As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve gotten hooked on Everquest 2 again. This is my third or fourth time playing, I think, starting when Sony gave me a free copy back in 2006 as an apology for buying Vanguard. It didn’t really stick with me at the time, but I gave it another try in 2010 and developed a real liking for it – particularly when they released the Destiny of Velious expansion, which dug its hooks HARD into the fond memories I had of Velious back in the EQ1 days, and then there were a couple of years of hardcore play interspersed with months-long-breaks before I finally stepped away.
What drove me away, despite the EQ1 nostalgia, were some design choices that were terribly unfriendly to anyone not playing at the top end of the game, and I originally wrote several paragraphs about them here before realizing that a) they wouldn’t make any sense to a non-player without a ton of explanation and b) thinking about them was getting my hackles up and that’s not healthy.
So let me get back to what I implied by the title of this post, which is a discussion about what it’s like playing TODAY and why I’m having so much fun.
First, a little bit of background: It’s important to know that every EQ expansion has had something called a “Signature” quest, which takes you through the story of the expansion. It’s supposed to set up the major conflicts so you have a justification for WHY you’re killing people and taking their stuff, as opposed to the actual reason which is that the stuff they have is slightly better than the stuff you have and you want it. For years and years, these signature quests were not doable without needing to periodically get several other people together for a group dungeon – so, if you were behind the curve, you were stalled out. Lord of the Rings Online had the same problem, as an aside, so it’s not unique to EQ2.
EQ2 still has a ton of group dungeons, full of hard-hitting nasties and heavily-scripted boss encounters, but in modern EQ2 they’re set kind of to the side of the signature quests. Now, when you reach the point in the signature quest where you would previously have been sent into one of these dungeons, you’re sent into something called an “Advanced Solo” version, which is… well, it can still be pretty tough for a solo character, and you may need to look stuff up online if you get stymied by a boss, but it’s doable and you get loot out of it (some of it pretty good!) and then you get to continue the signature quest. If you decide to make these Advanced solo versions even easier, you can take a second player in with you.
Later, if you feel like you want the tougher experience and loot with bigger numbers, you can get together with five other people and do the “Heroic” version of the same dungeons – and even these “Heroic” versions are tuned so you can probably get them done with any six people as long as at least one of you is a healer. You don’t need to have Exactly The Right Classes to make progress in EQ2 any more, and it means that, every time you log in, you log in knowing that you can Get Stuff Done.
To add to this, there has been a crazy amount of mudflation in the last couple of years, to the point where any single player is the equivalent of an entire group – or more! – of characters from the Bad Old Days, so if you decide you want to go back and see the old content that pushed you into group dungeons to progress, you now CAN go through those old dungeons and laugh at the idea that they were ever challenging.
So, the short version of all of the above: EQ2 is fun right now because it has twelve years of content to pick and choose from, and almost all of it is accessible to anyone with the inclination to log in and play. There IS challenging content to do, and it’s not hard to find if you want to go looking for it, but you could happily play for months or years just doing your own thing and occasionally seeing other players running around.
The last time I had a Crystal Pepsi, it was July of 1992 and I was standing at a gas station on the outskirts of Palestine, Texas, waiting for the Greyhound to come by and get me the heck AWAY from Palestine, which is the primary goal of anyone who finds themselves there for any length of time – especially if you’re a resident of the local prison, which is the primary economic driver of the town.
It wasn’t a big enough town to rate its own Greyhound station, but that didn’t matter. Catching a bus just entailed standing at the side of the highway, getting on when the bus stopped, and buying a ticket at the next opportunity. You could even, as I found out, get on with a cage full of live poultry and nobody would raise an eyebrow, because it seems that’s Perfectly Normal in Texas.
Anyway, the next stop turned out to be another gas station at a town that could charitably be described as a slight widening of the highway, and it took several months for the charge – taken on one of those manual card swipers that was an anachronism even then – to actually show up on my account. It was quite the experience all around.
Oh, the Pepsi, right. I have a surprisingly vivid memory of the taste, which was best described as intensely cinnamonesque in nature. I know I never felt compelled to try it again, and wasn’t too shocked when it silently faded from the market.
Modern Crystal Pepsi doesn’t have much flavor to it at all, though I so rarely drink sugared soda these days that honestly all I can really taste is a overwhelming sweetness. It’s inoffensive is about all I can offer.
Because I was already making bad life choices, I figured that a package of Swedish Fish-flavored oreos would make a FANTASTIC addition to my waistline. I love Swedish Fish, but I recently had a crown put on and the idea of eating gummy candy right now is terrifying, so these seemed like the next best thing.
They actually aren’t half bad, even if they don’t taste exactly like the candy, and if you likewise find yourself in the position of being denied the real thing I can recommend them as a fair substitute. Don’t think I’ll be trying them in milk, though.
I have realized that Everquest 2 is, at its heart, a complicated game about inventory management in which you occasionally fight monsters.
I will explain.
My wife has been steeping in pre-release hype and events for the forthcoming WoW expansion, and her sheer enthusiasm and unchecked excitement got me back on the MMO horse after (checks date since last FFXIV post) nine MONTHS of being clean.
Unlike FFXIV, EQ and EQ2 don’t really have stories that finish. Historically, I play them until something frustrates me and I log off for a couple of days that turns into a week and then it’s just like it was never part of my life until the next time something triggers me to jump back in. Expect a nice ranty post when I hit that point, but for now it’s back to life in Norrath like I’d never left.
Anyway, I logged in my level 95 Swashbuckler and found that they were only five levels behind the current level cap, so obviously the best plan was to go to the starting zone of whatever expansion raised the cap to 100 and start taking quests from that point. This worked out pretty well. I got to level 100 and replaced all of my gear, and then I decided to skip straight to the latest set of level 100 zones and did the quests there and replaced all of my gear AGAIN and was digging it so I logged in ANOTHER level 95 character and got THEM to 100…
…and then I realized that my bank – always a little too full, always a little bit creaking at the seams – was past the point where my old solution (“buy bigger bags!”) had any possibility of working. I had bag after bag of random bits of armor and equipment, collection pieces, cosmetic items, tradeskill books and quest items and just mountains of junk in general.
To the credit of the dev team, EQ2 has implemented some storage solutions to make the mountains more manageable. The original example was a Tradeskill Depot, basically a big box that you can put into your guild hall and put crafting components into and where any crafting done in the guild hall automatically pulls from the depot. This is a “guild amenity”, which means that you need to start a guild and then level the guild up to level 30 where you can buy a guild hall and then populate it with various amenities like a guild banker and the tradeskill box and a “reality anchor” that lets any guild member teleport back to the guild hall and so on and so on. My wife and I started guild years and years ago for the sole purpose of having a guild hall so we could share amenities, and the tradeskill box was a huge reason for this.
Since I last played, the EQ2 devs have added some new kinds of storage depots to address other needs, and getting these other depots seemed like the best way to tackle the mess. That meant leveling the guild up a bit, because ours was level 37 (more on this in a second) and needed to get to level 40 to get more amenity slots.
The problem rises when considering that guilds are not meant to be leveled by one person. They level through accumulating “status”, which is sort of a secondary reward you get from completing quests and killing certain extra-powerful enemies. So, if you have a raid force of 24 characters, and they kill a boss, the guild gets status for the boss kill from each of those characters. Say it gives ten thousand, that’s 240000 status put towards leveling the guild. If you were to kill the same boss by yourself, that’s only 10000 for the guild.
There is a loophole, of sorts, in that there are infinitely-repeatable crafting quests you can do, and each of these quests generates a little bit of status, and they also give a generous amount of crafting experience for the character you’re doing the quests on, so they’re a good way to get your crafting levels up while helping our your guild.
I’ve always held that tradeskills are the devil – but, for reasons that I won’t explore, I had three level 95 crafters. I took all three of these characters and spent maybe an hour per on leveling them using the repeatable quests. High level crafting quests give a guild 3000 status per completion, so I got surprisingly good results and the guild wound up 40% of the way into level 38.
My wife’s inactive account, while still limited to level 95, had a level 91 crafter on it, so I logged on there and did the same thing, and that was good for another 10% of 38. The next highest-level crafting character I had was level 22. I logged her in anyway, did a crafting quest, and the guild got… 160 status. This didn’t actually move the guild experience bar at all, but it DID give the character enough crafting experience to get to level 23.
I kept going.
It took ten hours to get to level 100, and the guild hit level 40 when I was just shy of level 99. I kept going because, by this point, I’d become numb to the process of getting the quest, completing the quest, turning it in and repeating, so now I have four level 100 crafters. Tradeskills are still the devil.
Then I spent another couple of hours leveling a skill called “Transmuting” on the Swashbuckler; this skill basically lets you break down unwanted armor and weapons into crafting components and is a great way of clearing out all of the extraneous quest gear and mementos you’ve been holding on to. I did a lot of this, with a bit of surprise at how emotionally attached I was to some of the old items.
So, the tl;dr version: I spent roughly sixteen hours playing a game solely to find ways to unclutter my bank and bag space. Because Everquest.
Sometimes, when I want to throw up a post with minimal effort, I make fun of foreign snack food. Since I just went to the not-terribly-local Korean market yesterday and BOUGHT a bunch of foreign snack food, it seemed like a good time for that.
Starting with “I’m not sure how I’m supposed to pronounce this, but I’m pretty sure I have it wrong”:
And some protein bars that I didn’t even need to eat to be energized, because damn if this isn’t some inspirational packaging:
…and some chips that I’m probably going to regret…
…and some MORE chips that I’m probably going to regret, but damn it, a man needs his meow meow chips sometimes…
…and nothing says “cheese” flavored “corn” “food” like a product named “Chiz Curls”…
…but it’s cool, they’re totes healthy and have a stamp to prove it…
…and some wasabi flavored crackers that actually look pretty good…
…and Sando Biscuit, which I’ve had before and which actually ARE good…
…and possibly the most terrifying fusion of western fast meals and Japanese instant noodles I’ve ever seen…
…seriously, Yakisoba ‘n Cheese. I’m going to regret this one, because instant yakisoba is already one of the greasiest, nastiest things you can subject your stomach to, and adding “cheese” “flavor” is just, well, it’s making my insides churn just thinking of it. I must proceed! For Science!
…and finally, I did NOT buy…
…because NINE DOLLARS? FOR WHELKS? I THOUGHT THIS WAS AMERICA.
Next up, I eat some of these. This may be my last post. If you don’t hear from me again, tell my family I died doing what I loved.
A couple of games off the backlog recently.
First, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, which really wasn’t stuck on to the backlog for very long. I preordered it, it showed up on the release date, it sat on the shelf for a couple of weeks because I was playing Steam games for a charity drive competition, it got taken off the shelf and deshrinkwrapped and played.
I’m the one weird guy who LIKED Star Ocean 4, so my opinions are probably highly suspect to long-time fans of the series, but I thought it was kind of a step backwards in most ways. It was still a good time, but one of the best things about the last game was the interactions between characters, mostly done in close-up cutscenes, and for some reason this iteration of the series decided to have the camera zoomed way out all of the time when characters are interacting, with only a handful of actual full-screen cutscenes.
It also felt like a very small game. While the environments were all very pretty – that next gen polish showing up – there weren’t a ton of them. Four cities, a handful of dungeons, and a half-dozen outdoor zones were a big step back from SO4’s multiple planets with multiple zones per.
Crafting was hugely improved from 4, however, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a lot of fun running around and farming monsters for drops to turn into weird food and new weapons and armor. The smaller-scale story also made things feel a lot more personal – you’re not trying to Save The Galaxy From An Ancient Evil, you’re just trying to keep a little girl safe. Sometimes a low key plot is a good thing.
So a solid 7/10 game, not that I DO the numeric scores thing, and I hope it does well enough that we get a SO6 in another few years.
Second, for a compl… you know, I’m going to just own this. For a “Komplete” change of pace, I played through the story mode from the 2011 reboot of the Mortal Kombat series. I got this as a gift from a friend a few years back and I had heard excellent things about the story, but I’m utter rubbish at fighting games in general and not exactly in the target demographic for the series’ trademark edginess and over-the-top gore.
I did like the Mortal Kombat movie, though. So I knew some of the characters, which gave me a bit of a pause when the opening cinematic in story mode shows all of them dead and most of them in various stages of dismemberment, with vultures eating them in far-too-well-realized detail.
Once I’d gotten past that, and gotten humiliated a few times, and set the difficulty level to Easy, and gotten rather a bit farther, and gotten humiliated a few MORE times, and set the difficulty level to BEGINNER… well, it turns out that the story mode actually was quite good. I mean, it’s a game about people punching each other in the face, and it’s got lots of ninjas, and quite a few of the ninjas die and get resurrected as DIFFERENT ninjas. We’re not talking literature here, by any stretch of the imagination, but lots of stuff blows up and there’s over the top angst and betrayals and revenge.
Which is pretty much all you really need for a story about ninjas.
Anyway, there’s other modes to the game, the typical versus modes and some sort of tiered challenge mode, but I’m happy enough having gotten through the plot part of things. I may even pick up Mortal Kombat X for its story mode, if it’s ever super cheap.
Since I can’t imagine the 2011 game will run you more than a couple of bucks, I recommend it to any fan of ninjas or punching. There are some serious difficulty spikes, and the character animation is strangely stiff for a relatively modern game, but you’ll get your money’s worth.🙂
So, one of the bad things about the last decade of writing down more or less whatever came into my head at any given time is that I can look back to 2009 and drag up posts like this one:
…and then I can compare them to what ACTUALLY happened:
…which is to say, not only did I rip those couple of thousand DVDs, but also a few hundred Blu-Rays and a whole mess of video from old videotapes and LDs and random internet sources and so on and so forth. It took seven years and was an awful lot of energy put into never needing to get up from the couch and find a disc to put into a player, but at the same time it’s made it so that our living room isn’t dominated by shelf after shelf of movies. Now they all live in boxes in a closet and our house looks a little less like a video store.
I’d like to claim that I attacked the project with a great plan that I could share, but in all honesty I was in a state of denial when I started. I think this is actually a good way to accomplish overwhelming tasks – first, start off by claiming that you’re not actually TRYING to do what you’re doing, then slowly work at it until you realize one day that the hard part is over and all that remains is to keep doing what you’ve been doing.
It worked out, anyway.
I started the very first encodes on a 2006 CoreDuo Mac Mini that took about four hours to encode a single standard definition movie. It took me a few years to buckle down and build a proper encoding PC, but once I did I was able to encode the same movie in about twenty minutes.
I’m still using that PC. Now it takes about four hours to encode a single 1080P Blu-ray, which says a little bit about progress I guess.
I’m still using almost exactly the same tools I was using in 2009. Handbrake for 99% of the encoding, ffmpeg for the 1% of special cases and DVD Decrypter for breaking CSS. When I finally started doing BDs, I went through a couple of different rippers before finding makemkv, but encoding is still Handbrake.
Converting subtitled mkv files to m4vs with burned-in subtitles was a special pain in the neck for the first few years, and I spent a lot of time on various home-grown methods until Handbrake added that as a feature. Unfortunately, it broke DVD subtitle timing at more or less the same time, so I needed to keep two versions around for a while. I also had to re-encode a whole mess of DVDs after I realized that DVD subtitle timing was broken, but that’s all water under the bridge now.
I’ve never found an automated media tagging tool that I liked, so I do most of the tagging with a bunch of shell scripts and mp4tags. There are doubtless better ways.
All of this gets served to our TV via an Apple TV with iTunes as the back-end. There are a bunch of different media servers out there, but we buy a lot of our TV shows and some movies through iTunes so we would wind up using iTunes for all of the stuff with DRM on it anyway and it’s easier just to have it in one place.
Anyway, even with all of the physical media converted into happy little m4v files, I suspect that I’ll still find ways to spend time tweaking things. For the first few years, I didn’t really understand mp4 file metadata, so a ton of files aren’t properly tagged, and if we ever get an Apple TV 4, apparently I’m going to need to do some extra tag tweaking to make TV seasons show up as folders there…
…and I’m really not happy with some of the cover art used for some TV shows, and I’m sure I can find a ton of other little things to bug me here and there if I look hard enough. It’s never REALLY done.
But, for now, it’s done enough.🙂
So, let’s start by getting this out of the way:
Boom indeed. But, to be fair, it was awfully close, so we shouldn’t look down on the heretical Callie devotees with TOO much scorn. We will need someone to shovel coal into the metaphorical engines of our True Queen’s glorious empire, after all.
Technically I guess if she had an empire, she’d be an Empress instead of a Queen? I honestly don’t know if that’s exactly how it works.
The other good thing that came out of the Splatfest was that I got annoyed, and when I get annoyed I solve problems.
Specifically, while the WiiU provides a fairly easy way to TAKE screenshots (press the Home key while you’re in a game, as long as you’re somewhere the Home key works), it doesn’t make it easy to get them off the console. I used to use the web browser to upload them to WordPress directly, but the WiiU’s web browser hasn’t been updated in years and no longer plays well with WordPress or Google Drive.
So, when I was taking screenshots yesterday, I used the Miiverse feature and just uploaded them to my Miiverse screenshot album. I didn’t find out until well after the fact that screenshots uploaded to the Miiverse album are saved at 800×450.
So, like I said, I got annoyed.
Then, some googling (and you would be surprised at how difficult it was to actually come up with search terms for this) lead me to a python script by a gentleman (or gentlewoman, quite possibly) who goes by the name of bones7456. It’s nothing more than a very simple http file server with upload functionality, and that’s exactly what I needed.
There’s a youtube video here that explains the whole thing. I didn’t watch it, I just skipped to the file list in the comments, but it’s probably a good watch.
Anyway, once I had the python script, I just copied it to a linux box, made it executable, made a folder to transfer files into, RAN the python script, and then went to <ip address>:8000 from the WiiU’s web browser. It’s super barebones – there’s a file list, a “browse” button which makes the WiiU’s screenshot dialog pop up, and an “upload” button to put the file on the server at full resolution with no recompression beyond the WiiU’s default .jpg compression.
One thing of moderate annoyance is that every screenshot from a given WiiU game will have the same file name. Fortunately the script is smart enough to append an underscore to duplicate file names, so all it takes is a little renaming later.
So: Team victory in the Splatfest and I now have a new tool to solve an annoying problem. Good weekend so far.
It’s been a good time, Squid Sisters.