Noob lessons in EVE, long weekend of goodness.

August 31, 2007

I got my first Cruiser a few days ago, a shiny new Caracal. Having been on some level 4 missions with my Corp, I picked up some fittings off the wrecks, and after a bit of shopping, the Caracal was all set and ready to take on some level 2 missions. I set the destination and hit auto-pilot. As the Redsox game was on, I walked away and watched a few innings, as the auto-pilot had 17 jumps to go. I came back to the computer to find myself looking at a pod. I’m an idiot. I had not noticed that the course auto-pilot had picked took my though a 0.3 security zone, and sure enough, a Pirate must have been waiting for silly noobs like me to fly in and make an easy score off of. So my first Cruiser lasted all of about an hour, and fired off exactly 0 missiles before getting blown up. At least the pirate was nice enough not to pod kill me, so thank you MirrorGod for that. Lesson learned.

As usual, the Corp had my back and donated a new Caracal to the ‘help noob Syn’ cause. Sadly I had to buy all the fittings, and so now my Caracal is fling around without a single named pieces, and overall an odd setup. I have one heavy missile launcher, five assault launchers, two large shield expanders, 2 passive shield recharge fittings, an explosion dampener, and two ballistic control systems. It’s been working so far in level two missions, so good enough for now. No afterburner does make for some slow wreck cleanup though. Top speed of 206, wee.

This weekend should be a good one, and not just because Monday is a holiday. My Corp has scheduled a mining op for Saturday, which I am looking forward to, as I’ve only mined with 2-3 people before, so I am curious to see how it goes when we get a good sized group together and wtfpwn some asteroids. Sunday we have our level 4 mission day, which is always a blast. I’ll have to pick up a few more heavy missile launchers before that to hopefully contribute a bit more in terms of dps. Cross your fingers that I don’t get mass targeted and blown out of the sky, but odds are good that I will.

This is the world largest blog with the title ‘Hardcore Casual’ *

August 30, 2007

LoTRO recently announced a 7 day free trial (good) and that they have ‘4 million characters’. (stupid) Why anyone today would report the number of characters their game has is beyond me, unless you want to compete with the awesome ‘game’ that is Second Life. (It might get you a story in Time however; since that seems to be the only MMO ‘game’ they report on)

I understand companies have PR machines that need to take whatever is happening and make it look good, but Turbine’s PR people seriously dropped the ball on this one. You completely discredit your success when you release a report with the number of characters your game has. Either give us active accounts, or just don’t report numbers at all. Or really man up and just show how many people are online, like EVE or do. Sending out a misleading fluff PR statement like Turbine did only gets you flamed, as seen here, here, and here. Nice job.

I think this misstep is most disappointing because LoTRO is actually a good game, with great support. Every patch released has improved the game in significant ways, and all the upcoming features also look promising. So LoTRO is not the second coming of WoW in terms of subscription numbers, that’s ok. It has a solid base to build a great MMO from, give it time and let it grow. I think it has sold well enough at this point to warrant that, at least.

Mario Strikers Charged

August 29, 2007

I’ve been playing Mario Strikers Charge casually the last few weeks, both online and off. It’s a cartoon take on soccer featuring various characters from the Mario world (only Mario though, not the entire Nintendo roster) performing over-the-top moves on both offense and defense. While overall creative, none of the moves are really groundbreaking or a huge shock when you see them. Mario becomes huge, Wario farts, Bowser breaths fire, etc. You pick a captain from amoung a selection of major Mario characters, and then three sidekicks from a roster of lesser knowns, such as Toad, Hammer Bros, Koopa Troopa, etc. Each captain and sidekick has varying stats, like shot power, passing, defense, speed. Unfortunately in an attempt to keep it simple, the stats don’t vary enough, and you only get a few basic setups. More important than stats is each characters special moves, as they vary in power quite greatly. For example, Toad’s flip dodge is a cheap way to bypass the goalie (if timed right) for an easy score, Hammer Bro’s hammer toss dodge and special shot are both powerful tools for scoring, and Bowser’s shell move is… well not as great.

The feature set is fairly standard. You get a training mode, a tournament selection, offline versus play, and most importantly, online play. The offline stuff is fairly basic, but the game shines when you get online and start playing other people. The online setup is very basic, which is great. You connect, play either random people or a buddy, and then get right into it. Playing random people, you get auto-matched, and can accept or decline based only on the other players connection strength. Once you accept, the game setup is the same as it was offline, pick your captain, 3 sidekicks, and off you go. The game goes quick; I believe its 4 minutes per game, best of 3. The overall game is frantic, as you are constantly dodging, tackling, using special items. At first glance it appears the game is TOO fast, and scoring is more luck based than skill, but after some time with the game online, you learn what type of tricks and combos get you the best results. Nothing is a guaranteed score, and even the best thought out plans can go wrong by some random twist of luck, but the game is a bit deeper than it seems at first glance.

Overall I have to say it’s a worthwhile purchase. It’s a great game to pick up and play for 30 minutes or so, and in that time you can get in a few series online. The offline stuff will also keep you fairly busy, as there are plenty of items and stadiums to unlock. The graphics won’t blow anyone away, but they do their job, as does the music and sound. As with many other Wii games, you can’t exactly point to one factor of why it’s entertaining, but it is, and you keep coming back for more.

Micro transactions hate the hardcore player.

August 28, 2007

Payment options in MMOs have been fairly consistent since the release of UO, you pay a set amount of money per month, and you are granted unlimited access to the games servers and all its features. A current ‘hot topic’ in MMO circles is the coming of micro transactions, small little fees for specific content. The lure of micro transactions is that the base game is discounted or even free, and the company makes money of these small transactions.

Lets do a little breakdown of the two payment methods from the perspective of the ‘hardcore gamer’ and the ‘casual’. In the monthly fee structure, both players pay the exact same amount each month, but the hardcore player get a lot more game time out of his payment, resulting in a much higher time/pay ratio than the casual. The hardcore player is likely to go after all the content available to him/her, maxing out reputation grinds, crafting, pvp, etc. The casual player will pick what he/she finds enjoyable while fitting it around their more limited play time and pursue that, perhaps completely skipping over other aspects of a game. They might focus on PvP, ignoring raid content, or focus on crafting and ignore reputation-based questing.

Lets assume a set number of micro transactions is assigned to each area of the game (pvp, crafting, questing, raiding), and the game itself is ‘free’ to play. Now if we compare the play style of the hardcore player to the casual, the time/pay ratio swings in favor of the casual. They will require fewer micro transactions before they run out of the current content, while the hardcore player will burn through each area faster on a monthly basis, requiring more transactions.

In effect, micro transactions punish the ‘complete everything 100%’ type of gamer, and favor the casual. Without a monthly fee, a casual can continue to come back at random to a game, each time paying a small amount for a quick burst of entertainment. A dedicated player will quickly outpace this rate, and be forced to pay more money each month the more they play.

It seems to me that micro transactions are a poorly veiled return to the AOL method of ‘pay per hour’ dialup. If you only use the internet to check email, this works great for you. If you are someone who is online for hours each day, it’s a smart move to ditch the old AOL and go with a set rate provider.

Which brings me to my point, will the type of payment an MMO has, micro transactions vs set rate, separate the player base into the hardcore vs casual crowd? Will those that play for 5 hours or so a week be playing micro games, and those that play 20 hours+ stick with set rate games? And to a further extent, will game design reflect payment type; will we see more casual games are designed around transactions, while the more hardcore games are designed around a set rate?

LoTRO heat, and EVE missions.

August 27, 2007

Quick note about LoTRO before I go into my latest EVE adventures; for whatever reason, LoTRO likes to overheat my computer, resulting in graphic artifacting and eventually a complete crash that results in the comp restarting itself. I have a system capable of running the game on ultra details while maintaining 30FPS, yet even if I set the graphics to medium, the comp still overheats anytime the room temperature is above 75 or so. LoTRO is the only game to cause this; Oblivion has no issues, Company of Heroes runs fine, everything but LoTRO. So aside from the normal LoTRO burnout I’ve been having, it does not help that I’m limited to playing it only on cool weather days, as the AC does not reach far enough to apparently help the computer. A large room fan does little. Anyone else have a similar issue?

Moving on to games that DO work, I played a good bit of EVE Online this weekend, doing some level 1 missions solo and also ganging up with my Corp to tackle some level 4 missions on Sunday.

For the level 1 missions I decided to mix things up a bit and leave my Cormorant and hop into a Kestrel. I loaded the Kestrel with 4 rocket bays, an afterburner, and some low slot speed thing. Top speed was pushing 600m/s, perfect for getting in quick to unload the rockets. Everything was going great until the Kestrel ran into a rat destroyer, and being slow to realize this, it was too late to warp out. Pop goes the Kestrel. Granted the ship and its fittings are nice and cheap, so setting another up is not that big an issue, but it was sad/silly to lose a ship during a level 1 mission.

Sunday is the day our Corp likes to get together and run some level 4 missions. I got in my Cormorant fitted for long range combat, 4 150mm rail guns and a missile bay. Ok, long range for the Cormorant… Anyway, I’m not exactly a big factor in the combat force, considering the other gang members bring battleships or battle cruisers. It’s just fun for me to come along and see the big stuff go boom. Well, that and the fact that the big rats have a very hefty bounty on them, and getting a cut of that is always nice, especially for Kestrel replacement costs. So we get the level 4 version of Worlds Collide, a tough mission I’ve completed for a level 1 agent. The level 4 version was crazy. You know you are about to see a lot of ships when after the warp gate, EVE takes a few seconds to load everything up, and once it does your radar fills up with red x’s of various sizes. Even with our gang of experienced pilots, they at times did have to warp out to repair up before coming back in. It was during one of these moments that my poor Cormorant, for the second week in a row, got target locked by 4-5 big ships and proceeded to melt. Between the lock-on notification and seeing my pod, I must have had a good 5 seconds. Sadly warp had indeed started on my Cormorant, but a stray shot must have taken me out before I was able to squeak out. As frustrating as it can be to lose a ship and have to re-buy everything again, it certainly does add a nice hint of danger and a sudden rush to missions knowing you are a few target locks away from death. Overall profit for Sunday was a good 7-9 million, and considering I went into the day with 5 million, I would call that a good day. Looking forward to next week, especially if I am able to train up enough to jump in a Cruiser and actually contribute some worthwhile damage.

On Tap.

August 24, 2007

With my Corp (Milk in a Bag) planning a little low sect trading mission soon, I’m eagerly waiting for my Learning skills to finish up so I can start training towards a Caldari Moa and increasing my combat effectiveness overall. The Moa should at least give me a fighting chance should we encounter trouble, instead of just being a flying target like I am in the Cormorant now. Great ship for level 1 missions, but as my brief experience with level 4 showed, destroyers get eaten by the larger ships in the game. Speaking of missions, since MILK operates in Amari space, I’ve decided to work up my standing with that faction instead of the Caldari Navy. So it’s back to a -14 level 1 agent for me, with the paltry rewards he offers. Hopefully I’ll grind that out soon and get back to a higher quality agent. With my recent purchase of Rank 3 learning books, my bank account is once again hovering around 1 million ISK, and I still need to buy two Rank 3 books, at 4.5 million each. Here’s hoping for a group mining effort tonight to get me some fast cash, otherwise its back to Mr. -14 for more missions.

Hopefully this weekend I can finally log on to LoTRO for the first time in a week and check out book 10. Rumor has it some nice changes have been made, but if the enjoyment of the lower levels does not return soon, I fear my time in Middle Earth may be drawing to a close. Between the Wii and EVE, I have little time for LoTRO, especially when it starts to feel like a chore just to grind and get to 50. If I do decide to quit, I’ll certainly keep an eye on it and perhaps return once a few more books have been released. Maybe the consistent enjoyment that I had with the game from 1-30 will be there from 1-50 in a few months.

Have a good weekend everyone, happy gaming!

Going the distance

August 23, 2007

Going to rip CrazyKinux today and follow his post by linking a good interview about EVE here. While a bit short, one question in particular brings up a good point about MMOs in general.

Me: You mentioned there being a 10 year plan for EVE, are we now four years in or is that another 10 years?

Hilmar: Another 10 years.

Me: Where do you see EVE in 10 years time?

Hilmar: We have a buffet of options that we’d like to add to the game and we priorities those in cooperation with the community and the response from the players. So it’s difficult to envision where it will be exactly, but I hope that we will add all these dimensions to it, the character aspect, flying over planets, and those type of things, so that its a much richer experience. So you can if you want stay in a station and operate a store, or solely focus on fighting. You have this much vaster set of options and more specializations and create an even bigger social pyramid from having so many options.  

The idea behind a MMOs success is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You make more money if you sell 100,000 copies on day one and keep all your fans for two years than you would if you sell 500,000 copies and everyone plays for the free trail month before moving on. Given this fact, one has to wonder what current developers are thinking when they pack in all the good stuff in one months worth of gameplay, and then scramble to tack on further content to keep people interested, rather than building a game from the ground up to be interesting for years to come. Granted, I’m sure it’s much easier to design a month of content than it is to plan to keep players interested for 2-3 years, but clearly the reward is there. EVE continues to grow despite the fact that it has no retail presence and a grassroots marketing campaign, while most of the games released in that time are either dead or dying.


With a slew of MMOs set for release in the next 6 months or so, it will be interesting to see how many of them are build to last, and how many are build to flash and fizzle.

Quick Update.

August 22, 2007

Not much of an update today. Seems the internet is quiet these days waiting for all the new releases, and with NDA’s on all the big beta’s, not much news is out. Still trying to find the time/will to play LoTRO, I really don’t want to give up on it before hitting 50, but the progress has been very slow lately. EVE and online poker have been taking up a good amount of time. Amazing how well those two play together when you park a laptop next to the desktop…

Still need to get around to that Mario Strikers review. So far I must say it’s been a solid purchase, especially with internet play. I’ve yet to play a full game in The Bigs, just a lot of HR Derby. Need to give that one some time to try out all the other modes of play and see what it’s all about.

Lum and I share a moment…

August 21, 2007

During a bit of random internet wandering, clicking from one site to another, I stumbled upon an old post made by Scott Jennings (aka Lum the Mad) that is eerily similar to my very first blog post. Granted, his piece is far more details and overall… well better, so boo to that. On the plus side, my mind during one blogging session worked in a similar manner to Lum back in 2004. So yay for that… right?

Far more interesting however is that what Lum talked about in 2004 is still being talked about in 2007, just like it was first talked about when UO-R was released. For some reason, a segment of the MMO community still longs for a gaming experience similar to that of ‘oldschool’ UO. It’s like some ancient gaming itch we can’t scratch, continually reminding us of what we once had.

Lum’s stance on the issue was very clear back in 2004, saying the following:

But, for Surly Bob and the other “old school evil players” nostalgic for the glory days of Ultima Online – it won’t happen again. Ever. That moment in time was unique – and it’s gone.

Is he right; is it really impossible for the world that existed in 1998 to ever appear in a game again? Lum’s main point is that without the sheep, the wolves have nothing to hunt, and that since now the sheep have choices in what games they play, they won’t hang around in a world full of wolves.

While I certainly think that line of thinking is very valid, and choice has no doubt enabled many players to leave more ‘pvp friendly’ games for something a little safer, I’m not sure it’s a be all end all answer. I still believe a balance can be reached between the sides, allowing some pk/pvp, while supporting the ‘carebears’ a bit more than UO did, which is to say not at all.

Consider a game like EVE Online, which in 0.0 space has rules very similar to 1999 UO, basically allowing griefing, pk’ing, ganking, etc. However, unlike UO, EVE also has Empire Space, which has far stricter rules and penalties for random pk’ing. EVE also has a complex and rewarding mining/crafting system, one that a player can specialize in exclusively and be very successful. No more ‘go grind rats so you can craft better stuff later’ junk here. Of course, there is a catch; the best ore is found in 0.0 space, so if you get really serious about crafting, you will need 0.0 access, or pay for the ore on the market. Either way, the risk goes up at the highest levels, but so do the profits. It’s that lure of profits and economic power that keeps the ‘sheep’ of EVE playing, even when they have run-ins with PvP pilots. Add in a diplomacy layer, which allows Industrial Corps to pay Merc Corps to protect them, and once again EVE has created a way for players to govern themselves and figure out a solution to a problem, without hard-coding in Trammel (UO’s no pvp carebear side).

So EVE has shown us that in the right context, sheep and wolves CAN exist in the same game world. The trick seems to be not to favor one faction over the other, and provide means for both sides to be successful without being completely separated. If the balance shifts more towards one side or the other, both sides will suffer as a result of a population decrease. Keep both sides happy, while still interacting, and you get the deep layers of a game like EVE. The job if keeping that balance is certainly a difficult task, and some developers might seek the easy way out (see: Horde Paladins), but for those that do stick to their ideals, the reward is out there in the form of a rabid fan base that sticks with your game far beyond the few months it takes to reach the level cap, or jump ship when ‘the next big thing’ is released.

Furthermore, it’s entirely possible that the MMO market is now big enough to support an all pvp game like Shadowbane, which it was not back in 2004 (lets ignore that SB itself was not very good). The overall player base has grown, and with that growth come players with a large variety of play styles. You no longer need a game that will be the jack of all trades, offering pvp, pve, crafting, etc. A developer can now focus on one major aspect, and if the execution is there, they will have a successful game with a loyal fan base. Will it be an 8 million giant like WoW? Not likely; but with 150-250k subscribers over the course of a few years, a company can still turn a tidy profit while providing a needed service to a segment of the overall MMO market, furthering its growth and the expansion of new ideas.

That type of growth could lead to a very healthy cycle, with new ideas coming in at a regular pace. Otherwise, we find ourselves in the current cycle; with each new game being a clone+1 of the previous game, and eventually the fan base will grow tired and bored of that rat race.

Milk run.

August 20, 2007

Over the weekend I joined a very friendly and casual Corp named Milk in a Bag (MILK) after one of there members (Iron Mcfly) noticed my bio saying I was looking for a corp. We ganged up and did some mining together, Iron using his mining ship to strip-mine asteroids while I had my main hauling with his Badger and my newer pilot doing some mining in his frigate. Window mode on a 24” screen worked wonders here, letting me switch from one account to the other with one click. His ship mined at a good 5 times faster than the frigate, and overall we made close to 10 million in ore. Afterwards the CEO of the Corp, Mordakia, logged on and we got to talking a bit on Teamspeak. Getting the basics of the Corp, I decided it seemed like a good fit and joined up with both my pilots.

On Sunday the Corp runs level 4 missions in gangs, to which I brought my Cormorant to. It was an interesting experience, as it was the first time I’ve seen battleships in action, as well as rats in big ships. A few of the missions had us fighting a great number of drones along with some heavy ships, and my little destroyer actually proved quite useful versus the smaller stuff. The highlight, or lowlight perhaps, was when a rat battleship decided to target me and send a few missiles my way. The initial volley took out my shields, and before I was able to fully warp, the next wave hit and bye bye Cormorant. Luckily I had nothing of any real value on the ship, and the ship itself only costs 900,000. The Corp gang leader provided me 1 million ISK to help offset the cost, which was very nice of him. Not that I needed it, as the bounty on the bigger rat ships is over a million each, and even just getting a cut of that made by bank go up a few million by the end of the night.


Overall joining the Corp has added another interesting layer to EVE Online for me. Our goal currently is to reach a higher standing with the Amari Empire, and then put up an Empire POS, as we are mostly an industrial/carebear Corp. As for my pilots, they are still training the Learning section skills, which my combat pilot finishing Learning V soon. In a week or so I should be ready to start picking up some more combat-oriented skills, hopefully raising my usefulness for future Sunday mission runs as well as getting myself into level 2 missions.


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