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, January 21, 2011

I Wasn't Ready For My Closeup, Mr. Eve

Tuesday the final installment of Incursion, the latest Eve expansion, launched. Part of this expansion was a brand-spanking-new character image generator. The prior one was simply a two dimensional portrait generator, with a limited set of options.

I was eager to try to recreate Toldain with this toytool. First the hair options - haircolor - red, check. A fabulous hairstyle was a bit more of a problem. I decided on the cornrow braids with pony tail. Since it was pretty much the only pony tail. There was at least one other hairstyle that had the right level of pansy-elfness to it, but it was very unkempt. Not bad if you want to promote the "I look this good without even trying" sort of fashion statement. But not really me.

Once you have finished with the model, there's the portrait that will be used in and out of game. There are choices for background pose, and lighting. And expression on your face, right down to manipulating the key facial muscles. It takes a bit to figure out, but the result is fantastic.

On the portrait screen, there are four squares, for four different snapshots, so you can try different poses and compare. But it is far from clear which snapshot is the one that will be used by the game, both in-game and via the xml external data feed. And only one will be used. My guess was that the top one would be used.

I logged in, to get started looking at my PI, which had also had some modification. (I'll write another post about that later).

But I was quickly dissatisfied with my portrait. One reason for this is that its display in chat windows is very small. I made my shot with the camera pulled back a little showing my shoulders (which look disproportionately wide). It doesn't read at all when it is so small. Some folks who were smarter than me (probably they had practiced on Singularity, the test server) made very close closeups, close to the point of cropping part of the head. These seem to work much better (even though they would hide part of my hair).

I poked around a little and couldn't find any way to get back into the character generator to redo my portrait. It turns out that there was none. And many players were in the same boat as me, wanting a do over. And like always, they haven't been shy about saying so. So CCP Caedmon responded:

We are implementing UI fixes that we hope will resolve the above two issues.

Change 1: Change the "Save" button to "Finalize". "Save" implies that it is possible to go back and make adjustments later. "Finalize" is just more... final.

Change 2: When players click "Finalize" they will be presented with a dialogue box like the one below. The dialogue box shows the portrait snapshot that the player currently has selected.

So far, so good, but can I fix my portrait?

We understand that many players proceeded into game under the impression that they could come back and make adjustments later; whilst other players didn't end up with the portrait they believed they had chosen.

We want to ensure everyone has the portrait of their choice. So now that we have made the UI clearer we will give all characters who have already completed character customization a chance to recustomize. This will be a one-time recustomization to be used during the grace period.

Ok, I can redo my portrait. Marr be praised! But only once, and during a grace period. Boo!

Finally, CCP Caedmon says this:

We will be introducing the ability to repeatedly recustomize characters in a future release. The current plan is to introduce this at the same time as we release tattoos, scars and piercings so players can take advantage of these new assets.

Ok, I'm happy with this. So why wasn't this available at launch? Other MMO's let you change your hairstyle and costume, and sometimes have an ingame portrait that is visible when you click "info" on another character. Simple oversight I guess. A lot of other MMO's don't have this feature, and it isn't as important to them as it is to Eve, in which the only visual representation of a character is their in-game portrait. Once Incarna launches, that will cease to be true, but for now, it's not too surprising that people care a lot about their portrait. And that applies to everyone that plays Eve, even if they don't have fabulous red hair.

I guess you can chalk it up to squeezed developer resources, and a shaky launch process. And no, I'm not showing you my portrait, I plan to do some more work. For one thing, I think my current nose is a bit too big. I wish there was some way to make my ears pointier...


Friday, January 14, 2011

I Am Flynn

I saw TRON: Legacy just before Christmas. Twice. I loved it for some very personal reasons.

When I'm not pretending to be a 3000 year old high elf, I'm a computer scientist and developer. I've worked on some games, I've worked on operating systems, I've worked on system software such as compilers and linkers, and I've worked on a silicon compiler as well.

When I was in grad school, I went to see TRON with a bunch of my CS grad school friends. We saw it in Sunnyvale, in the heart of Silicon Valley. We stayed for the credits so we could see where it said that it had been rendered on a Cray supercomputer (THE most powerful computer at the time)

Tron was fun for us in that it invoked all sorts of little things that were a kind of "secret" lore at the time. Tons of concepts in computing were given physical manifestations. Overall, though, it was kind of a dumb movie, but I loved it because for once, my life was up on the screen. I'm not a hot pilot, or a whip-bearing archeologist, or even a county sherriff who thinks we need a bigger boat. But here's my world, being portrayed by Hollywood, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

The same holds with TRON: Legacy, primarily in the character of Flynn. Flynn is a programmer, a very talented one. I am a programmer, and I have a few decent credits, nothing so astonishing as Flynn. Flynn dresses like Steve Jobs and decorates his house as though he were in an Apple commercial. My own house could be an Apple commercial, as I own probably half a dozen computing devices made by them.

Flynn spends a lot of time in the film's present practicing meditation and action through inaction. I have been studying Tai Chi for years. One of the companies I worked for, Silicon Graphics, had a CEO - Ed McCracken - who was known for his practice of Transcendental Meditation.

And then there's the central idea of the plot - that Flynn created CLU as an agent of himself, in a kind of parthenogenesis. By the way, programming seems to me the closest equivalent our world has to Athena's creation, springing from the brow (the locus of thought) of Zeus.

But it's gone wrong. CLU manifests the same issues that HAL did, or Skynet did - what we see as valuable, he only sees as imperfection. But Flynn's response to this is not that CLU must be destroyed, but that he must be re-integrated.

I love this part most of all, and it's got nothing to do with computing. Evil is not something perpetrated by some unknowable other, it is the product of good desires carried out to extremes, and in denial of the consequences. To Flynn, the error was not anything that CLU did, but in turning him loose.

And if I am Flynn, it must follow that I am also CLU, which is a sobering thought.


At Terra Nova, Timothy Burke writes that in the MMO world, World of Warcraft is CLU. Psychochild discusses the issues of order vs chaos in MMOs thus:

In general, many people strive to impose order on chaos. Along came World of Warcraft and imposed order on MMO gameplay. Using deep pockets, Blizzard created a world that was more orderly and stable than other competitors... and, perhaps more importantly, a lot more popular and financially successful than those competitors. The wild nature of the other games had been diminished in favor of a tightly scripted and controlled environment which people flocked to in large numbers. For some people, this is frustrating because with all this order there's no room for the chaos needed to show new possibilities in game design. People keep chasing after the order imposed by Blizzard, but can't quite match it for various reasons.

I don't think that World of Warcraft is evil. It's exactly what its developers and players want it to be. Which is pretty much an argument in favor of Wow = CLU. However, I don't think that its success has all that much to do with the imposition of order, on the transition from "open gameplay space" to "closed gameplay space" And I argue that because Everquest II, which launched one month before World of Warcraft, had many, many features which promoted order and structure, most of which were despised by the player base. No, it has everything to do with how well it enabled solo play, via the same quest-heavy structure that EQ2 had, only EQ2's was oriented to groups.

EQ2 promoted group play endlessly, with group-only encounters, group bonus experience, group-only buffs, and shared experience debt. Well, that last was meant to enhance good group behavior, but it didn't work out so well. The crafting system was highly structured and also was meant to impose more interdependence among crafters. The player response to this was to make alts to do the crafting of needed subcomponents. Independence and self-reliance are a high value among MMO players, and WoW let them do that.

The other two pillars on which the success of WoW rests are, in my opinion, low system requirements and the Blizzard sense of humor and story. The success of WoW certainly has spawned many imitators of the solo-friendly, quest heavy style, but few of the "low system requirements, but still looking good" variety. Which has kind of stifled creativity, but don't blame Blizzard, they are us; they are me, and I don't even play WoW much any more.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Mitten's Choice

The Mittani, Goonswarm leader, has a very interesting post up about events that are very close to home for me. His thesis is that Eve offers a paralyzing amount of choices to the veteran player, and that one of the things that successful alliances and corps provide is structure and direction.

Interesting stuff it is.

One of them most interesting quotes was at the end:

In EVE, as in modern society as a whole, what we think we want is often not what we actually desire. We think we want choice and freedom and the ability to do anything at any time, yet in practice people want to be given some kind of purpose and a direction. That doesn’t mean that people want to sign on to an authoritarian organization which micromanages and abuses them (see OWN Alliance) but that we should be mindful of the anxiety and effort pointless decision making causes - and the strategic risk which stems from this, with members quitting or not logging in because of it.

OWN Alliance used to be our neighbors. They left. As I have heard it, they stopped paying rent to the Goons, though I have not heard the source of their unhappiness. I've also heard that Test Alliance Please Ignore (TEST), another resident of Deklein, trolled them mercilessly, and that this contributed to their departure. As it turns out, TEST has now been disinvited to continue living in Deklein, and has been trolling my alliance that "we will be next". I don't see it, but what do I know?


Anyway, thinking about choices and structure:

One of the approaches I take to any new game is, "How can I recreate Toldain in this new game?" This gives me some additional structure, a way to sort through the material of the game. That structure was really valuable in EVE, though my efforts to recreate Toldain have only been partially successful. I have fabulous red hair, it's true, and the upcoming new character generator may even improve on it. But the part where I'm a charismatic fellow who can turn an enemy into an admirer, not so much. There is no such thing as "charm person" in Eve. I can't make rat ships fight for me instead of against me. And I certainly can't do that with the human opponents. At least, not with any game mechanic.

Mezzing is there, sort of. One can jam an enemy with Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) or use other electronic warfare to make it hard for them to attack you. These measures don't seem all that effective or useful in pve combat though, so I've mostly ignored them.

One of the decisions I made early on was to boost my Charisma score and train my Social skill. It was my first skill trained to 5. I only barely understood what that did for me, though now it's clear that its mostly (exclusively?) useful for missioning to gain faction. Well, I hardly ever do that at the moment, since I live in 0.0. I clone jump to Empire every so often, and go harvest datacores from the research agents I'm running. Then I run a few missions to boost faction with corps, so I can hire even better research agents. So it isn't completely wasted.

I've long since respecced though, and shifted my respec points into Intelligence (another enduring Toldainish quality) and Perception (kind of new territory). I've been training a lot of R&D skills. Toldain is also a crafter, and I always pick jewelry if I can in other MMOs. Fine work, high beauty, no heavy lifting - it's perfect for a pansy elf such as myself.

If only players could make implants, I'd try to make those. As it is, I chose to make drones (after the obligatory apprenticeship period making ammunition at close to zero profit margin.) Because you see, they seem to me like a pretty necklace decorating a beautiful ship.

Hey, that's the best I can do.

When I started playing Eve I first heard about Goonswarm as the bad boys of Eve, and I still think that reputation is deserved. But the more I look, the smarter they seem. They are more organized and thoughtful than most everyone else, and they are very good at motivating their troops. While they don't seem to be the least bit afraid to wear the black hat, they have remained friends with certain other alliances in the game for a long time. Mitten's latest article doesn't do anything to damage the impressions I've had.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Scary Beholders

Lately, Phritz (playing as the dwarven bard Profundo) and Karaya (Playing her badass drow rogue Veltena) and my redheaded self have been playing through an adventure pack in DDO known as "The Vault of Night".

Barrow d'Kunderak, in house Kunderak, wants to get his band adventuring party back together again, and asks you to contact his old partners. We did the first two earlier, and in "Prison of the Mind" we ran into beholders. And went splat.

I'm level 8, and Profundo, and I think Veltena are both level 7. So we're a bit under level for these adventures. "Prison of the Mind" ended with a fight with a high level caster that kept casting Disintegrate at us. And no, he never ran out of spell points. Boo!

We beat him, and the beholders, but it was ugly and involved a lot of reviving and drinking of grape juice in bars to regain my spell points.

Which set us up for doing the next step last Wednesday night. We had to travel through the "Gateway to Khyber" zone to do the "Jungle of Khyber" quest. Which was in a cave, not a jungle.

It wasn't in Afghanistan either. Though it maybe vaguely looked something like Khyber pass, pictured at right.

(I have a congenital defect that seems to render me incapable of taking screenshots during an adventure, so the picture of Khyber Pass will have to do. Anyway...)

We zoned into "Gateway to Khyber" We started across a big bridge. It had fallen down, so we had to go back and try the trail. I tried the trail on the right, while Profundo and Veltena tried the trail to the other right. Somehow we were spotted by trolls and attacked about the time I caught up with them. Veltena's hireling healer died. Oops! Assorted bad pulls later, and one nasty trick where some trolls spawn right in a perfect place to stand while you single pull from the next group later, and most of us had managed to die at least once. But we found the entrance and were in. They are trolls after all, we can handle trolls.

Bluff pulling is standard procedure for us. When Veltena bluff pulls trolls, I think it goes something like this: "Come over here big boy, I've got something to show you!"

Once inside, things are still pretty rocky. We lose the healer again at a point where there are drow archers and a mage in elevated positions where we can't melee them. The mage loves to throw ice storms and fireballs at us. We wipe.

So we have to go again, from the beginning. "Gateway to Khyber" goes much more smoothly this time, we have the zone down, and Veltena is still sexy. And she doesn't need a philtre of bluff +30.

We get past the drow mage on the catwalk like this: Veltena throws a dagger at him then dodges out of the way of the return shot of ice storm, fireball or whatever. Eventually he dies. I was dead all the while; during the fight in the previous room I moved a bit too close to the door to the room with that mage. I believe a transcript of the session might go something like this:

Me: "What the....? The ceiling is falling on me!!!? Ouch! Aughhhhhh!"

Veltena: "That was an ice storm, Tolly"

Me: [Silence because I'm dead]

But we get past the trolls and the drow and then we run into beholders. Tower, my melee hireling, can do pretty well against them, as long as he saves versus disintegrate. Unlike me, though, he can survive it if he doesn't. I can't take 187 points of damage, that's about 3x my maximum hit points. Another favorite beholder ability of mine is the anti-magic ray. I get hit with one of those and I'm a spectator. And they are quite liberal with it.

But some of these beholders are in spots where you can't melee them easily. And they won't pull to you either, they will just sit at range and throw disintegrate at you, with negative levels and anti-magic instead of fries as a side dish.

This is where Veltena remarked, "I really like how they made beholders really scary in this game, as opposed to in EQ" Who can remember going to East Karana and just trashing those stupid plushy versions of beholders? These are not your mother's beholders.

Veltena uses the dagger-and-dodge method to take a few more of these out. And we come to a room with a named troll in it, a drow caster, and a named beholder. The drow caster is bluffable, and comes around the corner expecting a warm embrace from Veltena. And he gets one, sort of. One down. The other two are more difficult. But our cause is aided by the fact that there is a resurrection shrine nearby. Of course, your redheaded correspondent stupidly trained the mobs into the room with the rez shrine, only to die there and leave them guarding it. Fortunately, Tower was able to rez and train them back out before dying. Eventually we dropped the beholder, mostly by letting Tower melee him with me repairing Tower.

And then the troll was more straightforward, though tough. Those last two were DC 19 and 17 respectively if memory serves.
(UPDATE: Rita/Veletena claims that the named beholder was CR 17 and the troll was only CR 12. She's probably right.)

And then we were on to the final battle of this dungeon, fighting the gigantic golem named Inevitable, who is pursuing Veil, the rogue that once was part of Barrow's adventuring party. Well, it turns out she's a vampire now, but that doesn't really matter, since she's just going to stand in this circle of protection while we fight the giant golem, M'kay?

The golem bested us. There's no way to revive, since once you start the encounter, all the doors are locked shut. While Tower was meleeing, I alternated between casting Cure Serious and using my wand of Cure Critical Wounds, because I avoid some recast timers that way. It still wasn't enough, I couldn't keep up. Once Tower dropped. I got off a couple of damage spells which found their mark, and Inevitable started chasing me. This went on for quite a while, but Veltena wasn't really able to stick any damage on the golem. Note for future runs: we need Anarchic weapons to avoid Inevitable's damage resistance. I'm not sure how Profundo died. I think it was 2am in my time zone by then, and we called it rather than run the whole two dungeons a third time. But next time we'll get him!

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Dance Like No One is Watching

Happy New Year!