Enemies are your best friends

[EVE Online] In an interesting diplay of game mechanics, I can now make friends in EVE Online by blowing up their ships. If I have never talked with anyone, they are neutral to me; if I have run some missions for them, they like me a little; if I have blown up some of their stuff, they are surprisingly friendly.

You see, there is a skill called “Diplomacy: Skill at interacting with hostile Agents. 0.4 Bonus per level to effective standing towards hostile Agents.” I took my first level of Diplomacy tonight, although I could theoretically take up to five. Checking how much my contact likes me after running my last mission of the night, I was surprised to see how many pirate factions had taken a liking to me. My corporation is in a massive war against the Blood Raider Covenant, who now gives me a +0.38 rating. Guristas Pirates, Angel Cartel, and all the other pirates now like me more than all but one of the groups for which I have run missions. I failed a mission for one group, since it involved my being ganked by a dozen NPC pirates; if I start running missions for them successfully, my faction rating will take a big hit.

If you’ll excuse me, I am going to go make some new friends by blowing up ships, attacking random passers-by, and generally pushing people into traffic. That is apparently the most efficient way to make friends in EVE.

: Zubon

The Promise of New Shinies

[City of Heroes] Cryptic has announced the next update to City of Heroes, Forest of Dread (in August). This brings us a new zone with four new villain groups, in which Statesman gets to show off his degrees in mythology and whatnot by showing us around the British Isles. New power sets and some other excitement I will not copy over. You can read. There seems to be interesting info about Issue 5 content gathered over here, including the now-defunct skill system. Aren’t Croatoa and Salamanca both American Indian tribe names? The latter mostly brings to mind a good book by Sharon Creech. We shall see how the background story for the zone goes.

I wonder how many people hold on because of the promise of new and shiny things to come. Most games release with something less than full content; City of Heroes’ major contribution to this trend was adding levels 41-50 in the first patch, which is probably a lesser sin than many games. Some games have gone more than a year without implementing everything listed on the box, even by generous interpretations.

I know that I will be around City of Heroes to see Issue 5 because I am on the three-month subscription plan. Were it not for that, I wonder if I would stay until August. For me, there is a six-month gap with no significant content additions. I am not really interested in PvP, so Issue 4 was mostly wasted on me. It brought new story arcs for Kheldians, and those have been good story arcs as far as I have seen, but that’s it besides Defender love and Scrapper nerfs. I took a few months off the game early on, since I had lost interest in the low 30s, but I have taken three characters to 50 since then. There is not much more content for me to see, and it is only so interesting seeing it from a different angle. I must make sure to have a level 25 character or two when the time comes.

: Zubon

My Boss Is a Jerk

[EVE Online] I am warping about Gallente space, running some missions, shooting down pirates, when my contact asks me to deal with The Disgruntled Employee. Hmm, what is this?

Yes, I have something for you. Federation Customs recently sacked one of its employees after a routine inspection revealed a large amount of indecent pictures stored in his personal database. Sadly, this ex-employee wasn’t all too pleased with our decision, and has resorted to camping outside of our headquarters and harassing our customers. Fortunately though, we dug up some old offences this guy made and revealed them to the authorities, who promptly lowered his security rating quite a bit. In effect, he’s fair game. Please warp over to the location on the bookmark I’m about to give you and squash this little pest. I doubt he will survive for long, as some of our customers are heavily armed. So hurry up and take him out if you want your reward.

It is a short distance from “porn on the work computer” to “price on your head.” Of course I select option 1. No problem, I’ll do it, since camping someone’s HQ is rude. Let’s head to the mission!

The disgruntled smut-king’s hideout is supposedly located within this former asteroid belt which has been almost completely mined to oblivion. A suspicious looking hollow asteroid and a few barren rocks are all that remain of this once densely packed belt.

Ah, there he is, with two of the weakest drones I have ever seen. Checking info:

A disgruntled ex-employee who has been harrassing local customers.
Threat level: pathetic

Mission: success! Tomorrow: more heroics!

: Zubon

Not Much of a Nerf

[City of Heroes] Remind me, do players complain at great length about every nerf?

City of Heroes has almost no end-game content. You can go through the late-40s content, especially the harder stuff now that experience debt does not matter, but the only Big Thing at the end is the Hamidon. The Hamidon is City of Heroes’ one and only raid encounter, and by now players have it figured out (even after a few changes to it). The zone only instances if there are 200 people in it, so anyone level 45+ with a decent computer can go. When Hamidon drops, everyone involved gets rewarded. The reward is a Hami-O.

For those not part of City of Heroes, you do not get equipment as such. Instead, you get slots in your powers into which you can put enhancements, and each enhancement increases it along some axis (damage, range, accuracy, endurance cost, etc.). Aside from Hami-Os and trial rewards, the best of these are single-origin enhancement (SOs), which boost a power by 33% or 20% in one way. Hami-Os instead boost two or three parts by 50% or 30%. Effectively, this lets you eighteen-slot a power, when the limit is six enhancement slots. Characters with many Hami-Os are rather effective. For example, my Blaster’s Trip Mine has six Damage/Accuracy Hami-Os, and it one-shots groups of level+2 minions.

Since there is no other end-game content, people have been raiding Hamidon more or less constantly. Some characters have a Hami-O in every power that can use one. This makes the design of new end-game content difficult: how do you make an encounter good for a new level 50 that is not trivial for someone with 30 Hami-Os? You do not want to make Hamidon raids a required ‘entry fee’ for the rest of the end-game. Also, it has interesting effects on PvP when one character is that much more effective.

The current solution on the test server: a Hami-O will be worth two SOs, instead of 2*1.5. It will boost two aspects by 33% or 20%. Thus, you can still 12-slot a power, but there is no way to cap damage purely off enhancements. If you were using a Hami-O for just one aspect (say, 50% end reduction in Phase Shift), it is no longer useful for that purpose (and an SO will be more effective in that slot, since you can push a SO to level+3, which the CoH players understand and I will not bother to explain for the rest). Free respecs will be given.

To me, this is a sane and mild nerf. Yes, it sucks 1/3 of the effectiveness of something away, which is a large change, put they are still about twice as good as anything out there. I will miss having damage-capped powers, especially since I have several that cannot be buffed by anything other than enhancements, but I will adapt more-or-less instantly. Respec, pull out the ones that are no longer really useful, trade them off to alts who can use them, and we win. I will have some spares kicking around that are completely useless to me, but maybe a future character will need debuffs or maybe I can trade them.

Wow, that is a lot of context for a small observation. As I write this, the official message board thread on the topic has 2,109 replies. We have the usual shouts of doom, whining, whining about whining, mocking of complaints, threats to cancel, etc. Randomly jumping to page 83 of the thread, I see lots of comments about PvP, a parody song, some off-topic banter amongst regulars, some discussion of how this makes characters/the game ‘unplayable,’ and arguments about whether the devs are really great or really suck. The “I’m quitting!” post on that page is not as amusing as some, but it is the first post from someone who registered two days before. We also have two posts on different, milder ways to nerf the powers.

First, as the post title implies, I do not consider it that significant. My level-capped characters have a limit on how obscenely powerful they can be. Wah. It would be nice if this was accompanied by letting us pick which two SOs each Hami-O was equivalent to, instead of random from a specific subset, but I will deal. Actually, for most of my purposes, one nerfed but custom-made Hami-O would be at least as useful as a pre-nerf Hami-O, especially since I have a character who has virtually no use for them.

Second, is it always this bad? I have avoided threads about the latest nerf, but (checking again) 2,115 posts on the thread, and that’s just the official forums. Is there anything new to add to the discussion? Is this just because it is the only change in the pipeline, so the only nerf up for discussion? When the round of Scrapper nerfs went through, there was a lot of discussion, but some of it was actually productive. It involved testing and comparisons and finding what was wrong with the testing environment. There is not so much to discuss here: one category of enhancement is losing some strength. Fin.

Also, anyone care to count whether we have more complaints or mockery of complaints out there? I think complaints used to win, but we get to the point where people complain about people complaining about people mocking those who complain… Wait, no, we passed that point a while back, so now we complain about whining about…

: Zubon

New Shiny

[City of Heroes, Guild Wars, EVE Online] This has been an interesting time for in-game new shinies.

A little while ago, I logged on to City of Heroes and just was not terribly interested in doing anything. I had hit the level cap, and I did not have a strong urge to begin the climb to level 50 again. I decided to try out my Kheldian and see how that went. Level 22 is the first time that you can have the best enhancements possible (before end-game raid loot), so it was pretty cool to fly around and two-shot large groups of even-level enemies. I mentioned the glory of Striga Isle and the content in the 20s, so that was great. I flew up 7 levels fairly quickly, worrying more about out-leveling content than about leveling. Actually, I did fly past one of the Striga contacts, but he let me proceed to the next. I re-did the re-furbished Citadel task force on my Tanker, since our group needed one. After that, the shininess just sort of faded. Hmm.

My wife, of all people, expressed an interest in trying Guild Wars. She likes City of Heroes, but the other games she likes all have “Mario” in the title. Still, Guild Wars is pretty, and if she likes CoH… A friend of mine lost interest by level 11 there, so I borrowed his copy/account. Not too shiny; I have played several fantasy MMOs, and for a non-PvP player, there was not too much shine. Level 9 (8? whatever) came pretty quickly, but it is not calling me back. The wife? Logged on twice, didn’t like the controls, and it is too much like World of Warcraft. Yeah, I know, there is a world of difference between the two games, but in the beginning and in the ways that matter to her, they are not too far apart. Besides, if you click on anyone, it looks like you are inviting them to group, and that made her nervous.

Okay, shiny #3: EVE Online. Now this is distressing: we cannot have three bloggers on a site commenting on the same game. Well, maybe we can, but would you, the reader, stand for it? Maybe, since there are differences in perspective. Anyway, EVE Online looks a bit like A Tale in the Desert (deep economy and trade skills, player-run economy) without the developer-run social experimentation. This may or may not be an improvement, based on your perspective. Oh, and prettier graphics.

I suppose there was a point here…one moment… Let’s go with:
Rapid experimentation is fun. Having friends to borrow from is always good, since games can get expensive. Sometimes it takes many shinies to find a prize worth keeping.

At any rate, I have my City of Heroes supergroup, and I have a new corporation in EVE Online. The two games have vastly different play styles, so we shall see if I can stand playing two MMOs at once and still have a life, such as it is. Now if only I could get the sound card to work in EVE without crashing me…

: Zubon

Tour Beautiful Striga Isle!

[City of Heroes] To my mind, the reason to play City of Heroes right now is to play through the 20s. Issue 3 brought some of the best content in the game, and you should go play it right now. Not everyone likes it, but Striga Isle has higher design standards then pretty much any zone in the game. Statesman, our fearless leader in CoH, has said that Striga is the design standard for other zones. This makes me hopeful for a new place expected in Issue 5, as well as potential retrofitting of zones to be more user-friendly. Care for a brief guided tour?

Your first contact in the 20s will send you to Striga to meet the first contact there. You can ignore her, or you can follow the line of four contacts in Striga. These combine to 25-or-so missions of various types. You have the standard “Arrest all villains in base,” “Defeat 15 Council in The Bog,” “Defeat base commander and his men”; the most innovative involves attacking a Council vampyre creation plant, in which you must fight vampyres as they come out of the transformation capsules. Striga introduces a new tile set, the boat, and has a few vertical shafts in missions (think Castlevania, the original, when you drop down that long shaft into the underworld). One mission uses two different tile sets, which I have not seen anywhere else.

There are four different temporary powers, all useful. One gives resistance to all (including psionic, and it is a toggle), another lets you summon a Council War Wolf boss as a pet (5 charges, they do *nice* damage to Archvillains). You also get your zombie-hunting shotgun, so you can pretend to be Ash. “Defender with boomstick? Check.”

Striga includes two task forces. One gets you most of the way through your Silver Bullet and Slayer badges, so you can get the Atlas Medallion accolade (passive +5 endurance). The other is the best task force in the game, and you need to go do it right now. The 26-30 TF has several unique maps, including the spectacular last mission. You get previews of this last one in the missions leading up to it, which have windows facing into the last chamber. Yeah, you see that thing? That’s the final showdown. :)

All that, three exploration badges and one history, plus a trainer in-zone. So what about the zone itself? Striga is designed rather nicely, with a main island and several smaller ones around it. The contacts lead you logically from the docks, through the defenses and the monster-infested jungle, and into the Council’s secret volcano lair. Zombies, werewolves, and vampyres abound in the jungle and graveyard. There are zombies hiding beneath the waters, ready to swarm up around you. There are fights between the various factions who want control of the island. There are dogfights between Sky Raider Sky Skiffs and Council Hoverbots. There are robots on patrol. There is a new enemy group in the form of missile turrets.

I am probably leaving out some things, which is for the best. I have already outlined most of the sights to see, so come see the rest. Stand on top of a volcano that stretches from the ground almost to the flight ceiling. Check out the sprawling Council compound and watch them fight off invaders. Join the attack and protect Paragon City from the Council’s new schemes. Find your favorite little touches in an excellent use of space.

One hint: the road runs straight through, from the entrance to the Council base. If you cannot find the Wolf’s Throat, just follow the road into the tunnel. The tunnel is the Throat.

: Zubon

So what brings YOU here?

[City of Heroes] Life must be odd in Paragon City, you know? Superheroes everywhere, and a lot of them are pretty freaky. I mean, to say nothing of the guys walking around on fire or covered in floating skulls, you have half-transparent floating squid creatures that can turn into some tank-like crustacean. Over here, the author wonders, “Just stop and think for a moment about how odd it would be if the world’s most powerful superbeing just stopped into a malt shop in full costume to share a milkshake with a girl.”

When you get on the monorail, you need to ask the guy next to you to please stop dripping his alien ichor on your groceries. “Pardon, my wife is expecting, could you not use your cloud of choking nuclear radiation just here?” Oh, and the equivalent of GNC, Image Inc., also has a big display case of firearms and special ammunition to go with your high-fiber cereals.

Despite all of this, after rescuing someone, s/he will frequently tell you, “I’ve never met a hero before!”


Another win for the home team

[City of Heroes] My original City of Heroes character, Zubon, hit level 50 (max) tonight. This marks my third level 50 (two Defenders, one Blaster). Part of me wonders what I could have done in the real world with that much time. Other parts of me enjoyed large parts of the journey.

The last bubble of experience came pretty quickly and smoothly. I was actually on a team running missions, rather than farming. When I originally hit level 50, in Issue 2, there were two common paths. One was to farm wolves – there were a couple of missions that spawned large numbers of easy to herd and clear enemies. After the developers gave the wolves stun attacks and put them on a timer, people moved to using Freakshow for the same purpose, and it seems to work even better. The other path was to farm Kora fruit – there was an endless stream of missions that required no combat if you could Phase Shift. After the developers added required combat to those, people could move to using Dr. Boyd missions, which are almost the same but give more experience, and 1/4 of them actually require combat. By my findings, those were going faster for me than Kora fruit did, so I am surprised that people are not farming that more. Or maybe they are, I just have not heard about it.

It is refreshing to see that normal play actually provides nice rewards. It can be hard to find a group for normal play at times, at least in a large, competent group. I think many people have been trained to believe that farming Freakshow is the fastest way to level, so they keep trying to do that, even if they don’t have a good herding team, even if they are not very good at it. I have had times when my soloing healer got experience faster on his own than in the powerleveling herds for which I was asked to assist.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled grind.


War against Paragon City

[City of Heroes] I returned to City of Heroes about a month before World of Warcraft and EverQuest II went live. A week into my return, I found a new supergroup, and which is still my main group (plus a couple of people from other groups). Having hit level 40 about two weeks before WoW went live, I knew I needed to put the pedal to the metal, especially since we were expecting a new Issue (CoH update) on the test server soon. This led to my “11 levels in 11 days” quest, which is not as easy as it sounds in the later levels. The first night of it, I went from the end of level 39 to the start of 41. By consuming hundreds of Kora fruit and detonating thousands of Shadowhunter’s wolves, I found myself at level 50.

Very soon after, EQ2 and WoW went live. We lost about half our supergroup instantly, probably more considering the newer or less hardcore players who disappeared soon after. We’re still sharing a TeamSpeak server, but we don’t cross channels much. We have occasional visitors, but it looks like people are in WoW for the long run. We have a couple dozen level 50 members who have not been seen in a long while.

Now, we have 6-8 members who appear regularly on TeamSpeak. Two of them just started playing Guild Wars. This could get ugly.

: Zubon

That’s my cue to leave

[City of Heroes] If you send me a blind team invitation…
…when I don’t have my LFG flag on…
…and you are two zones away…
…and don’t answer when I ask what is going on…
…after 1am…
…when I have three deaths worth of debt from other teams…
I will be going, thanks. Good luck.

In this situation, you have 30 seconds to answer a straightforward question, because that is how long it takes to exit to the log-in screen.

: Zubon