Posted by: mrrx | January 21, 2009

Thoughts on Aeria Games Business Model

I started to think about the monetary aspect of Sony’s EQ2 versus Aeria Games.    Really, it applies to all the traditional US MMO’s.

For EQ2 they really feel the need to sell the game boxes in stores, which leads to an initial $50 pricetag.    Next, you pay monthly for the service to the tune of $15 bucks or more.     Now, what if you find out that you don’t like the game ?     You’re stuck.    You’ve invested your money and found it wanting.     Don’t you hate that ?     Tends also to make you more reluctant to get involved in the first place, if there’s the chance you can get ripped off.    I can’t count the number of PC games I’ve bought and gotten that sickening feeling from (Spore, anyone?).

Conversely, what if you really really love it ?    You don’t have any way to spend more money on the game.      You wait for the next expansion, which really just perpetuates the initial purchase cycle.

Contrast this with MegaTen.     Want to check out the game ?    You could read reviews and do the traditional American thing, decide if you like it, or you could simply use these fat pipes we have and download the thing and try it out.   If you hate it, that’s a shame, you’ve wasted some time but no money.    Ahhh, but what if you like it ?

The extreme cheapskate in me doesn’t want to spend a dime.    I could just play the game for free.    They’ll let me!    I never have to give them a dime, and if I want to be a gold farmer, I can even set things up with people to trade in game items like macca (aka, gold) for the RMT items.

And yet last night I bought $20 worth of Aeria Points, which is where the RMT comes in.    Now I have a menu of things I can spend my 2,600 AP on.     Why am I doing that ?    Didn’t I just claim to be a total cheapskate ?

Buying a Character Slot

Buying a Character Slot

Two reasons.    Number one, I can buy an extra character for 500 AP.    I know I’m going to want to try out a mage, or a gunner, in addition to my melee character.    And number two, I don’t feel like I have to pay at all.    Not having to pay, strangely enough, seems to take the pressure off for me and I can just buy something and enjoy the experience.    I truly want to support the developers and make sure the game just keeps on going.

There’s a lesson in here about “Competing with free” which I’m not quite articulate enough to lay out, but I bet it’s pretty clear anyway after going through the above.

Or maybe I just think like a Japanese person.

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Posted by: mrrx | January 20, 2009

Back to MMO’s ?

I have been into classic gaming for several months, hooked once again on Capitalism 2, and occasionally playing everything from Populous to Destruction Derby.     Then I get an email from Aeria Games about their open beta for a new game.

Now, Aeria Games, if you are unaware, is totally supported by item purchases.    You don’t want to pay ?   Then don’t pay !    What an irresistible lure for a cheapskate like me.    And then I find myself a bit surprised that the game is really top notch – very well put together.

It’s got an impossible name – Shin Megami Tensei Imagine.     Or Megaten.   I’m not sure which, to be honest.    From what I can gather Shin Megami Tensei describes the fantasy world, and Megaten is the specific installment.   Whatever, I’ve been playing this for several days now.  Dingoe is *this close* to reaching level 13.

Dingoe healing up

Dingoe healing up

The setting is Tokyo far in the future.    Somehow demons got into the world and there was a big nuclear war.     Now, people named “Demon Busters” can capture the demons and make them work for them.   Pikachu, I choose you !    Me, I’m having a blast messing around with the whole thing – maybe because I never played Pokemon.

It appears to have a very high level cap – other players tell me that it’s 90.    I know it’s at least 30 levels.    And it’s tailor made for blogging if you have trouble sitting down long enough to type – I keep on sitting down to regen HP, MP, and my demon’s HP & MP.    Time to write !

Posted by: mrrx | January 2, 2009

Ancient Chinese Strategy

Romance of the 3 Kingdoms is a 1988 game by Koei, produced by Kou Shibusawa.    I grabbed this one when it came out and played it nonstop for months, but what really makes this one special for me is that *I still play it*.    At least once every two years I fire this up and get partway through a grand campaign, and even manage to complete them occasionally.

rtk1.jpg

What makes this game so compelling ?   Managing the million-and-one items each province has (gold, rice, generals, etc).   The fact that it’s based on a very old Chinese book of the same name doesn’t hurt either.    The combat system was very well done, especially for something this old.    Running under Dosbox, it works perfectly.This is the battle mode

I even persuaded bemused relatives and tolerant friends into sitting around my PC, playing a hotseat multiplayer game.    Up to 8 players could play, though rounding up two was the best I could ever manage.    Many later versions have come out, some for the PC in English, and I own them.    Still, this is the one I come back to.

This game will never leave my hard drive.

Posted by: mrrx | July 18, 2008

Work Sucks

And……… the new system (at work) is up and running.    People are getting paid, and everything works.    This despite a 100% complete lack of testing of the background office functions, which is where I spend my career.    Now, if we had tested, before turning the thing on, I might have been gaming over these months.     But, I guess that’s how things go sometimes, deadlines must be met regardless of the stupidity of doing so, for the sake of visible results.     How many months did that take ?  SIX ?    My life is running out before my very eyes.

The past few months see me concerned about the future and health of gaming on the PC.    Despite my nearly 100% absence from gaming some things can’t be missed.     One was the release of GTA IV.    This is a premier and awesome game, which can only be played on consoles.     There is no confirmed PC release scheduled, and while this is nothing new for GTA, what’s different is the press going on about what an awesome game this is and yet it has no PC presence.

Did the PC become a second-tier gaming system again ?    Part of me looks at that possibility and is horrified.    I’ve watched the hobby change from an invitation only dorks group in the 70’s to the talk of the entire world.     It’s been fun watching my thing become “THE thing”.     And yet, the other part of me is relieved and encouraged; leaving it to the dorks might make the games more enjoyable for a person like me.   (Does that make me a dork?).

Sure, MMO’s are (probably) exclusively PC at the moment, but that’s changing soon.     These are not traditional PC games anyway, in my mind – these are fat-client network games dependent upon much more than your individual PC.

And so, when I got an email proclaiming “Free Vanguard until 7/31/08”, I went ahead and reloaded the client and started up the game.     I’ve been having quite a bit of fun, and have a few impressions as a returning player.

This is an easy game to level in.    Holy toledo, is it easy.    My druid is at level 15 now, and the last three levels went snap snap snap.    I paid very little attention to XP and I have the levels.      I contrast this with what I remember from months ago, where one wrong move meant immediate death and a long slow slog was assured to move up.    The addition of rest experience has to have helped here.

Somewhere along the way they’ve improved the diplomacy game immensely, from the addition of a large number of diplomacy quests, on up to actually displaying diplo XP.     The progression rate is the exact opposite of adventuring.     I can grind for an entire night, eagerly awaiting the next level, and it still won’t come.     Grind for the entire next night, and now you have your level.    Partly this is the result of the difficulty in finding “opponent(s)” who are right at your level, and partly they just made it last longer.     Still, it’s not difficult to win a parley.

I think they had to make the parleys easier – they were simply too penalizing, when you lost, at launch.    Lose 1 parley and it would wipe out the faction gains of ten.    I’m encouraged they managed to tweak that at least, even if the tombstones and punitive death penalty is still in the game.

I’m right in the middle of an epic diplomacy quest relating to poisoned bread, undead, assassins and New Targonor.     I think I have to complete four quest lines (I’ve finished one) and something else will happen to tie it all together.    Should be interesting finding out.

In any event, I expect to play out the month and may resubscribe.

Believe it or not – at work, I’m again involved in installing another new system.      Long absences are apparently going to be a hazard of keeping this blog up, despite my best intentions.

Posted by: mrrx | January 25, 2008

Scurvy Dogs

Ay Carumba.    Still dealing with the new system at work, which occupies almost all my thinking time, leaving me little energy to blog.

Over the last week, I got into POTBS a few times and slapped some pirates around.    My boy, it turns out, loves the game.    (My daughter could care less)    I get him sitting in my lap and we talk about naughty pirates and he even calls them “scurvy dogs” in his best 4-year-old pirate voice.

Launch day I headed over to the station store, bought the game and got all my codes entered in.    Logged in and got patched, and was ready to play.      It went amazingly smooth – kudos Flying Labs !    And, for whatever reason, I had no energy to actually sit down and play.

I found myself instead returning to an awesome strategy single-player game, Hearts of Iron II Doomsday.      This is just the kind of thing, with immense detail and scope, that I loved messing with when I had the time for such things.    Apparently, it’s also good when I only have a little time – it has this handy feature that no MMO has managed to install.    It’s called the “Pause” button.

So until I’m bored with planting the German flag wherever I can, Pirates seems to be on hold.

Posted by: mrrx | January 16, 2008

Damnit ! I won the bidding for that ship !

Pirates of the Burning Sea is very, very good so far.

Angus McSwag, British naval officer, is currently level 11 and chasing various pirates around the safer areas. Upgraded his starter ship to a Dolphyn Ketch, giving much more firepower and a visually larger ship. It’s a bit harder to fight – the thing is so big it makes seeing the enemy harder.

Finished up all the quests in the Jenny Bay newb area, and am graduating to the starter area of greater Guyana. There are several ports in the area meant for newer players, with restricted/less/none (something like that) PVP action, which is great for this carebear. I moved on to Rossignol port and began working the quests available there.

Ian McSwag, level 8 freetrader, is a different story. I’m in a different place mentally right now due to incredible difficulty and pressure at work. I don’t have a lot in me to figure out “the economy” of the game. I have managed to determine a few things.

There are a large group (?30) of raw materials in the game, as contrasted with the ?15 different items at 8 tiers in Everquest. All but two of these materials require a building that costs at least 200 doubloons / week in order to produce; in EQ2 your only constraint is time gathering and luck picking up rares.     Oh, and a gold mine costs something like 1200 doubloons / week (!).

Most of the materials can be created at around a dozen items with stored labor per day which should translate to around 84 items at various prices starting at floor of maybe 6 doubloons. Average is probably around 8.

If you can sell all of that, that’s a decent income supplying raw material. There were thousands of each material for sale for the most part, leaving me wondering if nobody is actually buying the stuff. And 200 doubloons is, roughly, the loot gathered from sinking a pirate.

So which would you rather do ? Take risks with your money, hope for big returns, and make some raw material stations (which have substantial capital costs in addition to maintenance) in the hope of getting 700ish doubloons…………… or do you want to sink four pirates ?

The choice is clear for me.

Have I said how much fun blowing up pirates is yet ? What a blast to maneuver, deal with the wind, and try and sink two pirates at about my level. Takes forever, but it’s doable. I really love this game.

One other item of note – dealing with the auctioneer.

I bought the Dolphyn Ketch after poring over the available ships for sale. I had a whole bunch of gold, and apparently there isn’t that much that my cheapskate self can do with it other than invest in something that should make me more money and doesn’t go down in value – unless you get yourself sunk. EQ2 (back in the early days), I was always worried about box costs, repair costs and paying my rent; that’s simply not present in this game so far. So, why not. Let’s buy a better ship.

Each ship was going for 13000 doubloons according to the broker. Last price paid, going back several days, with the averages for the various areas being roughly the same thing. Like any cheapskate, I knew I had to underbid, the only question was by how much. So I put in 12000 doubloons.

And I bought it.

How completely disappointing. I overbid for the thing – quite possibly, immensely. Every other commodity I’ve tried to buy, like repair kits, I haven’t been able to get at the “going price”, and I started bidding for most of those at one doubloon. This one, however, might have had a really low price and I missed out on it. So my very first auction purchase I “got screwed” on.

Now, you might ask how I got screwed. I got the price I bid for it. But I could have gotten it at a lower price. Nothing annoys me more than paying too much for something. I would sit and watch the broker in EQ2 for weeks before making a purchase, to say nothing of the time spent looking for the supremely high-cost items. The system here discourages you from doing that, given the mysterious “last price paid” and the lack of other information.

Lesson learned. The business game in Pirates is very much a PvP affair; it’s actually possible to really gank someone hard and I might have been ganked right there. Sure feels like it.

12,000 doubloons is sixty pirates. Time to start sinking them again.

Posted by: mrrx | January 9, 2008

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum !

Yaaarrrr !     Last night I took a break from work stress long enough to log into Pirates for the first time.     I had previously looked at the list of server names, noted a lack of consensus among the blogger community about where to play, and decided to just pick Bonny as my server.     Bonny – An auld Scottish word meaning beautiful or great.     Couldn’t pass that one up really.

I created a British Freetrader, figuring that one thing I really want to get into is the economic game, and also realizing that with a level 21 cap until the “final go-live” I don’t want to be hitting the cap and getting discouraged ala my LOTRO experience.

Still, last night was just spent doing a few of the easy newb missions and reaching level 5.     First mission I did was one of my favorites from beta – you need to find three crates of rum for the bartender in Jenny Bay.     You enter the instance and there’s a bunch of pirates floating about grabbing the rum – ie, not aggro.     Once I grabbed my first cask, they decided to come after me in earnest.

Tacking back and forth, dodging pirate cannonballs, and taking down around eight level one pirates was an absolute blast!     I sank a couple of them, some of them abandoned ship and got out of the fight, knocked down masts on two others, and grappled most of them and boarded each ship.      I haven’t quite got it down yet, but I think I get a bunch of doubloons if I board, versus just sinking another ship.

The boarding combat is a bit crazy – I spent time mashing buttons, trying to get whatever pirate I was targeted on off balance and ready for a finishing stroke.    The combat works by this initiative and balance concept – the other guy starts off with a colored circle around his feet, green, and various things that you and he do will change the color to yellow and finally red, with some shades in between.    When he’s down to a sufficiently bad color, you let him have it with damaging attacks and down he goes.

But like I said, I mostly mashed buttons.   I don’t have a lot of skills but I practiced a bit with them, trying to knock the guys down in initiative, but found them falling down dead instead.     Heh – that works too.

Finished up maybe five missions and ended at level 5.     Ready to start the economy tutorial.     Sitting pretty in my newb ship with maybe 1,000 doubloons and looking forward to exploring the game thoroughly.

So that meant…….. time to decide what to do about subscriptions.     I cancelled my EQ2 subscription after a moment of thought.     I’m just not going to lock myself into $30 / month subs with Station Access; I’ll subscribe to whatever game is striking my fancy, singly, instead, for a mere $15.     Cancelling was not an ordeal – just hit the button, and it’s done.    No required questionaire about “Why are you leaving” this time, just a password confirmation.

Too bad.    The idea of Station Access is a good one, given the number of titles Sony owns now and has put under one billing umbrella.   The cost is just waaaayyy too high, and it has increased an incredible 50% or so since its introduction.

Posted by: mrrx | January 8, 2008

Horses Online

The only gaming I managed last night was patching Pirates of the Burning Sea. I’ll have time to log in tonight I hope.

So I’ve been checking out gaming for my kids, as my daughter begins to seem more interested in playing computer games. (My boy ? Pfffft. Hot Wheels and Playhouse Disney FTW !) She is a horse fanatic, so I’ve been dabbling in the pony possibilities out there and hit a few interesting things.

howrse.jpg

I got this one off of a Google mail ad. Howrse is apparently all about raising a horse. Not just the raising of it, but also training it, getting it to run races, and also running your own breeding farm and employing others to keep it going.

It works by limiting time spent in a particular day; as the real life days pass, you get another “Howrse-day” to play through the game; each day is two months of game time. I haven’t yet shown my daughter – will she like it ? Not sure, but it’s the closest thing I got to a horse game.

bella.jpg

We got her Bella Sara cards for Christmas, and she likes that. I misunderstood what it was – I’m thinking it’s a collectible card game ala Magic and Yu Gi Oh. But the Bella Sara cards don’t have a serious game involved, they are mostly used for collecting something that actually exists in meatspace, along with the code #’s printed on each one.

All you have to do is go to the website, put in the code, and you can care for your virtual horse online. Check out the three bars they have to manage. She has a whole stable of these things, complete with cutsey music and “positive messages”.

Webkinz, which I tried to get her interested in, requires purchasing a $15 stuffed horse and she just didn’t want another horse. “Can I buy more Bella Sara cards instead ?”

It’s an interesting world out there for my kids, with the games they put out for them to enjoy, and it’s *very* strange being a little girl’s dad and trying out these things.

Posted by: mrrx | January 7, 2008

Sorry – Real Life Stress

Have you ever had *all* the responsibility for something difficult ?   The only thing that could make things worse would be, also having *No* control or ability to work on the difficult task.

Yeah, that’s where I’m at with my ERP project.

Seven days into the new system, we didn’t test, and now we’re late with the interface and all the back-office tasks that I need to get done.    God help me.

I’m terrified about the whole thing.     So instead of thinking of something fun today (Pirates of the Burning Sea is going LIVE!) I get to sit at my desk and wait for the hammer to drop.

I had to imagine up a metaphor for the whole thing.    It’s a bit crude, but it’s very apt.

The new ERP system is, a person taking a dump.      The interface I’m waiting for is the shit.   What else can you call it ?   We didn’t bother to test, and all anybody is worried about is what goes on in that ERP system.    My part is looked down on because it’s not as important, which led to it not getting tested at all.

I need to keep the person from getting constipated – that is, keep the shit from getting stuck before it gets out of the new system.     There are many possible problems with the data that could happen; I don’t expect any of them to, but I shouldn’t have to be worrying about this at go live – that’s why you are supposed to TEST !       Any constipation is a big, dangerous roadblock that’s going to hurt a lot.

I have to get the shit into my system, the accounting system, which is the toilet bowl.    Talk about apt – who cares about the accounting other than those damned accountants ?   Screw em, let them clean up the mess after *my important system* gets its thing done. And my biggest personal role is as the toilet paper, cleaning up after whatever happens with the interface and making everything look SHINY and CLEAN.

Am I able to share these concerns with the project team ?   No.    We have a strange phenomenon going on, whereby if you are working on getting the system to function, and you don’t say that everything is fine, you are a *troublemaker* and get branded accordingly.    So I have to keep my mouth shut.     And really, who talks about taking a shit anyway ?    That’s gross, just do it and be quiet pal.

So I’m a little stressed.  The worst part is the waiting, which is why I’m posting this.    God, it feels good to at least get that talked about, even if only in a blog post.

Posted by: mrrx | January 4, 2008

Too many deaths

Tezcatlipocca : 25% XP. Guildies cheered me up with words of encouragement about the blog tonight. Which got me motivated to go back out and knock more quests down.

First one I worked on required killing Taskmaster Orthiss. Now, this is an iksar near Dalnir’s wheel, and she has two watchmen nearby her that aggro if you just walk up and start hacking. Death #1. If you try to clear the nearby watchmen, you have to time it so wandering patrols don’t catch you in the act of slapping them around. Death #2.

You also respawn all the way back down at the end of the river, and need to take care that as you run back, no matter how fast you are, you have to watch out in case they repop as you are trying to clear one or the other. Death #3. Remember, too, that while timing the repops you also have to time the patrols. You didn’t forget that did you ? Death #4.

The crowning insult is the sudden and random attack by my pet ghost dog, deciding he could take out three watchmen, and when he’s wrong he gets me killed, #5. Sheesh. This is one expensive quest to finish. But ultimately managed to take out the taskmaster.

Next I had to kill the Cookie Monster. There’s an iksar at the Wheel who dumps the old food in a garbage pile, which apparently spawned a monster. The Sesame Street allusion is pretty funny for me, at least. I did discover that a blue ^^ is too hard for me to fight alone – Death #6. Fortunately for me, there was a group that showed up and decided to fight the thing, and I got in on it for the kill.

And didn’t get an update.

The Cookie Monster drops an ornate chest, with something gross inside that’s tagged as being required for the lunchpail quest.    The tag is wrong – the “discarded food” is actually needed for Cookie’s Monster.     We killed the thing several times because everybody kept rolling on the food (Hey, it must be valuable right?    It’s in an Ornate Chest!), and finally when I got the food I got my update.

Afterward we crawled through a canyon on the far side of Sebilis, until the group broke up.   I finished up the night by killing skeletons and destroying supplies for sokokar trainers before logging off.

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