Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Look Into My Eyes

I'm an Illusionist, right? A master of mind and mental influence. Today I try to read the collective minds of our developers, to see if I can understand their thought proceses.

Taken from the official SOE Everquest forums was a post from Frizznik about the new crafting books for imbuing items:

I wanted to clear up some confusion about the new crafting books which are used for creating imbued items. The current implementation of needing to finish quests before being able to buy the books is more difficult and adventure class related than intended. We are working quickly to get those books so that they are available to those who are pure crafters. In the meantime, those books are tradeable so if you have someone that can run and get them for you that would work.

That was on March 21, in yesterday's patch, the books in question were made available on the wholesaler. That was a very speedy reversal. And a puzzling one.

It makes me wonder at the process behind this. Did SOE miscalculate player reaction and reverse themselves in a storm of protest? I'm not sure how to tell, but I don't think so. Why? Well, a few weeks ago, aggressive bears and crabs began to infest the road in Thundering Steppes that led from the Antonica zone to the docks. The aggressive crabs even infested the revival spot next to the docks, which is supposed to be "safe". So, I think that was a bug, pure and simple. The wanted to increase the number and region of aggressive mobs in TS, and forgot to restrict the area that they wandered to exclude the road.

It took them perhaps 10 days to clear the road after that. So that gives us a baseline of their reaction time to what was presumably a miscalculation that they weren't aware of.

The reaction time in the case of the imbuing books was MUCH swifter. Really, only 3 days. So I think something else was going on, other than a general reaction.

I think that we more likely saw an example of "the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing" kind of thing.

First of all, in Frizznik's mind these new recipes are tied to the release of the first Adventure Pak, and so they are available via quests with the new NPC's in the new zones. They were probably developed, with the cooperation of the tradeskill team, by the Adventure Pak dev team, and thought of as a tradeskill component of that adventure pak, part of which would be available to the public.

However, I suspect that the distribution method of these recipes escaped scrutiny by the games overall manager(s). Until it was too late, the release needed to go ahead, and the decision was made to patch it quickly afterward. All too familiar a story to me, I'm afraid.

Other sorts of problems that SOE has had strike me in much the same way, and in some sense, they are typical for a game company. Most of the game developers I know work very long hours, underestimate how long projects will take them, and rush products out the door at the last minute, with little thought given to how to do development more efficiently, or ensure a consistent level of quality. I can hardly blame them, since that's what their managers seem to want, and reward.

Overall, I like the game a lot, and this does nothing to change that opinion. And EQ2 has it all over EQ1 in terms of a lot of basic robustness and reliability. I'd just like to see them demonstrate a little more patience with their product. The game design has definitely taken the long view, I'd like to see the development managers do the same.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Once Over Lightly

Big patch today, with lots of bug fixing. Here's the really notable highlights.

- Stay in touch with your friends with our in-game mail system!

"Staying in touch" is really handy, but you can also send money and an item, enabling trade by mail between trusted parties. But not between Freeport and Qeynos. Mailboxes are in Qeynos Harbor and East Freeport. Guild level 15 allows purchase of mailbox for the home. Here's some headlines.

- Share house rent among multiple characters and pay rent in advance!

Great for couples who both play. Also, can you say guild hall? I knew you could. The UI will tell you who has paid how much and when.

- Crafters can use new recipes to make enchanted weapons, armor, and items!

Most effects are damage procs, but jewelers can also add specific activated short-duration stat buffs. It's a great day to be a jeweler!

- Understand your defenses better with separate Avoidance and Mitigation ratings!

AC is a thing of the past. Maybe this will clarify things.

- The fifth stage of the Glowing Black Stone quest should now properly take the Palladium Torque.

I think this means that the Palladium Torque goes away. It didn't before. Ouch!

- Guild leaders and officers can promote and demote members if they are in another zone or not currently online.

This will certainly simplify life for the guild leader.

- The number of slots in the Maintained window has been increased to 30.
- You can now recast/refresh a spell that uses concentration without needing to cancel it first.

After Breezing and Hasting a full party, I couldn't tell which of my dots or stifles or stuns had landed or see their timer. Refreshing the group buffs was also an annoyance.

- Toggleable maintained spells will now begin their reuse timer when cancelled. They should block any other spells that are upgrades/downgrades of the same line while active, and should begin the reuse timers on those upgrades/downgrades when the blocking spell is cancelled.

I'm not entirely sure what this means, but I think it means that stacking certain types of group buffs wasn't intended, and now won't work. For example, I bet that I can no longer have both Signet of Intuition and Rune of Understanding active.

- Ward spells will now work properly against the damage of DoT effects.

This was a big problem for shamans, and for some other classes that had wards. Wards did not absorb damage from DOTs at all. Apparently this was an oversight, not a design choice. It did seem a bit bizzare...

Many, many, MANY tradeskill reaction arts have been tinkered with!

Ok, that wasn't in the patch notes as such. But they've been tinkered with. You should assume that numerical values of the changes to progress, durability, success chance and power have all been changed. Proceed with caution until you understand the changes. Most changes seem beneficial to the player, but not all of them do.

The missing recipes for symbols have been added to the Jeweler books.

I was wondering where these had gone. At tier 1 and 2 I could make items for the "shield" slot that could give a nice addition to ac and some stats. They didn't exist for tiers 3, 4, and 5. Now I've got work to do!

- Pursuit rules that NPCs follow have been changed:
- If you break an encounter and try to flee from an opponent, it will now follow you a set distance regardless of whether it was a stationary encounter or a wanderer.
- When the opponent reaches that set distance, it will immediately stop following you and return, at run speed, back to the point where it was aggroed.
- As the opponent runs back to its point of aggro, it will be invulnerable to attack and will not add any other player to its hate list.

The old system offered too much opportunity for griefing and training. But if you don't know what's going on, this is going to seem wierd, especially when you can't engage due to the lock. It's nice for those of us that do a lot of running away, though.

There are many other goodies in today's patch. The change to the Glowing Black Stone quest is the biggest gotcha that I can see. Ah, yes. One other important change.

- When harvesting from stones at all levels, rare clusters and gemstones will now be found about twice as often.

Ok, so maybe the price of palladium won't go through the roof, after all...

Friday, March 18, 2005

Pondering Pricing

I'm browsing the broker this morning, and noticing some stuff I'd like to share with you. The only Rough Coral for sale is listed for 1p. That's right, one platinum piece, about the same as a horse costs. The other tier two mining rare, Siver Cluster is priced a little more reasonably at 25g. Of course, Silver Clusters and Rough Coral are the raw materials that are necessary to make Adept III upgrades to skills and spells. As such, they are highly sought after.

However, the other thing that Rough Coral and Silver Clusters are good for is making jewelry. As a jeweler, I would like the opportunity to make some of these items, for the experience. However, the items, while better than the common versions, don't support the pricing that is implied by the raw materials.

To support this claim, we have to look at tier 3 stuff, rather than tier 2. Palladium Clusters are selling for about 45g; Rough Jasper for about the same. Also for sale is a pristine fashioned jasper necklace for 29g. This is not evidence for a rational market.

Let's compare the stats for the jasper necklace and its common equivalent, the pristine fashioned agate necklace, which I happen to be wearing at the moment. (It really sets off the highlights in my hair, you see.)

Pristine Fashioned Jasper Necklace: +3 int, +3 sta, +4 str, +23 health, +13 power, +48 vs cold, +48 vs heat, +80 vs poison, AC 33 at level 30.

Pristine Fashioned Agate Necklace: +3 int, +2 sta, +1 str, +10 health, +10 power, +32 vs cold, +64 vs heat, +32 vs poison, AC 28 at level 30.

Does the jasper version look worth a 20x price differential to you? It doesn't to me. The increase to str means nothing to me. Consider the increase in power, from +10 to +13. That's only a 33 percent increase, not a 2000 percent increase. And, my overall power at this level, equipped but with no buffs, is 863. So an increase of 3 power represents a boost of not quite half a percent. I suspect that I will never notice it. By the way, putting up my own buffs (the long-term ones that require concentration) increases my pow by close to 20 percent. I don't have data on what upgrading these spells does.

Other stat increases are similar. Probably the most significant is the extra +13 health on the jasper necklace. Of course, my unbuffed health is 874. (I'm writing this as a level 26 Illusionist, by the way, and I have some very nice clothing.) So +13 is about a percent and a half of my unbuffed hit points. Just to rub it in, the last few times I've died, the killing blow was probably for about 150 points, more than ten times the extra health provided.

To me, it isn't worth it at 25g, much less for 50g, which is more in line with the raw materials price. For that, you could get an entire set of crafted clothing and jewelry, and be much better off, statwise. And you can see that happening.

With Adept III upgrades, it's much harder to make such judgements. We don't really know how much a given spell will improve when upgraded to Adept III versus, say, Adept I. The beauty of an Apprentice III or IV upgrade is that they are readily available, and they really do seem to work better. Adept 1's better still. But we don't have enough data to quantify how much better. I would expect the improvement that an Adept III has over an Adept I to be similar to the improvement of the jasper necklace over the agate necklace. Nice, but not critical to success.

Furthermore, some spells go obsolete. They have updates and replacements. The hallmark of enchanters is their level 10 spell Fascinate. Illusionists get an upgrade to this spell called Entrance at level 22, which is uninterruptible. Fascinate stops working on mobs in the high 20's. So it isn't necessarily a good choice for an Adept 3 upgrade. On the other hand Breeze never goes obsolete, and it's also a hallmark spell for enchanters, making it a better choice.

Interestingly, the pricing for the rare fibers seems much more in line; the cheapest available right now is 8g. Which supports the the thesis that it is spell upgrades driving the prices of rare gems and ores.

While we're discussing odd pricing, there's something odd going on with the market for tier 1 gathers. Mainly, there aren't any. Unlike back in November and December, when the tier 1 zones were enormously crowded, they are empty now. And the spawn rate seems to have been cut back from what it was. Last night on our server, some high level characters auctioned for and obtained basil for gold pieces. Yes, basil, a tier 1 gather. And yes, that's the basil that recently stopped appearing in tradeskill instances.

A guildie of mine reports that in 11 hours of harvesting in tier 1 zones, he only managed to gather 23 basil. This is mostly because of the lack of Natural Garden nodes. A month or two ago, I had no trouble finding these nodes, so I think something has been tinkered with.

Of course, at the time I had the impression that I was benefitting from someone else's strip-mining. They would go into the zone and harvest only a few node types, say ore and rocks. When these nodes respawned the server would randomly choose the node type. This means fewer of the rock and ore nodes, and more of everything else, including the natural gardens I was looking for. Perhaps this has changed, or perhaps people have stopped strip-mining the tier 1 zones.

It might even be that there is far less mining of tier 2 zones. After all, SOE claimed to have increased the drop rate of rares in tiers 1 through 3. And still, the only coral for sale is priced at 1 platinum piece.

I think we're seeing a market failure, a liquidity problem. Most people don't use the broker to get rares, but perhaps auction or trade with friends. The prices on the broker are like the notorious "spot market" for oil. Inflated, and subject to rapid swings.

At least some part of the liquidity problem is due to the way that commodities can be traded. In order to sell through the broker, you must be online, in your room, doing only those things that can be done there, which is not much. The game is targeted toward casual players, they will want to spend their time playing rather than selling. The typical system reboots at 7am PST also make it difficult for many players to put up a trader in the morning and leave it up all day.

All of which reduces the number of players selling at any given time. For the more common items, it isn't really a problem, there are enough folks online to make a market. But not for the items that have smaller quantities, like the rare harvests, or which have fewer players interested in them, like the tier 1 harvests.

The EQ2 design team seems to have designed the game this way on purpose. I'm not sure why. An illiquid market helps the hard-core mercantile types, not the more casual player who is the avowed target audience. But the crafting players don't like it either, since they can't craft and sell at the same time. Until they are in a guild that is high enough level to buy the crafting tables for home placement, anyway. Maybe that's the point, to give guilds some real meaning to a crafter. Or maybe its meant to give a niche to the "mercantile" type player who likes the buying and selling, not the making of stuff.

Whatever the reasons, it still remains that rare harvests, particular the metal and gem drops, are priced as luxury, status items, completely out of line with their value in terms of your adventuring success and progress. As such, I'm a seller, not a buyer.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Mentoring Profits

Mentoring went live last week. I love it.

It's great for couples or family groups that go online together. They no longer have to worry about keeping their characters in lockstep, to preserve the ability to group together profitably.

It's great for players that meet friends online, only to see their friends race ahead or fall behind, due to vactions, which can result in both more time and less time playing, depending on what kind of vacation it is. I wonder if any of you have planned a vacation around spending more time playing Everquest? I'm sure somebody out there has.

It's great for guilds, who can now muster robust raid groups with a good seasoning of experienced players without graying out the mobs. Also, higher level players can group and play with newer players and get to know them better. The higher level players will experience reduced experience benefits, and get loot of a lower order than they might playing at their own level, but if you're like me, just playing the game, facing challenges in a group and getting to know new folks is enough reward.

It's great of pickup groups, who have a lot more flexibility as to who they can bring in to the group and still adventure profitably.

It's great for questers and explorers, who can now revisit all sorts of zones with color and face the challenges therein, or do the quests therein. For example, I had fun working on the access quest for Vale of Shattering, but I did other things, too. By the time I got around to exploring it, the zone had completely grayed out. Bummer. Now I can go back there by mentoring a lower-level friend, and actually experience the zone, which I did. And I'll be back again, because I'm a glutton for punishment, er, because I love taking on challenges.

Is it a way to powerlevel? Perhaps, but not without facing risks. The mentor's HP and pow are reduced. Their gear is pro-rated. Their higher-level skills are grayed out. They really ARE that lower level. I felt this keenly when attempting to adventure in the Vale of Shattering while mentoring a level 18 guildie.

There are several wandering gnoll groups there who are on a very fast respawn. And there are a series of unlinked oracles who must be killed. But pulling one pulls aggro from the wandering encounters, even from a large distance.

As an aside, this is a really cool thing. An EQ dungeon where mob tactics are different, and need to be adjusted to. Strategy must be employed. I love it, even though we had our keisters handed to us.

At level 23, I got a spell that lets me mezmerize an entire encounter. This would have made things a LOT easier. But since I was mentoring, I didn't have it. I don't call this powerleveling.

By the way, I'm pretty sure that the zone would go gray for me at level 23. Coincidence? You decide.

Mentoring is trickier than it might first seem. For one thing, it is probably going to be necessary to reorganize your hotbars when you mentor down any significant distance. Along with this, you may need to reorganize your approach to dealing with certain situations. Scouts give up their evac ability if they mentor below level 25, this can make a big difference in your approach.

Now all of this was from the players point of view, but what about from the designer's point of view? Everquest 2 is a game that is targeted for a more casual player, that has a real life. So their schedule varies, and their friends may outlevel them or be outleveled. Mentoring allows them to play together and narrow the gap. Which makes them happy and strengthens the friendship. Which keeps them playing longer, which is in SOE's interest.

Mentoring makes couples happier, since they don't have to play in lockstep in order to stay at the same level. This gives them a lot more flexibility, something that many of the couples I know can really use and appreciate. And if they are happy playing, they will play longer.

Vital, thriving guilds are really important to the financial success of Everquest 2 as well. Mentoring strenghtens guilds, and allows more interaction between the senior members and the junior members of the guild. The payoff for the senior guildies is a growing, thriving guild. The payoff for junior guildies is a fun, social, experience, and some experienced players to pass on some wisdom about how to accomplish goals. The payoff for SOE is new players that want to keep playing the game, rather than quit, frustrated with bad or no pickup groups, or not understanding game mechanics, or whatever.

Finally, all of these features, plus many more game design features appeal to players that are more mature and stable. They are adults. I don't have any figures to back me up, but I'll bet that they have higher incomes and more stable lives. So they will play longer. Players that mentor demonstrate a willingness and an interest in doing something other than leveling to 50 as fast as possible and moving on to the next game. I'm not knocking these folks, I'm all for people enjoying themselves. However, they should understand that the strip-mining approach that some clans have to MMORPGs ultimately reduces their clout with gaming companies.

There are signs that many such clans have already walked away from Everquest 2. Some are mad about the bugs, and the many changes. Some feel the game is too easy. Some are unhappy about the lack of coin drops. Some are unhappy about boss loot drops, or the lack of "endgame content".

As a longtime tabletop roleplayer (Call me old-school, after all, I am a high elf) I don't take a linear approach to an MMORPG. You set your own goals in a role-playing campaign, and try to accomplish them. Leveling to 50 is a goal, but not the only goal. Taking out boss mobs, doing heritage quests, making cool stuff with tradeskills, clearing out all the black from my map, sneaking around the enemy city, collecting all the books, and leveling up a guild. These are a few goals that a player might choose. And, with most design choices I look at, the EQ2 team has aligned itself with my play style and life constraints, because it sees a financial interest in doing so. This is a win-win situation in my book.

It's always great to see when social interests and financial interests align.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

I, Platbot

Money is tight in Everquest 2. Typically you don't have enough to buy everything you want.

A few minutes searching on the internet will show that you can apply real-world money to the problem, and have someone hand over some plat to you in game. Please don't ever do that.

Why? Because it breaks the framework of the game, the assumption that players react to in-game situations based only on in-game incentives. Or, in simpler terms, because it encourages people to play the game with real-world profit in mind, and that means platbots.

If I, for instance, wanted to set myself up to generate EQ2 cash that I could sell for real coin, here's what I would do. I would get 6 computers, and 6 accounts. I would create a warrior, (probably a guardian) a priest, and 4 wizards, maybe warlocks.

I would then buy 6 wireless keyboards and set them up so that the one keyboard sends keystrokes to all 6 computers. I would then create hotbars rows in common for call, attack, yell. I would make rows which had specialty skills for the tank and were blank for the mages and priest. Likewise for the two other classes. So to order a nuke, I would use SHIFT-2, say, to shift to the wizard hotkey row, and then type 1 to order up a nice nuke in unison. On my main bar, pressing 1 might make the tank taunt, and 2 might make the cleric heal. Who knows, given time I might be able to sequence HO's just fine.

I'd then go to whatever place shows the best return for my time, dragging my crew around using auto-follow. I'd camp the high-value mobs. I'd ignore all messages from other players. I'd train mobs onto anyone competing with me for drops. I'd pass my good stuff off to a dedicated seller, who would sell during the day at inflated prices. He might buy cheap stuff at night too, for resale during prime time, though I personally don't find that to be terribly odious, in and of itself.

When it comes time to deliver the plat, it's done with an account that is dedicated to that purpose and into which very little time has been put. The toon is low level; should he get caught in a sting operation and the account banned, the losses are minimized. The real investment is in the six accounts that are out there doing the farming. And there's the rub.

Selling accounts, in game items, and in-game cash for real-world money is against the terms of service. It is grounds for suspension of the account involved. Running an account via third-party software that automates the character to the point where there isn't a human at the keyboard is also against the terms of service and grounds for suspension. None of this is illegal in the sense of the legal code of any state or country. Which is why certain companies which operate as brokers for MMORPGs exist. However, the 6-character setup that I described above is within theterms of service; multi-boxing is allowed by SOE, as long as there is a human at the keyboard.

More accounts mean more money in fees for Sony, and the two-box players aren't really breaking the frame of the game, they are just responding to the difficulties of grouping. I'm not one to trash Sony for wanting more money; if they don't make money, I won't get to keep playing the game, which I like. So I'd expect them to allow multiboxing in some farm.

The real problem is in the attitude of someone who is playing the game as a job, not for fun. And in the attendant inflation that results when there is too much money in game. Inflation tends to discourage new players, which puts a time limit on the profitability of the game. Which means a time limit on how long I can play it.

I've already decided that there are several parts of the game that will have to wait until next year. I want the game to run a long time, and be successful on those terms. So, as players, we have to be prepared to do what we can to discourage plat sellers. If you see a setup like I described, and they are behaving in an anti-social manner, use /petition to report them. Oh, and don't buy plat. If they can't make money at it, they will stop doing it.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Toldain's Travels

I love to travel. One of my favorite quests was the Bootstrutter's Guide to Antonica. I frequently make road trips from Qeynos to Freeport, and sneak around the city. I've learned orcish and done the Lore and Legend: Orc quest, as well as garnering the title of Hunter of Orcs.

I've also done some of the History quests. These quests don't require you to kill anything directly, just to visit places that are, well, dangerous, depending on your level. I like sneaking, too. Fortunately, I have an invisibility spell. I've explored most of Thundering Steppes this way, Nektulos is getting high on the list.

All this travel means time not spent doing anything else. I don't really mind, but not everyone loves travel the way I do. So lots of folks would like a way to skip all that travel and get right down to killing things. And they want a way to teleport.

In Everquest in its original form, there were lots of barriers to travel. Boat rides involved a typical 15-20 minute wait at the dock for a literal boat to arrive, and then another 10 to 20 minutes spent sitting on the boat, doing nothing while it traverses the ocean. This could be entertaining, since there were often sights to be seen from the boat. But it got tiresome after a while.

In original Everquest, every character had a bind point. If you died, you revived automatically at your current bind point, minus all your gear and some of your experience. Sufficiently high level casters could change your bind point, but only to a limited set of areas, usually around cities. They could bind themselves in many more places, closer to the action.

Which means that after spending an hour traveling to another continent, if you happened to run across a higher-level mob that trashed you, you would realize, "By the gods, I forgot to bind!!" Usually, just before you saw the message,

Loading, Please wait...

that meant you were going to be revived all the way back across that ocean, and there was another boat ride in store for you. Never mind that the boats were notoriously flaky, and didn't always work correctly. (There's a huge network synchronization problem under the surface there, but never mind, that's a story for another day.)

Ok, I wouldn't call that fun. But, as it turns out, some classes had spells that could help you travel around. Druids could use stone circles that were dotted about the landscape, and take their whole group to one, if they knew the spell for that one. Wizards could do the same thing to old monuments known as spires. And they could port any character back to its bind point without going with them. Useful stuff, and made more valuable by that long boat ride.

Druids often earned very nice rewards because of this ability. Wizards, too. But Druids could also enhance your run speed after porting you, making them the one-stop shopping choice. But then came Luclin. You know Luclin, the moon? That smear in the sky over Norrath today? The one that left all those craters in Thundering Steppes?

When we first got to Luclin, it was through very large versions of the wizard spires, but you didn't really need a wizard to use them. There was one station on each continent, and the portal operated once every 20 minutes. They all ported you to a place called the Nexus, which was sort of an interchange. So, it could still take a long time to get somewhere, but it was better than taking the boat. That all changed with Planes of Power.

Planes of Power introduced the Plane of Knowledge, a plane of existence with a huge library, and stones which, when touched would transport you to some other place, where there was a statue of a book on a pedestal that would transport you back. No lines, no waiting. Nirvana! There was one of these books near every single starting city. Nirvana!

This had some unintended side effects. Most of the zones in the game emptied out. Since you could move around so freely, people tended to congregate in just a few of the "best" zones. The starting cities became ghost towns, and new characters left them as quickly as possible, setting up shop in Plane of Knowledege, putting their bind point there.

I don't blame the players to do this, it was logical. But it meant a great deal of the content was no longer playable, interesting or relevant. There wasn't anyone else there, so you couldn't get a pickup group. This is an environment which is fairly hostile to new players, who don't know the "right" zones to go to. It doesn't give an impression of a thriving game when your new home town is a ghost town. So it's a business problem, too.

The other thing that happened is that the market for ports pretty much dried up completely. Most people with druids stopped playing them. Which meant that the few remaining places where a druid port was the best way to get there got harder to get to.

One other thing killed of the starting cities in EQ1 -- the bazaar. About the time of Planes of Power, SOE introduced a special zone, on Luclin, where you could set up to auto-sell, leave the keyboard and sell items. Before that, all selling was done via auctioning and bargaining between live players. One of the most popular places for this was the Commonlands outside of Freeport. There were often hundreds of people there shopping or auctioning, or organizing an expedition.
In addition to those that were adventuring in the zone. Quite the hustle bustle, but not very good at clearing markets.

In the bazaar, there was no broker, though while you were in the bazaar zone, there was a UI you could use to search through everything currently for sale. The biggest problem with this zone was actually client peformance. Cramming models for several hundred sellers into a small area placed severe demands on display performance. Mostly, I had to navigate this zone by staring at the floor, because then the software didn't have to try to render all those models. Not an ideal situation. I don't think we'll ever see that setup again, at least not in that form.

I don't know exactly why SOE doesn't want to allow offline selling. I haven't seen a clear statement. But the current arrangement, where you sell through the broker from your own private zone, addresses the performance issue of the Bazaar beautifully.

But with regard to travel, I'm not surprised that no class has the ability to teleport. Clerics can send someone to their starting city, which they could have done themselves, using call. I'd like to have the ability to change which village or city zone in my home city that my Call of Qeynos sens me to, though.

Everquest 2 is designed to be a game where you can log in and accomplish something in 2 or 3 hours. So travel time has to be commensurate with that for higher levels. They reduced the speed benefit from spells and horses recently, so they are clearly trying to slow us down, and make travel a bit more difficult. It's time consuming and dangerous to get from Qeynos to Freeport, which is what makes it rare and gives me a sense of accomplishment. But between the griffins, and tickets, you will be able to get to an adventuring spot with plenty of time left for hunting. Perhaps they want to make the choice of whether to call or just camp where you are every night more interesting.

Now if I they can just fix it so I don't end up looking at a black screen sometimes while mounting the griffin.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

On Report

I followed up on my posting about sexual harrassment by doing some research on the /report command.

What I found was that using /report will create a file of the last 20 lines of your log. Nothing else. In order to bring the /report to the attention of a GM, you must then use /petition to create a customer ticket. I haven't tried this out yet, I don't know if any further steps are needed.

I recommend that anyone doing this try to be as specific as possible. Name the player(s) who's behavior you found unacceptable, and be as specific as can, within the bounds of propriety, about what they said. The GM's will probably be able to see the report for themselves, but it doesn't hurt to get to the point in the petition, as well.

The number of people who do this sort of thing is a tiny minority. Sony has a very strong interest in keeping the environment enjoyable and free of harrassment or griefing. So I expect a vigorous response from them.

I also recommend that any target of harrassment set a clear limit. Make it clear that the behavior displayed is unacceptable to you. Then use /ignore. The nice thing about the game world is that you don't have much to fear in the way of reprisal. The offender cannot get physical with you, nor can he fire you. Confronting these individuals isn't easy, to be sure. But you will be helping not only yourself, but many other women in the offenders future.

There's an old asian saying "Condemn the offense, not it's perpetrator". Using this advice is likely to avoid escalating the situation. Sometimes, the response to an offense is nearly as annoying as the original offense. Which results in turning off the channel, typically /ooc.

Turning off /ooc altogether is a sad result, but it is sometimes necessary. I want a game world where the population is outgoing and engaged with one another, not isolated. If a few people are allowed to pollute the whole channel and make the players more isolated and insular, we all lose.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


From the test server update notes for February 25:

- Act as a Mentor for your lower level friends with the new Mentoring system!
- When you right click a lower level group member, you will see an option to Mentor them.
- Selecting "Mentor" will set your level to that of your lower level friend, and you will operate at the same effective level as your groupmate.
- The Mentor and Apprentice will receive experience, loot, and quest credit as if the Mentor were the same level as the Apprentice. Mentors, be sure to revisit any of those quests or locations that you may have missed along the way!
- The Apprentice will receive an experience bonus while under the guidance of a Mentor. Up to 5 other players can act as a Mentor for a single player at the same time (each increasing the experience bonus).
- Mentors receive viable amounts of experience and advance toward their actual level while mentoring, though at a slightly reduced xp rate.
- All of your gear will scale with you. You don't have to go out and get different gear to mentor friends of different levels.
- While you are mentoring, you can use any of your abilities that you would normally have at that level.
- You can select "Stop Mentoring" if you wish to stop acting as a Mentor to your ally. If the Mentor or Apprentice leaves the group, the Mentor will go back to their original level.

This new feature has the potential to solve many nagging frustrations with the game. For example, We did a low-level guild raid last weekend. We knew that a level 24 would gray out some of the mobs in that raid, but thought that a level 23 would not. I turned off experience 90 percent of the way to 24 so that I could participate. But when the day came, it turned out that 23 would gray the lesser bosses in the zone, too. The other level 23 and I disbanded to allow an atttempt on one of the mobs with color, but that was unsuccessful.

One of the basic issues that all players face is that people level at different rates. With focus, levels can come pretty fast in EQ2. Just going on a two week vacation can make it impossible to group with the characters that once were your peers. The positive side of powerleveling was that someone was willing to make the commitment to giving up experience rewards for the sake of leveling up someone else, so that they could in time play together as peers.

Mentoring changes all that. There appears to be no limit to the level difference that can be bridged, although characters below level 10 cannot be mentored.

By mentoring someone, you effectively become that level, with a full bar of experience. Your gear is prorated, and presumably your Health and Power are too. You are considered to have a full bar of experience, e.g., you are 99% of the way to the next level, for purposes of calculating which skills are available to you. Some classes gain the ability to wear new kinds of armor at level 20, presumably this armor will continue to be effective at a reduced rate should the wearer mentor down below level 20.

Because of the derating, the mentor shares the same risk as the apprentice, and so, can reap the reward. Since experience gain is lessened for the mentor and increased for the apprentice, the apprentice should be able to catch up. Since we don't have numbers, we don't know how fast, though. One question: Up to 5 mentors may mentor the same apprentice, does the apprentice get a boost to experience for each one? Does the bonus add?

Some quests and writs have a level cap. You can't get the writ if you are over a certain level. Does mentoring someone of the appropriate level mean that you CAN get the writ?

The low-level guild raids will become more interesting, since everyone in the guild can come, as long as we have one player that is of the appropriate level.

Finally, it is now possible to go back and experience content that you had outleveled. Experience gain is pretty fast, and there's a lot of content in the game. With mentoring and a lower-level friend, this content can be experienced at the appropriate risk. After all, risk is what makes it fun.

A difference of a few levels means a lot in Everquest 2. Thus the restrictions on grouping together. And there's nothing more frustrating to a low-level player than watching a high-level come in and farm the mobs that the low level needs for experience. Thus the trivial loot code. However, these features ended up making it harder to form a group, and harder to group with people that you had met and liked. Mentoring seems to solve that. Bring it on!