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.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Command of the Medium

In the past month, SOE has launched a major revamp of levels 1-20, merged 8 servers, staged a live event for the intro of Kindom of Sky, introduced PvP with new servers, and pushed a new edition of EQ2 into the stores. Oh, and upgraded hardware for the servers as well.

I'm especially impressed with the live event, and here's why: In the old days, a live event consisted of maybe a GM playing a special model. Or the Halloween live events had special content, with skeletons coming out to play in special zones, fireworks perhaps, and special drops.

The KOS introduction was staged over several weeks, really. It had shooting stars, and strange lights in the sky. The Essence of Sky drops started falling. The gatekeepers showed up at the broken spires. Then the phase began where players could interact, and help rebuild the spires, and finally kill the dragon that spawned. Because the dragons ruled the Kingdom of the Sky, and don't want us to go there.

Contentwise, this is a tight, integrated story. It fits with what was already in the world, and is a cohesive extension of the world. It made use of something that's been sitting there all along in plain sight. Very nice.

But of course, what impresses me is the command of the medium that this shows. Or it would have shown, if not for some of the problems we've seen. I'll say more on those in just a bit, right now I'm going to play the fanboy a bit more.

My basic rule for a game like this would be to change one thing at a time. They did something much more aggressive. Since launch, we've seen 19 live updates, the addition of the auxiliary tradeskills, the combat revamp, two adventure packs, and two expansions. And a revamp of levels 1-20. Not to mention the server merges. I'm really impressed that they pulled all of this off, and it shows that the team really has control of the development/release process.

There used to be some odd problems that slipped through. Like doors that wouldn't open. Not everywhere, but just in Thundering Steppes. That seems odd to me. Doors should be doors no matter what zone they are in, shouldn't they?

But while there have been problems, there haven't been too many like that. So color me impressed with what they've been able to accomplish.

Most of the problems seem to be related to the server merges and hardware upgrades, at least that's my guess. The server merges belong firmly in the category of something that was good for them, but not necessarily good for us. Zones are very crowded now, and quite laggy, even with my ridiculously overpowered system. Some no-trade stuff in shared residences got reassigned ownership to the owner of the residence, mistakenly. Permissions on residences were not updated consistent with the name changes, and thus allowed some theft in the first few merges. After that they were reset, which is an improvement, but still a hassle.

There's not much upside to the merge for high-level players. The lower levels have it better, since it should be easier to find groups at those levels, and a bit more support on the market. The best news from the merger is that nearly everyone (including me) is pretty satisfied with who got to keep their name. (Hint: I'm still Toldain, not Tolldain or Toldainn).

The worst problem with the merges/expansion is the problem with offline selling. SOE made a claim that this was due to "problems beyond our control", which left players scratching their heads, since they seem to be in control of every aspect of the game. I suspect that the problems were somehow associated with the new servers.

We know that many computers are clustered together to form one "server". Databases are heavily used to support the game. Perhaps the new hardware didn't perform to spec for the "offline selling database" dedicated machines, so that function had to be turned off? I've also heard a rumor that someone had figured out how to steal from other's vaults, but I find that less likely. We've had vault selling for quite a while, and in fact the ability to access your vault from another's residence has been around for a month or more. My first rule when something breaks is to look at what just changed and see how it might be related.

Fortunately, offline selling seems to be fixed now.

The main problem that we're seeing now is with guild chat. Members will find themselves unable to see other members' posts to the guild chat channel, or not heard in the guild chat channel. It's even true that you can start out being seen in the guild chat channel, and have it go away. This problem has been around for a long time, but it seems to be much worse now.

Intermittent problems like this are often very difficult to track down. Since it happens so frequently now, perhaps that will make it easier for the dev team to determine what's wrong and fix it. Here's hoping.

As long as I'm cataloging problems, here's one more very odd problem. I bought the retail version of the expansion, because I wanted the ingame carnivorous plant. I had to return not one, but TWO copies to the store because the key code was missing or didn't work. Very strange, and very frustrating. I'm not sure that I'm ever going to go the retail route again, ingame item or no.

Anyway, in spite of the problems, I'm still impressed. That's a lot of stuff that's been pushed to us, and there's more coming in LU 20 soon. Well done!