Eve University corp; all the tricks I used to stay alive were tactics they taught me in the Empire wars.

There have been a lot of changes in Eve since I left, a lot of new elements that make the incredible amount of information you require to plumb the depths of the game a little easier to access. The Evelopedia seems like a good resource, and I really like the new Fitting screen. The in-game browser is really slow, though; quicker page loads would be much appreciated. But, it’s simple to alt-Tab out to a regular browser.

I’m going to do more exploring in 0.0 over the next couple weeks, and then maybe look for corps that are recruiting out in that area. I had friends who were a part of the Morsus Mihi alliance last year, and I might look up their corp and see if they’re recruiting. MM space is pretty close to my home base in Empire. I want to make sure I’m sticking around before I apply somewhere, though. It doesn’t seem fair to join a 0.0 corp if I’m just going to play for a month or two. If I keep having fun like I had the other night, though, I might be around long enough to make the jump to 0.0 and see how the other half of Eve plays. It’s a damn big sandbox out there, and I think that’s what I need to get over my MMO malaise.

And the winner is…

Instead of jumping into Darkfall or Fallen Earth, I resubscribed to Eve Online last week. Three things influenced my decision. First, I already own Eve, and my wife and I went out on the $50 I would have dropped on a new game. Second, the videos from the Alliance Tournament on CCP’s Youtube site made me miss the game. Third, I kept saying to myself “I want a game that does what Eve does”, and, well, duh.

I’m still keeping an eye on Darkfall and Fallen Earth (leaning more toward Fallen Earth right now), but I might wait for a price drop, or at least wait out my rekindled desire to play Eve.

There’s also a pretty good chance LoTRO’s latest offer will get me to pay $30 to subscribe for three months and get the Siege of Mirkwood expansion for free when it’s released at the beginning of December. I have the client downloading in the background now, and I’ll play it this weekend, taking advantage of the 25% xp bonus on top of a couple months of rest xp. Free is good.

There’s plenty of competition in the MMO space these days, and Turbine and CCP pulled me in with a combination of good marketing, good value, and top-notch games. I have a couple stories to tell about my latest Eve experiences, and I’ll probably be back with a LoTRO update after the free weekend is over.

Restless gaming

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading lately, instead of playing games. I thought I was just burned out on MMO’s, but single player games are causing the same restless feeling I experienced with MMO’s. I’ll sit down at night to play, and no matter what game I choose, I don’t want to play it after about 20 minutes. Games used to be a way for me to disappear into the Sid Meier zone, where I could lose myself in an evening of play, and I loved that feeling. I’m chasing the dragon now, I guess, getting a “been there, done that” vibe, no matter what I choose to play. I hate that feeling, so after some TF2 I end up logging off and grabbing a book to read.

You know what I need? I need a punk rock MMO. In 1980, I was 14 years old. I got to listen to the punk vs. arena rock vs. crappy pop music/disco wars firsthand. MMO’s feel totally like arena rock at the moment. WoW is the Journey of MMO’s, and I can’t take it any more. And most things seem to be following in the WoW model, making the genre accessible and polished. I want an MMO that doesn’t want to be Journey or REO Speedwagon or Foreigner or Tears for Fears. Can I get a little Circle Jerks in my MMO, please? Because I really want to be playing MMO’s. I can enjoy a single player game, but too much single player is like going to restaurants by yourself all the time. I want the buzz of people around me, even if I don’t talk to them all. I want my MMO to be difficult again, or at least challenging.

I lived and worked in West Yellowstone, Montana (the west entrance to Yellowstone Park) for a couple of years, and I heard a statistic that said like 90% of the visitors to the park never get more than 100 yards from a road. That’s how I feel in the post-WoW era…as MMO players, developers never want us too far from the leveling path. That’s one of the things that pissed me off about WAR. I felt like the content was jammed together, like players couldn’t be trusted to travel through the landscape without signposts to content, like we’d need non-stop attractions to keep our attention. Theme park, right? I hate it.

I want a world that feels open, not a world that has billboards to content everywhere I go. I want more to do than just kill things or deliver things. I want to make things, sell things, collect things, display things…and useful things. I want to fight other players. Speaking of being mad at WAR, another thing that made me mad about WAR was the RvR overkill. DAoC, Counterstrike, and Team Fortress 2 are examples of why you don’t need to include RvR in every zone in three different areas with an overly complicated method of zone control. Those three games concentrated great fighting in a limited number of maps or zones, focusing on the quality of the fighting, not the making sure there was an RvR entrance just steps from any location in any zone. So instead of WAR focusing the people who wanted to RvR in a few meaningful areas, it ended up feeling like you were chasing fights all over the map, all over the factional areas. The fighting was diluted because it was so spread out. The PvE was jammed together, the RvR was too distributed. And they really needed a third faction. Ah well.

Eve’s got the PvP right. I wish Eve’s crafting model existed in other games. I like when players have to make everything. Putting all your good gear behind gated content bores the hell out of me. I guess I want a game like Eve, except with an avatar on the ground, harvesting stuff, making stuff, selling stuff, fighting for control of territory, not control of space. With a house. And a pony.

When did I start to sound so old, by the way? You kids get off my lawn.

Anyway, in my boredom, I picked up Chrono Trigger for the DS. My daughter is letting me “borrow” hers, so maybe some solid old school RPG action will get me through my MMO blues.

There’s a positive in my gaming doldrums, though; I’m getting a ton of reading and writing done for grad school. I bet you’ll never see a scientific study on the positive effects of too much gaming 🙂

Summer break

I didn’t intend to take the summer off from blogging, but that’s exactly what happened. Between work getting a little crazy (anyone else getting hit with budget cuts, wage freezes, hiring freezes, etc.?), spending a lot of time outside with my daughter, and taking a summer class for grad school, life has been about everything but blogging.

Plus, I can’t get too excited about any of the MMO’s that are out right now. I’ve beaten WoW to death, don’t really have the time to enjoy Eve the way it’s meant to be played, I was bored by WAR, grew weary of LoTRO, and there’s not much new to catch my interest. Ok, other than Champions, there’s like nothing new, right? And don’t mention Aion…that’s a definite “give it three months” game. I’ve had my fill of Eastern MMO’s lately, and there’s nothing new under the sun. I even tried EQ2 for a month, and while I liked it, it’s too many steps backward. I want to see MMO’s doing something new and different, or I suspect my malaise will continue.

So, is the problem the games? Probably not. I think I’m just toast on MMO’s after ten years of playing them pretty much nonstop. I still have the desire to log in to a persistent world and build characters…just not any of the worlds that are currently available. I’d gripe about the industry and lack of innovation and clone-mentality development (this is the Internet, after all…I can bitch with no justification, right?), but I don’t really think that’s true or fair. I think developers work really hard to provide good gaming experiences, and I think my inability to stick with one MMO has more to do with me than the genre.

Keen made some good observations about what he misses in current-gen MMO’s last month (yeah, I’m behind on my blog reading, sue me), and a lot of it rang true to me. He started by saying

When I think back at what we’ve lost, or have begun to lose, in the MMORPGs of today, I keep coming back to one thing:  The World.  We’re starting to lose that sense of a big/massive, open, true world that we can explore and live in as we develop or take on the role of our character

Yep. I think this is what disappointed me most about WAR. It’s a game that’s packed with content, and I found out I don’t enjoy that very much. It was a very linear experience, and I never felt a sense of isolation. There wasn’t a sense of danger, either…you could either survive the zone you were in, or you were going to die. There wasn’t much tension, like in Keen’s run across Antonica. And there’s definitely not that much open space.

I blame WoW’s success for that shrinking of the game world, although I think WAR went further than WoW did. The idea that a world has to be convenient after World of Warcraft is pretty pervasive. I miss the sense of distance in Everquest or even Dark Age of Camelot. Making a run from your portal area down to the enemy gates in the DAoC frontier was a hell of an online gaming experience, and WAR didn’t preserve that feeling. WAR’s like a convenience store MMO experience…you can get a limited number of things really fast, and some of them are enjoyable, but if you’re really hungry, you want something more.

I was thinking about resubbing to Star Wars Galaxies the other day, because I was remembering riding around on my speeder with my artisan/architect, surveying for good spots to drop my harvesters. I remember how cool it was to have so much space around me, and an encounter with another person out there usually resulted in some sort of interaction, even if it’s just a wave or another emote. Travel in WAR and WoW feels like commuting…there’s sea of people around you, but you’re not interacting with any of them. I miss the days of physical space and possibility and adventure.

I don’t know if the MMO market can support games like that any more. There’s so much pressure to deliver WoW-like profits, or even a tenth of WoW profits, that designing a world that’s more of a community-driven sandbox is risky. There certainly don’t seem to be any games like that in development, so maybe MMO’s have passed me by. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with current gen MMO’s…it just means that I don’t think I’ll be playing them very often.

So, instead of logging in to WAR and leveling characters through scenarios and RvR, I’ve been playing a lot of Team Fortress 2. WAR scenarios reminded me of my old FPS days, and I’ve been getting my scenario/RvR fixes through TF2. It’s easier to get in and out of TF2 matches, I don’t have to grind levels or gear, and it’s a brilliant game. Is it just me, or do you think Valve could make a TF2 MMO that’s more fun than WAR? Might just be me, and the burnout speaking.

Anyway, my daughter is playing Wizard 101 and Free Realms, and I have alts on her accounts that I’m playing, so I might hit up some of the folks I’ve seen playing those games and say hi (Tipa and Pete have both posted about those games recently). Other than that, I’m usually playing TF2, on the Gamers With Jobs servers when they’re hopping in the evenings, pining for the old days, the MMO frontier days.

Eve Online: Band of Brothers infiltrated, decimated, and disbanded

Old news now, I guess. Destructoid had the news up 23 hours ago, and they weren’t the first, but they’ve got some pretty key links there. Mittani’s audio on how it went down, BoB irc chat logs from the Kugutsumen link…epic stuff.

The whole irc chat log is well worth a read, to get a look at the dawning horror as BoB folks realized the extent of their betrayal. Here’s a couple quick summaries though, pulled from Kugutsumen’s excellent coverage of the official Eve forums.

<@Mako> who is arkannen
<@Mako> some with that name took al the wallet from hat
<@Mako> and left reson
<@LadyScarlet> huh
<@Mako> the mittani says hi
<@LadyScarlet> omg
<@LadyScarlet> you have got to be shitting
<@Dian> rut roh

and…

Did we pay our bill?
I’m sure it was paid
get the internal security guy!
It was this guy who did it!
But hes still in the channel!
Kick him!

Epic pantsing.

And maybe the most interesting snippet from the irc log…

<@cflux> I just need an answer was it paid or not, if it was paid, for sure, someone gurantees his mother that it was ****ing paid, I call the batman hothline.
<@cflux> and thats heavy duty batman hotmail. but i aint ****ing ringing if it was our screwup
<@LadyScarlet> a gm ?

Hmm, are they saying what people think they’re saying?

Does he really know Batman’s phone number??

Truly an epic moment in MMO gaming. It’s like a train wreck, I can’t stop looking.