My Gamer Family

Posted by on May 20, 2012 in Blog, Everquest | 4 comments

My wife and I  just dropped off my stepson at the airport after a weekend that was way to short. Many of the things we’ve been talking about this weekend were about our common interests: online games. He didn’t need me to get him a “Secret World” beta key, since he’s already pretty busy with other games: Diablo 3, Aion, Vindictus and Everquest on the retro servers at Project 1999.  I’ve known him since I met my wife ten years ago. We were all playing Everquest back then. Since then, we’ve been going more or less through the same online games: Everquest 2, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Runes of Magic, Rift and probably some others. Over time we’ve been bouncing game suggestions back and forth between the two of us. His approach to most games is the geek path: Get into it deeply and intensely. Once the last secrets of his preferred classes are explored, it is time to move on.

He his my wife’s oldest son. She got introduced to gaming through his console games, just to do things together with her kids. You know how moms are. However, it took her youngest son to get her to play Everquest. He had asked for it as a Christmas present and played it passionately over winter break. It took only three month until they got a second account and a second computer. They actually ended up with a total of four computers and four accounts over time, with the oldest son dualboxing. My wife now plays World of Warcraft, with occasional dips into EQ2, Rift or SWTOR, but she returns to WOW when I get bored with the new game I dragged her into. She favorites healers, but by now with all that time spent on WOW, she’s played all classes but hasn’t raided with rogues, hunters or warriors.

My youngest stepson plays mostly WOW with his friends on a pvp server. Ever being the social type, he gets involved into groups and instances quickly and raids frequently. There have been forays into other games like Rift, but he returns usually to WOW as well.

As for myself, there’s been told a lot about me already on this blog. But let me assure you, it is certainly great to have a family that is as involved into gaming as I am. There’s no need to justify extended play times or the frequency of gaming sessions. We are also our own support group to deal with raid or loot disappointments, or to ask the other to remind you when you crossed your own playtime limits. As a stepfather, it was also a great way to bond with my newly found family and as already said, it is still our common interest.

However, we do have a black sheep in the family. The middle child, the stepdaughter, never got into computer games, but went out to safe the world, one drug addict at a time. We occasionally get some flak from her about our gaming, but it hasn’t exceeded a groan here or there. She even tolerated a WOW playing boyfriend for a while and the breakup didn’t have anything to do with the game.

Okay, that’s four gamers in the family. What’s your situation?

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Three Weeks of Everquest Free to Play

Posted by on Apr 5, 2012 in Blog, Everquest | 0 comments

It’s been three weeks already? Time flies when you are having fun. And I am certainly having fun getting back to Norrath and Everquest. I’ve made a few characters on the brand new “Vox” server, while hardly looking at my old ones. I just don’t think I’d be able to play them very well at their level. Creating new characters gives me time to relearn the game and to get familiar with the changes since I left. Besides, new characters are fun, at least for me.

For the F2P start SOE created “Hero’s Journey”, a guide and a set of achievements through the leveling process. It took me a while until I found out about this, but once I noticed it, all was good. It leads you through the Crescent Reach zone and all other zones of that expansion. It gets you great gear along the path. If you are going to restart, I recommend to do just a few steps in the tutorial, just enough to get you 3 pieces of armor, and continue with Hero’s Journey.

Not following Hero’s Journey lead me to the level 10+ armor quests and my first encounter with the old competitiveness of the game, namely kill stealing. Old Everquest hands will know that loot rights and experience gain for a kill go to the player or group who do the most damage, not the person who tagged the mob first. Which of course happened to me, trying to kill tarantulas in the Desert of Ro. They are kind of rare and all of a sudden, the tarantula I just had engaged was dead. Some higher level shaman had killed it and continued to clear out the area without giving others the chance to finish their quests.

Lots of drama has ensued over this in the past and obviously will continue. This extended into raiding as well, since dungeons and raids were not instanced. Guilds and players had to compete for the kill. I could already experience my dose of hardcore behavior while visiting Project 99 a while back, and just hope this doesn’t extend into the new end game. Time will tell.

But now to the nicer sides of the game. You can notice much more cooperative behavior among the players than anyplace else, even if you take the competitiveness into account. Players offer buffs in the Plane of Knowledge and asking for buffs is accepted as well. Group play happens, although with the limitations of not having a LFD tool. But the players are far more willing to group up and share. Experienced and higher level players will run up to you and hand you loot, or just offer it for free in chat. And as it used to happen, valuable loot that nobody in a group or raid wanted is often offered to the public in general chat.

Speaking of POK, since F2P players can’t sell their goods in the bazaar, they have to rely on /auction chat. Which gives the already humming Plane of Knowledge even more traffic and there’s some hope it will become like East Commonlands, the market place of old. However, it seems to slow down a bit, as subscribers offer their guild mates to sell their gear through the subscribers traders.

So far, I haven’t run into killer issues with free-to-play. Most of the gear on my old characters is unusable, due to having bad augments, but that’s more of a bug than intention. There is a limit on the amount of money a character can have and there is no shared bank. F2P players can’t send mail or parcels. This limits the ability to transfer items between characters, but nothing keeps you from creating a second account and using it to hold a few bags. The number of bags is limited, which initially seems like an issue, but in the end, with a bit more organisation, you’ll get by.

I am a bard of old. I did crowd control in Solusek A and Karnor’s Castle and I charm kited in the Plane of Nightmares. So I asked in the bard channel what instruments are now in easy reach for my level. The answer made me cringe: Use the instrument modifiers that come with your defiant armor. Modifiers not even half the strength of your standard store bought lute or hand drum. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be to much of a surprise, with leveling now being so easy, there isn’t much need to squeeze out an edge through 10% more damage output with you drum. At least they confirmed that the higher run speed coming from a better drum is useful.

And lastly, something I am far from mastering, yet. The game mechanics of the solo and group game are much more dynamic than modern games. Even though, you can chat a lot while on auto attack, you still need to pay attention to what’s going on. Roaming mobs for instance. Crowd control. Managing pets and MERCs. Your focus is not on what button to push next in your spell rotation, but you look around and react to what’s going on. This might be a bard specific thing, but I had to be on the lookout with my beastlord as well.

Anyway, it’s been a lot of fun so far. I am still rediscovering all the old places like the Ry’Gorr Fort in Eastern Wastes or Warsliks Wood. I am not expecting to stick around for 6 years, though. Probably more like 6 weeks and then on and off. Which is the great thing with F2P. No need to go through subscribe/unsubscribe. Just play.

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How Much Do You Pay for Your Hobby?

Posted by on Mar 28, 2012 in Blog, Everquest | 3 comments

This question popped up recently on the Everquest boards: How much have you spent over time on your MMO habits? As of this moment, the moment I am writing this, I don’t know the answer. But I’ll be getting there. Let’s find out first what qualifies as MMO related expenses. There is the purchasing price for games and expansions plus subscription fees as well as cash shop purchases. Further, we have the cost for gaming computer, perhaps adjusted for use outside of gaming. Add the cost for your internet connection, again modified for non-gaming use. Fan fair visits certainly count here as well, so do books, magazine and webpage subscriptions. Maybe I am even going to attempt to calculate how much power I’ve been using to play.

Let’s go through this list of games I posted a while ago. I come up with 16 games I paid for. Add 4 for things I bought and have deleted (DAOC comes to mind). Expansions I’ve bought to the best of my knowledge only for EQ (11), EQ2(6) and WOW(3). Makes for a  total of 40 units at $50 each or $2000.- over 12 years. I’ll make a well educated guess for subscription fees and call it 2 accounts for the entire time. That’s 12 years, 12 month, $12 per month (considering rebates and lower rates in the early years), times two or $3456.-

Hardware cost is difficult to compute, since I am computer literate and tend to replace and upgrade parts between rebuilds. But usually, a part I replaced the year before I completely replaced my computer usually ends up inside the new computer anyway. I recall 4 distinctive computer towers, one CRT and 3 flat screen monitors during that period. The towers cost me $1500, $1200, $1000 and $1000 each (=$4700). Monitors were $800, $400, $250 and $250 (= $1700). Add perhaps $1000 for replacement hardware and things like surge protectors, uninterruptible power supplies and routers. And then there are 12 years of internet connection at $40 per month. And if I am honest to myself, 75% of those cost are for gaming, the remaining 25% for other uses.

Fan faire visits almost don’t register, since I’ve been to only one as a paying visitor. And that one was within driving distance from my home. Call it $200.- total. Books (Prima Everquest Guide !) and other print items account for $100 max. And occasionally I’ve maintained subscriptions for ZAM, Magelo, Ventrilo servers, or Guildportal. I am estimating this to be around $400 for the whole period. And since I am usually subscribing to the games I play, I doubt that I have spent more than $200 in item shops.

My UPS software tells me the combo of monitor and computer doesn’t use more than 500 W, which translates to $.05 per hour or roughly $100 per year. If you are a perfectionist, you’ll also have to take air conditioning into consideration, especially if you live below the Mason-Dixon Line. I’d estimate that at twice the cost of electrical energy, but only during 5-6 month per year. Call it another $100 per year.

Games & Expansions $2000.-
Subscriptions $3500.-
Computer Tower (75%) $3525.-
Monitors (75%) $1275.-
Other Hardware (75%) $750.-
Internet Connection (75%) $4275.-
Power & A/C $2400.-
Other $900.-
Total $18625.-
Monthly / 144 $129.-

People usually mention that going to the movies or to bars or concerts is more expensive than playing MMO’s. However, if you have to take hardware cost and internet connection into consideration, the comparison isn’t that clear cut anymore. $129 per month translates to $30 per week, which gets you to the movies more than once and restaurants and concerts are in reach as well. Given, you could save some on computer hardware, that second subscription and by not jumping onto every new game that comes around. But then again, those are all choices we make and as long as it keeps us happy…


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Learning and Leveling Curves

Posted by on Mar 23, 2012 in Blog, Everquest, Star Wars: The Old Republic | 0 comments

I have been playing Everquest again for a few days now, and only for an hour or two at a time. It’s like a return into your home town. You know all the places, but most of it just doesn’t look right. That’s why the user interface feels so clumsy for the first few hours, but it becomes familiar again after a while. But not without wondering how much MMO interface design has evolved over time. There’s a reason everything is called a WOW clone: A good interface begs to be copied.

Something else feels awkward about the game: Myself. I’ve gotten my beastlord to level 12 and was sent to Blackburrow for some quest. Fun, fun, fun! I’ve spend a lot of time there in the past and I know the place well. However, I got myself into trouble when for some reason I had something like 6 gnolls on me, with more joining later. I had completely forgotten how aggro works in EQ, lulled into safety by some passive grey-con mobs. If I want to continue playing this game, I have to put in a good amount of time, to get these issues figured out and have them become second nature again.

All this made me think about the learning curve in MMOs. I’ve trained most of my MMO skills in Everquest. I learned about the need to pull in the Field of Bones. I learned crowd control in Solusek Ro and Karnor’s. Swarm kiting was all the rage back then, which I learned in Mayden’s Eye. In other games, different skills are required, like finding a rotation and priority lists or selecting the right companion for every occasion in SWTOR. And of course different classes require an entirely different set of training as well.

Players learn their classes as they level. Usually, the game becomes more challenging the higher the level requirements are and new techniques need to be found and deployed to master the content. All of a sudden, resistances are needed, characters have to move away from area damage, deal with a fully choreographed encounter.

In the end, the leveling process in an MMO is a big learning process as well. At the level cap, players will have learned to deal with a multitude of situations happening within a game. But now what? Is there still some challenge left? Can the endgame keep the interest of players who love to expand their skills? Or does the game stop right there, at least for some of us, it does.


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Vanguard SOH Going Free-To-Play

Posted by on Mar 21, 2012 in Blog, News, Vanguard | 0 comments

Vanguard SOH producer Andy Sites just announced in his Producers Letter that Vanguard is going free to play this summer. No hard time lines have been set, yet. It is planned to have a subscription and item shop model similar to Everquest, Everquest 2 and DCUO. Sony Online Entertainment has also put a transition team together that consists of developers familiar with the Vanguard property and the world of Telon.

This move has been expected for a good while now, fueled by the announcement that Everquest Classic is going free to play as well.

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Everquest Nostalgia

Posted by on Mar 14, 2012 in Blog, Everquest | 0 comments

Sometime in early 2001, I went to the computer store to look for yet another computer game, since I had grown bored of the most recent one. I had seen the box of Everquest, Rise of Kunark before, but had put it back into the shelf for one reason or another. But this time there was also “Scars of Velious” standing right next to it. Seeing the second expansion of a game gave me pause. Guess there must be something to it, I thought and grabbed the Kunark box.

A bit later a new dwarf named Tomlin appeared outside Kaladim on the Vazaelle server. I had yet to discover the newer full screen interface and could see the world only through a window less than half the size of my screen. Things were confusing, but I managed to kill some skeletons and some goblins. But of course I got lost, had to search for my corpse and got saved by some friendly player who saw I was in distress. Eventually, my dwarf grew up a bit and found his way into Greater Faydark, which he left almost immediately for Lesser Faydark at level 6 or so. There he meet some brownies…..

The story from here on is the same as many others have experienced the game. Getting your first set of banded mail, experimenting with other classes and general exploration of all continents. There were my first steps onto Kunark, wondering how to get to that level 14+ zone while dodging monster spiders and giant dogs. The boat trip to Velious was fun, seeing the gnomish steam boat. Going out exploring as a non caster was always interesting and dangerous, since you’d better find a bind point fast. I had settled to play a bard, which I turned into a Vah Shir bard once Luclin came around.

I joined a small casual guild, left them for a bigger guild, which imploded to form another more “focused” raiding guild and joined a newly founded raiding guild by the time Planes of Power went live. That’s where I meet my wife through frequent grouping and raiding. More expansions came out, but so did Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft. The guild collapsed, but we played on for a while, before succumbing to the lure of World of Warcraft. That was around the time of Omens of War. My wife held out a while longer, but eventually moved to WOW as well.

We had short appearances during veterans weekends and I took the opportunity to return to Fippy Darkpaw for a short while, but have stayed away since. Now Everquest is going free-to-play on March, 16th, 12 years after its introduction. I will be there. I finished the download of the regular client a couple of hours ago and I am waiting for the doors to open. I don’t know if I will start on the new server or revisit my old toons. Most likely scenario: A new beastlord on the new server. I certainly won’t be a frequent visitor, but free-to-play will give me the opportunity to drop in every now and then, just to see how things are faring.

It is some investment to get re-aquainted with the game and the user interface. Or just imagine the geography. I will probably manage the classic Norrath maps, a bit of Luclin and Planes of Power, perhaps even Ykesha. But after that, I don’t even remember the zone connections anymore. Yes, I know, things have gotten simpler in the game, but it has become a huge world. I guess it’s still the biggest world out there in MMO terms. And a nice one to go back to. See you on Friday.

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