Some games are more successful, and some are less. Some are successful enough that they spawn fanzines. Most of the time, this doesn’t work all too well. Either the quality of the writing and topics is questionable (even considering the sad state gaming journalism is in), or the communication between the writers and the game developers is not up to par. If I remember correctly, Blizzard’s general secrecy meant the demise of the “official” WoW magazine after roughly two issues . If you can’t pull news out of the developers’ noses, it’s hard to fill a good magazine. Scantily-clad, buxom, purple night elf lolitas only get you that far with the average readership.
EON was a bit different. Just like the game it covered, EVE Online, it was an outlier in the market. Its production value was quite high. The printing was top-notch. The writing was (for a game magazine) stellar (which meant it was actually readable). EON was probably the reason I played EVE for as long as I did. When they had a “one year for x% less!” offer a good year ago, I decided to go for it. I didn’t regret it, even though it was still expensive, and it came via mail in a plastic “neutral design” envelope that made it look like a porn magazine. (It also always arrived dog-eared because it didn’t fit into my small mailbox, and our postman seems to like cramming, but that’s a different problem. Not very nice if you like to take care of printed items.) Just as EVE keeps going and going, EON had a surprisingly long life for a printed game-specific magazine. For more than seven years, the quarterly “Official New Eden Magazine” brought news, rumors, and statistics to its readers, all in a slick design and sprinkled with interviews with or snippets about CCP developers and other team members. Now that time is over. Issue no. 30, recently released, has been announced to be the last one, first on the CCP dev blog (where I missed it because I’m horribly out of the loop at the moment when it comes to MMOs), and later via mail (where it reached me just a few hours ago):
It is with regret that we must announce that EON magazine is closing down after nearly 8 incredible years in production. The economic realities are such that it is no longer viable to continue to produce the magazine in spite of EVE enjoying record success in this its 10th year of operation. [...]
Our only regret is that we are unable to fully celebrate EVE’s 10th anniversary with one more issue, but we can reveal that we are collaborating with CCP on a new project, to be revealed soon.
I wonder what that new project will be? Something with DUST? Come to think of it, I haven’t even followed the news on the DUST/EVE integration. I still can’t believe it will go well in the end, but I really should spend some time reading again…
In any case, the age of EON is over. I wonder whether we will see a comparable magazine again? It seems printed magazines are dying out. Then, of course, the paperless office never came to pass, so maybe at some point, we’ll see people enjoying printed matters again. It’s unlikely, granted, but as a lover of printed paper, one can hope…
 Thanks to Wilhelm’s archive, I now know that it survived for five issues.
Sorry to everybody who might’ve hoped otherwise!
There are just too many things going on. Teaching classes, teaching students, trying to finally wrap up and write down my thesis, an impending move and other random bits are just tying me down. I also dusted off my piano for the first time in years and now am trying to get back to the level I once was at (which is going much better than I had hoped for, at the moment!). A certain MMO ennui is also a contributor. Though I’m slowly feeling the itch return. Maybe, one day…
I got a couple of half-finished drafts in my box. Maybe I’ll try and finish them finally, to get something rolling here again. Soon. Probably not before Easter though, because for now, it’s packing for yet another work trip.
Work is just crazy right now. Crazy enough that I haven’t even been able to get a single Christmas present yet.
Thankfully, it seems as if it’s slowly spinning down again (as you can guess from the fact that I at least can write about not having time).
I’ll be back.
Of the games on my list to potentially return to, EQ2 was the strongest contender once its main detriment was out of the way with SOE making the PSS1 transfer optional. So I dusted off my Swashbuckler, by far my highest-level class, and continued my journey.
The first thing I did was leave Moors of Ykesha, where I had stopped playing many months ago. I remembered that I hadn’t liked the zone much. When I first logged in again, I was in a zone filled with gnomes and their contraptions. I don’t like tinkering gnomes, at all. In fact, I hate them. So I had to leave, that much was clear. After a bit of back and forth I ended up in the Sundered Frontier, a level 80-85 zone added about two years ago. Very slowly, I’m working my way into EQ2′s present.
The first thing I noticed was that I remembered most of the abilities of my swashbuckler. That is no easy feat, with EQ2 having probably the highest number of abilities that you regularly use of any MMO that I played. The combination of many abilities and long cooldowns means that two action bars of 12 buttons just barely fit my normal rotation abilities. Three more are filled with situational ones and buffs. So figuring out how to play the class again was one of the things I had been a bit worried about. Thankfully, that worked out well.
The second thing I noticed was that… wow, I was powerful! The great combat stat shift of 2011 had been followed by an equally great gear shift, which ended with my handcrafted titanium chainmail feeling ridiculously powerful. In fact, I would see barely any upgrade for the next 1.5 zones and 6 levels (or, in other words, about 75% of that particular expansion’s overland content!). I guess that helped with getting into gear again, too.
The third thing: I wasn’t 100% sure what the story was. I mean, I got part of it, but there were a lot of Erudites running around, but the city wasn’t called Erudin, but Paineel? And everything was kinda of floating in the air? It seems this cataclysm event that destroyed Norrath roughly six years before Azeroth had flung the area around Erudin and Paineel into the air. Some demons also seemed to have been involved and snacked up Erudin. You know, Erudites liking magic and all, and not really caring about whether that involves demons or something. Anyway. I liked being back, even if it took me some time to figure out what exactly had happened.
A Tale of Two Kinds of Levels
Most people reading this probably know, but Everquest’s supplement to adventuring levels are “alternate adventuring levels” or AA. They date back from the time of Everquest and can probably be best described as WoW’s talent system from the early days, but with a lot more levels, and consequently less return per point, for the most part (the exception being special abilities that are unlocked by spending enough prerequisite points in the tree). Rift’s Planar Attunement is quite similar in number of points available and return per point.
Contrary to how talents work in WoW or PA in Rift, you earn AA as you level, but more or less independently of your leveling rate. You earn AA for exploring now areas, killing named monsters for the first time, and a few other things. For every AA level earned, you get one point to spend in your AA ability trees. In addition, EQ2 has one of the coolest inventions of any game I played: the AA conversion sliders. It sounds really mundane when you hear about it: the slider allows you to define a percentage of adventuring XP to be rerouted to AA XP as you earn it. That allows you to level really fast (set to 0%), but somewhat neglecting your abilities. Or it allows you to easily lock at your level, while continuing to earn experience toward AA levels that you then can choose to spend right away or later. And anything in between! It so easily and elegantly solves the problem of outleveling content in a zone too fast. And at 0%, you can pick and choose really nicely which zone you’d prefer to play, skip the alternatives, and maybe even part of your chosen zone.
SOE wouldn’t be SOE, of course, if there wasn’t at least some downside to this. The first one is that you need to be a subscriber to get access to the slider. For non-subscribers, the slider is fixed at 50%. That is not too much of a problem for me, though, because I tend to subscribe to games for as long as I play them. The other problem is more fundamental. As the level cap increased over the years, so did the AA cap. And at certain “magic numbers”, powerful abilities and buffs await. That means that there is a tremendous power difference between a level 90 with 100 AA and with 300 AA. Which in turn makes it (I imagine) very hard to tune new zones properly.
For the last expansion, SOE finally decided that it needed to create an AA requirement. So far, there is only one of those caps on the way, and my guess is that it will suffice for a long time. While the level cap has been 92 since the last expansion (and will rise to 95 with today’s release of Chains of Eternity), you cannot progress past level 90 until you also reach 280 AA. At this level, the last powerful “heroic” ability unlock. The last 40 AA (up to the current cap of 320) do not unlock any more special abilities, and can mostly be used to round off some lower-tier improvements. So if you reach level 90 before 280 AA, your slider will be locked at 100% for the time being, and that’s that.
Plans, and The Foiling Thereof
Coming back with that knowledge, I was happy to notice that I was on a good path. I decided to pump up the slider to 75, and let the AA roll in. Two thirds into the Sundered Frontier zone, however, I realized that I might have a problem. Whereas at lower levels, I seemed to level faster than I could consume the leveling content, I now was going too slowly. Monsters started outleveling me, and my fabulous fighting power waned. This is in part because, as opposed to low-level content, there is not much choice in zones any more at the high levels. So with a heavy heart, I lowered the slider to 25%. By the end of the Stonebrunt Highlands zone, close to level 90, I had caught up with mob levels again. But it was clear that I would come out short on AA. In the end, I think I ended up with 238 AA by the time I hit 90.
To be honest, it could be much worse. Over the months and levels, I spent a lot of time of my swashbuckler exploring old content, even soloing some dungeons when I managed to get powerful gear and just shy of the green/gray mob barrier. I spent times at high slider settings, and all those things. Many people have fewer than 200 AA by the time they hit 90, even if they don’t powerlevel at ridiculous speeds. It’s still a weird feeling. There is content (even overland, solo content) I can’t access yet, there’s gear that I can’t wear, and I can’t progress towards them directly at the moment! All there is to do is to grind experience to get AA. It’s strange how you can enjoy one thing (leveling), and feel weird about another very similar thing (AA leveling).
I guess the difference is that the way of playing is much more similar to level-cap play: instead of following quest and story lines, I now have to pick and choose, backtrack, find other things to do. Except I can’t even run dungeons very well, because too many people seem to be 2 levels and one expansion ahead of me. So I’m in a bit of a pickle and have to reconsider what I actually want to do.
Of course, this being EQ2, with a ridiculous amount of content available at different levels, I found ways to stay entertained, and earn AA in the process. (I am not yet at 280 AA at the time of writing, though.) But this post is already long enough, and not writing about it right now hopefully will motivate to update you again in the very near future!
One of the pains about roaming from MMO to MMO is that every time you come back to an old haunt, you have to remember how to play again. [...] Of course people will say that if you just stick to one game for a while, you won’t have to put up with that sort of thing.
To those people, I introduce Rift patch 1.11, which has managed to simulate the whole “having been away” experience for people who haven’t actually been away.
With Rohan finally released, I felt the itch to try out LotRO again. Nevermind I hadn’t even preordered the Rohan expansion. My highest level character, Hiltibrant, the Hobbit warden, is still where I left him months ago, at the 21st Hall in Moria. Realistically speaking, I won’t even reach the newly released content this year.
Nevertheless, LotRO is one of the games I always come back to. And I was interested to see what else had changed in the UI, at lower levels, and so on. So I fired up the patcher and let it run. And run. And run.
After two hours or so in the background, I got somewhat suspicious. It was still stuck at “Checking game data”, and it didn’t seem to do much of anything, except grab a lot of CPU power without any noticeable progress whatsoever. A bit of searching around found lots of wildly implausible theories as to the reasons, one remotely probable solution, and no official comments by Turbine. Oh well.
I learned that the patcher had a tendency to get stuck on the main asset files, and that one solution was to figure out which one it was (thankfully denoted by an additional “.jrnl” file pointing to the culprit), and moving it out of the way to see whether it would help. It did. The patcher went through and greeted me with the login screen. I was happy. So happy that I went and deleted the removed file. (Because, hey! problem fixed! Big rookie mistake.)
Until I actually tried to start the game proper, when I found out that solution had been… well, less than optimal:
Thankfully, that error had an official page on the Turbine support site.
Not so thankfully, it described the problem, but no solution. “One of your data files is missing.” No shit, Sherlock. I learned the hard way that the patcher doesn’t seem to recognize missing files, that there is no “recheck everything” option, and that I couldn’t find a way to redownload that missing file via the patcher. In short, I was hosed.
So this morning, before I went to work, I decided that there was a painful, but probably effective solution to the problem. I started redownloading the full installer. It crawls and doesn’t use my full line rate, but it should still be done by tonight.
The new design of the downloader makes me hope that I won’t have to patch for another 6 hours after installation to get it to a current state. We’ll see.
In the meantime, there’s other games that beckon.
I have a love-hate relationship with Everquest II. When I first tried it, many years ago (my memory is failing me, but I think it was while I was in Japan, and after I started playing WoW, which would put it somewhere in the winter of 2005 or spring of 2006), I soundly rejected it. When I picked it up the second time no less than 5 years later, I fell in love with parts of it, especially those that I, had I had the tenacity, could have already enjoyed in almost unchanged fashion back then. I then played and enjoyed it, even though often as a second choice below a dominating WoW or LotRO, for about half a year.
After it fell out of fashion with me (as it happens, me being the whimsical master of my games that I am), I felt the itch to return more than once. Alas, the main reason I never returned had nothing to do with the game or the world itself: I complained bitterly about such petty things as the removing of slow-speed mounts, but the fatal moment came when SOE decided to sell us like serfs to a shady company I am embarrassed to admit comes from my own country. Indeed, this was enough to both keep me from playing and make me complain about it on this blog.
Now, in the sudden, strange turn of events that seem to be SOE’s staple, news reach us that we might actually be spared from this cruel fate. The information is still quite terse and want for details (as, I might point out, is SOE’s wont), but it might mean that I will be able to stay with the slightly more appealing company for an, for all intents and purposes, unlimited amount of time. If that indeed turns out to be the case, this would increase the chances of me returning to EQ2 quite a bit.
Irony of fate: I laboured for a long time whether I should return to EQ2, and steadfastly refused on principle. Now that the fundamental facts might have changed, I’m immersed in the most unlikely of competitors, Rift. Though, who knows, that might not be for long. As I often said before, and will say again, Rift is a great game, but a sub-par virtual world. Who knows when the whims will change again and lead me towards another random waypoint.
(as often enough on this blog, if you find the reference, you may keep it, and also point it out and claim bragging rights)