Thursday, May 29, 2014

Moving Day



Dear readers,

It is with some excitement that I have a big announcement.  Warp to Zero is moving to a new home!  All of my future posts, guides and articles will be posted at Grimmash on Gaming, at www.grimmash.com.  I am moving from the Blogger platform to a hosted Wordpress.org platform.

Not much is changing for now, besides the visual layout of the blog.  But I felt it was time to move for a variety of reasons.  

While Blogger is wonderful platform, I want more freedom to really edit the nuts and bolts of the site.  Along with that, I want more experience running a website from the ground up.  My family has always been involved in using the internet to promote our hobbies and businesses.  As the resident tech “Expert”, I decided that learning more managing my hobby website would be a good way to learn how to help my family reduce their dependency on limited platforms.

Regarding my blog, it was started to be all about Eve.  As my life and gaming habits adjust I find myself still wanting to write about Eve, but also about other games, and other types of gaming, more extensively.  I thought about trying to rework this site, but given the nature of Blogger, I decided to make a clean break.  As I said, it is a great platform, but I want to have more control over how I can share content.  Running my own website with full control should improve both the reading experience and my ability to curate my ramblings.  

I also want to start carrying more interesting articles for a variety of topics and games, and the new platform should make these more accessible.  Moving forward I hope to establish a more regular post schedule, with at least two posts a week and better guides or features like reviews or photo galleries every week or two as things come up.  

All of my content will be carried over to the new website.  The posts and comments are already in place.  Some of the guides and longer articles I’ve written for this site are in need of some serious editorial work, so they will get much needed attention and revision, and will find a new home once I think they are suitable as long term reference material.  The categorization system will get a complete overhaul to take advantage of the Wordpress.org category system.

The new site will be a little rough around the edges for a bit as I get in and tweak things to the point where I decide to settle in.  After all, no project is ever done, just abandoned at a certain point.   I am a hobbyist in the website creation field, not a professional.  Any considerations to improve the website are more than welcome!  

To all those that have been kind enough to link to my site in blogrolls or link lists, please consider updating the URL and title for my site.  At the least it will keep your link list dynamic!
To all of my readers, over forty thousand since I started this blog a few years ago, thank you for reading and commenting, and join me at my new home!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

More Changes!

Hello!

I've been so busy playing Eve and working on stuff for me new corp that I haven't had time to polish up any of my articles.  I guess that is a good thing...

Since I have a bit of a backlog, and a tentpole series as Jester would call it, I am going to hold of on posting the longer articles until I get them finished up.  I am also going to wait a bit, as I am finalizing a relaunch of my site.

Yep!  Pretty soon I will migrate to a newer, cleaner, more controllable website.  All the old stuff here and comments will port over, but I will have better tools to share pictures, archive guides and resources, and some of the other stuff I am looking to try out.  So keep an eye on this space, as a belated spring cleaning is on the way!

Fly smart!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Liberating Lack of Local

I am a few weeks into full-time wormhole life.  It's becoming quite enjoyable.  Aside from the fun of popping around and exploding all sorts of things in all sorts of spaces, so far the biggest appeal of wormhole life has been the sheer variety.

Many ways of playing Eve kind of prod you down a path of specialization.  The skill system rewards this.  Focusing intensely on one thing is usually the most effective way to structure a play session.  Usually splitting your attention between various flavors of Eve dilutes the whole experience.  Wormhole space forces variety, though.  The random nature of what sites spawn in the hole has a huge impact on what each day will bring.  Your statics and your K162s might bring treasures hidden inside tentacled Sleeper shells or PvP just waiting to happen.  You never know, and you usually have a few options to choose from.  Logging in and launching probes is the first step to finding out what the game is bringing you on any given day.

In the last few days I have mined gas and ore, cleared sites, avoided bubbles, run PI, and started planning some low-intensity industry, all with a friendly group of players that like helping each other out.  We have flown in every security level besides null, found some great payouts and some lackluster evenings of just chatting while keeping an eye on a combination of daytrippers and WH corps duking it out and hoping to catch us with our probes down.

All of this is not without effort or without risk.  But the balance of activities keeps everything fresh, and the almighty Bob of Anoikis seems to give enough nice payouts to make the whole thing seem worthwhile.  I have to commend the design balance in WH space.  It really is a great way to see a lot more of Eve than whatever rut you may find yourself in.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Fanfest 2014: TwitchTV

So, it has been a busy few weeks.  I moved, again.  I am refinishing multiple pieces of furniture.  And in Eve I am making a lot of transitions that have left me with a bunch of half written articles, but no time to edit them into postable stuff.  But I did follow FanFest pretty closely.

There were a lot of things announced: Legion, new ships, the "new" dev cycle, and other stuff I am forgetting.  I tried to follow it as close I can, and I bought the HD Stream through Twitch TV.

While the content of FanFest was great, I have been rather disappointed by the stream.  I work during normal business hours in the US EST timezone. Because of this I was hoping to use the mobile app on my iPhone to listen while working as I could, and then come home and watch the other panels while unpacking the new place.  This did not really work out so well.

The mobile app for Twitch is pretty awful.  Laggy, drops connections all the time even with good data signals, and worst of all, it plays advertisements on a stream I paid for access to.  That last bit is just plain stupid and greedy.  Nothing quite matches the experience of the feed dying, reloading the app, and then having to sit through 30 secs of ad roll just to get back to the presentation.  Bush league stuff, Twitch.

Second, and I am not sure if this is on Twitch or CCP, but it is almost a day after the end of FanFest, and of about 54 panels that I can count on the schedule, 16 have been uploaded to watch after the fact.  That is 30% of the panels.  So paying for the HD stream was not really worth it, from the perspective of being able to see most of what happened.

Edit: Apparently roundtables were not recorded, at all.  That sucks, but I just didn't notice it when I bought the stream.  I guess caveat emptor.  Still waiting on CCP Presents, or anything from Saturday though.  Would have been nice had that been uploaded before the work week starts.

I've delayed a few posts, especially regarding Industry stuff, because I wanted to see what came out at FanFest before writing up my takes on everything.  We'll see what gets posted in the next few days, but I am not too hopeful at this point.

All that said, I enjoyed being able to see the Keynotes and a few other panels, and overall I am impressed with a lot of the decisions CCP is making going forward in the Eve Universe.  I hope to get a few posts up this week with the information we do have, especially regarding the future of Eve, as I think a lot of things can be inferred from the news over the last few weeks!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Iterating Better Worlds


First, a minor point before I get started.  The dev blog “Building Better Worlds” could have lifted the quote either from the Weiland Yutani Corporation logo from the Alien mythos, or the Operative from Serenity.  In that movie the line is uttered by a character who believes he is helping create better worlds, but then finds out that his whole ideology was based on a na├»ve understanding of what his superiors were actually doing.  I hope that was not what CCP was implying with the title…
title from a few places.

Ok, that out of the way, let’s get into it.  After thinking and reading about the new industry changes that are coming I think there are a few sides to the topic that have not been talked about all that much.  It all boils down to getting new players while holding on to the old ones.  That is, after all, CCP’s business model.

Access

First, we don’t know exactly what the new cost will be for the new slot-less industry design.  We know the range (0%-14%) and we know it is based on the price of the finished good (derived from the rolling average?).  But we do not know the break points, or exactly how it will play out.  I am sure smarter players than I can tell you more about this, but I’m not overly concerned.  The spreadsheet wizards will always find a way to win at Eve, and the casuals will probably have some rude learning experiences.  Nothing new to see here.  But one thing the new slot-less system will do, regardless of pricing, is provide a fast, immediate way in for anyone.

This is really important.  If you cannot remember what being a new player in industry is like, let me tell you.  You learn about Research and Manufacturing, and maybe get a few BPOs to test things out.  You look around High Sec and realize that any stations worth using are either insanely expensive, full for a month, or both.  You start looking at what it takes to get out to Low Sec and the open research slots there.  If you are really smart, you realize you out to be using a tech two ship to move your goods to avoid losing your assets.  You then realize that training for those safer ships, for a new pilot, is not insignificant.  The training will take weeks or months.  So you have two options.  Either wait for weeks to even start your jobs, or wait for weeks to safely engage in Low Sec.  Both of those options are terrible.

If CCP wants people to engage in industry, it needs to be accessible.  There needs to be an obvious, easy way to at least get started.  The new changes provide this. Any newbie will be able to create an account, train Research to I, and get down to getting down.  Sure, it may be a bit more expensive, and sure it may not be the long term way towards industry in Eve, but it is a start.  I can also think of no other part of the game that is as prohibitive from day one as industry right now.  You can run missions, mine, explore, haul, or get into PvP within hours or days of starting an account.  Again, you will not be doing well at these tasks, and you won’t be using the same ships or strategies in a month or a year, but you can start!  This change lets newbies start exploring industry in the same way as in any other part of the game.

Think of a bike with training wheels.  Yeah, the training wheels suck, but many people need them to get started.  Once you get a feel for the bike, you throw the training wheels away.  In a lot of ways Hish Sec space is the training wheel of Eve.

Null Sec is Best Sec?

Second, the argument that this new system will push industry players to null sec decries pushing players into a specific style of Eve.  Sure, that seems like a logical conclusion, but maybe it is not so bad.  Currently the tinfoil prognosticators say that a very small fraction of players actually live in Null.  I’ll go with that.  But take a look at who has stuck around in Eve for the long haul.  The list mostly consists of Null sec players, Low sec pirates, FW players, and Wormhole residents.  There are some high sec players that have been around a while, but I would wager the age of those accounts is a bit lower, and a fair number of those accounts are second or third accounts of people living outside high sec on the main account.  Go take a look at the blogs and Twitter.  The space famous people who both help create content and help create the community.  They tend to live in places that are not Empire Space.  There may be a good reason to push people out into the edges of Eve.  That is where they really start to engage with each other.

CCP has to keep players interested in the game.  High Sec is not the place to keep people.  It gets boring and dull.  About the only exciting way to live in High Sec is to either do industry or play markets.  Neither of these, by themselves, provides a whole lot of excitement.  Other players provide that.  CCP seems to be tweaking the game to push more people out of the middle.  FW got a revamp.  WH space can provide lucrative rewards.  Null has better isk if you know what to do, and it has all those big fights, and all those really big ships.  Gently prodding High Sec players to move out and explore other options helps them learn the game and build the connections that will keep subs coming in, and keep the player driven plotlines going. 

Seagull Space

Third, there is the future.  Null sec is kind of broken, or at least sov is.  If CCP Seagull’s “new space” is any indication, CCP is more interested in trying something new rather than just burning the whole world down.  Imagine sitting in CCP’s shoes.  You have a core of hardcore long term players that live in the sov of now.  Those players run or play in the player organizations that tend to keep people playing.  You know that sov is spiraling into irrelevance or stagnation for long stretches.  But if you tear down that whole system and replace it on a patch day, you may lose a whole bunch of people who worked really hard to get where they are in the broken system, and who have been paying good money or buying the PLEX that others paid good money for.  Remember, someone paid for every PLEX in the game.  Even if you make enough isk to not pay real money for Eve, someone else is paying that price.

Instead of tearing apart the sov system these players have played in for so long, you could start laying the ground for a new system.  You start trying to implement the little things that will make it work.  At the same time you continue trying to herd players into the regions and player organizations that will adapt to major change and create the community connections that keep online games going.

You do all these little things, and then when the big day comes and you open a new space, you have all the little pieces in place.  You also have the safe haven for the invested players.  You have new opportunities for new and old players.  And you have a live test bed for a long term solution to the old space too.  Let players do as they will for a few months or an expansion cycle.  Then CCP can come back and say “See how well this new thing worked?  Well, we are going to implement that in the old world too.”  Or CCP can say “See how this new thing almost worked, but didn’t?  We’re going to fix it and not touch the old world.”  The process can continue until you get the desired result.

At least, that’s what I hope is going on.  I suppose we shall see soon enough, as the dev blogs and Fanfest approach.  I do wish that CCP would be a bit more open about their plans.  That might provide a light at the end of the tunnel for players who see many of the new changes as an attack on their way of playing Eve.  I wonder how many people would respond favorably to an announcement like this:

“Many parts of New Eden are old.  The players, the game, and CCP have outgrown what currently exists.  This is not a simple problem to fix.  There is entrenched code and there are entrenched interests.  We want to build a better world, but to do so will take time and effort, and there will be growing pains. 

Our plan is to release a new cluster, linked to New Eden, but operating with different rules that govern how players interact with the universe.  In this new cluster we will pioneer that better world while providing a space for new and old players to explore, build, fight and destroy.  We’ll take the opportunity to find solutions that work for all of Eve Online.  By creating new space, we can preserve what players have accomplished in the New Eden Cluster, and provide ample time and space for creating new gameplay mechanics without completely changing the game you know and love overnight.  We invite you to continue flying with us as we continue to expand and refine both New Eden and the universe beyond.”


I would welcome something along those lines.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Greedy Little Pig

As is often the case when learning a new part of Eve, I did many things right the last week and half, but the last thing I did, I did about as wrong as you can.

Wormhole life has been teaching me routines.  Log, scan, bookmark, jump the holes, scan, keep going until I find the exits I want or decide that I have looked far enough.  Check neighbors for towers.  Bookmark them.  Come home.  Use the directional scanner.  Always use the D-scan.

Our rolls have been getting more interesting of late, seemingly escalating up the series of W-Space system classes.  Tonight we rolled a C4, with some company.  The C4 led to a C1.  That C1 had some company too.  It also gave me the high sec opening I was looking for, to bring in a few more ships to use against anyone who came to visit.  So I followed the chain out, fitted up some ships, and started the process of ferrying them in.

I was warping along nicely and jumped into the C1.  Then I landed on the C1 to C4 wormhole and saw a Crow.  Somehow I hit the target button, which was silly.  I immediately jumped, not actually wanting to engage, and landed inside a bubble.  The Crow followed, but I quickly got out and continued on my way.  Then I just sat for a while, figuring I might as well let any polarization timers wear off before grabbing another ship.  For fun I went back to check the bubble, and made some extra warp-ins that would help avoid getting snared.

A bit later everything seemed clear, so I went out, and sure enough the bubble was gone.  Home free!  I got the second to last ship in, and realized that if you fly out in a ship, you have to leave it to bring another in.  So I had the, ahem, brilliant idea to just pod out, because the bubbles were gone, so nothing could go wrong.  Right?  I made it to the C1 to High Sec wormhole and landed inside two bubbles.  There was that damn Crow!  You can probably guess how that one ended.  All in all, the new implants and clone cost less than the ship I would have flown back in, so I'll consider it a decent outcome for a stupid idea.

Turns out my clone was a few jumps from Dodixie.  Time to log off in the trade hub and see what the hole rolls tomorrow.  At least I got to see the new death animation for the first time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Industry Expansions Will Never Happen...

Well, I was going to write something about wormholes, but that can wait.  This happened.  That industry expansion everyone assumed would just never come is coming this summer.  Or at least round one.  I can't wait for the NDA'd minutes to come out and see what level of involvement the CSM had.

There is a lot said in the dev blog linked above, and more to come.  I don't have much to say at this point, because it looks like it will take some time to find out how all of the changes are going to fit together.

Off the top of my head the most exciting parts are:
  • Removing wait times on all manufacturing and research.
  • POSes in HS will no longer require god-awful standings grinds.
  • That interface.
Again, how this all plays out will be interesting to see, but I think the changes to research waiting will really open up the field to players looking to get into industry.  Now you can trade isk for time without building a POS, something that is currently a pretty big advantage for older players with the skills to research outside HS, or set up POSes to research, or who had stacks of BPOs researched to high levels.  Now instead of waiting to build a POS or waiting for queues, players can just get researching as soon as they buy the BPO.  The copy mechanics changes, shortening the time to copy BPOs, will also make positioning of all aspects of the process more interesting.

I am excited to learn more.  Looks like I might have alts doing a fair amount of research this summer...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole

After wrapping up affairs in Black Rise, selling off a lot of assets, and moving others, I am ready for my next step in Eve.  I am moving into a wormhole.  Or I should say I have already moved into a wormhole.  I moved in earlier in the week. This is pretty exciting, and I hope a good number of the tricks and skills I learned in FW will come in useful.  At least I know how to use the directional scanner!

About one week in, I am reminded of this quote:
Reports that say there's -- that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.
—Donald Rumsfeld, United States Secretary of Defense
You might not like Donald Rumsfeld, but that is not the point of the quote.  The point is that you never realize the third category of unknown unknowns until it decloaks one top of you, points you, and blows you up.  Or you realize that all of your supplies are suddenly unavailable due to corporate mechanics and a mis-click.

Lots of things have changed.  Moving from stations to POS towers, removing local chat, and suddenly having no idea what might be in the next system over, are now my day to day life in Eve.  I have never spent so much time accomplishing nothing but learning so much about how Eve works as I have in the last few days.  My skill queue has found new and interesting nooks and crannies to fill out.  Previously mysterious parts of the interface have become a new home.  And paranoia has hit a whole new level.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Have a Little Faith

Just a super quick post tonight.  There is a lot of serious business in Eve.  Lots of serious topics, in game and out.  We rage about the game, we rage about what people do in game.  We rage about what people do out of game.  We take everything so damn seriously.

Despite all the seriousness, two things have happened recently that I think highlight how positive the Eve community is despite all the negative press.

First, when I came back from about six months or so of complete absence from the game, I was a bit worried about what I would find waiting for me on the first log in.  Much to my relief, I was still in my old corps on both accounts.  When I logged in, instead of bitching about me be gone or having been kicked (a common occurrence of being gone for even a week in some other MMOs I have played), the players simply said hello and welcomed me back.  No drama, no bullshit, just a few "Hey, welcome back!" posts.

Second, in the midst of some evemails with people who don't know me from Adam, and who I have been hounding a little bit, I essentially had to say "Hey, I know I've been bugging you for a week solid about some stuff.  Thanks for getting back to me.  It turns out I am entering wife-birthday week, so I will now disappear after nagging at you."  Great people skills on my end.

The response was "Enjoy wife week!"

While there are some terrible things that go down in Eve, on the whole it has the most consistently decent people I have ever anonymously encountered.  Considering the stakes of giving out even an iota of trust in Eve are much higher than almost any other game, I think this speaks volumes to the unheard majority of Eve players that just want to have fun, and understand that other people playing the game are people with lives and concerns that go beyond the little corner of a fictional galaxy we choose to spend our free time in.

So thanks, Eve community.  You may get a lot of bad press, but you have an odd way of restoring my faith in the fact that most of you are pretty decent people.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Quick Thoughts: Banished

This is actually a rather large village.
As I noted a few posts back, I wanted to take a look at Banished, a new city building game.  I got a copy and started up.  The game presents itself very pleasantly.  I loaded up the tutorials, spent about 15 minutes playing through them.  A lot of games could learn from the tutorials in Banished.  They are short, to the point, and get you rolling quickly.

After the tutorials I started up my first town.  I decided to go for medium difficulty, as this provides you with a barn already loaded up with your starting supplies, and about 10 or so villagers.  I had read a little about the game, but went in and tried to play trusting my gut.  I built a farm and a whole bunch of houses and other support buildings.  This was not wise.  I lost six people the first winter and decided to start over.

On my second village I only built enough houses for the starting group.  This means one house for each "couple" of male and female adults.  One of the mechanics of the game is that couples will move into an empty house, and procreate.  If you build too many houses all the eligible couples tend to pair off an you get a bunch of kids.  This is a bit of a liability in the first few years when food is at a premium.  I also ignored farming for a few years.  Due to a quirk of the game Gathering Huts seem to be the most efficient method of food production for much of the early game, as long as you put them in the woods.  Pair this with a Forester to plant in all trees and you have a nice food supply going pretty quickly.

Once I had the basics of food and shelter down, I began building out slowly.  I would add a few houses and a profession building or two each year as kids grow into adults who can then work the new structures.  Now I am at the point where I think I can safely deal with populations of at least 120, having gotten there on a few subsequent cities.

I stated before that I hoped this game would solve the GUI issues of Dwarf Fortress while providing a solid game to back up the graphics.  It comes tantalizingly close so far.  By focusing on the core issue of resource management instead of throwing in a whole bunch of features Shining Rock has created a nice, tight little game.

The game rewards you for playing smartly and cautiously balancing expansion with managing the core resources.  These are stone, wood, leather, iron, and many types of food.  Pretty much everything in the game comes from this handful of items.  The fun bit is in having to choose the balance.  Do you sacrifice iron and wood for tools and firewood, or do you build a church for happiness?  Do you use your stone for houses or for a new workshop?  Do you gamble your stockpiles on getting some livestock or new seeds from the trader, or do you spend them on an increased population?

The one downside is that one solid evening of play will show you the entire game.  I have built every building in the game after a few hours.  A fair number of reviews have picked on this a bit unfairly, by my estimation.  While there might not be a whole lot of Banished, what is there is done very well.  The game is not about the destination of building a metropolis, but rather the journey of carefully expanding just a bit more each year.

Right now the game is feature locked, but Shining Rock has stated that mod support is planned.  If that mod support comes out soon, within a few months or half a year, this game may go from being very good to great.  At the moment there isn't much beyond the resource choices presented above.  Don't misunderstand, those choices are very fun to play through and are really well done.   I see myself playing a few more villages, or maybe taking the game in bite sizes once a month.

Modding would really allow the game to open up and give it legs.  Custom buildings, maybe some sort of limited combat, perhaps more resources and goods.  With a few good mods or an expansion of some sort Banished could become a real force in the city building genre.  A very solid offering from a one-man shop.  Do yourself a favor and buy the game.  This sort of game deserves your dollars.  At twenty bucks it is an easy way to show the creator and other developers that doing something simple and well is worth doing.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Slippery Slopes

Before we start:  I feel like half of my posts are just responses to Ripard Teg, but the guy writes so much and on so many topics that I find my self not caring.  Just a throwaway thought before I get down to it.

Read this.  And then maybe the thread associated, and maybe some of the previous articles.  This is the internet, I can wait.

Now we can start.  Most of the debaters in the the topic of what kind of players play Eve and how CCP should treat them seem to accept that both the "Bonus Room" scam and player perpetrating are despicable examples of human behavior.  If something like this happened in your work or your family life, you would cut ties with the person and tell others to avoid them.  That is a relief.  It means that, as I have long suspected and occasionally written, most players of Eve who also participate in the out of game community are either decent people, or are decent enough to recognize truly atrocious behavior.  What I find disturbing is that many of those same people think banning players who conduct "Bonus Room" style behavior will somehow start a slippery slope where anyone can be banned for anything.

This is not a valid concern.

Bad behavior comes in many forms.  Often bad behavior is an isolated incident, where someone gets carried away.  You say something nasty while drunk or in a group, and later realize your mistake.  Sometimes bad behavior comes from healthy testing of boundaries.  Children get in fights or disobeying parents.  These sorts of infractions can be dealt with simply and quickly.  A little feedback goes a long way, and that sort of feedback is what helps people define acceptable behavior in any society.  But some bad behavior is premeditated, cruel and repetitive.  Simple and measured feedback doesn't work, because the perpetrator has no regard for the rules.

In some situations companies have, or choose to assume, a moral or legal obligation to protect their customers.  CCP has already shown they are willing to accept a moral right to protect.  In that case a player made comment about killing himself after falling for a scam in Jita.  While his conversation was in jest, CCP contacted local authorities who then checked in on the player at his home.  While the player's initial post was fairly shocked, his first response to CCP in the comments was to thank them.  He realized that if he was not joking, CCP may have saved his life.  Also reference CCP's handling of The Mittani.  I assume anyone reading this is familiar with that event, and will not repeat the story here.

In most cases companies also have a right to refuse service to customers. This is the opposite side of the coin illustrated above.  CCP is completely within rights, in extreme cases, to refuse service without referring to the EULA or complex rules-arguing.  They can decide that people perpetrating a certain level of malicious, planned, and orchestrated bad behavior simply do not get to play with the toys CCP has made.  They can do this on a case by case basis.  If they want, they can put in place stringent internal rules to limit this scenario.  But they can do it, and they should. 

It is ok for a company to admit that things may have gotten out of hand or beyond the comfort zone.  Especially if the reaction is obviously and, if necessary, publicly done to provide clear feedback to behavior that is well past any reasonable boundary.  A few strong examples may do far more good than incrementally adjusting the rules to define the perfect balance for the bad behavior boundary line.   There is no slippery slope here.  There is truly bad behavior and the opportunity to strongly denounce it.

And finally, Eve Online is a game.  It is for amusement and relaxation, an escape or an adventure.  It is not a sacrosanct nation that needs to allow or tacitly support real abuse or psychological manipulation in order to protect the liberties and rights of fictional characters.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Facebook Rift

Well.  This happened.  Surprising and disturbing.  I'll keep it quick.

The OR guys built a lot of support out of claiming the Oculus Rift was by gamers, for gamers.  They built up a fair amount of seed money through Kickstarter.  They secured additional funding from investors.  They pulled in John Carmack to buoy this image even more.  Then they turned around and sold to a platform whose most famous games include Farmville, scrabble-knockoffs, and other worst-in-breed (or maybe best-in-breed?) examples of micro-transaction fueled cash-grabing.  All of this backed by a corporate ethos dedicated to eroding privacy in the name of advertising revenue.

There is a lot to discuss here.  The impact this might have on Kickstarter as a platform for small, innovative ideas.  The responsibility of developers to crowd-sourced projects.  The enormous power of a few large tech corporations to dictate the direction of multiple interwoven industries.  The fate of whatever the consumer version of the Rift looks like.  I may come back to those topics later.  Each of those sentences is a blog post or two.

For now, I'll leave two thoughts.  First, this might be a reasonable explanation for why Valkyrie suddenly stopped being an Oculus Rift Exclusive.  Sony may not be the greatest company, but they have a much better track record than Facebook in regards to gaming platforms.  Second, this is just disappointing.  I had the chance to play with an OR dev kit a few months ago and I was very excited to pony up whatever the 1080p consumer version would have cost.  Now... I'd rather not have to deal with the likelihood of Facebook integration.

Maybe Facebook is going to try and branch out into providing a real gaming platform.  If the short history of the company is any indicator, this is another smash and grab for more users at the expense of quality user experiences.  I do hope I am wrong, and this is the beginning of something very exciting.  We'll have to wait and see.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Championship Tournament of Winners

Reading through Jester’s posts about the recent New Eden Open got me thinking about competitive tournament play in Eve and in other games. I can think of a few broad types of ranked play in gaming. The DOTA/LoL approach, with lots of characters and a set map with set objectives. The FPS approach with identical classes and rankings based on K/D rates and what have you. The RTS approach of winning matches against other players. The WoT approach where you have either informal rankings based on metrics or Clan tournaments. The ad-hoc Eve tournaments with weird buy-ins, metagamey team composition mechanics and various win conditions that have varied. The WoW arena approach. All of these have strengths and drawbacks that are far too numerous to go into at any length. The point is there are a lot of ways to skin this cat.

Coming from a rather uninvolved standpoint, I want to come up with a new way to do tourneys in Eve!

In my experience the biggest problem to most competitive gaming formats is either a lack of depth, or so much depth that the mental barrier to entry is too high for most people to get into a game. Based on comments, the latter seems to be a big “problem” in Eve. Add to that the cost of participation and you have a rather gnarly set of hurdles to overcome. So here is a half-baked idea:

Take the arena system of WoW, in broad strokes. You have XvX teams enter an arena, fight for a certain amount of time, and at the end the one with the most people left standing wins. This is a pretty simple system. Get rid of the stupid arena mechanics. Instead the arena is a grid, Eve-style, say 300km in diameter. That is plenty of room to move around. Both teams start at 200km from the center. No podding. If you go boom, your pod gets put in a station in system, and you go into spectator mode. Go.

Next we need to consider ships. The simplest way is to tier it. Tiers could be based on tech level and hull size. The Tier 1 Cruiser bracket, for example, would allow each team their choice of one Tier 1 cruiser or smaller hull for each player. Fittings would be capped at Tech 2, the impact of implants should probably be negated. Just hulls and mods and rigs. This would create 5 hull tiers, and two tiers for each hull size except cruisers. If we discount tech 3 hulls, there are 10 tiers. Maybe have an anything-goes tier for people who want faction fits, implant sets and all that silly stuff.

To make sure you can fit before fights, put an option in the fitting interface where you can set your tier and that wipes the affect of implants. Now everyone has a pretty even playing field, and most players would have options that are not too expensive. A T2-fit cruiser or frigate is a pretty cheap investment, generally speaking. Those would want to go all spendy could fly in the Tech 2 tiers.

There may need to be some special rules in the fight system. Perhaps a concord-like entity that really bites down on non-sanctioned combat, to allow safe travel in the fight system. Perhaps there need to be a few of these systems set up in order to ease strain. Maybe not.

Then you get to the bracketing. Enter seasons. Let’s go with 3 month seasons, as a number out of a hat. Each week you get X matches (5? 10?) that are ranked. Each team gets a ranking as the season progresses, and then at the end you have playoffs at each tier that leads to the finals. If you have 10 matches per week with a 12 week seasons, that is 120 matches. Not a small number for determining ranks. The post season lasts for a month or two. You get two full seasons a year.

For added fun, let’s make all this happen on the live server. During playoffs, the playoff system gates get locked down so only the competitors can come and go. Once you lose, you have to leave. Put the feed on in Captain’s Quarters. Or at least a link to the Twitch page or something. I’d say let players bet isk on the matches, but that might be difficult, legally and logistically.

Outside the sanctioned matches, put exhibition arenas around the cluster. Little pockets of space where player can queue up to fight each other using the same rules, but without rankings.

This whole thing is mostly a thought experiment. Eve’s competitive PvP, as it stands now, is for a select few, and will hold back Eve’s esports presence because there is not much a normal player can do to join in.

The whole point of this idea is to create a space for competitive small gang pvp with real leader boards and rankings. The current tournament system in Eve features a crazy buy-in process, expensive ships, and convoluted rules. I want to see people flying normal ships with normal modules where tactics, team composition and flying are the main factors that influence the fights. Not weird metagaming, practicing in wormholes, and PLEX buy-ins for auction spots.

The reason there are only a handful of Formula One teams isn’t because people don’t want to drive fast cars. There are only a handful of F1 teams because the barrier for entry is so high. But there are race tracks and racing leagues all over the world where for a small outlay you can throw a car around the trtack and compete against others. If CCP wants players to really get into eSports in Eve, they need players to be able to participate.

A more accessible system could provide this entry point, giving new or space-poor players a simple entry point while allowing a venue for those who wish to field more expensive and skill-intensive ships and fits. Instead of dumping a low-SP alt in RvB, players could dump a new character into the ranked system, and realize that this season they can learn to fly frigates, but next season they will be able to fly cruisers. And then they can move into tech two hulls. If you went with one race’s ships, hitting all 10 tiers would probably take you a good two years to fully fit competitive ships. That would also help keep players in the game, and help CCP’s bottom line. When everyone gets to fight in space, everyone in the real world wins.

Monday, March 17, 2014

BB54 - Grey Suits Me Better...


Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 54th edition! For more details about what the blog banters are visit the Blog Banter page.

Today's topic comes Diaries of a Space Noob blog and other sources:

"Quick post. I was listening to a song and a question occurred to me. Where are the EVE heroes? Against a dark background surely all we have are anti-heroes? A lot of mockery is aimed at any who attempt to be white knights. EVE is a dark place and yet pretty much all other MMO's try to place the player in the role of some form of hero, boosting the ego and taking the player out of the humdrum 1 in 7 billion that is RL. Why have I fitted into EVE? Did I never want to be that? So I guess my question is:

"Do classic heroes exist in EVE? Is such heroism even possible in EVE? How would you go about being one without opening yourself wide open to scams? Is the nature of the game so dark that heroes can't exist? How do you deal with that irony? What effect does this have on us and the psyche of new players coming in from other MMOs? Is it something special that we don't have classic heroes, or should we? Are our non classic heroes more genuine?"

And I would add to this, who have we elevated to the level of larger than life heroes ourselves in the game, and do they actually deserve it?
Get Writing!
One man’s hero is another man’s villain.
This statement defines Eve.  But let us take a step back.  Most games put the player in the shoes of a protagonist that if not heroic, is at least anti-heroic.  MMOs tend to do this by making each character an empty slate for whatever hero’s journey the writers crafted.  This journey may take the form of a singular bildungsroman, especially in single player games, or paint the player as part a team of heroes, as is often the case in MMOs where some concession is made to the fact that you want or need other heroic and powerful players to help.
Taking this further, the term “avatar”, generally used to refer to player characters, derives from the Sanskrit term for a deity descending into human form, often to accomplish some task.  So our very term for player characters derives from heroic vedas of the Hindu faith.  After all, if you are going to play a character, why not play one of the really important ones?
Eve gives you this illusion then rips it away.  We all play as capsuleers, semi-immortal pilots that have been gifted the boon of free access to clones and pods that, upon receiving the signal that our life is imminently to end, snaps a photo of our brain, jacks some poison into the system, and wakes us up in a fresh new body.  Our price for death is minimal, requiring only some accounting work to ensure that all those skills and implants are safeguarded or replaced.   There are no stakes that matter for our characters.  We do not have skin in the game, pun intended.
While we are told by marketing material that we are a powerful force, in reality it is our ships that provide the power.  Our characters have no innate abilities or powers.  Unlike most MMOs, we do not fight for or against one of the great fictional entities in the lore.  The closest we can get is joining a militia to fight other players, or run missions for the agents on behalf of the four empires.  Even those empires are complicated. There is no clear good or bad empire faction.
The Gallente and Caldari both represent shades of western values that many players will find easy to identify, but both are bogged down in the murky realities of politics where each has committed atrocities and moral slights against the other, for good and evil reasons.  
The Amarr and Minmatar seem easier to identify, with the Amarr as religious slavers bent on domination and the Minmatar as slaves throwing off the yoke of the oppressors.  But the Amarr are in large part responsible for the stargates across much of New Eden, and the Minmatar are ruthless and secretive.  Again, both have shown acts of courage and caring and acts of brutality and betrayal.
All four empires are woven together in a patchwork of intrigue and backstabbing underlined by the shifting of balance sheets and political power.  What if we look beyond empire space?  There are no Reapers or Reavers, no Borg or Cylons.  Some of the pirate factions have complicated back-stories that belie a simple black and white reading of who is the good guy.  Perhaps we can all agree the Serpentis are just… awful at everything?
There is no big bad to strive against.  There are only opportunities and liabilities.  Enter the players.  If we take a very simple view of Eve, there are four main playing fields.  First, High sec, where nothing players do really matters more than increasing balance sheets.  Second, Low sec, where players can nominally fight for one of four factions to gain nerd points, or fight anything that moves for the joy of blood (Perhaps these players are the reavers?).  Third, Null sec, where players fight each other, with no pretense in-game as to why this would matter at all. Fourth, Wormholes, home of Sleepers who we do not truly understand, and who only attack when we encrouch on their space.  Well, we understand that those nano-ribbons and hulls sell for a pretty penny, so we’ll blow up the ships that stand in our way.
Against this backdrop, there is no place for heroes.  If anything, we are often playing the villains or shock troops, committing violence in the name of Empire, Militia or Alliance.  There is no moralizing about our actions.  There is no obvious right or wrong to guide us.  There is only space for personalities that can channel the missiles, beams, and plots of others.  And this is where Eve shines, and why despite admittedly middling mechanics and systems, the game rolls forward and ships explode.
Freed of a moral imperative to do the correct thing, we can choose to do anything.  Absent is the impending doom or oppressive threat of most other games.  We are simply given a universe, step into it as jobbers, and make our way.  The connections we form, when they happen, are with other players and groups, not a fictional band of brothers intent on defeating a lich king or the power of chaos.  Our victories in these self-made conflicts, while not permanent, are at least meaningful because we set the goal, we make the rules and conditions for victory, and we succeed or fail.
This very absence of a shared nemesis and self-driven goal setting are qualities that make Eve unique.  These attributes keep players coming back for more, long after skills are trained, ships are bought, or defeat is suffered.  There is no end-game to conquer, no best in slot gear setup that can be used as a proxy for winning.  When a player accomplishes one goal, a new goal is often already in place.  I know in my time in Eve I have never had one overarching goal, be it for my skill queue, my wallet, or the area of the game I want to engage in.  I have had multiple goals, each of which strives for my attention.  Some are completed, some are abandoned, but the game offers so many venues for participation that I am never lacking a reason to log in.
Can someone be a hero in Eve?  To some players you could be a hero.  You could hunt gankers.  You could lead a coalition.  You could be a great blogger.  But all of these are relative, and you will never be a hero to everyone.  But you do not need to be a hero for everyone.  Look at The Mittani.  I am sure many consider him a hero.  But many more consider him the villain of Eve.  In a game where social status is relative speaking of heroes and villains misses the point.
What effect does this have on new players?  INew players that have a future in Eve grasp the relative nature of social standings in the game rather quickly.  Many players come to the game from other communities, so the narrative is already written for them.  Most players who stick with the game probably decide what they want to accomplish and follow other players as long as it is useful or convenient to do so.
The concept of genuine “heroes” is a wonderful idea in Eve.  If we agree that a hero is a relative thing in Eve, I propose a different question.  Are the personalities in Eve more genuine?  In that light, I think the answer is a wholehearted yes.  When relationships are relative, personalities and shared history are all we have to judge each other.  Even the most sordid betrayals weave an indelible thread into the cloth of Eve’s shared story.
When you think of what defines Eve, do you think of the lore, or do you think of the Great War?  Do you think of the great corporations of the Caldari, or of the Guiding Hand Social Club?  Do you think of Outer Ring Excavations, or of Hulkageddon?  All of those events were created by the personalities in Eve.  Those events, the people who brought them about, and the fact that we are freed of playing heroes are far more memorable than any raid you have conquered in another game.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

On Deck: Banished

Well, I have to thank Mabrick for probably killing the next few weeks of my life.  He ran a few articles about Banished, and I'm going to give a try.

Some background:  When I stopped playing Eve last year, it was not due to a lack of time, but a lack of time which I could safely play games without being interrupted.  This was due to living in a house with a very ill family member and the need to physically or emotionally support those I was with.  This put a damper of my foray into Faction Warfare.  So I started to look for games I could pause, leave, or otherwise abandon at any time.  I got back into Minecraft, specifically with the modded servers over at Ars Technica.  A good group of guys and gals over there, and we still have some mod servers going strong.  I also managed to get myself into Dwarf Fortress rather heavily, first in the normal mode and then into the heavily modded Masterwork version.

If you like Eve, there is a good chance you like very complex games that have a steep learning cruve and that reward your efforts, more often than not, with death.  Dwarf Fortress is maybe the best example of an obtuse, difficult and punishing game that manages to be insanely rewarding and addictive.  Oh, and it looks like this:





Adding "better" graphics can make it look a bit better.

 
It is not a pretty game.  However, it is frightfully deep.  It also has no real goals.  You start with seven dwarves, some food, some supplies, and then you unpause the game.  At the core, DF is a resource gathering and managing game.  You dig into the ground, build into the sky, create farms and pastures and mines, and generally try not to die.  The beauty of the game is the complexity of the fortresses you can build. 

Once you get food, clothing and basic defenses sorted, you are free to build whatever you want.  A giant castle, the mines of Moria, a trap infested death machine.  Some notable examples are a player who colonized Hell, replicas of the Great Pyramids, or giant statues that contain hundreds of dwarves and all they need to live.  On top of that the forum for the game is rife with community games.  These consist of games where players create backstories, random objectives, and then take turns leading the fortress for a year each, writing up the story and passing the turn on to the next player.  Some of these are even PVP like in nature, with players encouraged to leave traps for the next player to have to deal with.  One game I recently finished culminated in us luring the King of all dwarfdom to our fortress, then burying him under a mountain of cheese, stone, and valuables.

Most fortresses end due to the violent death of dwarves due to starvation, invasion, madness, breaching hell and unleashing the demos within, assualt from flaming disease spreading monsters, or more often than not, simple bad management.  The unofficial motto of the game is "Losing is Fun".

I love this game, and have spent a lot of time playing it and trying to have as much fun as possible.

There are a lot of games that have tried to take the DF formula and make it pretty.  Towns is the best example I can think of.  Much like Minecraft most of these new games have tried to address what many see as the main drawback of DF, the utterly horrible graphics and user interface.  Most fall rather flat, being either buggy, poorly made, or lacking the odd charms of DF.   Things like the random name and artifact generators, the suicidal way dwarves chase after socks lying on a battlefield, and the intricacies of years of development that simulates emotions, moods, and combat, down to each dwarf having meticulously detailed layers of skin, muscle, fat, bones and organs.

Banished looks like it might have found a middle ground, and I look forward to seeing if someone has finally cracked the graphics code and made an interesting alternative to Dwarf Fortress.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Diablo Loot 2.0 Review


You might have guessed that I have been playing a bit of D3 lately.  You would be right.  I even went so far as to pre-order Reaper of Souls, because D3 is scratching a mindless kill-fest itch I have been having lately.  Since I’ve put a good chunk of time in over the last week, I decided I might as well give a snapshot review of D3 with Loot 2.0, as a bit of a baseline for when I play the expansion.  
For the record, I started playing Loot 2.0 with a 60 Barbarian with no Paragon levels, leveled a Wizard from about 20 to 31, and started a Witch Doctor up to about 10.

The Good

Loot

The biggest part of the patch/update/whatever was, by and large, a success.  On non-60 characters, the drops are wonderfully improved.  Items get replaced left and right.  Crafting yields lots of appropriate gear.  I never had the moment of thinking “I really need to check the Auction House”, which was a relief, considering that was half of every play session last time around.  On my 60, drops were ok.  And by I ok, I do mean a damn sight better than before.  But good drops are harder to come by.  I think I replaced almost everything except my weapons.  There is probably some sort of RNG curve going on here.  But I was also limited to Hard mode.  More on that in a bit.

Difficulty Levels

You can change the difficulty on the fly, instead of starting a whole new campaign.  This is great, but there was one problem, which I will talk about later.

Pacing

The speed with which I am gaining levels and paragon levels is, if anything, a little fast.  I gained some 16 paragon levels on my Barbarian, and that is primarily solo, burning through hard mode from mid Act 1 to the beginning of Act III.  For the other classes, I cannot really say much, as the Barbarian is the only character above level 31 I have at this point.
So far the new Paragon system seems interesting, although I am not a huge fan of the gating of points.  You get a rotation of Core, Offense, Defense and Utility points, in that order, as you gain levels.  This is rather frustrating.  I would have rather seen the ability to assign freely amongst all the areas, as it seems like this just slows down tweaking to take advantage of certain builds.  Nonetheless, the new system provides a welcome ability to customize the characters you build in some small way.

The Bad

Difficulty

I can select any difficulty level in game, as long as it is easy, medium or hard.  I cannot choose the higher levels without backing out and restarting from the most recent checkpoint.  This is annoying because “Hard” mode isn’t hard.  At all.  I actually tweaked my Whirlwind Barb into a Seismic Slam build to slow down the fights and force myself to think about positioning.  On my Wizard, leveling is a joke.  The real limiting factor is often clumping enemies together become unleashing AOE, and then the time it takes to get to the next pack.  I just fought Belial on Hard with the 60 Barbarian.  I never moved once, and I think my health meter blipped off full maybe twice.  I really hope the increased difficulty levels change that.
Also, aside from a semantic change in the naming of difficulty levels, I am not sure I see what the big difference is.  Each character has to go through the game at least once to unlock all the   

Gems

Gems are pretty boring.  The stat boosts they give are very small unless they are percentage based, which does not happen very often.  Any given class really only needs to use 3 of the 5 gem types: Diamonds for resist-all, red for % life, and then whatever your stat is.  I hope Reaper of Souls brings in some sort of Rune system, or even the socketing system from WoW, where combinations give additional bonuses or something to make it more interesting.  Hell, steal the Torchlight gems.  Those were fun and had a lot of variety.
I also assume Reaper will add more tiers of gems, because gems give 30-50 stat points while items generally drop, for me, with 200-300 stat points per property.  There are almost no situations where a stat is worth trading for a stat property.

NPCs

The game still has lots of moments where you have to stop, wait for someone to say something, and then wait for an animation, and then wait for something else.  By the time you get through to the door or get to fight the boss, that nifty buff you got melted away.  While by no means crucial, it would be nice to not constantly get buffs that get eaten by plot points.  Which brings up…

The Plot

Replaying a turbo-tour of Acts I-II has reminded me of how silly and disjointed the plot in this game is.  It really makes no sense.  The reveal of Tyreal and Belial both play very poorly after the first time.  I am looking forward to Act III, which is such a strong set piece, but I think Act IV is going to be a drag.  Once adventure mode is live I wonder if anyone will be playing Act IV at all.  Hopefully RoS divests the talky-talky and lets our blades, spells, and jars of spiders do all the exposition.

Atmosphere

Diablo took place in an ever descending cathedral of madness.  It was dark, dank, claustrophobic and oppressive.  The light radius mechanic had a huge impact on this.  Diablo II was a bit more open, relying on the more massive nature (literally or figuratively) of many foes to impart a sense of dread.  Diablo III feels rather barren.  The art is well done, but there is n o sense of lurking doom.  I think a huge part of this comes from the removal of the light radius mechanic.  You can always kind of see around the corner, or to the edge of the screen.  In future iterations I would love to see the light radius come back, along with the oppressive black pool surrounding the character.  Having to rely on the harsh lines of the minimap, or even better, your memory,  made the journey feel more isolated and more likely to result in a horrible end.  I recall moments of actual fear in Diablo.  It would be nice to feel some of that again.

The Ugly

Skills

Two big issues still bug me about D3:  The way skills are selected and the normal and elective settings.  To keep things simple, I’ll refer you to this post regarding the skills system overall.  No need to rehash that topic.  The second issue is in the very gamey way you can choose active skills.  By default you have six skill slots on the hotbar, and can only choose one skill from each of six categories to fill those.  If you dig into the options menus you can enable “elective” mode, which lets you choose any skill in any slot.  The implication seems to be that the proper way to play is with one skill from each of the six categories.  You can go elsewhere and find many of the most recommended builds ignore this completely.  If Diablo 3 was played with a gamepad, this system might have made sense.   
But Diablo 3 is not played with a gamepad, and many skills require you to aim with your mouse.  Leap, ranged spells, and things like that obviously were built for mouse and keyboard.  In this context, the limited skills seem like a cop-out to make balancing the game easier as opposed to providing some deeper gameplay mechanic.  The first two Diablo titles did not have this issue, nor does the Torchlight series.  The grouping of the skills doesn’t always seem to make much sense.  All in all it is an ugly implementation that I can’t say I like much.
The rune system is still present, although a tremendous number of runes have been changed or reworked.  However, the pacing of when runes unlock leads to a lot of static builds through leveling.  On the Wizard in particular it seems like Ice is the only build you can really piece together due to the massive number of skills, passive abilities and runes you unlock that improve Ice compared to Fire or Arcane builds.
I mentioned this in my previous article, but the current system implies that the systems in previous Diablo games were too complicated.  The changes to talents in World of Warcraft seem to support this.  If sales numbers can be used as proof people understanding the skill/talent system, I don’t think anyone was having much of problem getting the hang of either game series. 

Ghost Features

I know this is a pre-expansion release.  But it really bugs me that many of the new features are present but un-selectable in the menus.  It would have been nice to have the tooltip at least recognize if you preordered the expansion.  There are also a fair number of Crusader items dropping, which seems like somebody copied the wrong loot algorithm and table to the server a few weeks early.

Pathing

Why do the merchant’s belongings’ boxes always mess up my path in Acts I and III?  Why do I always get stuck on little parts of terrain?  Why can I lead to this platform, but not that one, or for that matter execute a random half leap for no apparent reason?  None of these are game breaking, but they are annoying.

Final Verdict

You may think from this article that I don’t like Diablo III.  The answer is a bit complicated.  I’ve been playing it a fair amount.  I think the game has nice art direction, has the ability to create really fun moments once abilities start to unlock, and allow for nifty combinations of attacks and managing enemies.  Loot 2.0 fixes some of the most egregious faults in the game.  That point is important.  I stopped playing the first time because the whole game had become a gold grind for the Auction House.  Removal of the Auction House, one of the most touted features of the game, shows a huge change in direction for Blizzard, and shows that they still have some ability to push back against the avarice of the Koticks of the world, and their corporate structure.
However the core design choices with the skill and stats system and the rather odd writing outside Act III really hold the game back.  This somehow becomes more apparent with the Auction House removed.  The skill system, while allowing for a lot of combinations (Elective mode likely provides thousands or millions of permutations of skills, runes, and passives), still feels very empty, at least compared to previous entries and competition on the market.  The writing is less memorable than anything else Blizzard has turned out.  The atmosphere has none of the visceral oppression and dread from previous games.
Diablo 3 is polished.  The systems that are in place (as opposed to my ideal Diablo III) are well implemented aside from the aforementioned Leaping issues.  The sound and music are well done.  The graphics live up to Blizzard’s fit-the-bell-curve approach to such things.  If this offering was the first Diablo game, I think it would have set a nice bar.  But as a sequel, I think too much of the past was cast off in the name of marketing and the false idea that the game needed to be more accessible.  Perhaps unreasonable expectations prevent me from really letting the Prime Evils sink their hooks again.  Diablo III, especially with Loot 2.0, is good.  But I still think it could have been great.