Monday, August 31, 2020

The Challenging DDO/LOTRO Re-Onboarding Process

I reinstalled the two former-Turbine MMORPG's I used to play 5+ years ago in order to apply some generous pandemic promo codes that expire today.  I have not been following these games closely at all and understand there might be any number of technical or pandemic challenges contributing to the issues I encountered. With that said, I would be very hard pressed to figure out how to get back from where I am now to functional if I wanted to do so.  I.e. it's entirely possible this post demonstrates remarkable ignorance, but it represents an authentic experience.  

(The LOTRO portion of this story actually happened chronologically second because its client is bigger than DDO's, but basically everything in this section was also true for DDO.)


  • Turbine's Patcher may not be any better or worse than any other patcher, but the game makes it looks like their file structure is such that it needs to manually and painfully update tens of thousands of files, even on a clean download. (Maybe everyone else does the same thing but just doesn't provide as much detail.)
  • There is no information in the account page to indicate which server(s) you played on. You select servers from the launcher, but the launcher doesn't seem to know where your characters are either. So, you have to pick servers, load the game and see if that's where your character(s) are, and I think you then need to fully close out of the client and reopen if you need to check other servers. At least there are fewer servers now....
  • ... Except that my LOTRO main appears to have been from a server (Vilya I think?) that closed several years ago.  Supposedly these characters are saved in a transfer queue somewhere, but they took down the transfer queue 2 weeks ago due to server issues, with no ETA for the feature's return. It was way harder than it should be to find this info, and the net result is that I don't have a character at the moment (hopefully not forever but who knows?).
  • The free stuff they gave out for the promotion consists of a coupon code, which I entered and the system says it accepted. I already owned significant portions of this content and there doesn't seem to be an easy way to view what I own and what I don't (nor do I know if viewing it on a level 1 character due to the aforementioned missing server issue impacts what I can see).
  • A number of other old mid-level expansions were also available, discounted to a nominal price. I apparently had over 5000 Turbine Points when last I played LOTRO and definitely already purchased some of the expansions, so it appeared there was only one I needed (Helm's Deep, which was indeed after I stopped playing). Again, I could find no way to see the full list of what exists versus what I own.
  • I don't quite get the point of the nominal fee for some of these unlocks. If you've ever paid it was trivial, and I think you can even earn this much currency in a relatively short period of time as a free player.  On the off chance that you on-boarded an actual new player why would you want to have them hit a wall if they for whatever reason used the promo code but couldn't find the expansion sales or didn't get the points in time?


  • As noted, everything I wrote above was equally true for DDO, except that my primary server (Cannith) still exists so I did eventually manage to find my character.
  • Again, coupon code appeared to work, there were two expansions that I know I didn't own for nominal prices, and I can only assume I now own all the things since there is no more quest content listed in the shop.
  • Technically this is Dungeons and Dragons' fault, and not Turbine's, but I had a thoroughly customized "munchkin" character build and I have very little idea how to get it up and running again, if it would still be functional, how I would continue from this point, etc. All of the "enhancements" were redone into a skill tree format, with several trees per class and also a number of trees that appear to be available to everyone.  All MMO's have some challenges helping people who have been gone for years relearn their character, DDO just has the quirk that who knows if the character actually functions.
  • (If I remember correctly and from what I can figure out from the character sheet, I started with a level of Rogue to grab some of their unique skills - this was common advice at the time - and then went for a specific Ranger/Monk build that allows the use of two longswords as light path self healing monk weapons.)  
  • (More odd rules surrounded progression - my character was due to gain a new level but you were better off not advancing until you were forced to in order to not miss out on exp, because advancing greys out potential experience from missions. Thus, I now face a somewhat significant and not readily reversible choice almost immediately. Also, I played this before there were epic levels, and I'm not sure if I should be gunning for those, if they're balanced so I would need to do reincarnations in the "heroic" levels first, etc.)  
All this may be moot because who knows if I'm ever going to try to play either of these games - I guess this is just another variation of how you can't come "home" again.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Pokemon Go Still Awkward If You Don't Live On Top of Pokestops

I am currently revisiting Pokemon Go, which I played briefly during its period of launch hype in 2016. Playing the game in Suburbia during a pandemic is in some ways more awkward than playing it from the middle of nowhere back at launch.

I recently showed my kids the random Jurassic World AR feature that Google offers and it occurred to me that there is an app that can do this same trick with Pokemon. The catch being that I would first need to actually catch the Pokemon in question - my account had a starter Pikachu, a Vaporeon that I was fortunate enough to catch on a park outing sometime, and a bunch of random Pidgey's, Rattata, Caterpies, and similar low level filler.  

The gameplay loop remains weird if you are trying to play without multiple Pokestops/Gyms in walking distance. (The most common Pokestops in my neighborhood are at churches that are temporarily shuttered due to coronavirus, which feel like a disrespectful place to be hanging out in the parking lot if you don't even go to that church. The local parks are too crowded to feel safe in right now, so my best "route" is driving between the local post office and Subway and hoping that none of the employees think I'm stalking them.)   

  • If you're just passing through, you can tag each Pokestop once for maybe a few Pokeballs - not necessarily enough to catch a single Pokemon. 
  • If you hang out at a Pokestop your inventory fills up with potions and gifts while you continue to find monsters to throw balls at as fast as you loot them. 
  • If you try to buy more balls with real money, that fails because your inventory is full of potions and gifts so you need to trash them and/or buy more inventory slots first. 
  • (Alternately, if you went into lockdown with a well-built roster but no access to Pokestops you will run out of the potions I am trashing and may be yelling at your screen as you read this. I suppose you have to exactly balance the amount of PVE, PVP, and Pokestop visits you do to keep your supplies coming in at exactly the rate you are using them?)
Also, regular balls (most of what I'm getting from stops, also the only ones you can buy for real money) are reasonably likely to catch low combat power (loosely levels) Pokemon who you won't be able to advance unless you are able to catch large numbers of duplicates to obtain candy to use to level them.  My Vaporeon (1600+ CP) is doing okay since basic Eevee's are pretty common but my 16 CP Pikachu isn't going anywhere unless I start winning raids for rare candy (or more likely catch a new one and send my current one to the Professor for his unspecified experiments).  

The good news is that I've hunted down Charmander, Bulbasaur and Vulpix, so I'm getting close to having the kids' favorites for AR photos. This game is obviously for a very specific target audience who either live in or spend a lot of time walking through high density areas. All else equal, I'd rather be spending my time on a game that actually works where I live.  

Friday, August 7, 2020

Spider-Man Versus the X-Cloud

Sony no doubt hoped that bringing Spider-Man exclusively to Playstation in the upcoming third party game Marvel's Avengers would encourage players to order the game on its platform and transition to the next-generation PS5. For me personally, the move is more likely to make me pass on the game this holiday season, and may ironically push me towards the Xbox for the next console cycle.  

Previously on Console Wars....
When televisions capable of displaying 4K HDR video came out midway through the current console generation, I chose to pick up an Xbox One X rather than upgrading my existing PS4 to a PS4 Pro.  The two consoles cost similar amounts and both would play third party games at the improved resolution, so it was a trade-off between upgrading the graphics on a handful of remaining PS4 exclusive games (which I could still play on my PS4) versus having access to the Xbox ecosystem.  I doubt I'm the only longtime Playstation owner (PS's 1-4) who picked up his first Xbox for this reason in the last year or two.  

Given that a large portion of the games I play are from Marvel, the exclusive (we don't yet know if it is temporary or permanent) offers an unpleasant choice. By playing on my PS4 I would be downgrading the graphics and presumably performance of the entire rest of the game. By playing on the Xbox I would miss one of Marvel's most iconic characters at a time when my kids are (someday, post-pandemic) old enough that they might learn from friends at school that he is playable on the other platform.  Additionally, as a Polygon commentary notes today, each Avenger appears to function as a character class, so missing one could be a reasonably big deal in an action-RPG if it is indeed any good.

(It is fair to note parenthetically that popular opinion presumes Sony is the villain of this story, locking out Xbox and PC players with sacks of cash, but Marvel licensing can also be a complicated creature. It was rumored that Scarlet Witch was out of the question for Disney Infinity in 2015 because the hypothetical toys to life figure would fall afoul of whatever understanding existed between Disney and Fox concerning the character being part of both the X-Men and Avengers universes. One can imagine a scenario in which Square and Crystal Dynamics weren't willing to pay Disney more to add Spider-Man to their Avengers game, but Sony felt it was worth their while if he could be platform exclusive.) 

Life moves towards the X-Cloud
Meanwhile, Microsoft's ecosystem is moving in the opposite direction. Sony offers the chance to buy first-party exclusive titles that will contend for game of the year awards. With Microsoft's Game Pass subscription you never need to buy another first party title again, and even relatively high profile third party games come to the subscription within the first year of launch - notably for this conversation including Square/Disney crossover Kingdom Hearts III.  For people who can muster the bandwidth - I eye my Verizon box with suspicion since it seem significantly more flakey than the one I had when I lived in a more densely populated area a few years ago - the claim is that you'll even be able to play all these titles via streaming on any Android device (not Apple, but that's another tangent).  

If this hadn't happened, I would almost certainly have paid full MSRP for an Xbox copy of Avengers. Now I'm in wait and see mode, and from experience I can say that once you've skipped the launch hype it gets easier with each passing month to wait for more information as the price only goes down.  More to the point, I don't make purchasing decisions on Xbox; recent AAA games simply appear at no additional out of pocket cost to me, and no harm if I decide to spend an hour of my time on something that I promptly uninstall. 

I'm not boycotting anything - if the PS4 version makes more sense when full reviews are in and there is better detail about Spidey's role then so be it. I'm just saying, I'm at a point in life where my response to the hard exclusive sell is less that I have to have it and more that the other guys are more pleasant to do business with.  

Friday, July 24, 2020

Intermittent FFXIV Players Better Off Starting Over On Expanded Free Trial

FFXIV apparently has so little need of intermittent revenue from low level, infrequent players, that it is willing to allow permanent free access to its first sixty levels including its entire launch game and first expansion.  Changing the trial so that someone who has the time to binge the game is able to play for a month straight could convince that player to stick around.  A telling side effect of the change is that I am apparently such a small fish that they don't care if I ever pay them again. 

In 2013, I played 2 months of FFXIV on both PC and PS3 (using the game's crossplay).  I tried a number of the game's jobs, ultimately leveling a character named Johari Jeutremie to 27 as an arcanist, and I always meant to go back someday. The game is about to launch a patch that overhauls the level 1-50 "main story quest" I never completed, and will allow new players as much game time as they would like without paying. There may never be a better time to revisit the game.

Unfortunately, Johari is not invited.  "Upgrading" a trial account to a paid account is a permanent, one-way process that forever cuts off access to the free trial, even if you are nowhere near the trial's level cap. I can afford the subscription fee, but I would inevitably play once and cancel 65 days later, having been billed twice more without having logged in again. I would be paying to get less access to the game than I would as a free player able to come back for a day every few months if I want, when I am unlikely to finish the story and first expansion's level cap in the foreseeable future.  Even if I did someday hit the trial's level cap, it could rise again in the future; I would be locked out all over again if I paid. 

The only sensible choice is for me to start over and never pay again. I don't love free-loading, but it isn't personal. A single player who becomes a year-round subscriber is worth more than a dozen tourists like myself, and my hypothetical $13 isn't worth risking making it easier for current subscribers not to pay year round.