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.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

LU 43 is out on Test, and a couple of things caught my eye:

Group Looting Method Changes

  • Need before greed: Players are given the option to select "need", "greed", or "decline" for each item in a chest. The item will be assigned to a random player who chooses "need". If no players choose "need", it will be randomly assigned to a player who chooses "greed".
  • Round-Robin: Items will be assigned to players automatically in round-robin fashion.
Group Looting Item Rarity Option
  • You can now specify an item rarity level in your group options, such as Treasured, Legendary, Fabled or All Items.
  • Items of the specified rarity and above will be awarded to group members according to the specified looting method (Lotto, Need before greed, etc)
  • All items below the specified rarity will be assigned automatically via round-robin.
  • This applies to No-Trade items as well, so if you prefer to not have any items assigned automatically, select "All Items" and every item will be awarded according to the selected loot method.
This is welcome. Have you ever had the following experience? You're in an instance, and a set piece drops. It isn't that great compared to what you have, and you're trying to figure out if you want it or not. Somebody else, says 'ffa' and when you finally say you want it, and click "select" the item goes to someone who responded to the call of "ffa". Ugh.

OR, you get tired of waiting on an item that you could sell or sacrifice, and decline, only to have the person in group that could use it say "FFA" after you've clicked through. Annoying, but they're your friends, so you shut up.

What this new feature will give us is a "Need" button, a "Greed" button, and a "That junk isn't worthy of my precious inventory space" button, also known as a "Decline" button. World of Warcraft has long had this form of loot distribution, and it works really well. I don't mind at all that they seem to have borrowed it wholesale. If you wouldn't mind having something just for the money, click greed. If and when someone clicks "Need" they will get it, or roll off versus anyone else who clicked "Need".

Yes, this is still open to certain types of abuse, namely those sorts who will click "Need" on everything. But that soon becomes obvious. But I think this will speed things up enormously.

There's another change that's related. Harvesting of shinys will be changing too:


  • Harvestable Shiny objects ("?") will now act like treasure chests.
The beautiful part about this is that it allows groups to random on them quickly and efficiently. Often with a group of friends, we try to figure out who needs some shiny, and hand it off. This change, along with the above change, will make this work very smoothly.

There's one downside of the Shiny harvesting that worries me, though. Now, you will be able to look at a shiny and decide whether to pick it up or not. The obvious thing is that you leave stuff you already have, and pick up the stuff you don't have. The more advanced version of this is that you learn what the rares are, and pick them up even if you have them.

Without extra care, what this will do is leave lots of non-rares about, and no rares. We see this effect in old-game nodes. When a node that is harvested is replenished with a randomly selected node, then soon all the desirable nodes are gone, and the Thundering Steppes landscape is littered with the least desirable nodes. Like bushes. Or herb nodes, remember them?

In Desert of Flames, this problem was solved by regionalizing node types. In the crocodile caves in Sinking Sands, you would get only two node types, ore and stone. When a node is harvested there, another node of one of those types respawns, in the crocodile caves. So the spawn rate of these two node types is still controlled, but the relative desirability of various nodes ceases to be a factor.

I don't think this works for shinys. They might have to do something a little more complicated, such as tracking the spawn rate of the rares, and jiggering the chance of spawning a new rare based on what's currently spawned in the zone. It's all managed server side, anyway.

In any case, these changes will make the gameplay experience much nicer 90 percent of the time. Even if they did copy it from WoW.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dracos Argent Members Suspended

The rumor this morning is that Dracos Argent members were suspended, and will be rolled back to a point before they gained their mythical epic weapons.

The rumor is that they bypassed content by having a bugged pet go through a wall, used Call of the Tinkerer to go to it, then Call of the Hero, items, etc. to move them all to the next part of the dungeon. As described earlier.

This is clearly less serious than using an alternate client such as a speed hack. But at the same time, it's clearly not an intended thing for pets to go through walls, maddening as it is for pets to do this.

It is unclear exactly which characters and/or accounts were affected. Can the players play non-guild alts? Were DA members who didn't go on the raid banned, too? If it were me, I would suspend the accounts of those players involved for the week, and leave the others alone. Oh, and guild status will have to be rolled back some, too.

That leaves you with a small loot problem. Other guildies might be in possession of wealth and/or items which were obtained with the ill-gotten gain. But then, other non-guildies might too. It's hard to draw a line.

What if they had simply put the pet through the door before it closed, and parked it there? In my book that's not an exploit, just a clever use of resources.

Be that as it may, I still think that their accusers have a distinct lack of class. But I'm old school, 3000-year-old school.

Monday, February 25, 2008

If you want cheating...

...this is cheating!

I've personally seen seen speed hacking in Karnor's Castle, as I mentioned in my last post.

Ghost Raider

On my server, Butcherblock, there's been a bit of controversy lately over Mythical epic weapon updates. Several member of high-end raiding guild Aftermath have accused the raiders of Dracos Argent of cheating to get mythical updates for some of their guild members.

If you haven't seen this before, there is a server-wide notice broadcast whenever any player gets a Mythical upgrade. Generally, lots of congratulatory messages follow on the level 70-79 channel. Last Friday night, many of the AM members would impugn each of the DA updates with tells of "cheaters" and more specifically "ghosters".

First, let's cover what ghosting is. The folk version of ghosting goes like this: Run toward a wall that you want to go through, and quickly unplug your network cable and plug it back in on the other side.

There's just one problem with this version. It doesn't work. Collision detection of players with other players and with the environment is managed by the client. That is to say, by the software running on the player's computer, not on the server. So no amount of plugging and unplugging will do it.

What will work is a modified client. If the client tells the server, "Oh, we're now in position (x,y,z), the client will believe it." I have seen, on occasion, someone moving at impossibly high speed. I saw it recently in Karnor's Castle, in Kunark. Someone almost warping around the castle, training the mobs and creating no end of confusion for the other players. Interestingly enough, there were about 20 other characters sitting at the entrance doing nothing. Which made it impossible for us to figure out the name of the toon doing the warping from "/who". This is cheating, pure and simple, and is forbidden by the terms of service. The ability to do this warping will also let you go through walls, they are closely related.

The evidence that Dracos Argent ghosted is based on the order in which they got Mythical updates. Some classes require a kill of a mob named Druushk, who is encountered in the first section of Veeshan's Peak, and, under a normal progression, must be killed in order to progress to mobs in the deeper portions of the zone. But the updates that would have resulted from a Druushk kill did not show up.

Druushk is very difficult to kill these days. Some alterations were made to the encounter perhaps a week ago, which made it much more difficult. Whether it made Druushk unkillable or not is a source of some controversy. So, it's easy to understand how someone might want to bypass him and get other updates.

But it doesn't follow that an illegal client or ghosting was used. It doesn't even follow that Druushk wasn't killed, but that point isn't under dispute. There is a door that separates the first section from further sections of Veeshan's Peak. In a new instance, that door is open, not closed. However, there are no mobs in that further section until some portion of the first section is cleared. Then the door closes, the new mobs spawn, and Druushk and his predecessor Nexona must be killed in order to open the door again.

However, Call of the Hero works just fine in the zone, as does an Orb of Teleportation. Getting someone on the far side of the door before it closes should not be all that difficult a task for the sort of guild that can manage to clear most of that zone. For example, a Illusionist primary mez landed on an epic mob will last about 15 seconds. That should be plenty of time to get by him. The illusionist would die, but that's a small price to pay for a mythical weapon upgrade.

Then the guild finishes off clearing whatever is needed to spawn the section 2 mobs while being short one character. Then using orbs and CotH, they bypass Nexona and Druushk, and are on to the next level. I don't call that cheating, I call that creativity.

When a player uses abilities given within the game to do the thing they are designed to do, the result is not cheating or exploiting. It may be a mistake by the encounter designers, but it's not cheating. An exploit is when using your Orb of Teleportation while sprinting and carrying a rusty dagger heals you in addition. Teleporting past a gatekeeper type mob isn't an exploit, it's just cleverness.

Now, that being said, I'd be willing to give Aftermath this much: They downed Druushk, and Dracos Argent did not. However, further investigations reveal that when they downed Druushk, something odd was going on in the encounter. Druushk has adds that can cause a serious problem. When Aftermath beat him, they never showed up. Apparently, the claim is now that this was not a bugged script, but a lucky guess. You can read about it on Eq2flames, but be warned, it's not what we would call family friendly. Well done, guys.

Given all this the trash-talk and accusations of cheating by Aftermath members strikes me as the screeching of a bunch of drama queens. Geez guys, take a deep breath, have a glass of elven wine. Maybe get laid. I mean in real life, not in game, by the way.

My congratulations to all those players and guilds who have obtained Mythical updates by the way. Just remember that other people's success doesn't diminish yours.

Update: Corrected paragraph six to say "Dracos Argent" instead of "Aftermath". Fixed spelling of Druushk in some places.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Taunt No More

There are some very interesting trends emerging since Ruins of Kunark released, most of them relating to the Fighter Archetype and how they approach their primary job: Tanking.

The first observation is that tanks are generally parsing very high these days. As often as not, they top the parse in the groups I've been in. (Grr, that means they are beating me, but then, I've usually given them some very generous assistance via haste and a third arm). This helps them do their job, since 1 point of damage = 1 point of hate. So parsing high means they keep aggro better. And all else being equal, more dps is better. So I don't blame them for this.

The thing is, tanks now claim that taunting isn't that important to them in terms of keeping aggro. Because they have good strength, good weapons, and at least adept 3 level combat arts, a hit with a combat art is going to do as much for them, if not more, than a taunt. In fact, in some cases, an autoattack hit will do more, and not cost any power like a taunt does. This seems odd to me.

The game seems intended to have aggro control be a cooperative venture. Why else would they have hate-transfer abilities, and hate-reducing abilities? It's one of the ways that the game becomes a cooperative venture rather than a "blast-away" free-for-all. That's why tanks have taunts, which seem to me like they should represent a tradeoff between actual dps and hate. But they don't any more, dps is better, almost all the time.

There's another way this is showing up. Most tanks now tank in offensive stance, because they do more dps. If they tank in defensive stance, they lose aggro because they aren't hitting enough with their combat arts. This goes even for bruisers (and, I assume monks, though I haven't talked to any) who have weak mitigation being leather wearers. So they are willing and able to forgo the greater mitigation and avoidance granted from defensive stance in order to dps more, and thus hold hate more.

So taunts are definitely not really cutting it. They are used when other CA's are not up. Maybe to pull, too. Or in special situations. But keeping the taunt button dark isn't a priority any more. Was this intended?

Another trend in tanking is the level of avoidance that good plate tanks are able to accomplish. I friend who is a guardian can self buff avoidance to something like 50 percent. And the guardian epic weapon will only make that better when he gets it, since he will be able to use a tower shield where he used to be able to use a buckler to get it.

A significant fraction of that avoidance is uncontested. For those of you who may not be aware, normal skills, such as defense and parry are compared with the mobs skills to determine how effective they are. The more skill your opponent has, the less effective your skills will be. This is what it means for a skill to be contested.

An uncontested skill is a fixed percentage. Usually, figures given in flat percentages ("3% chance to riposte", e.g.) This figure does not change with the level of the mob. It works just as well on red con mobs as on grey ones. Which makes uncontested avoidance especially valuable when battling top end encounters.

Ok, where were we? Oh yes, plate tank avoidance is getting very good. Avoidance caps at 80 percent. That is, after any contested evaluation of mob hit skill versus character's avoidance skill, avoidance skills might be derated to have only an 80% chance of avoiding an attack. More skill matters, but only against higher level mobs.

To plate tanks, especially raiding ones, the ability to increase avoidance is welcome. This is because they have reached the limit of what mitigation can do for them. Between very good plate armor, and Adept3/Master 1 buffs to mitigation, they are well along the diminishing returns curve. They can't get much more damage reduction out of more mitigation.

This trend is fueling both the move to offensive stance and more avoidance. I don't blame players for doing this. They are doing what they need to do to be more effective. And doing a damn good job of it. But it's giving me the sense that the game is starting to break down.

For one thing, can the brawlers get more mitigation somewhere? Well, no, but it doesn't seem like they need it, at least not in the group game. In raids though, they can be one-shotted by raid mobs, even trash raid mobs, so that's a problem, because brawlers can't get more mitigation than what comes on the best leather armor. Unlike avoidance, mitigation does not come on jewelry.

One of the qualities I like in any game MMORPG or otherwise, is openness. There should be more than one way to do things, and players should need to exercise judgement in balancing one thing off for another.

Should the game become all about DPS, pure and simple, that would be a less fun game for me. I don't mind people realizing that mitigation is giving diminishing returns and putting their plat to work elsewhere. That's a good thing.

But tanking in offensive stance and ignoring taunts, while parsing in the top reaches? That seems busted.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Death and the Maiden's Chamber

Ok, maybe one reader in a hundred will get the chamber music reference. But I returned to Maiden's Chamber, an instance off of Jarsath Wastes, for the first time since the first named, Blithuu, was altered to discourage power draining. We cleared the zone, but it was an "adventure". I died 16 times, and ended the night with 7.5 percent debt. AND with the update for the Staff of the Impaler.

As an amusing side note, the level 75 templar invited to our pickup group had a name that seemed familiar. Sure enough, I found him in my /ignore list. I removed him from ignore, hoping that in two year's time, he had grown up a little. His behavior seemed much less obnoxious than I remembered, but his play was not very good. His gear was badly out of date, and he could only manage about a tenth of the healing that our other healer, a warden could. And "he" had a strong predilection to calling people "hun". So I'm thinking this toon has passed on to someone else, somehow.

Anyway, Blithuu killed us many times before we figured him out. In case you're interested, beginning at 75 percent health he will port group members to his spawn point, on a raised platform. A few seconds later, a very large AE will go off, centered at the spot you were just ported to. It easily killed me, and most of the rest of my group. So, you must run away from that point very quickly.

However, if you run North or South, you will fall into hidden pits, aggro a bunch more mobs, and either die, or lead them back to your group, in which case you will wipe. So you need to not do that. If you run East, or perhaps West, you won't fall in the pit, and if you do it fast enough, you won't die.

Blithuu heals himself, too, sometimes by a lot. He uses power to do this, so there might be some reason to mez and pow drain him still, but they didn't want to do that.

Simple enough, no? Well, it took maybe 5 wipes for us to really work out what to do and get it working enough. Once again showing how hard it is, and how important, to keep your brain working under pressure.

The next named was Sandstorm. An elemental type mob, he is fairly normal, though mean. His main feature is that he will, twice during the combat, root himself and put up a very large stoneskin. Then he calls in two adds, which are not grouped with him, and while not as nasty as him, still rate high on the mean-o-meter. All are level 84 or so, as well.

My group wanted me to mez these adds. I asserted that I could get and keep all of them mezzed. I have this little smile I get when people ask me, "Really, you can really mez all four?"

This encounter is where our healing problems showed up. After we replaced the healer, we beat it on the next pull. With all of my best +subjugation gear on, I had only a few problems with resists. Rock on.

The next named, the Great Gear, is really pretty ordinary. Big golem, lots of hp, hits hard, falls hard, first time.

Next are the three sisters. I was able to mez the "D" sister on the pull. She can confuse people because she has a pbae that goes off even when she is mezzed, and it's big. It did about 75% of my hp in one hit when I got too close. She also resisted me a bit, being level 84, and that led to her getting loose once when my Dynamism procced but the mez it procced from was resisted. I got her back under control, and the tank was good enough and fast enough to move the fight away from her.

We had one abortive pull on this encounter due to a lagspike, then we killed it. The next mob, a giant scorpion named Impaler Tzilug, died easily, and gave me the update I needed for Staff of the Impaler. We were rolling now. Only the last boss left, Drusella.

Drusella is interesting. She is a very large, magic-using skeleton. Frequently during the fight, she will cast a spell on herself that shields her. The effect looks like the necromancer root spell. But that's not what it does. What it does, is turns any damage done to her while its up into big healing for her.

So, to be successful in this encounter, every group member must stop and start their dps on cue, repeatedly. While the healers just keep on healing, because Drusella doesn't stop smacking your tank around, oh no.

It took several tries for us to master this. Fortunately, that didn't translate into quite so many deaths, because it is possible to reset this encounter without dying. Drusella is in a chamber that you teleport into, using a teleportal system that is a bit like those in the Tower of Three in South Qeynos. So if everyone leaves via the portal, the encounter resets. There is also a fairly easy reset available for the sisters, but we didn't need that as much.

Again, the tactics necessary to beat Drusella are easy to say, but not so easy to do. For more than three years now, we've been training ourselves to burn mobs to the ground, with no stopping, and no passing "Go". So, we have to overcome those habits and learn more control. The rhythm of the encounter implies certain tactics that I was only beginning to grasp. For example, I could preload a melee damage proc onto the tank while DPS was stopped, because he wasn't hitting her either. And if I did that, chances were it would refresh, and I could cast it again when a DPS window was open. DOTs didn't seem to work. They got wiped, and seemed to heal her some when her shield went up.

Anyway, at last we seemed to lock in on what we were doing and dropped her in good order. I spent a lot of time power feeding the healers, too.

I like what they've done to this zone, overall. Though I'm still kind of mad about the "no power draining" change. Tactics rule, and they aren't necessarily tactics tied to specific abilities. You have to run off the platform quickly, in the right direction. OR, you have to turn dps on and off with precision. I'm not sure how you deal with the sisters without a mezzer, but probably you use root, as you might well do with Sandstorm. Or you could just burn down the adds when he roots himself, if you have enough dps.

They have encounters which require that the whole group do something that is different, so you succeed or fail as a team. I love that.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

One Bracelet to Rule Them All

Today's Update renames the Earring of Thuuga to be the Bracelet of Thuuga (with the same stats), and makes it equippable in the wrist slot as well as in its current ear slot. I'm guessing they are keeping the original Bracelet of Thuuga as is, lest they be lynched by the Fury population.

I'm thrilled with this. Mages have had a tortured road with the Thuuga item. First, there seemed to be some sort of mistake in the rewards for "An Ugly Bounty", but then a fix to the Bracelet was released on test, which I've written about before.

But when the fix moved from Test to live, something had changed, instead of changing the bracelet, another item was added, along with a way to get it from an NPC after selling your old Thuuga reward. This was fine, and I expect was done because Furies, in particular, and perhaps Paladins and/or Inquisitors rather liked the old bracelet.

One of the cardinal principles of games like this is "Don't take anything away from the players." So, they added another item, fine. But they changed the slot it went in. Ouch!!! We have lots of good items for ear slots already. Good items for wrist slots are a lot harder to come by.

And so, another update, and another item change. It's going to be odd, with two different items with the same name. But I think I can live with it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Epic Disappointment

Here is the Illusionist epic weapon:

And here is what I'm using now:

Both are one-handed, so it's an apples to apples comparison. There's been a lot of complaint about this weapon from Illusionists, mostly focused on the Soothing Mind proc. Which I totally understand.

This is the non-raid version of the epic weapon. As such, it should not be looked on as a raid situation weapon. But Illusionists already have lots of tools for power management without it. So much so that I can keep a group that is chain pulling in Crypt of Agony in power, only pausing for a few moments before nameds. And I haven't upgraded all of my power spells yet, I was only level 77 at the time.

Let's clarify what the proc does. It puts a spell on the mob which will proc power to someone attacking the mob. So it will shove power back to your group, not just you. Not exactly clear from the written description, but I have it on good authority that's what it does.

So the proc isn't all that useful. The stats are better, but not that much better. I don't favor bonuses to focus, because I'm not supposed to be getting hit, after all. And furthermore, when I am being hit, I mez, with my uninterruptible mez. So much for focus. Bonuses to disruption are good, they make me resisted less. But they are very common and Grizzfazzles wand is just as good, even though 15 levels lower and only Legendary. The other stats are nice, but not game-changers.

But then there's the Achievement Ability called Volatile Magic. This is a passive ability at the bottom of the Int line for all Enchanters. This spell increases base damage of all spells by 30 percent. When you are below 30% of your maximum power. I'm still learning how to manage power in this band for maximum dps, but it's clearly possible except for some very specialized raid encounters with big power drains. Of course, having something which is giving you even more power might make this kind of a problem. Making Soothing Mind something of a negative for small group or solo play.

So, my initial reaction to this was, geez, that sucks! Would I even use that? Give up my Grizzfazzles for it?. But here's something to consider. Grizz's proc accounts for about 1.5% of my total dps while soloing or grouping. It's falling behind. Maybe at some point it will start getting resisted a lot, I don't know. So, the question is now whether +4 Spell Crit Chance is going to improve DPS enough to cover the loss of Grizzfazzles Rage. This seems likely, but then, I don't really understand the Spell Crit Chance numbers.

Parsing suggests that I crit spells just under 20 percent of the time. 16 to 17 percent. But I'm pretty sure my Spell Crit Chance number isn't 17. So there is a curve to these numbers. Now where is the cap to it, as there must be. Is it at 25% or 100%? I don't know. But for me, with my current gear, the extra crit chance is probably going to make up for the loss of the proc.

Ok, but what about that damnably irritating power proc? There's a possibility that in some circumstances, it might boost my dps.

Yes, that's right. First, it's a hostile spell on the mob, so mightn't it trigger another proc, this one for damage? Second, when the group I'm in actually needs more power, maybe this will take up enough slack that I will cast my power spells less and my damage spells more. That's possible, isn't it?

The quest itself looks fun to do, and since I've already done the required Heritage Quests, spending a lot of time doing gray stuff isn't a concern. But then, if you're level 80, you're not gaining experience anyway, right? So I'll do the quest when I reach 80 and give it a try.


Sunday Pickup

I went on a raid Sunday. It was what I like to call an adventure. I'm not going to name names, though. This isn't eq2flames. More on that later.

Anyway, a guildie of mine sent me a tell, "interested in coming to MMIS if there's an opening?"
"sure" I sent back, and went on my way over to Kunark, thinking that it would be a while before anything opened up. But no, I get the call about the time I get to Teren's Grasp for a turnin I had to do. That's good, right?

I called back to Qeynos and began the long trek to Mistmoore Castle. I'm told I'll get a CotH once I'm in the castle. I know the way, so it doesn't take TOO long. I join the raid and once I start zoning to MC, I windowed out to join the raid Ventrilo channel. Of course, Murphy was watching over me and decreed that, in accordance with His Law, right now would be a good time for me to get booted to character select.

So, there is a brief scramble to get back online, get the CotH, get into the zone, get on the vent channel. I'm in the instance, and most of the raid is at the door. This seems odd. I'm sure they just killed a named. Oh well. I proceed to follow them through trash mobs. Things are going pretty well, it seems, but their vent channel sure is quiet. Nobody seems to talk on it at all.

I window out again and check. Ooops, they have a raid sub-channel, which I haven't joined. Problem fixed. The scout in my group who gets a third arm to attack with loves me. I'm parsing higher than I've ever parsed before in a group, making the top 6 or so, so that's making me happy too. It must be the troubador in my group, I'm thinking.

Then we get to the man himself, Mayong Mistmoore. The first time we go at him, we get him to about 48 percent health, and then things go to Innothule. Mayong is very tough, with several special abilities that are meant to ruin your day. For starters, he has a point-blank ae hit, and a pbae stun that go off at intervals between roughly 40 and 80 seconds. Then he has a huge power drain that can be thrown on anyone in the raid, and I don't think it can be outranged. Finally, he spawns heroic adds pretty rapidly, perhaps once a minute.

So what usually happens is that an offtank and some dps are assigned to burn down the adds, but eventually they run out of power and then the dps doesn't have enough pop to burn through the adds fast enough, the healers get overwhelmed, and the raid wipes faster than you can say "I hate vampires". Which is what happens to us.

The power drain can be wiped off with an arcane cure or potion, but it's not always easy to notice that it's been put on you. Until you are out of power, that is.

Now some other issues begin to kick in. Mayong can be found in a large room on the front of a oval shaped landing at the top of a broad staircase. That oval landing contains a coffin as well, I presume it's his, the bloodsucking scum. The raid leaders wanted to fight him on level ground so they led us up the side of the staircase, hugging the wall. After the first wipe, the healers and necro begin reviving the raid in place, because the trash respawns and clearing it again would be kind of a pain.

So we are in a large semicircle around Mayong, at the edges of the landing. It's dark, and I for one haven't quite figured out where Mayong is in relation to me. We're standing around while the raid leadership is digging through the logs, trying to figure out how to time his pbae attack, and someone (not me, by the grace of Marr!) wanders a bit too close to Mayong, who then proceeds to kill everyone in the raid.

As an aside, not all mobs in EQ2 do this. Often they will aggro one person, kill them, and then reset if no one else has done anything to get on their hate list. But generally raid mobs are a lot nastier.

We have three attempts, the third is very close to success when it falls apart. It appears that Mayong heals 2.5 percent every time he kills one of us. A heated discussion breaks out about whether the necromancer should be jousting in so close to throw his big ae. The raid leaders are showing their frustration in the form of exasperation. The necro feels like he's being scapegoated and pushes back. We revive at the entrance and work our way back. This time, on the way up the stairs, Mayong aggros and kills the raid again. When we revive at the entrance, there is some confused running around, aggroing a bunch of the trash, and people are getting killed when they revive at the revive point.

Many mobs in the zone will charm folks and set them to beating on fellow raiders. This happened to me once, though I don't think I did much damage, since I didn't cast any spells, just slapped my target around a little. This time, I mez a fellow raider who has been charmed, and he snaps out of the charm quickly.

The raid is called. I revive and try to click the door out, but there is a mob in the way, and I end up meleeing him. Somehow, I don't pull aggro and manage to click the door to leave. I breathe a sigh of relief, but too soon. When I reappear in Mistmoore Castle, outside the instance, one of the mobs there aggros me and downs me in one or two shots. This is the point where I begin to laugh hysterically. "The good thing about having your gear damaged down to zero" I post in my guilds chat channel, "is that when you get killed again, it doesn't cost you any plat."

That was the last death for me on the raid.

The thing that I remind myself of, and the reason I'm not posting any names is that this is basically normal behavior. I practice and teach martial arts in real life, and addressing this sort of thing is a core part of the curriculum. The group was clearly competent, and knew their business. It is normal for a human being to have a single failure trigger a cascade of failures. How many times have we seen that Olympic skater who misses one jump by a little and then has the rest of the routine fall apart? I've personally experienced this kind of failure cascade. Reducing or eliminating it takes a concerted effort over a long period of time, and/or leadership that understands the dynamic and can act to interrupt it. But these aren't normal qualities, they are quite exceptional.

Napolean said "in battle the mental is to the physical as three is to one" Well, he didn't quite say it like that, it was in French for one thing. But the meaning is the same.

The lesson for me is that a raid leader must manage the mood of the raid, not just the tactics. So I consider it a Sunday well spent.

Friday, February 08, 2008

SOE farms out Station Exchange

SOE recently announced that they will partner with Live Gamer to provide a enhanced Station Exchange program.

In his further statement, SOE president John Smedley said that a big factor in the decision was ongoing fraud. Many transactions were conducted with stolen credit cards, or simple identity theft. Furthermore, many of these activities take place offshore, in areas where SOE has little legal recourse.

Live Gamer's website says that they offer a powerful trading engine which is available in-game. They only want to do trading that is sanctioned by game operators, or, as they call them, publishers. And they offer transaction guarantees, since they think their fraud protection is good enough.

Smedley said in his not that their fraud protection efforts had not been entirely successful, and had resulted in sanctions of players with paid-up, legitimate credit cards. Which was quite unfortunate. In the past year, my personal credit card has been suspended by my provider's fraud protection, twice, at least one of the transactions I was asked to verify was with SOE. So I wonder...

Smed also admitted that the establishment of Station Exchange hadn't resulted in much of a reduction in farming. Which matches with my game experience, although the farmers tend to stay out of high-traffic areas.

I think that this deal is good news for Station Exchange players. SOE is a gaming company, and as such, doesn't seem to have much expertise in handling financial transactions. Nor should they. Can you imagine the difficulties if the Station Exchange program had the holes in it that the original EQ2 brokers did? Without full database transaction support, it was possible to "dupe" items, and I remember one Friday afternoon where they had to shut down the game for 15-30 minutes because of some gold-duping problem they had encountered.

In short, the technical standard for financial transactions is far, far higher than most game programmers, or indeed, most programmers are used to. I had one boss in real life who liked to tell the story about having to make a trip to England to apologize to a customer because his software dropped a million-dollar transaction. It was during a test, thank Marr, but the dollars just disappeared into the ether. He had a lot of listening to do, and it wasn't easy listening.

The most interesting tidbit was the estimate that virtual trading now totals about $1.8 billion per year. You know, that's just not ever going to go away, is it.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Epic Madness

Ok, I'll try and recap all the known starting locations for the Epic Weapons quest lines. I believe that you must be level 80 to begin these quests, although that is not confirmed in every case.

Examine Mark of the Emissary, picked up in Nektulos Forest
Talk to Kerran ghost in Sinking Sands at
(-1026, -230, -1209). This is close to the Silent City back door. The quest you
get is different depending of if you are Freeport or Qeynos aligned.
Loot "a wanted poster" from an Iksar insurgent in Jasath Wastes
Quest begins with "an incandescent wand" dropped off of
a mist goblin in Kunzar Jungle. Reports are that you should have a mist goblin charmed to do the killing, which is kind of poetic.
Ice dervish named psychomalleable ice in Temple of the
White Lady (Skyfire Mountains). Right click on this guy to get started.
Kill a 80^ mob in the NE corner of Fens of Nathsar named
Guagua, who drops a notrade item "An Old Medicine Bag". Take this to
Crowhood the Olden on the beach nearby.
Any mob in Sebilis will drop a "Quill", which is the starter.
Walk by "a mutilated deer" in Darklight Woods
( 191.37, -43.61, 167.14 )
Jimbo at Windstalker Village in Antonica. You must
have the Bone-Bladed Claymore in your possession. The Screaming Mace is also
needed at some point. Which has led to groups of 6 guardians camping Agony,
the starter. I just finished The Screaming Mace three days ago, so I'm having
some schadenfreude over this one.
Kill "a rillissian slaver" near the slave pens in
Fens of Nathsar for "a pens cell door key". Use the key to open a door in
the top section of the Western Pens. Follow the hobbit.
Get the drop "Defaced Leaflet" off named fishmen in
Chelsith. Only seen in Exquisite chests so far. Yikes! Developers confirm it's not
supposed to be this rare, expect a fix soon.
There is an NPC on the beach in Fens of Nathsar. Monks must have both The Teachings of Master Wu and The Journal of Wu in their inventory
Starts in Sebilis. Talk to Terrus (-73,-131,122). You must speak Sathirian (Strange Black Tome quest). Terris will give you the "Torn Page of Terrus Notes". Then head to Kunzar Jungle, near the City of Mist and kill a timeworn spirit. You will get a chest which contains a "rune covered stone". Examine the stone to start the quest.
Talk to Tohsa B'hondus at the Academy of Arcane
Sciences in Freeport. She will mention her teacher. Then talk to Qurst in
the Steelbone family crypt in the Graveyard. Then talk to the erudite he
mentions, Dartain, in Neriak (-708, 32, 233).
Jailhouse in WFP. That's right, West Freeport, in
the Militia house, downstairs.
You can handle those Epics, can't you, they're only level 70!
"A Blackened Arrow" which drops from trakaraptors
in Kunzar Jungle.
At the bottom of the Academy of Arcane Sciences in
North Freeport. You must kill two mobs for a chest drop "hiring contract".
Not in Qeynos, like the paladins. Symmetry is for suckers.
NPC in Timorous Deep, north of the docks area, on
a Pirate Ship. Open a cage on the deck and pick up Rrarwck. Summon him to start
This epic begins with an NPC named Aliona Maybelle, who is in Teren's Grasp in a tent near the mailbox. She is sick and wants some healing. Without giving you a quest, she will ask you to gather Stonewood Jasper Blooms, which can be found to the south of Karnor's Castle. Return to her with them, and she will give you a recipe to scribe and make with them and some other gathered materials. Finally, when you have made the poultice that the recipe describes, you will get the first quest in the series.
Talk to someone in Thundering Steppes at (53, 0, 1390).
Go to East Freeport and talk to "lyrist"s. Two of them, they talk a lot. But then,
so do you. One is on the broker island, the other on the stage. Finally, go to
Qeynos Harbor and talk to the two lyrists there. There is a book both
in the Academy of Arcane Sciences (Freeport) and in the
Tower of Three(Concordium, Qeynos) with notes floating over it. Click it.
Starter is "a shifting elemental shard" dropped by
"a shifting ethereal elemental" (80^^^) in Kunzar Jungle somewhere in the raptor
valley. It teleports around quickly, so be prepared to smack it as soon
as it shows up.
Click a dagger on
the fireplace in the Seafarer's Roost Inn, East Freeport.
Kill trash mobs in Chelsith to loot "A Dilapidated Journal"
from a small chest. Read the journal.

It looks like these quests use all the zones, and all the items in all the game. I'm not sure what you do if you've destroyed, any of these items, but the Shady Swashbuckler on the Nektulos Forest docks is a good place to start.

Update: I've added in the starters for Mystic and Templar as they have become available. So the list is complete now. I'll make a few observations in another post later.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Connection Time

In Live Update 42, one of the UI enhancements is a connection status window, toggleable vie the F11 key.

This is welcome, but I have to wonder why was this so long in coming? Everquest had this from the beginning, and WoW has had this from the beginning? Was this just another of the design mistakes that the original EQ2 team made? And it hasn't been until now that someone got around to fixing it.

The EQ2 team has my admiration for the sheer volume of stuff that they are able to push out the door, and have it work reasonably well. They have definitely got their act together on that score. A window like this takes very little, if any art resources, but it does take programmer resources. Though, it doesn't seem very complicated.

Anyway, it's really handy to have it. Of course, we've all learned to get along without it. My favorite way to figure out if I'm in a lagspike is to just /say something. If it comes up in my chat window, no lagspike.

My favorite lag-o-meter was the one they had that showed recent connection history. It had a bar that was solid when you had a good ping, and open when you didn't, and it scrolled to the right slowly. When a certain percentage of it was open, it turned yellow, and then red. When things were working well, though perhaps with little breaks, the bar was green. UI genius. Here's hoping the new one works that well.

Update: I found this screenshot of the connection window. It looks like it will be very handy!