Altoholic Cure

Good morning you happy people in digital land.  I am sitting here trying to wake up.  I kind of feel like death warmed over right now because my allergies are going into overdrive.  My throat just feels absolutely raw and no amount of Benadryl or anything else seems to make the allergic crap go away in full.  I had a pretty great day yesterday, and today I am looking at just milling around the house doing as little productive as possible.

Altoholic Cure

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One of the interesting things that FFXIV seems to have made me finally understand is that I am not in fact an altoholic.  Now if you look at the long history of me and games… you will see many screens that look like that filled with multiple max or at least high level characters.  In Rift for example I have a 60 warrior, 57 rogue, 51 cleric and multiple 20 something’s scattered out along multiple servers.  You would immediately think that I am in fact an altoholic… but recently a series of games have proved this otherwise.

One of the things that has proven the most tantalizing for me about The Secret World and now Final Fantasy XIV Realm Reborn is the fact that I can literally have one character and do everything in the game on it.  One of the frustrating things about playing alts for me has been that I did not always take everything I had acquired from one character and carry it forth into the next.  I hated the feeling of starting over on achievements and mounts and pets etc.  So when I started playing The Secret World, it was completely mind-blowing that I literally could have one character that could do anything at all in the game.

Multiple Roles

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I have come to realize that I don’t start alts because I necessarily care about playing another character.  This should have been clued in by the fact that in WoW every single human character tended to have the exact same appearance.  Belghast and Belgrave look exactly the same… minus the fact that Belgrave has the nifty Death Knight glowing eyes thing going on.  I end up starting new characters because I want to fiddle with new mechanics.  So much of the appeal of Rift to me has always been that I had up to 9 saved specs per character and could switch between them at will to fit my current mood.

Final Fantasy XIV is proving to be the ultimate distraction at the moment, because I can play every class and do every tradeskill on one character.  It is not only supported, it is in fact suggested because you open up the maximum number of possibilities with cross class actions by doing this.  To some extent it reminds me of the way Horizons was in the ability to freely switch between classes at will.  Horizons is one of those games that you either loved or you hated… and for me I mostly mourned the potential the game had.  My main character was a Reaver, which was an advanced class that required I believe 20 warrior and 15 spiritualist.  Then in addition to that I poured on 24 levels of Cleric so I could have some cross class healing, and 15 levels of Mage so I could have access to all the elemental weapon buffs.

The way the game worked is when you were playing another class, you could carry with you 1/2 of the levels worth of spells.  So at 24 cleric, I would use up through level 12 healing spells on any other class I chose to play.  This lead to some really open ended gameplay that I loved… I could build my own class of sorts by picking up the abilities that I liked best from each of the other classes.  Granted they gimped you slightly by doing this… making your xp gain go drastically slower based on your number of classes.  I did love however playing a character that was in essence a jack of all trades…  and not limited to only one specific role.  Post Horizons this has been a concept I have missed greatly, and what I believe has lead me to rolling tons of characters trying to reclaim that freedom.

Class Freedom

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One of the things that feels the coolest while playing Final Fantasy is that each of us have multiple roles that we are actively or semi-actively leveling.  For example my character is 27 Marauder, but I also have 18 Fencer, 16 Gladiator and 6 Thamaturgist.  Instead of running dungeons last night with our main spec we realized that we had a pretty solid group composition with our secondary specs.  So instead of tanking, I switched to dpsing as a fencer, and we had two arcanists that both served the role as part time dps and part time healer… letting someone who is traditional dps try out his tanky marauder.  We went back and re-experienced the lower level dungeons and had a blast doing it. 

The most awesome thing about this is… as you are tanking on your main spec… you can acquire those drops that would have been excellent for another class but would end up rotting on the ground of a dungeon somewhere.  This was always something that stuck in my craw as a tank.  I didn’t mind being needed in the specific role, but I always hated seeing gear that would have been awesome for an alt rotting on the corpses of bosses because no one in the instance needed it.  I always longed for a way to pass that gear along from my main down to an alt and see it go to good use.  I personally hate seeing gear sold or disenchanted… I love seeing it go to use regardless of WHO can use it.

So as a result… as I am playing my main spec I am picking up quest rewards that I can use later for various other classes in the game.  Likewise there is never a case where I don’t have access to my full compliment of mounts or pets or other cosmetic goodies.  All of this is why that Final Fantasy XIV is turning out to be way more compelling for me than I ever expected going into this.  Originally I thought this was mostly a game I would play occasionally because I had some friends playing it.  Instead I am finding a game that is so much better than it has any right to be based on the past track record Squaresoft’s MMO failures.

I find myself looking forward to each little milestone in the game, and likewise looking forward to switching weapons and leveling my little lower level classes.  When you switch roles, you have access to various cross class abilities from each.  So as a tank I can cherry pick all of the various survival abilities so that my Marauder has 4 “Oh Shit” buttons I can press in an instance.  Likewise as a DPS I can cherry pick abilities that will either increase my survival or increase my dps.  While you don’t have as much freedom as you did in Horizons, it still feels the same… that each of your classes is making every other class you play better in the process.

Wrapping Up

Well I had no clue I was going to write a love song for the class system in FFXIV before I started… but now that I did it makes sense.  That is the one aspect of the game that I find the stickiest so far.  It is making me really wish that I could have a Warrior, Cleric, Rogue and Mage all in the same character in Rift even if it meant having to pay for adding the additional classes.  Anyways I hope you all are having a great Sunday and that you have a great rest of the Labor Day weekend.

FFXIV a Week Later

Good morning folks… I find myself still slowly shaking off the effects of taking some Benadryl before going to bed last night.  My allergies have been killing me this week and as a result my throat is extremely raw from all the drainage.  I feel like we are getting a summers worth of allergens all at once.  The normal flow of things has been pretty messed up this year, for example we each night the windows are bombarded by junebugs…  this is something that should have occurred around my birthday in mid June.  Everything just seems to be happening later than normal.

A Week Later

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Thus far I have been pretty harsh in my postings about Final Fantasy XIV Realm Reborn.  The problem is… the infrastructure is still grossly inadequate, but the sad part about that is that the actual game itself is really good.  When you first see the game it feels as though you are playing a Japanese interpretation of World of Warcraft.  However the longer you play the more you realize it is a deeply nuanced game with a lot of really strong points going for it.  The game still has very strong WoW elements… but it also is a whole lot Final Fantasy XII with some Rift and GW2 mixed in for good measure.

The key system for me that makes it extremely enjoyable is the job system.  I’ve been a fan of this since I first encountered it playing a language hacked SNES rom of Final Fantasy V.  What this does in reality is make it so you have no real need for alts.  One single character can do literally every class in the game, and you are actually rewarded for doing this.  When you switch classes you can take with you certain cross-class abilities.  While these are rarely the signature attack of a given class, they do add quite a bit of flavor to your character.

Similarly the crafting system works much the same.  You can fall into a black hole of crafting if you allow yourself.  One of our guild members is I think trying to level every single craft profession.  They are all insidiously tied in a way that makes it extremely beneficial to be able to craft multiple types of things.  You will often encounter roadblocks where profession A requires you to have something from profession B and C.  The dirty secret is… that many of these items that you need are also available on a few vendors out in the world… so if you know where those are you have no real need to multi-craft.

Multi-Classed

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Currently my character is a 23 Maurader, 16 Gladiator, 15 Jouster and as of last night 6 Thaumaturge.  Yes you heard that right… I do in fact have a few levels of Thaumaturge… a finger wiggler.  The thing is every single class I have played has been fun.  The caster for example has a really cool mechanic that switched back and forth between elemental fire and frost attacks.  The fire attack gives you a buff that increases your damage output… but also increases the cost of your spells… whereas frost decreases damage output… but massively increases mana regeneration.  So in order to play effectively you have to switch back and forth between the two buffed states, and it gives you the ability to regenerate back your mana… but still be attacking.

Right now I have pretty much focused on playing Marauder and plan on transitioning it to Warrior when I get to 30… as Warrior is a mix of 30 Marauder and 15 Gladiator.  Eventually I plan on taking Lancer to 30 as well so I can pick up the Dragoon Job which requires 30 Lancer and 15 Marauder.  The thing is the cross class dynamic completely changes the way you think about your character.  For example I know at some point soon I am going to have to push Gladiator up to 22, because that will unlock provoke, one of the few snap aggro taunts in the game.  As I have been tanking quite a few instances… this will be a key ability for me to have in the long run.

Tanking

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Essentially for tanking early on you have two different flavors to choose from.  The Marauder is your big two hander wielding tank that ends up feeling a bit deathknighty… if you forced a DK to rely on nothing but Heart Strike cleaves to hold aggro.  The Marauder is extremely nuanced and there are a few buffs you want to juggle, but overall it is a very fluid feeling class.  On the other side you have the Gladiator, which is a more traditional sword and board tank.  It’s primary means of holding aggro is through flash, a spell that it casts that increases the threat of all targets surrounding it.  In order to support this ability the Gladiator is given an attack combo that ends up regenerating their mana in the process allowing them to keep flash up all through the fight.

At this point I have tanked six instances as Marauder, and I really like the feel of it.  I am starting to feel as thought I understand the mechanics extremely well.  Hopefully as guild members level up I will be able to swap it up and try some instances as Gladiator to get a feel for how I like the differences.  So far I naturally lean towards the Marauder since it has a big damned axe… and has a nice AOE cleave attack that is super useful when leveling out in the world.  However my suspicion is that later on the Gladiator/Paladin will have much higher overall defense and the ability to soak more damage.  Ultimately I plan on grabbing enough levels to pick up Paladin as well as something I can swap to when needed.

Dungeons

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The dungeons quite honestly are shockingly good.  I expected the standard theme park ride through a dungeon experience… but they are really intricate and nuanced.  Essentially so far it seems like there is a golden path that allows you to quickly progress through the dungeon.  However in each one I have encountered there are tons of optional things you can do… rooms that have no reason to ever enter other than for the chance as getting a bonus chest of loot.  Last night we were in a dungeon and there were pull chains every so often… each had a completely random chance of spawning some event…  or in an extremely rare case getting a chest of loot.  It took time… and the encounters that were spawned were fairly painful… but we ended up with 3 bonus chests by doing that.

Additionally the boss encounters are messaged extremely well.  So far we have done no real research on the dungeons we have encountered, but just by watching the way the mobs behave we have been able to figure out the key mechanic of most fights.  That is not to say there have not been the occasional item that completely wipes the group when we didn’t do something…  but in those cases it was really painfully obvious what we were supposed to do… we just were not paying attention.  The fights have a lot of things going on… are often times frenetic and rely on you to both tank mobs and allow your dps to burn the occasional add down unassisted.  Overall it is one of the best dungeon experiences I have had in several years.

Tragedy

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This game is extremely good… and I would honestly go so far as to say it is an amazing experience.  There is simply so much in the game that you do not see at face value.  So many deep systems supporting your gameplay experience that it takes awhile to get into.  The tragedy of all of this is… that even as good as the game is… it is still supported by a grossly inadequate infrastructure.  Yesterday Reinhart posted a translation of a letter on the Japanese forums that explains the problems.  Essentially they were not expecting the game to be the success it is… currently they have capacity for 218,000 players to be logged in at the same time.  From what I have heard they were initially only expecting to have 100,000 concurrent users.

Right now they have way more than this trying to play the game, and as a result we end up with all the technical problems we are dealing with.  I honestly believe they are trying their best to deal with the issues…  but I also believe that more than likely Squaresoft did not have the faith in this game than the really should have.  The first release was a complete disaster, and I feel as though they threw some money at it in hopes of turning into a modest profit generator…  but instead it has been way more popular than they ever could have imagined.  While I am happy they are exceeding their expectations…  it makes for an extremely frustrating experience.

I have had a Microsoft Sidewinder 4X keyboard for some time, and one of the nifty features it has is a bank of hardware macro keys.  Until the release of this game I had never actually configured them to do anything.  Now I have a key that presses the 0 button every 1.5 seconds…  this is essentially what I am reduced to if I ever hope to log into the game.  For those who do not know this… hitting 0 on the numpad is basically the equivalent of hidding X on a joystick… it is the continue to the next step key.  As a result you can log into the client by spamming 0… and with the constant world is full errors this is essentially how we get it… hit the hardware macro and fiddling around on phones or tablets until it lets us in.

Wait to Purchase

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My hope is that in the coming weeks they will resolve these issues and it will be smooth sailing ahead.  The problem is… the damage may have already been done.  In the United States we are going into the Labor Day weekend… and if the game is not fully playable over that break… then it will cause a ton of negative vibes among the US populace.  This game is extremely worth the purchase, and as much as I dislike saying this… is fully worth the monthly subscription fee.  However right now my advice to friends is to wait before purchasing it.  Sure you can probably go form store to store to find a copy of the game…  but you are ultimately just setting yourself up for frustration.

The gameplay experience is extremely good, which makes the inability to actually get into the game and play it all the more frustrating.  This combination of amazing game and total lack of infrastructure is what made me such a ball of directionless fury early in the week.  As a result if I can save anyone that frustration I would.  I feel like eventually things will settle down… be it a week from now or a month from now.  The game will still be an amazing experience at that point… so I highly suggest you just sit on your money and play something else in the meantime.  I promise the collective community with sound an “All Clear” sign when the game is ready for primetime.

Wrapping Up

Well I need to wrap this up and get on the road.  I have a project charter to knock out today, and I am trying to figure exactly where I will hide out while writing it.  The problem is that I get so many random questions throughout the day that it throws off my train of thought.  I am thinking about grabbing the small conference room on the floor we go to for laptop lunches.  I can hang out in there and compose freely without interruptions.  I hope you all have a great day and that it is the beginning of an amazing labor day weekend.  I will be involved in a big NDA protected event, so not sure how much gaming news I will have to report this weekend.

Lure Liquidation

Good morning you happy people in digital land, I am easing my way into cognizance this morning.  Last night I slept fairly well, but not as deeply as I had been recently.  The primary difference is I decided not to take a Tylenol pm last night and it seemed to still work.  Essentially I had hoped I was over whatever hump was causing me to wake up every few hours… and it seems to have been the case.  I really did not want my sleep patterns to become dependent on a drug… even if it was simply an over the counter one.

The Exodus

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The funny part about our Wednesday night “un-official” guild night… is that we never end up doing exactly what I had planned on doing in the first place.  Originally I had posted on Twitter and the guild forums that it was going to be a lure liquidation night… and while we did a lot of that we did not start the evening doing it.  I logged in around 6:30 or so and at that point we have only a  few people around.   After I had finished with my dinner I noticed we had 5 characters that were 50+ online.  So I started trying to put together something that would make a workable group make-up for a dungeon.

Lukian bravely specced his cleric into healer and worked on his setup for doing just that.  I on the other hand built a quick bard build and attempted to remember how to do that.  That left Psynister as our tank, and Fynralyl and Vernall to dps things down.  Initially we started the instance and then quickly realized that it was grey to all but one of us.  I thought maybe this would change after we actually started the fight it might change… but apparently Exodus of the Storm Queen uses old world logic for determining how something cons to players.

After the first boss we all left the instance… and manually mentored down in the 51-52 range.  This is really something Trion needs to fix.  You need to be able to queue with a mixed level guild group and it automagically mentors everyone down to the closest fit for a given dungeon.  This would really simplify the process of mixed level groups doing things together.  After manually mentoring… we realized that we had the deserter debuff… so one of us ran over to Iron Pine Peaks and manually zoned us into the instance.  Quite honestly… this process needs a lot of work.  It is awesome that it is viable… but it should be just a thing you click a button to do.

After the initial hiccups the instance went relatively smoothly… and we only had one wipe… namely because I could not really remember any of the boss fight strategies… or at least misremembered the wrong parts.  Granted not a single piece of viable gear dropped, but we got some useful rune crafting mats out of the process.  I had been wanting to run ANY form of a dungeon for weeks…  so this at least filled that niche.  It was fun and each of the players fell into their roll pretty naturally.  I figure I suck at barding… but there really isn’t much to do with barding now that codas refresh the cool down of motifs.

Lure Liquidation

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After the dungeon we noticed we had a few more people online, so we decided to start by opening some crafting rifts… since we each had a stockpile of grandmaster lures sitting unused.  Previously when Lukian and I had done this… it seemed like the best chance of crafting materials was when summoning them in the high end zones like Ashora or Infinity Steppes.  The only problem is… I was on my 56, Fyn and Psyn both 57 and Dethbridge that joined up with us 54.  None of us had any of the porticulums out in any of the zones.  However we had some ports relatively close to Ashora, so we set our sights there.  Lukian stepped afk to grab a bite to eat as we caravanned across Kingsward.

Deth was not with us yet, so when we got out to Ashora we dropped a guild banner to let him port his way out.  I have to say that is an extremely cool addition to the game… I just with the cool down was not quite so heinous.  An hour just really limits the usefulness especially when the guild is trying to bounce around the world and do something.  We opened the one Outfitter lure I had on my rogue, and quickly realized that one 60, a 56, 2 57s and a 54 was simply not enough dps to close level 60 crafting rifts and hit all the timers.  So after we got one phase away from completion… I decided to take one for the team and grab my warrior that is raid ready dps.

After this switch up the rifts closed extremely smoothly and we were able to burn through the crafting lures.  The only problem with Ashora is that this tends to be the place where everyone and their brother open rifts.  As a result the world was littered with abandoned Hunt rifts…  but we decided to go ahead and try a few of these as well.  With a 60 healer, 60 dps, 57 tank, 58 and 54 dps we we able to close them pretty effectively.  We had talked about doing some hunt rifts, so I was more than willing to latch onto someone elses effort.  I know hunt rifts spawn in the wild… but since every single one in Ashora seemed to be a hunt… I am figuring someone is spawning them with the hopes that someone else would come around and close them behind them.

I have to say this random running around and doing things together was exactly what I had needed after the recent days of frustration and anger over the generally botched state of the Final Fantasy XIV launch.  This was pure and simple fun, running around aimlessly as a group of guildies finding mayhem as it lay out in our path before us.  We got at least one ding out of the action, and I think our 54 got a large amount of xp from each of the 60 rifts we closed.  I know we each walked away with a fair stack of catalysts for crafting epicy goodness, and a bunch of random level 60 materials on top of that.  The hunts each provided quite a bit of Torvan Hunters rep and a decent number of infinity stones as well.

The Hive

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After a couple of hours of running around, Fyn decided it was time for bed for her… and as a result we broke up the rift running party.  Lukian asked if I had ever done the level 60 chronicle and I had not.  Since it was supposedly pretty fast I agreed to group up and knock it out.  I am extremely impressed with what I saw.  The previous chronicles had essentially been dumbed down version of the raid encounters to date… but this one appeared to be a unique beast of its own.  Essentially you are invading an architect hive… and the NPC you are helping out is pretty much my favorite in the entire Rift universe…  Atrophinius.  There are a couple of repeatable quests that you can perform for him, giving you writs of notoriety for your faction of choice.

The fights were all pretty simple, and while I died a few times out of a mix of not knowing the encounters and the trademark Belghast overzealousness…  we never actually wiped as a group.  The gear you get out of the chronicle is relatively nice, and it can be upgraded to essentially pre-elite blues at best.  It is a good way to get your feet wet and gear over the course of a handful of days.  Additionally it rewards a little bit of the elite dungeon currency for finishing each run… so you could eventually buy elite purples if you were diligent enough.  Essentially it seemed like there were three encounters and a bonus chest that spawned randomly in the zone.

It was a really fun and simple dungeon designed for two players.  The visuals were just amazing looking.. and there was an added mini-game in that they have hidden artifacts scattered throughout the dungeon… so while you are clearing the place you are constantly keeping your eyes peeled for them.  At least in our run, they seemed overly fond of hiding them in the various lighting fixtures of the dungeon.  I am not sure if I would do this as an every night thing… but I definitely enjoyed myself and would gladly run it again.

Wrapping Up

Like I said above… this was precisely the kind of night I needed to wash away all the frustration from previous nights.  Before starting up rift last night I decided to try logging into Final Fantasy XIV and encountered the World Full 1017 error for 15-20 minutes as I ate my dinner.  So while I was able to get in multiple times over my lunch break… it seems to have been mostly a fluke.  However my guildies are reporting that as a whole it is far easier to get logged in… or at least you only have to leg hump the login server for 30 minutes or so before you get access.  I do hope they get things sorted out… having a mostly unplayable game over the labor day weekend is a pretty massive sin.   Speaking of that… I have one of those NDA events going on… if you too have an NDA event going on this weekend let me know… it may very well be the same one and we can work towards a shared goal.  Anyways… enough cryptic talk aside… I hope you all have a great day.

Too Much Chaos

Good morning you happy people in digital land.  No its okay… I promise I won’t be grumpy, ranty Bel today.  Quite honestly my initial rage over the horrible infrastructure of Final Fantasy XIV is over for the most part.  I said many things in my anger yesterday, that I wish I could take back… namely had a few choice fights with friends.  Today’s post is my attempt at an apology.  Hopefully I will be able to mend whatever fences that berserker Belghast tore down in the process.

Dealing Poorly

Yesterday at the time I wrote my post, and subsequent posts I made on the Stalwart guild forums… I was a very pissed off Bel, filled with lots and lots of righteous indignation.  I had to vent out that anger in the only way I felt was safe to do it… with my words.  The problem is that has long lasting negative repercussions as well.  My words tend to have a lasting effect long after the anger that caused them has subsided.  So this morning while I am pretty chill about the whole situation… the reverberations of my anger are still bouncing around.

As a young adult I had issues with anger, namely because I didn’t feel like I really could express it.  I felt like I had so many expectations on the way I should act and behave,  so as a result I would keep packing down the frustration and rage somewhere beneath the surface.  I guess I had hoped that it would just fade away.  The problem is it never really did and there was a buffer of only so much crap I could take before it would all come spilling out in a torrent towards whoever was the last person who pissed me off.  The “last straw” never ended up being someone worthy of my rage… just the last unfortunate soul who ended up adding something to the stack.

Then all these frustrations would come spilling out in a pyroclastic blast targeting whoever happened to be in the way.  I remember there was an incident I am not proud of at all… where a friend had been picking on me about something… working a sore nerve over and over.  The kid was not a bad kid, nor did he really mean what he was saying… but it finally reached a point where it had built up over the course of a few days and I just snapped.  I ended up picking him up and next thing I knew I had thrown him down a flight of stairs.  Thank god he was okay…  but it was at that point I realized that I could actually hurt someone with my anger.

Too Much Chaos

Basically at that point I realized that I could no longer afford to keep packing the powder keg and holding in every little bit of anger… because when it finally exploded I really had no control over the direction the explosion would occur.  For the most part the idea of venting more often has worked for me… but at times there are just things that I can’t vent about.  So lately I have been packing the powder keg once more… and the accumulation of little frustrations and anger here and there that I just could not react to have been building.  While I don’t really think of myself as an extremely ordered person… I feel like I can only really handle so much uncertainty and chaos in my life.  I am good at dealing with small variations in my daily life… but for the most part I need the majority of my routine to remain unaltered.

The last month has been a combination of so many chaotic situations clashing at one time.  Firstly my work environment has been insane… until Monday morning we had 61 active projects divided up among 3 employees… myself included.  The bulk of these projects involve me juggling my time in a way so that I get just enough done… to keep from pissing any one business unit off.  Every single one of these projects is some business units “number one priority”… so quite honestly I take a lot of the chaos on myself to protect my team mates from it.  My thought has always been that if I could keep them focused on individual tasks… and me working on the random occurrences we could get more done than if all of us were being interrupted constantly.

Added to this… my home life has been a mess lately as well.  My wife is a school teacher, so the last month and a half has been entirely about the preparation for going back to school.  This involves accumulating materials, with our weight loss finding clothing, and finally all of the responsibilities of day to day living shifting back onto me.  She literally ends up working 80 hours per week once you factor in all the after hours work… so as a result during the school year I pick up the slack with household chores.  But each year there is a massive adjustment period as I try and deal with her being in a state of chaos as she gets used to going back to dealing with school work 24/7.

On top of this our weekends have been pure chaos lately as our neighbor… decided within two weeks to get married.  So my wife was pulled in a completely different direction just as the height of the back to school crap was starting, in trying to help out with the planning of that as well.  Additionally I got put in a position where I had to photograph my very first wedding.  All of which were things I just could not say no to.  Now that the wedding is over… the neighbors daughter has had to have emergency surgery… so the chaos continues on in helping deal with that.  I say neighbor but they are basically our family…  when I had the massive bleed out incident a few years back… she was the one that cleaned up the mess while I was in the emergency room.  Likewise any time anyone has ever gotten hurt… we have been the ones that got called and rushed to the hospital.

Finally… we have the Final Fantasy XIV launch.  With all the rest of this chaos in my life… I just could not take the one sanctuary I had left…  my gaming world to be thrown into a disarray as well.  So yesterday I blew up in a whole bunch of directions when I finally reached my peak of crap I could deal with at one time.  Quite honestly I think I made myself sick in the process… and after I had exploded out my rage…  I just felt woozy and sick to my stomach.  I had essentially done what I have tried not to do… I packed the powder keg and let it explode on its own.  All of the things I could not react to… because I had to be a “good guy” and take it in stride… just came pouring out and the failed game launch became my target.

After the Storm

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So as I said… this is my way of apologizing to the people I offended yesterday… and the ones that got in the path of my rage.  Since I spent the last two days complaining about the Final Fantasy XIV launch… I felt like there was a point that maybe I had not given enough time to.  The game itself is extremely good, when you can get into it and actually play.  Last night after much frustration, a group of players managed to make their way through the login lottery and we pulled together a dungeon group.  At a point in the main story arc, you are lead through the three level 15ish dungeons available to players:  Satasha, Tam-Tara Undercroft, and Copperbell.  This is going to be a point of content for some players… because the main storyline quest halts until you have run all three.

I had not been able to do any of the quests, and there were various other members of our party that were missing one or two of the later dungeons.  So as a result last night we just ran the entire quest chain back to back.  I have to say… I am surprised at just how well our group managed.  The marauder is a seemingly extremely capable tank.  Essentially I used a combination of overpower and the cross class gladiator flash skill to hold AOE aggro on multiple targets.  There were many cases where when pulls were timed correctly we could get single mobs, instead of chaining large groups.  The dungeon style was somewhere between Burning Crusade “Crowd Control Everything” and Wrath of the Lich king “AOE Roflstomp”.  Essentially they felt just about perfect.

Basically in each of the dungeons there was a golden path you could take..  that would get you from point A to point B the fastest… or there was a more indirect route that would lead you past a large number of treasure chests along the way.  We chose to take the more winding path and while most of the chests gave us potions or crafting materials… we did manage to get a few pieces of pink gear in the process.  The dungeon design as a whole felt extremely solid, and I look forward to seeing the later ones as the difficulty ramps up.  I hope soon to run the same three dungeons, but this time as gladiator to get a feel for which tanky class I like better.

Really Damned Good

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Basically the problem with FFXIV is that it really is amazingly good.  The game lands somewhere for me between World of Warcraft and Rift… in that you have a WoW like world… that happens to be filled with lots of random events and various event style quests that you can do.  Additionally everything scales downwards… and as a result you can continue to do all of these events as it will sync your level.  When we stepped into the dungeon last night… it synced us all down to level 15 without any player intervention.  The only negative about their system however is the fact that you actually lose abilities… rather than just scale them downwards.  Everquest 2 used to do this same thing… and it was extremely frustrating losing an ability that you had come to rely on.

It is that the gameplay is really great that makes the poor infrastructure at launch all that more of a tragedy.  I have teetered back and forth on the edge of whether or not I would be playing this long term for some time.  Ultimately I want to find a way to mix in playing this and playing Rift at the same time.  Tonight for certain I will be back in Rift, as there are lots of things I want to do there… and the worst part about playing FFXIV has been the absence of all my guildies from Rift.  I think tonight I either want to kill many rifts, or try and do a dungeon.  I have not tanked in Rift in ages… and I want to dust my spurs off and get back in the action there.

Anyways where I was going with this…  was that I hope my rants over the last few days do not permanently sour people against Final Fantasy XIV.  It is a really solid game if you can get past the infrastructure and just play it.  My only suggestion would be to wait until the server problems have worked themselves out in the next few weeks before taking the plunge yourself.  Since dungeons automatically scale, you will likely always be able to find support for the early dungeon running.  The world is amazingly populated despite all the issues logging in.  I think more than anything, they have had a far bigger response than anyone ever could have imagined from a re-launch of an originally failed game.

Wrapping Up

Well I need to get out the door and on the road.  Lots of crap to do today… and lots of issues that need to be dealt with.  I plan on playing Rift tonight, because quite frankly I miss it.  Now that the madness and the anger over not being able to play FFXIV has subsided, much of the “omg I have to log in” has as well.  I feel like I need a chill night of just piddling around in Telara.  I hope you all have a great day, and that this midpoint in the week goes smoothly.

Login Lottery

Good morning you happy people in digital land.  I am up roughly 30 minutes early today, so here is hoping I can still ramble out something vaguely intelligible.  I am going to warn you… today’s post is going to be pretty ranty.  If you are susceptible to that sort of thing you might simply skip it.  Additionally if you are one of the legion of Final Fantasy apologists that seems to have sprung up on the forums…  you might also want to skip the post.

Login Lottery

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The above animated gif pretty much displays the last three days of trying to play Final Fantasy XIV Realm Reborn.  I have gone through this process hundreds upon hundreds of times attempting to play the game since Saturday evening.  Originally I accepted this as being a weekend problem that they could not fix while the united states data centers were in “weekend” mode.  However we have now had a full work day in the US and as of last night the problem is still present.  Ultimately what I take the most offense to is the fact that I have no real hope of logging in unless I waste my entire evening following the above sequence of events for hours…  hoping to finally win the login lottery.

I find it completely inexcusable that a game like this does not have an actual queue system.  To the best of our knowledge the upper bound of the queue is roughly 500 players.  Sunday evening we saw a few queues in the 400s so we are guessing that 500 is the nice round number it is set to.  You would think that you could simply just spam away at trying to login until you saw a queue… and you would be wrong.  At three points last night I got into the queue… and all three times I was in it only for a few minutes before being returned to the dreaded 1017 error.  While we have not reached the category of “worst launch ever”, I have to say they are taking the cake for the most incompetent infrastructure already.

The Root Cause

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This the sanctuary hub in the middle of the Central Shard near Gridania.  This is the sight you see at almost EVERY single city or hub in the game… players afking en masse.  Since the ability to log in at any given time is uncertain, players have taken to NEVER logging out as a way to combat this.  Since the logins are strictly locked to a specific number of players on the server at any given time… we end up competing for a smaller and smaller number of slots on a nightly basis.  Apparently it is standard eastern mmo practices to NEVER idle kick a player from the server.  As a result US/EU players are abusing the hell out of this and simply leaving their game running 24/7.

Essentially the crisis we are playing under is the epic conclusion of a bunch of really poor game decisions.  If they implemented a 15 minute idle kick that alone would likely clear up almost all of the issues.  Combine that with a real queue that you could functionally wait in knowing that eventually you would get into the game…  and it would lower a lot of the aggression of players.  Right now based on the temperature on the forums and social media in general… we are reaching a point where we the players want blood.

The Apology

Yesterday Naoki Yoshida issued an official apology… and quite honestly it is falling on deaf ears.

On behalf of the FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn Development Team, I would like to extend my deepest apologies to those Early Access participants who have had difficulty using the NA/EU data centers.

In response to a variety of issues, we have conducted emergency maintenance several times over the past few days. The first instance, which was conducted six hours following the beginning of early access, was for the purpose of addressing the errors 90000 and 3000, which were first discovered during phase 4 of the beta test.
Our server team then began taking measures to improve the performance of the lobby and duty finder servers. The subsequent emergency maintenance was necessary to implement their changes.

This maintenance proceeded as planned, and afterwards we verified that the stability of instanced battles and the duty finder was much improved. However, we then discovered that certain lobby servers had been improperly configured, and we were forced to conduct another brief maintenance to resolve this issue.

Although we have successfully addressed a number of serious issues in the past several days, we have nevertheless decided to implement login restrictions for the time being due to the extremely heavy load being placed upon the servers. In this way, we can ensure that the maximum number of players can play the game without risking a server crash. I know no one wants to wait to log in, but I hope you all understand why we believe this precaution is necessary.

Once again, I would like to sincerely apologize to all our players who have been unable to enjoy Early Access due to the tremendous congestion, the ensuing issues, and the frequent maintenance.

Everyone on the development and operations teams is dedicated to providing the best possible experience for our customers, and we will continue to do our utmost to resolve the remaining and any future issues.

FINAL FANTASY XIV Producer/Director, Naoki Yoshida

Essentially this apology while reasonably sounding… says absolutely nothing.  There is no course of action that they are taking to improve the problems.  Instead they say they are continuing to throttle the server logins… without showing any signs of doing anything to fix the root problems within their game.  What makes this all the more heinous is this is the second life for this game… a second chance to make it success… and so far they are squandering it with some pretty horrible support practices.

Right now I expect some sort of compensation for the head start that wasn’t.  We preordered with the expectation of being able to get in and play and that simply has not been the case for a hell of a lot of players.  This is just not an acceptable practice and I expect that the preorders should receive some sort of compensation for the lost head start time.  Essentially if you cannot log in during non-peak times… you cannot play period.  Ultimately my choice is either to join the problem and never log out… or to give up on being able to play at all.  Last night I finally gave up because at that point I had wasted two and a half hours clicking the 0 key over and over trying to log in.

Wrapping Up

Here is hoping that they pull their heads out of their collective asses and get some competent infrastructure staff on board that can fix their issues.  I wish to god the game were not enjoyable, otherwise I could simply write it off…  however when you ARE able to get in it is rather fun.  Ultimately it was the multi-classing that sealed the deal for me… and I am quickly falling behind my friends that can log in and off peak hours and play.  I just hope they fix something…  because right now the current state of the game is ridiculous.

Bad Launches

Good morning you happy people… it is the beginning of another work week and I still feel sore as hell from the weekends adventures.  The odd thing is my thighs are killing me… and I am guessing it was from all the random times I had to squat down to take a shot throughout the wedding festivities.  I still need to sift through the photos and cull it down to a final set of “wedding pictures”.  As I just reached up to scratch my forehead… it appears that the sunburn is starting to peel… so I have that itchy mess to look forward to over the next few days.

Pre-launch Problems

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The above animated image pretty much sums up my experience with the weekend pre-launch of Final Fantasy XIV a Realm Reborn.  Essentially I got to play a bit before the wedding madness started on Saturday morning, and then at almost every point afterwards I received some form of an error trying to log in.  Essentially I think all of the issues encountered can more or less be chocked up to the poor infrastructure we have seen at various points during the other tests.  Almost everything about this weekend could have been reconciled if they had the forethought to include an actual login queue system.

Sure there is a sort of queue that exists, but the highest number in queue my friends and I have seen is somewhere in the 400s… which leads me to believe that the queue is limited to something ridiculous like 500 members.  This leads to the very fun process of spamming a character login only to get the ubiquitous 1017 error stating the world is full.  That is hands down the most frustrating part about the whole experience.  It seems like complete blind luck as to whether or not you are going to make it in.

Bad Timing

Ultimately another large portion of the failure that was the FFXIV head start, was the fact that they were holding it entirely over a weekend in North America.  Normally pre-launches begin on a Thursday night and continue on through Friday… at which time they can begin to see what the scaling issues are going to be like and adjust accordingly.  Holding it on a weekend essentially means that all infrastructure resources in North America are closed for the weekend.  I feel as though if they could have thrown a few more servers at this issue a lot of the problems would have been resolved.

Instead the game team and infrastructure resources are operating on a significant time lag.  An example is that Sunday evening… at what would be 8:30 am Japanese time… they managed to stabilize the JP servers.  As a result I was finally able to roll a character on the Japanese network of servers and at least spent a little time before going to bed playing around on Ultima.  My friends think that this morning we will see the EU/NA servers stabilize similarly.  I still question whether or not they actually care about customer service, but that is part of a much larger issue.

Bad Launches

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So far this is probably the worst game head start I have experienced.  Normally when a game launches, we get a few blissful days of stability during the head start as only the pre-orders get to play… and then can chill out for the first day as the servers burn around us knowing you already have characters that are pretty far into the game.  Quite honestly this is the first time that I can remember ever experiencing large periods of not being able to play the game at all… during a head start weekend.  Lots of head start experiences have been riddled with lag or other issues… but the game was at least partially playable.  During the entirety of the weekend I got roughly 2 hours of gameplay.

One of the things I found interesting however is that while talking to friends over text and mumble… I did not realize just how subjective a launch experience was.  For me I herald the launch of Rift as quite possibly one of the smoothest I had experienced.  However talking to one of my friends… he remembers tons of issues during that launch.  This lead me to crawl back through my forum posts and blog posts from the time… and I literally found no mention of any issues brought on by the launch.  Did I just not notice the issues because I was enjoying myself… or did I really not experience the problems that he had made note of.

So this makes me wonder… how many of the bad launches I have experienced are purely subjective?  For example, I considered Guild Wars 2 an extremely solid launch since it was playable for me the entire time… albeit I spent most of that time on the overflow shards.  However the simple fact that we could not really play on our “real” shards made it an extremely frustrating experience for certain other players.  Do they consider that launch a failure… whereas I consider it a pretty solid success?  Additionally I struggled with massive amounts of lag during the SWTOR launch, but my friends consider that to be one of the more successful launches to date.  It felt like a rocky start to me, and as such I got extremely frustrated by it.

King of Bad Launches

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So far the two worst launch experiences I have played under are both from the same company.  World of Warcraft has gone down in history as the rockiest start.  I can remember the game being more or less unstable for a solid month.  I remember almost always being able to connect to play the game… but functionally the server side lag made it next to unplayable.  There were times I could level without issue… so long as I never attempted to loot anything I did not already have in my inventory.  Likewise the launch of Diablo 3 was essentially an unplayable mess for the first few weeks and constant error codes.  I had far less forgiveness in me around that launch, because after the rocky wow start… they should have had better preparations in place for another blockbuster success.

The thing is… at the launch of WoW more or less the gamers dealt with not being able to play the game… because it was in so many ways leaps and bounds ahead of what else was currently on the market.  It was “worth” waiting for.  I feel like companies simply do not have the luxury of time to fix their problems.  I posted a complaint about the Final Fantasy launch over on G+ and immediately people brought up the failure that was Diablo 3.  Gamers tend to hold a grudge against the games that floundered and while some of them will develop a short memory and return to your game happily once the issues are resolved, there is a certain percentage that will never again trust your company.

With these catastrophic infrastructure failures… I feel as thought Final Fantasy XIV has roughly a weeks time to fix everything and get the servers in a relatively permanent state.  The roughest part is the fact that this is occurring during the pre-launch and we are not even seeing the final launch day crowds.  Right now every one of these frustrated players has the opportunity to log into amazon, or green man gaming and cancel their preorder.  I know of a handful of players who have done just this.  The rough reality is that other than the Final Fantasy diehards, the title is just not good enough overall to make the masses wait to play it.  There are way too many other games on the market, and many of them without the subscription fee.

Wrapping Up

Here is hoping that the next few days see massive improvements in the stability of Final Fantasy XIV.  Right now I am extremely disappointed and this probably goes down as the worst pre-launch I have experienced.  The next few days will determine if it can compete with Blizzard for the worst launch category.  Hopefully they can throw enough hardware at the problem to fix it quickly.  I hope you all have a great week, and that you were able to get in more playtime than I have to date.

Wedding Daze

Good morning folks… I return once more to my morning posts and am doing so in an extremely groggy fashion.  Before I went to bed last night I took some Motrin PM… and while the box says you should be prepared to sleep 6 to 8 hours… it seems as though my body wanted more like 10 to 12 hours.  As a result my thoughts are not entirely cogent, and I am spending a good deal of time just staring off in random directions searching for some purpose.  I just finished probably the worst sausage roll I have ever had, and now it is time to make words happen.

Wedding Daze

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Yesterday one of our oldest and dearest friends got married… and since for the most part they were trying to do the wedding on the cheap and quickly…  I got tagged to take the wedding photos.  If you read any of the posts leading up to yesterday, you could tell I was extremely nervous about the prospect of being responsible for recording a once in a lifetime type event for a good friend.  I would have simply hired one of my friends to do it… but I wanted to make sure that the family had full access to all of the photos without having to worry about re-ordering through someone else.  Ultimately I will write up a letter saying it is okay to reprint the photos and then they can take them literally anywhere to get larger photos made.

At this point… my everything hurts… literally.  Yesterday was a lovely day more or less, but an extremely hot and humid one.  The wedding was slotted to be outdoors and in an area without much shade.  Our friends decided to get married at her parents house… and they set up a nice makeshift altar… and were planning on having people seated on straw bales.  Again I have a massive problem with the concept of straw poking me in the ass when I am attending a wedding, but I understand the idea since straw is relatively cheap.  To make it a little bit more palatable they covered the bales with various vintage bed sheets.  As the photographer however I was literally on my feet from roughly 10 am until 1:30 pm or so when we took the final photos.

Respect Thy Father

After yesterday, I have a brand new respect for my father.  Essentially all of my life I have been attending weddings as my father shot a fair number of them each year as I grew up.  When I got into high school, I would attend them as his assistant, manning a camera from the balcony or some other stationary position getting long ranged shots of the key members of the ceremony.  So I grew up having the big moments of the ceremony ingrained in my head.  The only problem is… I am not my father… I just don’t enjoy taking pictures of people, nor do I really know the first thing about how to light them properly.

However even more than that… I simply do not have the juggling skills he always did.  The photos you take before and during the wedding are the easy part.  Sure I had to spend a lot of time running around to get the right angle at the right time and kneeling a lot to get the right shot… but this was all like riding an amusement park ride since the flow of the ceremony dictated a certain time frame.  Getting people to cooperate after the wedding was finished… that was the pure hell.  Everyone wants to derail the proceedings… and as a photographer all you care about is trying to get everyone to stand together in the right number of groups for the correct pictures.

While they don’t seem to care about getting the right shots… they most certainly care about them when you are done with the pictures and months later they realize they were left out of the pictures.  The key problem yesterday was the extreme heat and total lack of shade where the altar had been set up.  Everyone wanted to sneak away and get out of the wedding clothes.  It was 94* with pretty high humidity and next to no cloud cover to speak of… as a result everyone was having to combat the heat while wearing stuffy clothes.  Ultimately after making it through the family shots, and the brides family it was decided we all needed to take a break and since most of the grooms family was already eating… we would ultimately have to wait until after they finished.

Dehydration

In part the “waiting for them to finish” was a call I made because quite frankly I myself was in pretty bad shape.  I opted to wear a black shirt… since the inevitable sweat would not show on it… but in the heat that just made everything worse.  I allowed myself to get rather dehydrated over the course of the day, and at one point while taking pictures I kept bordering on blacking out from what I can only assume were the beginning stages of heat stroke.  My vision would go completely blank for a moment then recover… to say blacking out would be a misnomer I guess… since my field of view went completely white as thought I had just seem a huge explosion.  There was a wheel barrow full of water, and I downed three of them to try and catch up on my water consumption… but quite frankly it scared me more than a little bit.

Like I said above… I have a new found respect for my father because he always made this look so easy.  He would expertly juggle the distractions of the family members and burn through the photos in what felt like record time each time.  All the while doing this wearing a suit, even when the photos were taken outdoors in the heat.  I guess a huge difference is that my dad always had my mom there as the manipulator in chief… lining up the shots and making sure the right people were standing by waiting.  My wife was taking her own photos, but since neither of us are really good at dealing with human beings… we lacked that role of someone greasing the wheels and making sure everything was rolling along smoothly.

Ultimately I have a lot of respect towards both my parents and their ability to make the process of photographing a wedding appear effortless.  Ultimately we got the job done… and got all of the shots I thought we needed to make the family ultimately happy when they go through them later.  Now begins the hard process of culling down 1038 shots I took yesterday into a narrative that tells the tale of the wedding.  Encountering some technical difficulties this morning, as I realize that a Google album has a maximum of 1000 photos.  Essentially my normal process involves uploading everything to Google and then deleting out the photos I don’t view as “keepers” until I have a nice visual story to work with.

Wrapping Up

The order of business for today is to recover… and right now I am planning on planting my ass on this comfy couch for most of it.  I will be spending my time in a mixture of Rift and FFXIV and trying to do as little as humanly possible that actually “matters”.  I walked away yesterday with a pretty decent sunburn and I am hoping as the day goes on the pain fades.  Right now it is manageable and I can ignore it more or less.  Hoping you all have a great rest of the weekend… and you too can do as little as humanly possible that actually matters.

Defense of Subscriptions

So it is neither morning nor Saturday when I sit down to write this.  I am about to cheat massively at my one post per day thing… primarily because tomorrow is going to be pure hell.  I have to get up and around early because I have a wedding to photograph for a friend.  I am completely terrified at this prospect but I figure I will make it through one way or another.  However with all the mess going on tomorrow I simply will not have time to do my leisurely two hour jaunt through blog post land that I normally do.  As a result I am writing up my post on Friday… and since I am impatient I am going ahead and publishing it today as well.

Defense of Subscriptions

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Over the last few days since the joint announcements that Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online will be subscription based, I have seen a lot of negativity floating around the blogosphere.  You have one camp claiming this is the revival of subscriptions, and a diametrically opposed camp claiming this is a fluke and long live the free to play revolution.  Personally I can see a place for both in the game industry and I feel like we will see lots of both in the future.  Subscriptions are not going anywhere… because quite simply put high quality games have high dollar amounts associated with them.

Most of the games we now think of today as heralds of the free to play “revolutions” started their lifespan as a full functioning subscription based game with a $60 box cost and a $15 a month subscription fee.  This is the case for the Turbine games (Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online), the Cryptic games (Star Trek Online, Champions Online), the Sony Online Entertainment games (Everquest, Everquest 2, Vanguard, etc) and the new darling of the free to play market… Rift.  Each and every one of them experienced a decently long period of selling boxes and racking up monthly service fees before ultimately converting over to some sort of a freemium model.

Purely Free to Play

I was brainstorming with my friends, and quite honestly we had a hard time listing off significant MMOs that have launched as free to play.  There is a whole string of poor quality Asian market games that are too long to ever mention.  The only game I can really think of that does not have a subscription fee or box cost associated with it is Neverwinter.  Dragon’s Prophet to some extent is in the same boat, but it is still technically in open beta… and was also an Asian market transplant with a good deal of the costs simply being regionalization.  Neverwinter is most definitely a sub par gaming experience, with a good deal of incident costs hidden into the system and at least for me… overall forgettable gameplay.

As far as buy the box we have Defiance and Guild Wars 2… both of which appear to either be struggling or at least having a good deal of growing pains.  Trion has recently set about a massive restructuring of the company that involved dissolving the offices that supported Defiance and pulling that staff into the main offices in Redwood.  Guild Wars 2 has also going through a series of changes trying to deliver content at a more frenetic pace to try and keep paying customers glued to the screens.  Additionally with each update comes a slew of items that can only be acquired by unlocking the in game loot boxes.

My main issue to date with the Defiance and GW2 experiences is that while they are rolling out regular episodic updates… they are essentially throw away experiences and are only available for a limited time.  Defiance is really too young to fully judge, but they are about to release their first real DLC pack.  It will be interesting to see just how much content that adds to the game.  Guild Wars 2 on the other hand, seems completely tied to the concept of an expiring series of “living story” events.  In neither case are they really expanding the game on a regular and permanent basis to add value to that initial box purchase.

Paying Initial Cost

Rich game worlds with hundreds of hours of content cost an extremely large amount of money to develop, produce, market and ultimately distribute.  While I was disappointed when Wildstar announced its model, because ultimately it meant the cost of entry was just too high for someone like me… that only casually had interest in the game in the first place… I fully understood the decision to have a subscription.  Box costs and subscription costs help pay off the excessive costs of game development.  It has been said multiple times that the average blockbuster game costs far more than the average blockbuster movie.  Additionally the development of the game is a much longer drawn out process that someone has to bankroll until it finally sees a profit.

Lets take Elder Scrolls Online for example and try and work through some hard numbers.  Please understand that I am creating a pure guesstimate based on what I was able to pull together from Google.  Zenimax Online studios is in the Baltimore Maryland area, so there are certain broad assumptions we can make based on average costs in that region.  According to Wikipedia they moved into their current offices in 2008, and based on the E3 PS4 presentation, Elder Scrolls Online is slotted for a first quarter of 2014 launch.  That means that Elder Scrolls Online will have in essence been in development for roughly six years at the time of launch.  Please understand I am trying to just pull together some rough figures, it might have entered development before that and potentially after that.

The Hard Costs

Over the course of those six years, if you figure an average of 100 employees made an average of $45,000 a year… you get $27,000,000 in salaries alone.  Some employees will make more, likely some employees will make less.. and over the course of those six years you would have had significantly fewer than 100 and likely now in pre-launch mode significantly more.  From google we can see that the average price of office space in the Baltimore Maryland area is around $17 a sqft.  For sake of coming up with a figure we are going to say their offices are likely around 30,000 sqft, so taking that over the course of the six years you have $3,060,000 in rent.  Factor in a leased digital internet line ($300/mo), water ($400/mo), electric ($1000/mo), and gas ($400/mo) you have a vague guesstimate of $151,200 in utilities over those six years.  Finally if you figure roughly $3000 in computer equipment for each employee, you are at roughly $300,000 not factoring in ANY servers at all.

So far in things I can quantify you are talking about a guesstimate of over 30 million dollars on only a very few factors.  There are so many factors that we just cannot come up with a number for.  For example it was said that Star Wars the Old Republic took roughly 200 million dollars to develop… and that a majority of that was voice acting time.  This is something I simply cannot come up with anything sort of an estimate on.  All the voice acting rates I found online were so widely varied that they were meaningless especially when you consider the names that folks are getting are the Steve Blum’s of the world that are sought after for damned near every gaming project on the planet.  I don’t really know how detailed the voice acting is for ESO, but every demo I have seen to date gives me the impression that the game is fully voiced… which would lead me to guess bare minimum 100 million on the hundreds of hours of voice talent.

I’ve heard before that it costs roughly 1/3 of the total cost to develop a game… the rest of the costs go into marketing and distribution.  So at this point we are already sitting at around 130 million not factoring any tool licensing costs, or server infrastructure and network costs.  If that represents only a third of the total costs of the project… no wonder games NEED to sell boxes and charge a subscription to break even… let along fund future development efforts.  Essentially a AAA game experience is really damned expensive.  If you figure a company receives at most half of the $60 box cost… it would take selling over 3.5 million boxes just to make up for 100 million of the cost.  The reason why that $15 a month is so important is they are getting the entire portion of it.

Someone Has to Pay

Ultimately if we want nice games… someone has to pay for it.  Either these huge gambles can be paid off in box costs and monthly subscriptions… or they can be financed on the backs of a handful of “whale” players.  But ultimately there is no such thing as a free ride.  Game development and game infrastructure have large fixed costs that simply cannot be justified away by a players desire to not spend a dime.  We have nice free to play experiences in essence because players that came before you… paid for the cost of going there first.  They helped to pay off the loans that these companies I am sure have to take out to bankroll this kind of protracted effort.

AAA game studios simply cannot afford to build games out of the goodness of their hearts.  They have to pay ultimately hundreds of people just like you and me to build and support the games.  These are not nameless faceless corporations… they are businesses just like the one you likely work for… with a human resources department, and social security tax deductions and payrolls to make.  This is a real job for someone, and we can’t expect them to get some beer and pizza and knock out a game in their free time.  Overall the game industry pays some pretty shitty wages as compared to the IT industry as a whole.  I know for a fact that I make well more than any of my friends that currently work in the industry… and have pretty much since my first job out of college.

It is almost expected that part of the benefits package for these folks is the fact that they “get” to make games for a living.  Thing is though… they had to gain their skills the same way all of us did, with lots of hard work and sweat equity and now they work in an industry with next to no job security… because it all hinges upon the whims of whether or not gamers like us ultimately purchase their product.  So ultimately… all of these things factored in… I have ZERO problem with the concept of buying a box and paying a monthly fee when it is something I am committed to.  My friends in the industry need to eat, and pay rent, and survive on a day to day basis just like I do.

Free to Play

The free to play model seems to work extremely well at financing the daily upkeep and expansion of an existing game.  I think it has been the savior of a lot of games that have filtered their way out of the popular consciousness and were no longer drawing in active subscribers.  It is awesome being able to fire up an account you haven’t played in years, and revisit old characters.  While you are there more than likely you will spend at least a little money on the game.  Essentially it is the model of “some money is better than no money”.  The thing is, like I said above each and every one of these games that we vaunt so highly as free to play successes all had their time of box sales, expansion sales, and monthly subscription fees to pay back the excessively expensive development costs.

Do I get frustrated when a game that I have purchased the box for… and paid multiple months worth of subscription fees goes to free to play?  Hell no… because while I might bitch and moan on a regular basis about various aspects of gaming… I LOVE the games I play.  Whatever helps a game I have cared about succeed is ultimately going to be good for me personally in the long run.  The games that reward me in some way for being there in the early days and helping pay off the huge debt a company brings with them after a game release…  I love those even more.  But I go into their free to play conversion knowing that ultimately they will be better off in the long run with incremental sales.

Additionally players who start at the beginning of an MMO will always have a tangible lead on players that start later, especially if the game converts to free to play.  You have a head start in the economy before it stratifies, likewise you understand the lay of the land and where to acquire the best stuff.  When Rift went free to play my account had so much stuff unlocked thanks to longevity of play that a starting player would not have had.  For the explorers you get the feeling of actually discovering things before they are common place and on every website.  So while you might have had to pay for the box and subscriptions, you are getting something for your trouble that no one will be able to take away from you.

The games that did not have a box fee and a subscription however have to claw their money out of you somehow.  So while I get annoyed at loot boxes and item purchases and artificial gates to my gameplay… they are just trying to survive however they can, because ultimately at launch they were millions and millions of dollars in the hole at day one.  I feel like launching as free to play is going to forever doom a game to jumping through coin slotted hoops as you play the game.  Rift right now is the best player experience but I feel like it is only that way because they had two years and an expansion of relative success to pay off and fund a fully functional staff during all that time.

Wrapping Up

So if in a few years time… The Elder Scrolls online… that I have used as an example all the way through this post… decides it is beneficial to it to go free to play.  I will greet the change with open arms, knowing that ultimately this is going to be the thing that keeps a game I hopefully will love healthy and open to the public.  Going to go ahead and wrap this up, and likely get it posted.  I hope you guys have a great weekend and that I can survive tomorrow.  Sorry for breaking my own rules and cheating a bit by double posting on a Friday… but expect that I will have a normal post on Sunday.

Lucian Arrives

Good morning my happy people out in the land that is digital.  I am feeling a bit better this morning, so I must have managed to get a decent amount of sleep for once.  Quite honestly I think a good deal of my issues right now stem from the fact that my allergies are going into overdrive.  Normally bit late August things have calmed down a bit here in Oklahoma.  However all of the rain we have gotten seems to be kicking all the things into overdrive.  Dear summer sun… why you no kill these weeds?

Lucian Arrives

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Yesterday was mostly about League of Legends for me and some of my friends.  The champion Lucian finally was available, and this was something several of us had been anticipating.  Over lunch Rae and I both played him a bit in a 1v1 game to test out his abilities.  Overall he feels like a much less tanky Graves, but with a few more murdery tricks up his sleeve.  When we played him he felt extremely mana hungry…  but apparently early in the day yesterday his Q was costing double mana…  which could very well account for this.

He seems to have the same slowish building period that Graves does, but once he has a fair amount of gear his attacks become extremely potent.  I know later in the evening Tam played a few games with him and really liked the end result.  The Champion spotlight does a pretty good job of outlining his abilities.  Personally when I played him I was constantly out of mana, because the cooldown on his abilities is far shorter than your mana pool can ever support.  Essentially he feels like a bottom lane champ I could maybe get used to playing.

Seeking Bot

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To this point… pretty much all of the champions I really enjoy playing have been top lane champions.  Currently my favorites are WuKong, Darius, Garen, and Riven… all of which are primarily suited to the top lane…  though I feel like Riven would do fine mid.  Essentially the problem is… when playing with my friends I tend to always hog that one position of the map.  While no one has complained… I just feel like I should branch out a bit and try and find something I enjoyed on the bottom lane.

As a result I have been playing quite a few 1v1 custom maps to play with various champions, and see which ones I could get used to.  Early on Graves was a champion that Tam suggested I might like, since he played a lot of him early on.  I enjoyed playing him, but I was prone to rushing things and engaging way before my items and abilities would support it.  So he was a champion I played for a little bit while I was finding my own play style, but never really returned to.  Lately I have dusted him back off and realized that I do really enjoy him quite a bit for what he is.

Additionally I had picked up Jayce when he was on sale some time ago but never actually got around to playing him.  I have to say I really like him as a bottom lane champion and the tool kit is especially useful once the laning phase is over.  The Shock Blast / Acceleration Gate combo seems extremely good at harassing other champions in your lane since you can poke at them near the turret with impunity.  So far my favorite one of his attacks is To The Skies!… at one point last night I finished off a champion and stole the blue and red buffs with this little quick pounce.  Essentially any champion with a “pounce” attack is a champion I like.

So combined with Lucian, that at least gives me three champions that I like on the bottom lane.  I feel like there are probably more I should try.  I picked up Kennen at some point because I like ninjas… but have never really played him much.  The problem is… because of my dislike of mages… I tend to shy away from AP champions.  Building AD feels natural to me… but the AP items all feel odd to me.  I feel like this is a thing I need to get past at some point… but ultimately right now the ranged champions I enjoy are the ones that are also ADCs.  The problem is that I have pretty much exhausted the AD ranged champions that I like.  Ultimately I will have to get over the hurdle and start digging into some AP ranged champions to add some variety to the bottom lane.

Realm Reborn

 

This weekend begins the official head start for Final Fantasy XIV and I am climbing down off my fence and giving it a shot.  Quite honestly a good chunk of what changed my mind was the fact that Green Man gaming has a 25% code(GMG25-OGRUH-7SM8H) that you can apply which takes down the Digital Collectors Edition to a level I am willing to gamble on.  Additionally there are going to be a large number of House Stalwart folks giving it a shot.  For me at least this is going to be mostly a weekend game.  I still planning on playing Rift during the week because there are a number of things I want to do there.  Additionally the guild is still pretty active and I love the vibe we have built there.

Final Fantasy is not really a primary game for me… the job system is really interesting… but it is still very wow like overall.  Quite honestly… I know that this game will have worked its way out of our systems well before the First Quarter 2014 release of Elder Scrolls Online.  I am under no illusions that this is the type of game that is going to hold the attention of our guild for very long… but it might be enjoyable to explore for awhile.  Being brutally honest… the majority of folks will have burned through whatever they wanted and gotten bored of it within the first month…  but for a few people it might hold some meaningful long term gameplay.

With the ability to do all the jobs and all the professions on one character… I really plan not to alt at all.  Belghast Sternblade will be my only character far as I am concerned.  We are settled into the Cactuar server, and I am really hoping Square pulls their heads out and fixes the server capacity issues we experienced last weekend.  I was finally able to get in and register my head start code yesterday, so hopefully that is a sign that they have gotten a number of the kinks worked out.  Overall the gameplay has been enjoyable, but we have struggled with infrastructure problems that never should have made it out of alpha testing.

Unfortunately this weekend I am not really sure how much playtime I will get.  Friday night we have a wedding rehearsal, and Saturday morning I am photographing a wedding while my wife is a bridesmaid.  Then Saturday night we have a baptism to attend.  So that pretty much fucks both Friday and Saturday, leaving only Sunday to do anything enjoyable.  My hope is that between the Wedding and the Baptism… we can run any errands we need to run so that Sunday we do not have to leave the house at all.

Wrapping Up

Well I have rattled on more than enough and now it is time for me to get my ass out of this house and on with the day.  I hope you all had a good week and that you have a far less busy and annoying weekend ahead of you.  I am nervous as hell to be honest… I have never shot a wedding.  But this is a favor to a friend so I am sure I will muddle through as best I can.  I am just not one for portrait photography… people tend to bore me as subjects go.  But she was happy enough with the family portraits I shot for her…  so here is hoping she will also be fine with my wedding photos.

Fear the Reaper

Hey look, it is morning again… and once again time to push random thoughts into Live Writer.  I wish to god I knew what the hell was up with my sleep patterns.  Last night I started attempting to go to bed around 8:30, but I still tossed and turned and woke up half a dozen times.  I feel slightly less zombified than I did yesterday… but it is still not that great.  I am beginning to suspect this is all thanks to my friend allergies, and then fact that I have been stuffed up for weeks.  Maybe tonight I will try taking some Benadryl before hitting the sack.

Elder Subscriptions

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Yesterday I wrote a rather long ramble about how the subscription model is something I am only wiling to pay these days, if I am really committed to a given game.  I provided for an example the fact that I would be more than willing to pay a monthly subscription fee for the Elder Scrolls Online for example, whereas I simply am not for Wildstar.  At the time of writing the post at 6 am… I did not realize that at 4 am that same morning it was announced that ESO would in fact be a subscription based game, and be charging something along the lines of the standard $15 a month “wow rate”. 

The thing that I am comforted by is the fact that they seem to understand that for a subscription fee you have to give a kind of “premium” access.  In the age of free games being really good, and easily accessible… you cannot simply allow players access to your game for the monthly fee.  You have to sell your players on a service… that you will provide regular updates to them for free as part of that monthly commitment.  The original interview that announced the information leaked a handful of details to this fact.

  • 30-Day Free Time when you purchase the game, and then a monthly fee to play.
  • $14.00 / €12.99 / £8.99 per month.
  • Discounts for setting up multiple months at a time.
  • Game card support.
  • Promise: new content every 4-6 weeks.

The last part is going to be crucial.  So many game developers have promised regular content updates.  Some of them deliver for awhile, and then taper them off over time.  Not to pick on them… but The Secret World was supposed to have monthly episodic releases… yet a little over a year into the game we have had 7.  Granted there are multiple mitigating circumstances, namely the loss of most of their staff…  but still very few companies have ever actually delivered on the promise of regular content updates.  To the best of my knowledge the only two that have really excelled at it are Trion with Rift and Arena.net with Guild Wars 2.

Elder Scrolls promises to provide us a massive game world to explore, with two decades worth of land mass…  literally every area we have ever explored in an elder scrolls game.  But we all know that there will be a string of players that has burned through every inch of that content in a single week of playing.  The success of this game will be to provide a constant stream of updates, and at a frequent enough pace to keep the players always engaged in the game and not gobbling up content in a purely episodic manner.  That is the problem I currently have with The Secret World, the content is infrequent enough that I stop playing while waiting on the next “issue” to release… only to come back and gobble it up and then leave once more.

I feel like the trick that Elder Scrolls has up its sleeve that we are really not even fully capable of wrapping our heads around.. is that fact that it will be a fully fleshed out MMO experience launching on a console.  Currently DC Universe Online is the best “MMO” experience that console gamers have, and at the end of this month Final Fantasy XIV Realm Reborn will be joining it.  However both of those are limited to PlayStation 3 players only.  ESO will be launching on both the PS4 and XBone and will be adding a completely different dynamic to the sink or swim equation. 

Elder Scrolls in general is already massively popular among console gamers… so it will be interesting to see just how many of them are willing to pony up a monthly subscription fee to continue that experience.  To me it feels like the console market is relatively untapped territory… and it could be the thing that ultimately pushes ESO over the top.  There was a lot of gnashing of teeth among the PC gamers that we would be getting a watered down experience since ESO would be launching on the consoles as well… but I look at it in a completely different light.  If we want regular content delivery… we ultimately want Zenimax to make as much from this game as they reasonably can to keep funding constant development time.

It will be interest to see how this all plays out in the end.  I have been shocked at just how civil the discussion has been on the Bethesda forums.  Sure there are a handful of doomsayers explaining how that ultimately this will lead to the end of Elder Scrolls as we know it…  but the majority seem to be taking the announcement of a subscription model well.  Normally that forum is a wretched hive of scum and villainy… that is known for its completely outrageous demands.  My hope is this is a sign of how the Elder Scrolls community as a whole will take the announcement.  Ultimately this is the community that Zenimax has to lock down as far as a subscriber base, not necessarily the roaming community of nomadic gamers.

Fear the Reaper

 

Another surprise from Gamescom yesterday was the announcement of the new Diablo 3 expansion…  Reaper of Souls.  What is so surprising about this to me… is the fact that Blizzcon is only a few months away.  This is the type of announcement I expect Blizzard to hold in reserve for their own convention.  This does however provide them a little bit of momentum and building anticipation as they move towards November.  I will admit… this cinematic had me dusting off my Diablo 3 account and playing some last night.

Like many of my friends… I ultimately lost interest in the game once I finished the main storyline.  We beat the game and then retired our characters completely.  For me at least it has always been a problem with the click to move control scheme.  However thanks to regularly getting coaxed into playing League of Legends… it feels a little less foreign than it did… and as a result I rather enjoyed playing my little monk last night.  Overall I was a much bigger fan of Torchlight 2 than Diablo 3… but returning to it now it feels better than I had remembered.

Ultimately my one major problem with the game still remains.  I hate the fact that I have to play on their servers, and as a result have to deal with server lag while playing essentially a single player experience.  Most of last night things were going peachy… however there was one moment when I died due to a massive lag spike and went from full health to dead almost instantly.  This is at the end of the day the most damning strike against the game.  There should still be a “Lan” mode… even if you have to dial home every so often to save character data… the bulk of the interactions should be happening independent of the server.

I still feel like a complete sucker, that a pretty trailer got me to break out a game I had not played in over a year.  I have always been a fan of the blizzard cinematics, and this is no different.  They always manage to tell a compelling tale for whatever they are choosing to show.  Overall I really don’t much care for the design of Malthael…  but he does seem sufficiently creepy to carry the role of bad guy for another Diablo 3 chapter.  WoW Insider has a rundown of the features… that include:

  • A new Crusader class, wears heavy armor as a tank, buffs/debuffs friends and enemies, not unlike Diablo II’s Paladin
  • Reaper of Souls will officially by Act V of Diablo III
  • Level cap raised to 70
  • Paragon level cap removed
  • All classes will get new spells as they progress to level 70
  • Something called a "multilevel Legendary item"
  • Substantial updates to the loot experience, "Loot 2.0" as named by Blizzard — you’re more likely to pick up items tailored to your current class
  • Overall loot reduced, not picking up as many items not needed by your current class
  • New Crafter: Mystic — re-roll stats on items, gives chance to create better gear
  • Two new endgame modes/activities: loot runs and Nephalem Trials

My hope is that the overall experience is far less forgettable than Diablo 3 was for me… and this will add features to the game that make me want to play it more often than you know… once a year.

Wrapping Up

Well I need to wrap things up and head into work.  Yesterday we got the new washing machine installed and I was able to do the loads of laundry that had gotten wet and soured due to the flood.  Things feel like they are mostly back to normal.  At some point we need to rent a carpet cleaner and try and get rid of the massive water stain in our bedroom, but that can be done later.  The rest of my week will be focused on getting read for the wedding I have to photograph on Saturday.  I hate weddings…  so here is hoping that sitting behind the lens of a camera will make it less heinous.  I hope you all have a great day, and I hope your weekend is going to be far less busy than mine.