Monday, May 30, 2011

What I've been up to: AoC... a bit of a ramble

Work got a bit berserk lately. For several reasons I've barely been in town this month. In MMO space, the main thing I've been up to is prepping for the FtP transition in Age of Conan.

Funcom reactivated my account until the end of May (tomorrow) recently, which was enough to get me to try the game out again. Not much has changed that I can tell on my low level guys (my max is a 25 HoX), but it remains a solid MMO. The graphics are still quite good, years after it launched. However, I still maintain that launching with required hardware specs very few of their potential customers had at the time was a mistake. Sente estimates that AoC has in the neighborhood of 60K subs, which is pretty believable. However, I can't help but wonder how they'd be doing if the game had a better launch, including more mainstream hardware specs (i.e., specs that were mainstream 3 years ago, the specs are perfectly reasonable now).

AoC possibly still has the best character models among MMOs I've played. The Tortage quest chains are also still a lot of fun. I especially like how the quest chains of various classes interlock. For example, an operation a rogue will only hear about a soldier will actually do if you start a new alt. However, on the whole, I was left feeling..."Hey this is fun and all, but I can't really see subbing. If it went FtP I'd throw some money at it, but I doubt I'd play it enough to justify a sub fee." One or two evenings after I had that mental conversation, as if reading my mind, Funcom announce FtP.

The grid they announced did not really encourage me. At first glance it looked like they were repeating the same mistakes as launch EQ2X. Most classes walled off, no AAs, and no way to buy your way out of those restrictions. I'll sink $40-100 into a FtP MMO I like to make it a fully functional option for my spare time...easy. I spent $200 for a lifer sub in LoTRO, and paid for boxes on top of that. I'd guess I've spent around $100 on DDO, and I don't regret it. I've spent on Wizard 101 and EQ2X and also feel like they were good investments, because I can go back any time I additional payment needed. The hundreds I've spent on WoW over the years, on the other hand, is utterly and completely pointless any time I don't have an active sub.

Like launch EQ2x, the AoC model looked like an extended trial more than a viable FtP option. It was still basically "sub or don't bother to play." However, the one thing that irked me the most was class restrictions. Four classes out of 12 is hardly a decent sample of the full game, imo. To my surprise, I soon dicovered there is an odd way to get around it once, I started doing research. Until tomorrow at midnight, and for one month if you ever decide to sub, you can make toons of any class you like. Forever after, you still have access to them as a FtP player as long as you have enough open character slots to unlock them. So, for example, if your first two characters are restricted classes you still get to play both those characters once AoC goes FtP (everyone gets two slots for free).

Because of this, what I've been doing for the past few days is rolling a string of alts in AoC, trying to decide what classes I want easy access to once FtP goes live. If I have interpreted the official post at their forum correctly, once FtP is up I'll only have to pay for two extra character slots and the four toons I've rolled of restricted classes will be available to long as I don't care about the endgame.

My guys will still have no access to AAs, and I'll have no way to unlock AAs without subbing. However, you really don't need AAs to see the bulk of the PVE game. They were only added in the latest expansion. AAs is mainly an endgame system (or so I understand). Long term, Funcom will have the choice of getting a few bucks out of me to unlock one or two character slots, or more dollars out of me to unlock AAs and/ or the entire Rise of the Godslayer Expansion as well if I really like the game. I expect, like a lot of the utterly asshatish restrictions that SOE put on EQ2x accounts at first, Funcom will realize quickly that the real money is not in subs and move quickly to let FtP accounts buy their way out of most restrictions.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Favorite CoH toons

City of Heroes/ Villains is having a free account reactivation weekend (thanks to Sente for the heads up!). City of Heroes is actually one of my favorite MMOs, I like to spend at least one random month there every year or so. One of the coolest things about it is that you can make almost any character you can dream up. In my hands, that usually means I make either a character based on an old PnP character, or simply the most absurd looking guy I can come up with. In a fit of self indulgence, I'm going to post picks of some of my favorite toons.

First off has to be Bob, AKA Electric Dude:

I can levitate using a static charge! And thank goodness, because the ability to teleport is a damn good way to murder yourself in CoH if you can't also float in the air when you arrive.

This guy started as a PnP character that appeared in the Marvel Superheroes RPG and also in GURPS. As soon as I was able to recreate him in an MMO I did, as an electric blaster in CoH. He was the first guy I rolled when CoH went live. I also made a very similar character when Champions Online launched. His major ability in all four incarnations is the ability to control electricity. The guy above can shoot bolts of lightening and paralyze opponents with shocks. He can also teleport over short distances. Visually, the idea is that he looks pretty normal. You'd never guess he has super powers.

Next up is the Blue Zapper:

He is a plasma blaster. His appearance came about pretty randomly, I was fiddling around and liked the look of this model. The backstory that his character model suggested to me was that he was an experimental android that got damaged in a lab incident that also led to him becoming self aware. He has never had his arm repaired because it reminds him of where he came from. The name, Blue Zapper, he likely picked because he was too inexperienced with humans to realize how cheesy it was.

Now for Crazy Plant Lady:

She was inspired by a roommate I lived with a few years ago. My roommate was extremely skilled at the lab techniques of molecular systematics (thus the lab coat), and also obsessed with houseplants. Crazy Plant Lady is a plant dominator, with all sorts of plant based abilities like shooting poisoned thorns and rooting groups of mobs.

My highest level character so far is Frito, this is a typical sighting of him:

I run super fast!

When he stops long enough for anyone to get a glimpse of him, it turns out that he is a four foot high goth clown, that works out a hell of a lot:

He is a defender (typically a healer, in this case a buffer) that can cast force fields; powerful defensive buffs that look like soap bubbles when you apply them. The cool thing about being a "bubbler" is that once you get the entire party buffed up you have ten or fifteen minutes to join in spamming down foes with damage before you need to renew your buffs. No babysitting health bars required, and yet any team is still delighted to have you. Definitely an eating your cake and yet possessing it character design. The look was chosen simply to be as gonzo as possible, as with the next two.

The character I have played the most on the villain side is Death Lagomorph (a reference to the mammalian order to which rabbits belong):

Reminds me a bit of Donnie Darko.

Travel ability super jumping of course :-) She also has all sorts of "darkness" abilities like shooting black bolts at her foes and summoning black tentacles that root crowds of mobs and do damage to them. The final guy I want to show off I rolled this morning to try out the new starting area that was added to CoH in the last expansion: Praetoria. His name is is Corwin:

I figure if you are going to be a goggle eyed skull headed monstrosity, you may as well at least have a snazzy suit.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Quick Hits: Early May Edition


I did not intend for the meltdown at SOE to be the only thing to read about here for a week, but RL sort of snuck up on me. I was actually in NYC most of last weekend. On the subject of the SOE meltdown, it is now starting to seem that all SOE games are going to be down at least until June. As Wilhelm notes, this does not bode very well at all for their future. I can't help but think most of SOEs stable will have lost a decent hunk of customers by the time the servers go live again.


Sunday afternoon I made it to the ripe old age of 31 in Rift, an Elementalist with a dash of Dominator and a few points in Stormcalling to get my crit rating up with air spells. I have to say that the Elementalist only seems to get better the longer you play it. Whether due to me sucking less or due to my build coming together, I have had very few "close calls" recently.

Magaera and her pet Kronk

While Rift may not be the most innovative game on the planet, Trion certainly stole the right mix of ideas from previous MMOs. The resulting admixture is still gelling really nicely for me. I also don't think they are getting nearly enough credit for the small tweaks they have added here and there. For example, the crafting dailies to get epic recipes, the ability to customize recipes by boosting the one stat of your choice, and the ability to deconstruct items for mats are all nice additions to their otherwise WoWish crafting system. Likewise rifts may be very similar to PQs from WAR, but the fact that they scale to party size and come to you instead of always occurring in a fixed location makes all the difference. Having a rift open up on top of you when questing, or having riftspawns overrun a quest hub really does make the game feel more dynamic than most MMOs.


Speaking of MMOs that don't get enough credit for small innovations, I'm still playing a good bit of LoTRO. Due to the generosity of one of my kinmates last night, I finally got my first level 65 second age bow. I promptly disassembled all of the LIs I was leveling, which gave me a good number of legacy replacement scrolls and numerous assorted slot-ables for it. I'll need to level it a bit more before it will be able to fully replace my maxed out first age bow, but it already has a slightly higher top end damage.


I've also been having a lot of fun in skirmishes. Lately the system has been clicking for me in a way it previously didn't. My skirmish warrior is becoming a force to recon with, he's almost hit max level and is fully traited out (though many of his traits are still in the teens). I decided to make him a dwarf (a purely cosmetic choice), because dwarves are tough and know how to party ;-)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hard times for SOE

Via massively, it seems that the billing addresses, logins, and passwords of more than 20 million SOE customers were compromised, as well as the account information on about 12,ooo credit and debit cards (the latter all came from European accounts). Apart from my EQ2X account maybe getting screwed with I personally don't have a lot to lose in this, unless of course it turns out that some North American CC info was stolen. However, I feel really bad for their European customers. Having to replace a card can be a serious pain in the butt, especially if a lot of bills are tied to it. I personally am going to go into their system and reset or clear out all of my information and passwords the first chance I get.

To my mind, this isn't quite as bad as Mythic randomly charging customers hundreds of dollars. But it's still a pretty serious black eye for SOE. I'm glad that they are at least moving quickly to inform customers, as Sente pointed out. With the entire system currently locked down, it also seems unlikely that many player accounts will have had in game currency siphoned off or have been damaged in other ways when the dust settles.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A little closer to home: SOE accounts vunerable as well?

This is a bit disturbing. Apparently the data breach in the Playstation Network last week may have also affected SOE in general, or at least led to the discovery of a vulnerability in their network. I'm not at home, and so I can't attempt to log in to my EQ2x account. However, according to the BBC DC Universe Online at least has been taken down in connection with their investigation of the data breach.

Edit: as Sente points out, from their statement this sounds like more of a precautionary measure than a real breach. Quoting from the message linked above:

"In the course of our investigation into the intrusion into our systems we have discovered an issue that warrants enough concern for us to take the service down effective immediately. We will provide an update later today."

Hopefully they can close whatever gap they found quickly.

Edit [update 2]: no, actually there was an attack and some account information likely was stolen. From the website:

We had previously believed that SOE customer data had not been obtained in the cyber-attacks on the company, but on May 1st we concluded that SOE account information may have been stolen and we are notifying you as soon as possible.

Hit their website for more details. Now I'm trying to remember if the passwords I would have used in 2007 match anything I currently play. I'm pretty sure not, but I plan to change my EQ2X password as soon as I can.