EQ2, Rock Band, Goong, Xbox, PS3, PotBS, and stuff.

Huh. I wonder if I spend too much time gaming?

Anyway. Some minor news from my various gaming related interests:

EQ2: Finished Tier 2 last night (finally!) as the Overking went down quickly and painlessly. The raid leaders decided not to flag everyone who needed him in one go, instead some of us (including me!) got in this time, and the rest will go the next time. It’s more important to actually win than to try to do it all at once, but lose. We went on to do Leviathon, the hentai tentacle monster in the Chamber of Destiny (which is not that crystal emerald sphere after all, but a different place entirely), to finish Tier 3. I’d have pictures, but I sat out of that raid. Next time! Listening to the fight on guild chat was fun. People turning into fishes to grab things from the beast’s stomach… some of us sitting out did a Vault of the Eternal Sleeper run, and they were still fighting that same guy when we were done. LONG fight. I finally got Dina’s Coat of Imperious Strikes (legendary RoK scout-set bp) from the boss of VoES… I’d though that dropped only in Maiden’s, but apparently not.

Afterward, I got Dera and we did a CoA run. No masters, but Dera got a ring that procs power on heals. That was kind of embarrassing, because I wasn’t aware Inquisitors *got* heals, but a careful examination of my spell book revealed some toward the end. Who knew? That was nearly as embarrassing as finding myself suddenly in Jarsath Wastes as we were clearing. That hammer gets me into so much trouble…

I’m not questing with Dera. Instead, her final two levels are being done entirely through dungeon runs. She is now 60% through level 79. Would it be faster to quest? Yes, definitely.

Rock Band: Some of my son’s friends got Rock Band for Christmas, so we’ve been forming online bands with them — usually me on drums but sometimes lead guitar. It’s better having friendly people in the band… when I screwed up one of my solos on “Green Hills and High Tide” on Hard and failed out, they didn’t complain, I just got to try it again (and nailed it the second time). We downloaded a lot of the DLC (Downloadable Live Content). Last night I downloaded the new Hives song (for me) and the Metallica pack (for my son). I was tempted to get Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps” but didn’t. Still no Queen.

I couldn’t find any publicly available episode guides to Goong AKA Princess Hours, so when I get a moment I’ll start with those. Because you all care about Korean comedy fairy-tale soap operas? No, because you might if you knew more about it :) I wasn’t that enthused but my sister kept nagging me to watch it, so because I loves my sister, I did, and… hey, you know, this is pretty good… I checked out my Bittorrent this morning. I was drawing bits of it from Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Italy, even some from the good ol’ US. And I was amazed that out of all these fellow fans all over the world, NONE of them had the last 2.8% of the second episode.

What’s up with THAT?

As much as I like Rock Band, it’s hard to look at that Xbox as anything but a piece of white plastic crap. It’s as loud as an idling car, daily (it seems) one or more of my son’s friends goes offline suddenly because their Xbox died with the Red Ring of Dead (RRoD), and my son tells me OUR newly-purchased Xbox went halfway to RRoD once.

I just GOT that thing. It didn’t come with WiFi, the controllers are expensive and crappy, it’s just cheaply and sloppily made. Compared to the Wii and PS2, which are WAY better constructed (GRANTED they are simpler boxes)… I resent that little toad-like creature. I put up with it because I must. I’d rather have gotten a PS3.

Now that the High Def format wars are essentially over (Blu-Ray, shockingly, the winner) and the PS3 is one of the cheapest Blu-Ray players around (above and beyond its ability to play games), I’m thinking of replacing it. But backwards compatibility with my older PS2 games is vital.

Unfortunately, Sony REMOVED backward compatibility with their new, cheap 20 Gb machines. And the 80 Gb machines emulate it in software — not the best solution (though cheaper to manufacture). It turns out the old 60 Gb machines that are no longer manufactured have the “sweet spot” — Wi Fi *and* hardware PS2 compatibility. These are hardly anywhere to be found — certainly NewEgg and EBGames had none online. While we were food shopping at BJs last night, I noticed that the PS3s they were selling were the old, fully compatible, 60 Gb machines. I’ll have to see if my straining checkbook can handle the $500 they’re charging.

Second step would be to force my son off the Xbox occasionally so I can use the TV to play MY games. Or watch movies. I don’t have a HDTV, but plan on getting one this year. I think that 32″ 1080p Toshiba I’ve been eying might fit the bill. And heck, since my son monopolizes the TV with his Xbox addiction, I could just move the new HDTV and PS3 into *my* room for luxurious movie watching while I play, you know, *my* games. My little 15″ color TV (yes, it’s tucked away on a side table next to my desk) could use some upgrading…

Pirates of the Burning Sea… I don’t have it. I intend to play it *sometime*, but who the heck has time? I’m not a serial adopter, always dropping what they have to flock to the new shiny. But I’ll check things out when I can. It’s clear that you can only seriously play one MMO at a time. I am probably years away from giving up EQ2. I’ll try PotBS, though, sometime. Vanguard first. I’ve heard good things and bad things about it, and by the time I get to it in a few months, probably all the launch issues will be gone and the rough edges smoothed away. No reason to play it from Day 1 that I can see. If a month helps some, a year should give the devs enough time to make it the game they would have liked it to have been if they’d had more time.

By then all the serial adopters will have moved to Conan and Warhammer (and will be hotly anticipating the new shiny after that) and those who have found a true home in PotBS will be able to explain all the ins and outs of their world. I’ve predicted it will become *the* place for huge naval battles at the expense of a PvE or a solo, 1v1 PvP game — I think Warhammer will turn out to be the home for the more casual PvPer.

Guess I don’t have much other ‘stuff’ to talk about. Weather is warm in Connecticut this week, but that will change. It’s still winter. It’s been totally fun watching the Democratic race. First Hillary is the anointed one! The Obama wins in Illinois and Huffpost sanctifies him and tears Hillary apart! Obama ftw! Nothing can stop his inevitable victory! Just swear him in already!

And then Hillary wins New Hampshire! OMG! She was supposed to LOSE! Didn’t she read the SCRIPT?

New Hampshire is the most Libertarian state in the Union. We’re natural cynics. You can’t just SAY. You have to DO. And what has Obama DONE?

I dunno if Hillary will win the nomination. In fact, I think probably it will go to Obama. But I love the soap opera. And anyway, none of the Democrats really match how NH thinks. That nod goes to the Republican John McCain, who is so plain-spoke he could be a native. It’s no surprise he won the Republican race. Heck, even though I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, I might vote for him as someone who actually would have the ABILITY to heal the stupid left-right division in American politics and get something done. Hillary can’t do that. Obama says he can but has no track record. And none of the other Republicans has the slightest interest in doing so.

Great Expectations: 2008

2007 opened with me splitting my time between EQ1 and EQ2. Through brief flings with LotRO, Dungeon Runners and Mythos, and even briefer flings with a half dozen more I played just once, I ended the year in pretty much the same place — playing EQ2 exclusively.

There’s these incredibly massive hype/PR machines and all they want to do is build up expectations for their ground-breaking, world-shaking title, or book, or movie, and then when it finally arrives, you go “meh” and wait for the next big thing. And the hype machine worked overtime this year. Burning Crusade, Vanguard, Warhammer, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Hellgate: London, Tabula Rasa; all have (or had) the hype machine promissing so much that almost anything that came (or will come) can only disappoint.

Not to say there aren’t some excellent games in the past year and coming soon. I just hope they can survive their hype machines. If you promise a carnival and bring only a pony ride, well, people are going to be disappointed, even if it’s a really good pony ride. Promise a walk in the park and it’s “Hey! They have a PONY RIDE!” Underpromise, overdeliver.

2008 will be a year of great expectations and diminished realities.

Personally, I expect to have EQ2 as my main game through the entire year. Because everyone needs a steady game to call home. You may wander, but you always come home. For a lot of people, this is WoW. For me, it’s EQ2.

It’s going to be hard for EQ2 to raise expectations, though. Out of all the games I’ll mention, it has the toughest road. The last couple of expansions have ridden on EQ1’s coattails, but I don’t know if they’ve noticed, but EQ1 no longer has such long coattails. Drawing from a subscriber base that has fond memories of EQ1 but doesn’t play that game, but want something both new and familiar to them… well, that doesn’t bring many new players in. EQ2 gets most of its new players from WoW, who appreciate EQ2 for its technical innovations but have nothing invested in EQ1 nostalgia.

Prediction #1: EQ2 will reinvent itself by the end of the year, either through some innovative new setting or a game mechanic that lets players have an impact on the world. I’m fairly confident about this one, because otherwise, the hits it will take when WoW’s next expansion and Warhammer come out will probably kill it. It has to respond strongly, and “Velious, EQ2’s Fourth Expansion!” or whatever won’t bring anyone new into the fold. Chasing EQ1 is a stupid strategy.

Prediction #2: Pirates of the Burning Sea will launch strongly, and settle into a role of being about massive clan-based fleet vs fleet battles. I don’t think people will do much solo PvPing, and the economic game will be used to fund the massive fleet battles. Ladder rankings will be an obsession with the players. I’ll try PotBS. I’m not that excited about it, but I think massive fleet battles will be the killer app for PotBS, and it seems from all signs that Flying Labs is positioning it precisely for that. Soloers and non-combatant types interested in the trading game, I think, will not be its final audience.

Prediction #3: Age of Conan will launch and sink without a trace. Come on. PvP with sex and boobies and lots of blood in an election year? The first politician who sees this game will tear it to shreds. ‘Sinking without a trace’ would be the best outcome. ‘Being used as a reason to crack down on MMOs’ would be the worst. Luckily, the teenage boys who make up its natural audience will balk at the subscription fees. Plus, who the heck even knows who Conan is? If the average player even remembers the old Schwarzenegger flick, that’d be amazing — the people who would want to play this game weren’t even born then.

Prediction #4: Warhammer: Age of Reckoning will sell two million boxes and take its place as the #2 MMO in North America. I think this is a slam dunk, being basically World of Warcraft with even more arena games. Those people who love the battlegrounds and arena battles in WoW will flock to the new shiny. This will be a relief to Blizzard, who can cede the battlegrounds market to EA-Mythic and focus more on their excellent PvE and raid experience.

Prediction #5: If WoW’s second expansion, Wrath of the Liche King. comes out this year, it will be disappointing. Given the presence of two and probably soon to be more WoW-alikes in 2008 (LotRO and WAR), almost anything Blizzard can come up with can only be thought of as ‘more of the same’.

Prediction #6: NCSoft will announce a Station Pass-like “pay one price, play all our games” payment plan. Because it’s about time they do that.

okay, those were the safe predictions. Now to get a little ‘out there’.

SOE: SOE will be bought out by a well-known games company, who will announce the development of a virtual world where players can take their characters from all SOE games and live and adventure together in a world they create. This brings hundreds of thousands of players back to SOE games as they take their Jedis and Code Jockeys and Rangers and Blood Mages out of cold storage and into an entirely new world that they create — sort of like Second Life for MMOs. This will be heralded as the birth of a new sort of MMO gaming, where your characters adventure in one world, but play in another.

Star Trek Online: After the new Star Trek movie loudly tanks, all development stops on the Star Trek Online license. EA then picks up Perpetual Entertainment (or what’s left of it) as a wholly owned division focusing on MMO middleware, its first internal customer being Bioware. Bioware in 2007 announced they were using PE’s middleware for their game, so this isn’t really all that out there. There’s a chance EA-Mythic may pick up the STO license along with the company.

MMOs and movies: At least one movie will launch day-and-date with a matching MMO. MMOs will be increasingly seen as commodities and part of the exploitation of a movie license. Tie-in figurines, pop-up picture books, props, Halloween costumes, video games… add an MMO to the list as something necessary to the launch of any new genre movie.

Guitar Hero: A MMO based on Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Memory of Whiteness” that lets musicians and musician wannabes play virtual instruments in player-created bands, quartets, symphonies — what have you — will be announced. Unlike Guitar Hero, players will be able to play both tunes available in the game, and tunes of their own composition. The MMO will usher in a revolution of musical creativity. Well, this is something I *want* to happen. And given the popularity of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, why not? I just threw in KSR because, you know, people should read his books.

Roleplaying & Machinima: An MMO that takes fan fiction and makes movies from it will be announced. Write a story and watch it acted out, or advance the plot in real time with friends. This will do for the craft of writing what the Guitar Hero MMO will do for the craft of composing: bring art to the masses at the cost of authenticity.

I want MMOs that make people SMARTER and INVITE CREATIVITY. And so I dream of a future where MMOs will open doors in your mind instead of seal them shut.

MMOs are still a young industry and there is still time to reinvent itself out of the circling spiral drain of cheap entertainment. Ten years on and they are still writing the same game. 2008 will be the year someone dares to show something truly new.