Thursday, December 31, 2015

Forever Forward

A year ago I wrote a resolutions post.  I was rubbish at my goals.  As in, truly hideously bad.  There are some good and compelling reasons for this, and I don't see 2015 as a "failure" by any stretch.  All it really means is that the year took a severe left turn in early Spring and I never had a hope of returning to the course that I thought I was going to be on.

But that doesn't mean I didn't have an interesting year.

Work sucked worse in 2015 than it did in 2014, as in "sucked so bad I quit and started over." I miss the old job (as in the actual product and tasking) and old crew (as in my local team) but am now in a much better place for both stability and professional growth.  And while the new gig is a good deal for me, it also comes with the bonus of not working for fools, liars, and assholes.  Bonus points.

In terms of bikes and triathlons, 2015 was a year of rebuilding.  The Imperial Century still eluded me.  With the lack of clear weather (and 2x the normal lawn mowing), I was well off the training curve to even think about attempting a long ride of any flavor.  But my lower back held strong, and I regained much of my lost stamina.  I found a great indoor training video for hill climbs and my consistency on hilly bike courses improved dramatically.  I am still not fast, but I am more consistent.

I started the year planning to compete in maybe 1 sanctioned race.  Instead, I completed 3 multi-sport races (more than any other year) - one sprint tri and two Olympic distance swim/bike events.  I track everything I do in a big spreadsheet, and I can say that I biked more than 2014 (but not as much as 2013).  I also swam more yards this year than any other year in my life.

It was a good year for EVE.  My isk balance is way up, higher than it's ever been by double the amount it was a year ago. I am not rich, but I do ok,  I have a hanger full of ships, and I flew more new hulls this year than I really expected to.  I got around to some areas of space I've not been to in ages.  Thanks to the anomic agents, I also lost more ships this year than any other, which is actually a healthy thing in the big picture.  EVE Vegas was a great time, and the PVE content I've wanted for awhile has continued to be deployed.

Forever Forward.

Time marches on relentlessly; it pauses for no man.

I don't have many discrete goals for 2016.  If anything, 2015 reminded me that life isn't nearly that predictable.

What I find myself wanting is more.

More time. More miles on the bike.  More laps at the pool. More evenings splitting wood and burning brush.  More time repairing grandad's tractors.  More afternoons running agents, incursions, and trading trinkets.  More time for offshoots like GW2.  More time with family.  More Saturdays quietly at home.  More trips across the country.  More vacation days spent at home.  More progress, less conflict.

So what I should beg for is more focus.  The ability to say "no" decisively yet gracefully.  The insight to understand that if I indulge all tasks then all suffer equally.  I should beg for the wisdom to know which things to ignore, which people to disappoint, and to which I should give attention.  To allow that establishing priorities means that many things simply can't and won't get done.

So what's my goal for 2016?  To get SOME things done and let the rest wait, and to be at peace with that.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On the Horizon

It's been a relatively relaxing Holiday season.  When it's July, I tell myself I'd rather take time off when everyone ELSE is working, and then get caught up while the office is quiet.  Then every year I get to the holiday season and wonder why I'm one of the few guys in the office when I desperately need some time to unwind. This year, I said screw it and I've managed to work 5 days in the past 2 weeks and as of this afternoon I'm off until 7am on Monday.

We've seen Star Wars 7 on the Imax 3D screen twice now.  I went in not expecting much and was happily surprised with the result.  The first showing we went to was at lunchtime on the day of release - the theater was sold out (at lunchtime!), and the audience was almost entirely people in their 30s and 40s (i.e. "my age").  This was such a fun setting; while waiting we chatted with those around us like old friends.  When the lights went down, all phones went away and the nerds got focused.  We cheered when the Falcon came on the screen, and again when Han and Chewie showed up.  At the end, we clapped politely, then all sat and watched the credits roll.

Perfect movie?  No, not at all.*  But I was a Star Wars kid of the 80s, and these are the friends/characters I've wanted back on the screen nearly the entirety of my life.   When the special edition (revamped original trilogy) returned to theaters in the late 90s, there was a huge buzz around the franchise and things finally looked good for Star Wars fans.  This was of course followed by a big kick in the nuts called Episode I.  So let's face it, it could have been a LOT worse.  Episode 7 is a fun ride if you let it be fun.

But -- on the Horizon for Dog's Breath.  I have my year end wrap up post that will hit on the 31st or 1st.  I am unhappy with it and will need to spend some time reworking it (unlike most posts, I've already been through it twice now).

I have a monster Shadows of Brimstone How-To post that's drafted but needs a ton of pictures imported and formatted.  Mrs. Durden and I have been playing SoB whenever possible (though I had to clean up the dining room table for Christmas dinners) and have been thoroughly enjoying it.

Ingame, I have been cleaning out old inventory (necessary evil) and running lvl4s.  I am trying to get some of the cruiser anomics to spawn so I can recheck my fits; this will result in hopefully some updated PVE guides.

I've been looking at the default templates and may ditch the red/gray star motif for something a little easier to read.  The red/black gets fuzzy on some of my devices.  Open to ideas.

No timetable for any of this (other than the year-end post) but hope that my weekends will remain free through January allowing for more online shenanigans.

*Note: There have been no perfect movies since the Goonies.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas

The Christmas season is once again upon us already.  Each year it seems to come a little more quickly.  This year was especially odd, as the weather has been very non-wintery.  Which is fine all around, although I can't think of a time in my life when we've had tornado warnings on December 23rd.

But I digress.  

From all of us here at Dog's Breath, to all of you out there - Merry Christmas.

If you are travelling, be safe.  (Don't use autopilot, even in highsec).
If you are drinking, make someone else drive (Don't attempt to clone jump).
And call your mom.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

PSA: The Expanse Doesn't Suck

The Expanse premiered last week, per a previous post.  Hopefully some of you have watched the pilot episode.

Detective Miller looking thoughtful.

This is a public service announcement:  The Expanse doesn't suck.  The broadcast schedule will still give one "new" episode per week, but as a means to get us all hooked, the powers at Syfy have released the first FOUR episodes for free, right now.  That means if you can stream it, you can see the first 4 in a binge in under 3 hours (~42 mins/episodes).

This is probably a good move.  Espisodes 2 and 3 drag a little bit, but only because it's a character development timeout and an investment must be made as the plot begins to unfold.  The book suffered the same slower pace through this part of the story.

The series is remaining very faithful to the books.  Detective Miller's character is even better on screen than he was in the books, and they're doing a great job with his slowly growing infatuation with the missing girl Julie Mao.  The portrayal of crew member Amos is especially on point, and one of my favorite characters of the novels.  The Mars ships are as badass as I expected.

I'm hopeful that we'll get some quiet time over the holidays that I can rewatch them all.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

YC117 Pod and Planet Results

I am on the road for holiday shenanigans, but would be remiss if I didn't post to acknowledge that the Pod and Planet results have come in and winners have been announced.  I am surprised and honored to have won the Humor category this year. 

All of the stories are linked here on the Pod and Planet page.  Here are the results:

Grand Prize
Voodoo Williams, "A Spider in Her Web"

Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden (Lore-Based Stories)
First Prize
Sugar Kyle, "Cortex"

Second Prize
Rhavas, "Decoherence"
Callista Dallmore, "The Gate"

Third Prize
Tiberius StarGazer, "Different Bodies"
Niden, "Rapture"
Nomistrav, "He Saw Infinity"
Torsnk, "fleet logistics"

A Day in the Life (Gameplay/Freeform Stories)
First Prize
Archangael/Jason Jones, "The Best Sport"

Second Prize
Oreamnos Amric, "Blood Frenzy"
Tom Hawkins, "The Hunt"

Third Prize
Rhavas, "Emergence"
Tom Hawkins, "Fabled Beauty"
Yuri Serafim, "Split Decision"

Other Things Just Make You Swear and Curse (Humor)
First Prize
Abavus Durden, "The Allure of the Damsel"

Second Prize
Drackarn, "Into the Breach"

Third Prize
Sleightz, "From Riches to Riches"

Honorable Mention (from all categories)
Islana Deepsorrow, "The Proteus: LC-K-114"
Drackarn, "The Journey"
Islana Deepsorrow, "The name of the capsuleer"
Da'iel Zehn, "Infiltration"
Dirk Magnum, "A Code Like No Other"
Sera Kor-Azor, "Ole' Time Religion"
Regalas Davaham/Ben C., "Stargate"
Rusty Boon, "A Longing for Loss"

Thanks to Telegram Sam and all the judges for making this kind of event happen. This is the kind of community event that makes me proud to be part of EVE's culture. The creativity and drive of community members has been present since before the game launched and is a big reason we are all still here.

Thanks to all the donors for the enticing goodies that make this particular event fun.
I also want to thank DireNecessity  and Sugar Kyle for some infectious enthusiasm when it came to the contest. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Intro: Shadows of Brimstone

Longtime readers may remember me rambling about Shadows of Brimstone back in August after we attended GenCON.  After several dozen hours assembling and painting the little figures, and then being blindsided by an unforgiving Fall schedule, we have finally set aside enough time to actually play the game.

I first heard of Shadows of Brimstone from some of the folks randomly assigned to my table during a Star Wars Miniatures game at this year's GenCON.  We were all playing Rebels together and began sharing other games we'd bought or tried at the 'con.  They had supported the Kickstarter of Brimstone and told me where to find the Flying Frog Productions table in the vendor hall.  Interested, I dragged Onyx over to the table to check things out.

This is the banner we used to navigate to the booth:

Throughout the remaining days of the convention, I kept steering us back to this booth to try to get a demo session of the game.  But every time I went back, the tables were full and I could barely get close enough to watch over someone's shoulder.  I saw this as a great sign.  On our last day I caved to impulse and bought the City of the Ancients core box (there are two "cores sets") and the first expansion, Caverns of Cinder.

The game consists of cards, character sheets, oodles of tokens, dice, and map sections that lock together.  The miniatures (monsters and heroes) come unassembled and upainted and are the largest complaint about the game (most people, reasonably, just want to open the box and play, and feel that for the $$ involved they should come more complete).

Assembly and painting of the miniatures is going to be its own post (long overdue, but still on my radar).  But I'll summarize by saying that I went into this expecting only to glue the figures together (most require assembly like a model airplane) and give a basic spray-can coat of paint to help them pop on the table.  In the end, I did far more detail (and surprised myself with the results for a 1st timer), but the time involved deferred the actual play of the game from August to December due to "real life."

As I write, we have finished the first 3 beginner missions and things are beginning to gel.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's back up a bit.

What the heck is it?
SoB is a board game.  But that's like saying "EVE is a space game" - it really doesn't give you the context of scale, scope, and depth available.

The Setting:
Shadows of Brimstone is a dungeon crawler set in the late 1800s American West.  Deep inside the local mines, evil is stirring, and your posse of do-gooders is (reluctantly) sent in to smite it.  Wormholes to other worlds await deep in the mines where nasties are pouring out.  (My core box includes the basic Mines environment and Targa Plateau, a frozen land, and I love snow maps).  So, take your favorite Clint Eastwood western, mix in a bit of Cthulhu and noir, and just a pinch of Stargate SG-1 and you have Shadows of Brimstone.

I'll be really honest.  I was skeptical when I first saw the art.  I'm not a particular fan of Westerns, and the Cthulhu wave that's hit a lot of games the past few years is a little lost on me.  But the setting frikkin' works.  The flavor text on the cards is well done, the art in the books is great, and the randomness of the demons and tentacles somehow melds well with it.

The Play:
I won't give any lengthy description of the rules, but as an overview:

a) The game is completely co-op and there are rules to scale it from 1 to 6 players (playing with 5-6 players requires 2 core sets though).  By co-op, I mean that unlike other major games (Descent 2nd Edition, in particular), there isn't a player that has to assume the role of Dungeon Master or Overlord to control the monsters.  The monster AI is fairly simple with rules for how they spawn, choose targets, and an attack rotation.  The co-op aspect of it is something that drew us to it, as we can play together without one of us having to "lose" the game.

b) Almost everything you do is governed by rolling dice and drawing random cards.  At any given point, it's possible probable that you are moments away from certain doom. Every interaction involves chance, and most interactions range between merely "oh, that's bad" to "truly tragic" (very few "good news" encounters).   Many events range the entire spectrum; you draw a card and are told to roll some dice to see what happens (with possibilities of great fortune or a true ass kicking).  Players have some control over the dice via a reroll mechanic, and there are mechanics to regain lost health and of course gain in levels, equipment, and overall power, but the simple fact that at any point almost any action can trigger something that will kick your teeth in keeps you on your toes.

c) The map itself is random.  You draw cards from a deck and reveal the map bit by bit as you play.  Pieces interlock like puzzle pieces, but it's all luck of the draw whether you end up in a long hallway or an open room.  No two games will truly be the same.  It's subltle, but not knowing what's around the next corner (or how far you have to go to the boss room) keeps the creepy factor high.

d) For the first five minutes, it's a super-complicated game.  After the first session, you kind of say "huh, ok, I get it."  After the 2nd session, I didn't spend the entire game with my nose in the rulebook.  The manual is good, but it's pretty thick and it's easy to read something and then forget where you saw it.  Our first game involved only one fight but still took two hours due to all the fumbling through the manual.

e) You not only have Health points, you also have Sanity points.  Some of the encounters scare you so bad, they can literally drive you insane and scare you to death.  So far, managing the health pool seems to be the primary damage mechanic, but I can see that later managing both will add a layer of complexity.

I asked Mrs. Durden (Onyx) what she thought of it, and typed furiously as she talked.  Onyx says, "This is easier to get into than Descent.  For people that maybe have played other games, it has that good balance of being easy in concept but continuing to challenge. [The adventure] is a matter of luck; you're not going to roflstomp through, and that will keep you coming back."

Your Posse of Heroes
(Look out for the Night Terror behind you!)
Void Spiders!

Boss Fight, Session #2

End Fight, Session #3. I am the
Gunslinger with a pair of 6-shooters.  Onyx is the U.S. Marshal
with the street sweeping shotgun.

We are playing through the Basic missions as a mini-campaign.  The Adventure book includes a "real" campaign that we'll likely roll into after that.  I have taken over the dining room table in nerd nirvana for the moment and will need to clean it up before Christmas visitors.  I'm quietly hoping for more than a few snow days this winter so that we can get through the campaign.

I'll stop here. The next Brimstone post I'll tackle will be a how-to on painting the miniatures, as information on SoB online is perhaps a little thin.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Operation Frostline, Day 1

The Frostline patch hit yesterday, which means that Operation Frostline is now live on servers and grids are now crazy big (update your bookmarks, everyone).

Bottom line, Operation Frostline is a mild remake of the Halloween event; this time we're killing Serpentis at the random sites.

I happened across a Frostline site in highsec last night while going from Point A to B to tend to my industry system.  I was in my Sacrilege, not the best for dps, but certainly not the worst against frigates and cruisers, so decided to check it out.  I was in a busy highsec system and expected the site to get swarmed, but I was the first person on grid, and began destroying the Serpentis.

It works very similarly to the Halloween event -- you land on the beacon to a locked acceleration gate and some frigates.  Kill the frigates to unlock - from memory there are 4 waves.  Gate unlocks, go to the 2nd room.  Partway through the killing a Navy Apoc showed up, but I didn't relent in my killing spree and he was having trouble hitting the frigates with his large beams (not pulse, beams) and warped away just as I entered the 2nd room.

Second room has some structures and a mob of cruisers.  From memory there's 3 waves of cruisers and then a single battlecruiser that actually drops the loot.  My dual rep passive tank Sacri tanked this room at 95% or better the entire time.  On the 2nd wave, a Tengu arrived but didn't shoot anything, he simply waited for the end 'boss' to try to scrape the loot.

BC spawns, we both dps him down, but I got can rights to the loot and the Tengu chose not to flip the can.

For my trouble, I got the Male and Female Serpentis shirts and a can of Quafe.  I convo'd the Tengu and offered to give him the Female shirt (Aba being male and the Tengu char being female) but he declined.

From his initial response, I'm sure he expected me to yell at him or something, but I wasn't going to get upset about a shirt on the first day of the event.  He declined the offer, we chatted a bit, and we went our separate ways.

From the way the dev blog is written, I would expect the Frostline loot to improve as the event goes forward, so I'll figure out what ship I want to use for hunting these.

Happy Hunting everyone.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Expanse Premier

A long while ago, I posted that Syfy was doing a series based on one of my favorite Sci-Fi series, the Expanse.  I was skeptical.

First, I wasn't sure if the book series was a good candidate for a TV show.  The Expanse book series is full of some incredibly big (but slow) story arcs unfolding over multiple novels.  The first novel is great, if a little grisly, but the series kind of steps back to do some plot development before really starting to cook again in book 4 or 5.

Second, while the book characters are interesting, I feared that the near future setting would come off a little stiff/cliche (like Defiance), they'd try to make it too comedic (i.e. a Firefly knockoff*), a little too campy and yet self important (like Stargate Universe), or perhaps a poor-man's Battlestar Galactica.**

The series pilot is free right now on Amazon Prime as well as on Syfy's web page.  I've watched it twice.  The attention to detail in the series is pretty good.  Special FX are adequate but not overly flashy.  It's faithful to the books (altho Naomi should be a lot taller).  The writing is good, and the guys playing Detective Miller and James Holden are almost perfectly cast.

So, I'm impressed.  It comes off as a really solid foundation on which they can build.  I'm now excited to see how well the rest of Season 1 comes out (and SyFy has already ordered Season 2, a good sign).

I urge you to give it a try.  The series premiers on Monday at 10 in the US, with Episode #2 airing the next night on Tuesday.  But you shouldn't wait that long, go stream it now.

More info, courtesy of wikipedia.

*Note:  I love Firefly, but the Expanse series isn't cast in the same mold, trying to make it be something it's not would be a disservice to the source material.

**Note 2:  I also love the BSG remake, at least the first couple of seasons, but again, a poor feel/fit for the Expanse to emulate.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Through the Eyes of a Noob

It's been a long, long while since I helped a real life friend through his first evening in EVE, but I was able to last night.

One of my best friends surprised me and sought out the EVE client without any prodding from me, created an account and logged in.  I knew he was vaguely interested after my tales from EVE Vegas, but my surprise when he said he was getting the client was genuine.

He was almost through the character generation process when his internet died and he had to start over.  At that point he (jokingly) sent me a comment about having the hard part out of the way.  I replied with the infamous EVE Learning Curve chart, but I don't think it scared him much.

He rolled Gallente, and once he was ingame, I made my way to Cistuvaert to say hello.  He was part way through the first few tutorial steps, but undocked and met me at the gate.

"Ok, now what?" he asked.

Gah. I hadn't thought that far.  What do you do with a 20 minute old character sitting in his shiny noobship?  The player behind the keyboard is one of the smartest guys I know, but he's got no context for EVE, has no idea where anything is in the UI, and was barely able to undock and find me.

So I did two things.  I began to spam our convo channel with information, and got him into Sugar's public channel so he had help if I wasn't around.  Super high level instruction in terms of what EVE is and isn't; a conversation ensued about how I've chosen to play vs. how others play their particular game.  Topics included the market, system security status, gankers, the tutorial and SOE arc, and the fact that assets don't magically follow you through space (if you want it somewhere else, you gotta haul it).

Throughout this, I was answering questions.  Several times, things that are kneejerk muscle memory for me stumped him.  I'm effectively speaking multiplication and long division at him, and he is still at 3+3=6.  At one point we chatted for awhile before realizing he'd minimized his overview and therefore didn't see ANY of the buttons I was described.  This isn't a reflection on him (he's one of the smartest guys I know), or me (I'm pretty smart too, hah), or even the game (it's all there, really), but without being able to see his screen so I could point and grunt in the right direction, he was really stumped.

The second thing I did was get him in a Fleet and jumped to the system next door.  Basic activity of navigation.  We warped around a bit, and I got him to use autopilot to get home.  Back in Cist, a Serpentis Hideout appeared on scan, so I warped in to begin clearing it.  He came in and assisted, playing with combat, basic maneuvering, and targeting.  This went better, and he killed and looted a few pretty smoothly.

With the evil Serpentis vanquished, it was time for me to think about bed.  I felt guilty leaving him to his own devices and the boring ol' tutorial, but in many ways it'll be far better than I am at some of the nuances.

I don't know if he'll stay past the trial period.  I'm sure his next session will go more smoothly.  But it's certainly been interesting to see the game through his eyes.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Gift Giving Guide 2015

It's that time of year.  This is Abavus's First Annual Gift Guide.

These are items that I have used in the real world over the past year.  Some are nerdy/gamy, Many are not.  They are in no particular order.  I am linking to whichever store I find convenient; in many cases this is Amazon, but in many cases not.

1. TYR Small Alliance Backpack - When I started my new job earlier this year, the hike from the parking lot to my desk increased about 50x.  The old reusable grocery bag that I used to toss my lunch, coffee thermos, sunglasses, whatever was not going to cut it.  I experimented with an old laptop backpack, but found that I really wanted a smaller bag with fewer internal partitions.  This model by TYR is comfortable for 1-arm carry, has enough room for all my crap, and was cheaper than a lot of options (Jansport).  It is intended for Triathlons and as such many of the pockets are vented (so be warned if you are in an area that rains constantly) but the inside is roomy and the cloth is reasonably stiff to hold its shape while loading.

2. Contigo Travel Mug - Also after starting the new job, I wanted/needed a new travel mug.  My old 40's style monster thermos was too bulky to try to carry and deal with getting in and out of the building.  A friend recommended this model crom Contigo; it keeps my coffee hot through mid-day but isn't gawdaful bulky, looks great, and is spillproof.  (I had to use mine a week or so before the 'plastic' taste disappeared from my coffee).

3. X-Wing - Let your inner nerd fly.  Jump into the new ships with the updated version of the smash hit tabletop game from Fantasy Flight.  You'll want more ships than come in the core box - Millenium Falcon in particular is very sexy.  But the core game gets you started. The ships are great, and the combat system is simple to grasp but difficult to master.

4. Duluth Trading Fire Hose Work Pants - Santa brought me a pair of these last year, and I put another pair on this year's list.  They're comfortable, breathable, warm enough for cool weather work.  If I'm out in the back 40 running a chainsaw, this is the pair of pants I grab for both comfort and a little added protection.

5. Amazon Fire TV - We have an older (2006) flat panel TV that I'm hoping to get another several years out of.  It doesn't have any built in streaming options and few modern niceties, but it does have a single HDMI port, and we recently signed up for Amazon Prime.  This little box makes streaming content from Amazon dirt simple.  Abavus can now watch Downton Abby on the big screen instead of the laptop, woot.

6. Jim Butcher's the Aeronaut's Windlass - The first of a series of (hopefully) many many box, Jim's first foray into fantasy steampunk is a great read for cold winter nights.  It's got great airship combat, reasonable characterization, and if you're a cat owner you're going to love Rowl.

7. Nike's Dry Fit Cotton Socks - Yes, Socks for Christmas, how original.  Working in an office for the past (almost) 20 years, I've usually worn the kind of dress socks like dad and grandpa had - the thin, nasty little argyle life suckers.  Earlier this year I flipped those kinds of socks the bird for everyday office wear and switched to athletic style black socks for all but the most formal of occasions.  These Nike's are the most comfortable I've tried. Life is too short to walk around all day in stupid socks.

8. Zombicide: Season 2 Prison Break - Disclaimer: I don't actually own this, but played on a friend's set at a nerd gathering this summer.  Super fun co-op board game that keeps you jumping, requires some thinking and group strategy, and hilarity when it all goes pear shaped and someone gets their brains eaten.  The only reason I haven't bought it is that Mrs. Durden got me into the kickstarter for the newer version for my birthday.

10. EVE: Source - Reading this book made me remember a lot of details I'd forgotten since launch.  The book has some great art, but is more of a sourcebook for lore and backstory on the major factions (including the piratical ones).  Good reading for an EVE player.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ahead We Grind

This post meanders a bit, but bare with me...

I have said before that one of the virtues that keeps me in EVE is the design philosophy of horizontal expansion.  Most of the time, new systems are added in parallel with existing ones.  Unlike games where there's a set of loot to earn or a lvlcap bump up another arbitrary 10 levels, EVE's content remains (more or less) balanced around the same basic combat and content engine.

This results in a stable economy and stable content (the capship bpos I bought in 2007 are still worth something and still useful, unlike the corresponding equipment my wow characters had in the same era). 

We've been talking a lot lately about new PVE content, new lvl4s, and gutting of old systems (incursions in particular).  And I am very much on board with that.

But its also struck me recently that it could also mean a phenomenal amount of change to parts of the game that have been untouched since the beginning.  (In fact, the code being so old and insupportable is part of what's driving the sweeping changes).  And it will be a unique day in EVE when it happens... Very rarely do we see the outright scrapping of an entire system.

I struggle to imagine a day when Aba couldn't login to silence the informant in the way he's known since 2004 or so.  The mission system, for all its warts and evils has been so fundamental a force for me in EVE that its absence will be noticed and perhaps even missed.

There will be a system to replace it, no doubt. CCP has said as much, and the improvements are much needed. But to make an analogy, we live on 10 acres in a 3200 sqft home today that is better in every way to the 1000 sqft starter home we came from.  But that doesn't mean I don't look back fondly at the old place, or sometimes think enviously of the young couple living there now, enjoying its simplicity.

And so ahead we grind, seeking our loyalty points and standings and salvage from a system that is in dire need of replacement.  May that patch day come soon, and may we appreciate the new system for the opportunity it presents and the significance of its existence considering the horizontal expansion philosophy of EVE.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Breaktime: Hearthstone

Another non-EVE post.  If that offends thee, I pray you skip ahead a bit.

The past few weeks I've been entirely addicted to Hearthstone.  I've been playing for awhile (just after the Naxx expac hit, I think) but it was never a primary thing, just something to monkey with during downtime hours, or when I had 20 minutes before I needed to make dinner, or whatever.

Since we've been back from Blizzcon, it's been a large time consumer for me.  Not because of anything that was announced at the 'con or because of the new single player expansion (though that doesn't hurt), it's just the way the planets aligned and this particular game at this particular moment has struck my fancy.

The dozens/hundreds of games of Hearthstone I've played in the past few weeks has, I think (I hope) actually increased my ability to play.  I'm still not competitive in any sense of the word, but I'm starting to play differently, anticipate my opponent, and plan more than 1 turn ahead.  However, lately my play sessions have been pretty binary - I can go several games in a burst of wins, walk away for a half hour and come back to a string of losses.

My losses, at least lately, are against what I call gimmick decks.  If you play Hearthstone, you know the ones -- the Priest deck that gets Holy Champion out and then buffs the hell out of him at a moment when I don't have a Hex or Sheep.  The Druid deck that does amazing things with mana crystals and kills you by turn 3.  The mage deck that does weird things with Mana Wyrms, secrets, and Archmage Antonidas.  There are some really powerful feedback loops in Hearthstone that can blow a game up very quickly.

I did something this morning that I really didn't intend to do - I built a couple of gimmick decks.  My decks are generally built around synergy, of course, but I try not to wrap an entire deck around getting a few cards in a particular order.  I'm incredibly unlucky when it comes to such shenanigans.  But I got up this morning to be greeted by the 5-win Rogue/Warrior daily and both of those decks in my collection were horrible.  I adjusted the Rogue slightly and got a couple of easy wins and one afk-er, but needed 2 wins to clear the daily.

So I deleted both the Rogue and the Warrior and started over.  I'd been meaning to anyway.

For once, it worked.

Rogue:  Unearthed Raptor is a new (rogue) card from the latest expansion.  It copies a minion's deathrattle.  I'd been meaning to build a deathrattle deck for giggles, so I started here.  Hmmm... what else do I have?  In goes Fuegen and Stalagg, the brothers that summon 11/11 Thaddeus if they both die in the same game.  Baron Rivondare doubles deathrattle effects, so he's in of course.  There's a gaggle of others, but maybe you see where this is going.

First game, I play a Druid who is giving me a run for my money.  It's mid-game, we're both about even on health in the 15-17 range, and there are a few things on the board on both sides.  Fuegen had hit the board on turn 5 and died instantly.  In my hand are the Unearthed Raptor and Stalagg.  My next turn I draw the Baron and put the Stalagg and the Raptor into play, using Raptor to copy Stalagg's deathrattle.  Use my other minions to clean up the board and done.  Druids turn, he kills Stalagg, summoning Thaddeus and plays a taunty minion.

Even with Thaddeus on the board, my victory isn't assured.  We're both near 10 mana and the Druid has a fistful of cards to my 2 or 3.  If I had been the Druid, I might not have even been all that concerned; one good turn, maybe two, and he can break me.

But I know where this is going.  The Baron hits the table.  My Raptor suicides into the taunt minion, killing both.  With the abilities in play, I get another /pair/ of Thaddeuses (Thaddi?).  I've got a total of 33 attack on the board.  Thadd #1 attacks, bringing the Druid down to a few hit points.  I'm still nervous that I've left myself open to some sort of crazy druid surge, but I get a well played, and the Druid concedes.

I sit there stunned for a bit; the perfect combination happens on the very first game.  I am now spoiled forever on this deck, and I don't even like playing Rogues.

Not wanting to press my luck, I put the Rogue on the shelf.  I go back to my collection and construct a Warrior deck.  Another gimmick deck, less obvious, built around Divine Shielded minions.  This one shapes up to be a meatshield deck, basically throwing a ton of minions at the enemy in a suicide wave and a few other means of board control, and Warrior armor buffs (a Pally might have been a better pairing for the Divine Shield gimmick, but I needed a Warrior win).

I'd had my eye on a particular card I'd gotten recently - the Blood Knight - a 3-cost, 3/3 that consumes Divine Shields in play and gains +3/+3 for each one eaten.  I have a pair of them, and both go in the list.

First game, I play a warlock.  He gets off to a slow start but I begin with an Argent Squire (1/1, Divine Shield) and a Blood Knight in my hand.  I go second and am intending to burn the coin and have a 6/6 on turn 2.  Squire goes into play on turn 1 and remains unmolested.  On turn 2, I draw another Squire.  Hmmm.  Here I take a gamble -- I armor up (warrior special ability) and wait a turn.  Turn 3 comes and I burn the coin, play Squire #2 and the Knight, who comes out as a 9/9.  The opponent quickly mouses over him, mouses over his cards in slow procession, mouses back to the Knight, and then concedes.

I am once again spoiled on my first outing.  Make no mistake, my deckbuilding skills are subpar, and I expect this warrior deck to get deleted in a week or two when I realize how truly bad it sucks.

But for one, brief, shining moment.  The planets aligned, and I got the cards I needed.  Not a bad way to start a Sunday.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Winter Plans

Winter is the time of year when we start planning for the next Triathlon / Biking season.

(Yes, I know it's not winter yet, technically.  But it's damn near December, we've already driven through one major snow storm, and that's close enough.)

Our season wraps up in mid-September, when fall chores catch up with us and the weather turns cold on weekend mornings when we prefer to get out and ride.  At the end of the season, the idea of another event makes my stomach twist.  By the beginning of October, I'm burned out, tired, and very much wanting to spend a few Saturday morning snug in my bed instead of getting up to load bikes and drive to some race venue.

Something funny happens in November, and by December, the plans begin anew.  By late December, all kinds of crazy things are possible.  Charity bike ride the next town over?  Sure.  Triathlon series that bounces around the state - 7 races in 6 months? Sounds great. Half-Ironman Swim-Bike (no-run) a full timezone away with a $250 entry fee, 2 nights at a hotel, dinners (i.e. about a $1000 weekend for a 4 hour race)?  Well, I should do it this year since I'll already be in shape.  Multi-state thousand mile bike ride?  Sign me up.

Everything seems more plausible when it's 6-9mo away.  I was barely able to take the trash out this morning, and here I am plotting thousands of miles of training and races.  How exactly does that happen?

The first piece of it is of course the absence from the bike.  It's easy to forget why you enjoy the sport; getting some time away gives perspective.  Most seasons I end up taking most of Oct and Nov off so I can get settled for winter.  I spin a bit at the gym, but the long hours on the bike are done for awhile.

The second piece is the family events that pop up in the holiday season.  Chatting with friends and my brothers about all the great past events we've done makes me pine for events of the future.  It's not a competition thing - my brothers and I don't overtly compete with each other - it's the shared memories and the "wouldn't it be cool if...." factor.

Anyway, I typed all that so I can type this:  Next year, I'm looking at more bike distance, fewer Triathlons.  We did three multisport events this year, and I'd dial that back to one, maybe zero.  In exchange, I'm hoping to knock a couple of events off my biking bucket list.  Some of these are specific charity rides nearby that I'd been meaning to do.  The big one is the Imperial Century (100mi).  Most bikers hit this in their first couple seasons; it has eluded me.  Several times I've been trained up but the weather on the appointed day didn't cooperate.  A couple of times I punted in order to ride with family at a slower pace, knowing as I did it that it would put me off pace to finish the target mileage.  This year's plans are focusing around several possible Imperial Century attempts in case one or more doesn't pan out.

And we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

....About Those Daily Quests in EVE

EVE is going to have Daily Quests, and after a month since Vegas I'm a little surprised I still see it popping up in blog comments as a negative thing (said another way, of all the things the pundits could complain about, I'm not sure this one tops the list).

The system, as described, didn't sound all that blasphemous.  Players will get a bonus payout for the first PVE that they participate in that day.  Various activities will get a rank 1 through 5; the higher rank of content, the higher the payout.  

So, CCP wants to pay me for things I'm probably going to be doing anyway.  Uhh. Ok?

I wonder if some of the angst is the lack of clarity from CCP and the internet working itself into a froth.  (Wouldn't be the first time....)  When described at Vegas, most of the room kind of shrugged and waited for the next statement.  I leaned to the guys next to me and said something like "Uhhh... EVE is getting dailys?"  More shrugging.  It really sounded quiet harmless.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't like WoW dailys (I'm talking specifically about Wrath- and Cata-era dailys).  I'm not even that fond of GW2 dailys though I can usually ignore them.

I dislike systems that feel even vaguely mandatory; I don't want a laundry list of chores that I "must" complete each session to stay relevant in the game.  I don't want something that I "must" complete each session before I can go tackle whatever it is actually I logged in to do.  After a week or three of doing the same 'chores' every day, suddenly those 'chores' become almost the entirety of your online play, and burnout ensues.

But I don't mind a system that gives you a small boost for doing something you were going to maybe do anyway; i.e. flexible systems that let you choose the activity and lurk invisibly in the code waiting to surprise you with a boost.  Yes, there's an incentive, but it's not the end of the world if you skip a day or a month.  For those quiet times, though, the payout becomes another reason to maybe gang up when you otherwise wouldn't, or maybe undock and look for trouble instead of spinning your ship and chatting for the evening.  And I think EVE needs a few more good reasons to undock.

Anyway, I'm hopeful that some of this will get explained if CCP Affinity is able to get the PVE plans out in the blog post she promised.  Or maybe I'll reread it and light my torch and grab my pitchfork and join the angry mob.  

But right now... not so much.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Overwatch Stress

So, I got an invitation to the Overwatch stress test this weekend.

I am both excited and appalled.

I'm excited because I really want to like this game. In my distant past, I was a shooter guy. I attended college in the heyday of Quake. I belonged to a clan, when that was a thing. I almost didn't suck.

I have played only a few shooters in the intervening years, most notably Global Agenda.  I am rubbish at console games and very out of practice at it.

These days I am too old, too dumb, and too slow to compete with a generation raised on CS, Modern Warfare, and the rest. So I am appalled that I'll be tossed in the meat grinder for their fodder.

At Blizzcon, there were kiosks set up to log your demo feedback. My write up for them included one topic:  what will make or break this game for me will be the matchmaking engine. If its smart enough to put me into a game with a slew of other terribads, I might stand a chance of having a reasonable time. If its more random, then I will not be in a position to contribute much, and will leave frustrated.

I realize beta/stress testing isn't necessarily intended to demonstrate this one way or another, but I'll certainly be paying attention to how balanced the teams are. Demo lines at blizzcon failed us and we got face stomped both times. I need a redemption or I'll be hard pressed to spend any money on the title.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Blizzcon vs. EVE Vegas

As I sometimes do, I was reading my own blog at lunch and reminded myself that I had meant to do a follow-up to the travel we've done.  I got home tonight and had the EVE Vegas Survey to complete, and it was another poke in the ribs that I needed to get some writing time in.

So here I am.

This isn't a "X is better than Y post," but I can't help compare the two events because they were so different.

And given the relative scale of the events (At 25,000 players, Blizzcon was roughly 35x larger than EVE Vegas at 700ish), the events were a much different experience.

EVE Vegas came first.  It was at a hotel conference center, and didn't quite use the entire area.  The event was well organized, but friendly, almost casual.  There were few lines.  Staying in the hotel a few floors above the venue was super convenient.  Food was expensive, but available (we ate at Earl of Sandwich all 3 days for lunch, hah) with an easy walk, as long as you didn't get lost in the casino.

Vegas as a venue is fantastic.  You can walk straight from Nerd Kingdom, descend an escalator, and be in a different world.  Everything you could want - from 5-star cuisine to chilidogs and beer feel like they're in arm's reach.  If you're wanting to step out to a show or do some non-EVE things in the evening, all kinds of shenanigans (from family friendly to very ... not family friendly) are there, all within easy walking distance.  Taxicabs are plentiful and will get you anywhere you're not willing to walk.  And the Strip itself is its own experience -- the beauty of the Bellagio fountain, to the shuffling masses of tourists, and the ever-present locals.  Vegas itself is a worthy destination, and the EVE content is just bonus.

Anaheim is a fine venue too, of course, but the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) is a little more remote.  I mean, it's in the center of the LA metro area, so it's not like a ghost town, but  it's surrounded by a fairly bland mix of hotels and chain restaurants.  Our hotel was a 3/4 mile walk, and the route between was forgettable.  I couldn't get a room close to the ACC, and the time coming and going was a tax on everything we did.  The food at the ACC was okay (only marginally less expensive than Vegas) and the presence of the trendy food trucks was a real bonus.

Disney, of course, is just north of the ACC, and we certainly had fun there.  But again, it feels so spread out, even with our rental car (we didn't rent a car at Vegas), the logistics felt daunting.  Disney itself was great, but not superb.  I could visit Vegas once a year and still be finding new things to do.  Last time we were at Disney was in 2008 and it hadn't changed much, and I was bored by 1pm or so.
There were lines everywhere at Blizzcon.  Lines at Disney, lines for the store, lines for badges, lines for the men's room, lines for food, lines to get into the venue, lines to demo games.  With so many people, it's to be expected, and as I mentioned in another post Blizzard had their schiznit together with handling the crowd, but I still spent a LONG time standing in a queue.

Data point:  Tickets for the two events were roughly the same, as was airfare.  But we spent more at Blizzcon due to a) needing a car and b) more expensive hotel room.  And that's AFTER we paid for a super-cool balcony room at the Cosmo the first night in Vegas; Anaheim was still more $$.

The basic idea of both events are the same.  Open ceremonies, Keynotes, Closing Ceremonies.  Panels and pitches and briefings sandwiched in between.  After that the similarities kind of end.

EVE Vegas felt like a few of the professional conferences my old office team used to host once a year.  Timing was punctual and the A/V team did a good job with microphones and projectors, but it still felt a little home baked.  There were donuts and coffee in the morning, and cookies in the afternoon, just like a professional conference.  I'm not complaining (the cinnamon twists were to die for!) but it struck me as a little odd.

Blizzcon is a spectacle that's beginning to compete with Comic-con or GenCon.  There are multiple stages with content all at the same time.  Multiple simultaneous game tournaments.  Vendor booths and booth babes.  A live TV show being broadcast (DirecTV feed).  Life size statues of your favorite characters sprinkled throughout.  Tons of fans in costume.  The Blizzcon store had something like 144 cash registers (my rough estimate based on counting banks of 12), and the line for the store nearly filled an entire convention hall.

I'll go out on a limb here and say that the EVE briefs were a little more technical and a little more detailed than the corresponding Blizzard briefs.  The Blizzcon gang is attempting to sell a "philosophy" to millions of people, as in "this is the direction we're going next."  CCP is trying to talk hard numbers and detailed/complicated mechanics with a very savvy audience.

The Script and Message:
Blizzard employees walked out on stage confidently; the content was well rehearsed and it was apparent that the corporate goons had run the script through the corporate marketing machine.  Certain phrases and language kept reappearing in the Blizzard content; it was very apparent to me that it was part of an overall strategy for a "consistent message."

Contrasting this, CCP devs, especially early in the weekend, seemed apprehensive that they'd be boo'd off the stage, and seemed happy and a little surprised that nobody trolled them.

I found myself laughing and clapping at some of the EVE content while I didn't get very excited about the Blizzard briefings.  I don't know if that's a reflection of the briefing content, or the state of both games, or just how the stuff was presented.  Maybe all of the above.

A subtle thing, but my feeling is that CCP gives the vibe that they're using the event for feedback, as in "Ok, here's what we're thinking..."  With Blizzard, everything has been decided and set in stone.  Communication was one way only.

Schedule Stress:
EVE Vegas is 3 days.  The days are fairly short - late morning start and done in time for people to get ready for a night out.  You can plan your day around the things you want to see; since there's not as many simultaneous things you can easily pick a time to step out to the demo game line, or just go hang out at a table with some friends and chat.

Blizzcon was 2 exhausting days.  In line by 8, stay until the venue closes at 9pm, and active the whole time.  At any given point, there's at least 2 things you wanted to watch, and no matter what you pick you're missing out on something cool.  As a consolation, there are flat panel screens EVERYWHERE at Blizzcon, some of them showing things going on elsewhere at the venue so you can watch from afar instead of having to recap it on youtube when you get home.

Storytelling and meeting other players (and Devs) is VERY much a part of the EVE Vegas experience.  At Anaheim we were anonymous and had short conversations with guys around us, but no lasting friendships.  There's SO MUCH going on and it's so loud that it's hard to just relax and chat (and as luck would have it, the ONE group that I tried to chat up during lunch were from Korea and that was a language/accent barrier to overcome).

Bottom Line:
We enjoyed both events, and if I had it to do over I'd still attend both.  I came home with a greater respect for, and I think a greater insight into, both game companies.

The EVE event was more personal, and I came away with friends I hope to keep in game for some time, which is far more valuable than the trinkets we got at Blizzcon.  So, if I had to pick ONLY one for next year - it's Vegas, baby.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Back in the Saddle

I'll (hopefully)  have an EVE post tomorrow, but for now I'll ramble a bit about real life.

The title of the post refers to this being the first week that I'd really done any rigorous exercise in a long while.  Onyx and I are back to our regular 2 days at the gym a week, and I did body weight stuff at home on the off days.  At the gym, we did a fairly normal swim workout one day, and I put on my funny biker clothes and hit the spin bike the other.  Instead of making me feel tired, all the effort has made me feel more focused and alert.  I have aches and pains, but the colors outside are a little brighter, and I've been sleeping a little more deeply.

I spent a good chunk of the early afternoon outside.  It's cold, but sunny, and I enjoyed getting my heavy Carhartt jacket out of the closet for the first time of the year.  Here's a secret:  I actually detest warm weather and really love temps from the 30s to 50s.  I don't mind snow, and a decade ago I would have moved north if a job or two I applied against had actually hit.  So, all that to say that today was a good day to be outside, and the work I got done was satisfying.

I should probably sharpen the saw and tackle an offending maple that I intended to take out this fall, but I stopped after mulching an acre of leaves.  Perhaps tomorrow if it's not too windy.

It occurred to me that this has been the first 'normal' week since perhaps July or maybe June.  I'm not working extra hours, or sick with the plague, or travelling, or entertaining out of town friends or customers, or getting ready for a race, or dealing with contractors at the house.  I keep saying that this year has been exhausting and I'm glad that we're finally seeing things settle back down.  (The weather here meant that from April to maybe June, I was mowing 2-3 times a week just to stay ahead.  The rest of the time it was raining.  The grass grew absurdly fast; all other chores went out the window ... once it dried out, I was neck deep in work politics and a job change and the last 3 months we've been on the road almost every weekend).

There's a zillion things I could do around the property, but considering all that we've done, I feel justified in a little recovery before I get too concerned about my to-do list.  Hopefully Fall is a slow burn and winter is mild and I can make progress.

I need to get my weight and diet back under control.  I'm not crazy out of bounds, but I'm above a magic number, and about 10 lb over my doc's target.  Travel and entertaining are bad news for the way I eat, and overall 2015 has been a crappy year for my weight.  Although I've kept the damage to a minimum, as things begin to return to normal, I'm also reminded that I should look at the scale too.

In terms of bikes and triathlons, right now next season is very much in flux.  I feel like I need to scope out the season at least at a high level as it'll affect my off season training.  For example, if I'm not doing any triathlons then I can dial back the swimming.  Right now I'm leaning towards focusing on biking, and taking on a couple of my bucket list goals -- an Imperial Century (100mi) or maybe a Double Metric Century (200km).  I've been biking since 2008 and have yet to complete my first Century - this is a right of passage for most bikers, and over the years I've been thwarted by injury and weather whenever my attempts are made.  I didn't even plan an attempt for 2015, but maybe 2016 should be the year.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Allure of the Damsel

Abavus Durden

Category:  Other Things Just Make You Swear and Curse
Edit:  My submission was selected for FIRST PRIZE!

[MEANWHILE... at a secret enemy hideout....]

Zor strode triumphantly into the conference room, throwing both doors wide and not breaking stride as he entered.  He loved making an entrance and he knew he'd be silhouetted against the bright background, ominous and intrusive.  Those assembled stifled their conversations mid-syllable and turned their heads at him.  They blinked briefly, and then the doors behind him slid closed and the room returned to its normal dim.

He soaked in the moment, standing motionless at the head of the table, eyes half closed and chin down.  He took a deep breath through his nose.

Finally, he looked around at his assembled crew, acknowledging a few with a nod before beginning.  He was in his elder statesman mode, genuine and approachable. A salesman.  "Gentlemen, I have a mission for us," he said with a smile.  "Good money, and acceptable risk."

"Good," said Kruul, interrupting.  "Have you seen the price of PLEX?  If things get much worse, I'm going to have to go run incursions."  Kruul bounced back in his chair and laughed at his own joke, while a few others snorted.

"Kruul, you're so poor," said Elena Gazky, "the guys in Jita actually WILL double your isk."  Elena winked at Zor while the others cackled with laughter.

"Hey, it's tough for a pirate to live off of insurance money," Kruul countered lamely.

Just like that, Zor's moment had ended.  Those around the table took Kruul's bait and the room descended into banter.  A half dozen side conversations erupted.  Elena got up from her chair to fetch a cup of coffee from the dispenser along the wall.  Schmidt wadded up a piece of paper and threw it playfully at Dread Pirate Scarlet.  She deflected it, then flipped him the bird.  A Seven Deathguard was pantomiming two ships dogfighting with  his hands to the Seven Thug next to him.

But Zor was patience.  Minutes passed, but Zor remained standing at the head of the table, rolling his eyes at the ceiling.  Amatuers, I am working with friggin' amateurs, he thought.  He grabbed the bridge of his nose, attempting to ward off the headache that was brewing and then slowly raised his other hand for silence.

Anire Scarlet noticed first.  "Sorry Zor.  What's the job?" she asked.

"Settle down, everyone," Zor said .  "C'mon, put the chair down Oluf.  Seriously. Sit down."

Scarlet persisted, "What's the job?"

Zor sighed.  He had practiced the speech, and this was NOT how this was supposed to go. He'd need to win over the group.  Anire Scarlet would be the strongest opposition and might bolt solo, hoping to draw the others away. He'd need to tackle her first.  "Now Scarlet, look, before you start..."  The room grew quiet.

"Don't tell me.  It's a snatch and grab, then a ransom," she said. The room groaned.  "I simply don't understand the allure of the damsel."

"Scarlet, it's not that simple.  This intel is solid." Zor said.

"Gah, you're not denying it.  Which damsel is it this time?  How many times have we run this scam, and how many times has it paid out?"

Zor snorted, "Ok, fine.  I'll say it.  It's a snatch and grab, then a ransom.  It's respectable bad guy work, and a solid gig.  It works once, and we're all made."

Kruul turned to face Zor squarely, looking surly.  "With respect boss ... No, Serously, no. Here's what happens.  We get the girl, take her to wait for a ransom, and make her scrub some dishes at the pleasure hub.  Half a minute later, there will be some chucklehead in a Caldari Navy Raven knocking on our door, and he'll blow our crap up."

Zor shrugged, deciding to let this play out, "Well, I suppose I understand how you can feel that way.  But you're jumping to conclusions. Let me back up and tell you the whole plan."

"Go on then," Kruul said.

Zor chewed his lip for a minute, then said, "Ok, it'll go like this.  We have a brief window where we will have access to the daughter of a senior executive within Joint Harvesting...."

Kioran Jeraulek elbowed Yarl Uzbeki and said under his breath,  "JOINT Harvesting.  Always cracks me up.  And gives me the munchies."

"They have the best stuff," Yarl agreed.

"Gentlemen, please," Zor said.  "... a daughter of a senior executive.  We grab her..."

"... and take her to the Pleasure Hub." Kruul completed slapping the table in anger.  "Krikey, Zor. At least try a little."

"It will work this time," Zor insisted, shrugging.

"How are you getting around the door?" Schmidt asked.

"What door?"

"WHAT door??" Schmidt fumed. "You know what door... we dock up at the station, you get shoved in your captain's quarters, and I in mine, Kruul's in his.  To link up, we have to get past that damned door that's always locked to get out into the station hallways."

"Oh, that door," said Zor.

Schmidt responded only by batting his eyelashes.

"Don't worry about the door," said Zor.  "We'll hack our way in."

The room groaned again. Oluf said, "Gawd Zor, I hate that mini-game. I always get my ass blown up."

Zor smiled, "Then don't suck."

"Frikkin' hacking.  Frikkin' Incarna," muttered Schmidt.

Zor was suddenly very serious.  "Schmidt. Don't utter that word around me. Ever."

"What? Incarna?"

"That's twice. I beg you to stop," pleaded Zor.  Schmidt sat back in his chair, puzzled.

Elena explained quietly, "Dude. Everyone knows... it's like Beetlejuice.  Say the I-word 3 times and 500 forum warriors show up and troll your thread. Pipe down, we don't need that kind of visibility."

"Oh, sorry.  I thought people were finally over it.  That was like, years ago."

"You'd think ... but no."  Elana looked up "Zor, I have a dumb question.  Why not get one of those Anomic Taloses to cover our six for this op?  Or that anomic Guristas Worm that has been working these systems?"

"They're dead. Word is, Sisters of Eve put out a hit and that guy from Dog's Breath dropped them."

"Poor bastards."  There was a quiet pause for fallen comrades.

Zor continued,  "Ok, so to review.  We grab the young lady, retreat to Kruul's Pleasure Hub and contact Joint Harvesting ... stop giggling Kioran ... and collect the ransom.  Any questions?"

Kruul raised his hand, "Can I fly the raven this time?"


"No? Come on."

"No. Standard doctrine applies.  You provide close support in your your cruiser and signal the rest of the fleet if there's trouble."

"You just like flying the raven, orbiting out there."  He pantomimed, "Look at me, I'm Zor. I'm orbiting you and I'm immune to target painters."

"Careful, Mr. Kruul.  Or you might find yourself waking up in a clone bay," said Zor with a grin.  Kruul responded with a chuckle and a waive of his hand.  He'd won Kruul back.

Scarlet jumped up, "Look guys. Respectfully, I'm out.  I have to go deal with some Pithum.  I've got a bounty on my head and an implant to deliver.  Wish me luck."

"Fine Scarlet," Zor said unsurprised. "We'll get you in on the next one.  Fly safe."

"Always do," Scarlet said as she was heading to the door.

"What about the rest of you?" Zor asked.

Kruul looked around the room, eyeing each of his compatriots.  Finally, he looked at Zor and said "We're in.  When do we start?"

"X up for fleet, we undock in ten minutes."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Blizzcon Day 2

Sitting at the airport waiting for our flight back to cold dark November reality (as I type it is 28 deg F back home), trying to wrap my thoughts and feelings around what we just experienced.

I am running on 3-4 hrs of sleep and the Starbucks is only marginally helping so don't expect any long winded dissertations just yet.

I will say that I am leaving happy. WoW's evolution is swinging back to my preferred play style, with more emphasis on real world content and questing instead of instances. Things that I said wow needed years ago are now being implemented. It's not all love and hugs for wow, but I feel vindicated in many ways.

The past 4 days have been so full and so busy that I feel like we've been gone for two weeks instead of a few days.  We turned in the rental car this morning and it hit me that our arrival at LAX on Wednesday feels so very long ago.

I did want to correct something from yesterday (or whenever).  Our last trip to Blizzcon was in 2008 and according to Wikipedia had 15,000 attendees.  More recent years, and presumably 2015 included, are listed at 25,000 attendees. I kept saying the event felt bigger, and I was right. ;).

That many people requires a different approach or bad things happen. The biggest shift we noticed was that instead of Blizzcon being a homegrown house party of an event, it has gotten serious. Gone are the Blizzard staff "volunteers" running everything. In their place are hired security and professional temporary workers manning all posts. Staff were good with supervisors magically appearing anywhere there were issues. All staff we encountered knew their schiznit and had well rehearsed answers. When changes like this happen, often the result can be a very "corporate" feel, but the overall event retained most of its charm. When we weren't looking, Blizzcon became a professionally run event, and for the $$ we're forking out, it had to.

We are done travelling for awhile and I am thankful. After the past few weeks I am looking forward to the relative calm of the holidays. (Which is saying a lot, as our holidays are always too busy to truly enjoy).

More later on this topic... // Aba

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Blizzcon Day 1

Day 1 of Blizzcon is done.  The movie trailer is out. We attended several panels but didn't walk the show floor very much.  Today we'll remedy that as I want to demo a few of the games and Onyx wants a few more trinkets from the Darkmoon Faire area.

I am here as a former hardcore Wow raider. Currently, I dabble in Hearthstone.  I play Diablo3 in spurts, but actually haven't messed with it in awhile. I poke WoW with a stick but cant call myself active. I am rubbish at RTS and didn't buy the last StarCraft expac and probably won't buy the upcoming one.

I am interested in where they take WoW. It's far too late for big risky innovation on that title, and they'll continue to milk it for cash while they can. That's not me being bitter, that's just where the title is in its lifespan.  I actually liked what I heard in some of the talk - in particular wow is getting GW2 style dynamic level scaling for the new continent.  Monsters and quests will scale to you and you can just go play where you want without ever worrying about getting off track. I like dynamic stuff, and I really like this.

The D3 presence here was small, and the one panel on it we missed. We did walk past it and it was PACKED. Like, all chairs full and people standing 5 deep all around the perimeter, call the fire Marshall PACKED. I was happy to see so much interest in D3. I hope Blizzard was watching.

The big focus is on esports (bleh) and Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch in particular. Next year will be a big year for Blizzard on this front, they recognize it and I wish them well, but my days of being halfway decent at fast paced shooters and clicky games are long over.

The last time we were here was 2008. They say the crowd is about the same size at 25,000, but I don't believe it. It feels much much larger than it did before. The venue is the same but there are more stages and more vendors and people just absolutely everywhere.

We are having a good time. Blizzards management of the crowd has been superb. There are so many flat panel screens around that as you walk or wait on a line your not really missing anything. As I mentioned, my gig was EVE Vegas and this was Onyx's.  But I'm finding things to check out and get excited about and that's why we come.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Blizzcon Day 0

Back on the road already, this time to Anaheim and Blizzcon. We got in yesterday and went straight from LAX to Randy's Donuts, which is made famous of course in Iron Man 2. The donuts were great and the local landmark was fun.  But yesterday was a 20-21 hour day, and we collapsed early LA time. I slept for 11 hours.

Badge pickup is today, and I assume underway as I type.  We are up the street waiting for entry into Disneyland.  We'll walk around a bit, then get badges, then decide if we want to come back for fireworks. 

Surreal moment of the day was standing in line for Disney (and now in full Star Wars toy onslaught), on a trip for Blizzard, talking about EVE.

Nerds rule.

EVE Economic Data Dev Blog

Attempting to link from my phone. Bear with me.

One of the sessions at Vegas that I personally enjoyed most was the economic report.  The corresponding dev blog is now up. A quick scan suggests this is the same data and dialog as presented in Vegas (I.e. not updated data).  But its an interesting read, and I'm sure will stoke the fires on some of our "favorite" debates.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Happy Monday

It was a good EVE weekend.  One of our rare weekends off and an oddity in that we traveled less than a handful of miles.  Saturday was  a day of yard work, but I mildly overdid it and declared Sunday to be a no-work zone.

And thus, aside from a brief foray into Hearthstone, Sunday was an EVE day.

Mrs. Durden (aka Onyx) resub'd her account to chat with EVE Vegas friends and I lured her into the world of Burners -- we dropped the Blood Ashimmu anomic together a couple of times.

We also found the Blood Raider gauntlet for her and managed to get the BR skin for her before the event expired.  We kept it in highsec (she'd been back ingame all of 15 minutes after a ~4 year absence), and roaming around as a small pack was fun and made me pine for the good ol' days.

I moved a few things around, but mostly I ran missions and had a very healthy spawn rate of Burners.  Sansha and Angel (single) frigate were offered several times each.  Team Jaguar, Team Enyo, and Team Jaguar again.  I had the new Guristas Mothership Burner offered a couple of times, but it was late and I was half-watching TV (Dr. Who, new episode) and decided it wasn't a good time to play with a new fits and I punted it.

Last night I docked up for the night after almost losing my Golem to World's Collide.  My large orange tabby decided it was time to sit on my lap.  I had no vote in the matter, and was only half paying attention to the encounter anyway.  With his fuzzball blocking part of the UI, I lost track of both capacitor and the fact that I was aggro'ing the entire pocket.  Incoming damage got away from me at the same time that I noticed I had one pie sliver of capacitor left.  I was able to use a delicate touch on the shield booster and kept it out of armor.  Phew.

We leave at o'dark early on Wednesday for Anaheim and Blizzcon.  You may get a few Blizzcon posts, but I've done my best to keep this an EVE blog.  Will be interesting being there -- Onyx (Mrs. Durden) is more of the Blizzard fan these days than I am.  (Vegas was my event, Blizzcon was hers.)

I bought a couple shirts at EVE Vegas to wear at Blizzcon to see if I get any sort of a response from the crowd.  If you're there (long shot, I know), look for EVE shirts and say hi to me.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

CCP (finally) Sells White Wolf Publishing

Funny.  If only there had been a big fan gathering where this could have been announced.  Oh wait, there was.  /sigh.

Anyway, it appears that CCP has finally divested itself from the World of Darkness brand after having fully cancelled the WoD MMO many months ago.

Having been to GenCon the past two years, and many game stores in between 'Con visits, it's been sad for me to see basically no WoD content for sale.  Tabletop stuff seems to be booming, but although it was a giant 20 years ago, the WoD brand is notably absent.  (Despite a pretty big insurgence of Vampire angst at the box office and TV.).

It's probably best that CCP focus on computer games and let someone else run the tabletop stuff.
“At CCP, we have great admiration for the White Wolf brands and communities, and it was extremely important to us that the acquiring company share the same respect and understanding,” said Hilmar Veigar P├ętursson, CEO of CCP Games. “With Paradox, we know we are leaving the brands in good hands.”
Full article at TGN.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

New Player Acceleration

There's been a lot of stink about a particular dev blog. Before Vegas there was a lot of words written about it.  At Vegas there were eye rolls and groans from the crowd when it was brought up by CCP.

I had written the backbone of this post before going to Vegas, but got caught up with real life schtuff before I could finalize it.  Now that I'm back and have crashed on the couch after our return trip, I'll see if I can get an answer assembled.

Bottom line up front:  For the record, I don't like the idea of trading skill points.  Philosophically, I dislike things inserted into the game that devalue my time investment.  We talk about the economy having low inflation as being a good thing; I don't know why adding a feature that is effectively "skillpoint devaluation" could be argued as positive.  

Said another way:  I don't like the notion of giving the maximum benefit to the last guy to show up to the party.  

Moreover, I'm fearful that its a thought experiment gone wrong, that it won't actually solve the root cause to the retention problem.

Best I can tell, the logic goes like this: new player tries eve. New player trains a bit, skills complete fast, and things are fine.  Then, new player sees the (long) skill queue required to fly the "perfect skills" meta fit of the week, new player leaves in frustration.  Therefore long skill queues are bad and we should accelerate new players into competitive endgame capability.

It's that last logic leap that I take issue with.  That we should take a new player and accelerate them to catch everyone else.  So, I put forward two ideas:
  1. Character progression and empire building is a core foundation of EVE; short circuiting that process is too high a price to pay.
  2. There are other means to achieve the same retention goals.
To be fair, the word 'retention' doesn't actually appear in the Dev Blog in question.  That's me (and I guess the community) reading between the lines.  

But what to do with newer players as an MMO title ages is not a problem unique to EVE.  WoW has suffered from it, and sometimes dealt with it less than gracefully.  GW2 took great strides in its content to try to eliminate the gaps between maxlvl and lowlvl players where it could in its basic design.  Yes, comparing these games to EVE is apples and oranges in many respects, but the core problem is the same.

The approach I prefer is NOT to accelerate everyone to towards endgame.  Let character progression happen as intended.  Instead, I'd rather see attempts be made to pull endgame (however you define it) content to the left rather than pushing noobs to the right.  

This is kind of a subtle thing, so bear with me.  I want characters to grow and gain capability in the same way that they do today - but I also want the game to be more engaging and unfold in ways that newer players can tangibly participate and compete in.  Said another way:  give players ways to tackle content without pushing them to run missions and "level up and get ready" for whatever endgame they'd prefer to be playing.  See previous post about dynamic content and automatic difficulty scaling (and hopefully soon a Dev Blog regarding the same kind of content coming to an EVE near you) for examples of the type of Content the game could and should have.

Secondly, I'd rather see CCP spending some time looking at the social structures of the game and finding ways to support them.  Why do corps fail?  Why do people run content solo?  EVE has some amazingly engaged and active corps, but the successful few are the exception.  When I ran my own poll here, over half of responders said they are effectively in a 1-man corp.  In a massively-multi-player game.  Think about that.

If this change goes through, is it the end of the game?  No, probably not.  It's probably another feature I'll ignore and go about my normal business.  Some will take advantage of the feature, many will not. Maybe it'll be something I'll yammer at Dire about during breaks at EVE Vegas 2025 ... "remember before you could buy skill points??"  

And maybe that's ok.  But if that comes to pass, it might mean that CCP didn't actually solve anything, and introduced another feature (i.e. invested money) on the scrapheap of things that were supposed to ensure player retention, but didn't.  And until we can talk about "the Content problem" in past tense, I don't think we can talk about "the retention problem" either.  First things first.

Monday, October 26, 2015

EVE Vegas Day 3

And EVE Vegas 2015 is all done.  We'll head to the airport in an hour or so. Vegas is always such a surreal experience and it is very much Fall at home, so I'm somewhat expecting my mental soundtrack to make that skipping record sound at some point today.

The big deal yesterday for me was the PVE roundtable session. I went in not expecting to hear a lot, and was happily surprised at the amount of content that got discussed.  CCP Infinity Affinity (thanks VoV!) promised a dev blog when she returns, so I'll not try to transcribe my notes here on the phone.  Bottom line is that I am happy with the direction CCP is going, and hope that the resources required can be applied so that we can see steady progress. 

I should be able to go through my "what I want from highsec" post from a few days back and annotate most of my wish list as "in progress."  Which is pretty cool. It looks like 2016 will be a good year for PVE content, resulting in an EVE that feels more alive than ever.

The rest of the day went too quickly. The Econ brief was good, and like most I'm looking forward to seeing the return of regular Econ updates. We were told the monthly updates would start next month and would likely be available ingame and somewhat in character, which is a nice touch even for non roleplayers.

Time to pack and find some coffee, and make the trip back to the real world.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

EVE Vegas Day 2

One day of EVE Vegas remains.

Yesterday was about providing more details on Citadels and the capship overhaul, though most of what was in the respective presentations were mostly repeated from the keynote.  I didn't attend either round tables that followed the main briefs, but most of the attendees blobbed them, so any additional tidbits will make their way out.

I apparently missed the detail in the first pass that Citadels could be anchored in highsec.  I wonder who the first corp will be that's bold enough to put an XL Citadel 600km from Jita 4-4 ... and who will be the first to blow it up. ;)

We also heard that the sickle doomsday (titan laser sword) will pull cap from surrounding ships, making it impossible to set off 50 of them at once and burning a patch of sky to the ground. Tho I am sure some FCs are already plotting clever things with the mechanics. 

Ghostbuster (dont cross the streams!) and Jedi references abound around the sickle doomsday.  It's good to be a nerd.  ;)

We also heard that existing doomsdays are getting nerfed considerably.  This caused me to remark that "they may as well change the name from Doomsday to Wednesday" as suddenly they didn't sound so special.

We hung out more with Dire and VoV and swapped more stories and history.  There was a session on the First Great War that I initially though might have been about the First Great Northern War that Pukin' Dogs participated in circa 2004. Turns out I am bad at null history and was off by a couple years. The session was more around 2006 events between BoB, Goons, and the other empires of that era.  It made for a better story with the first titans getting to play.

The t20 incident came up 2 or 3 times that I saw. Is interesting to look back at that and realize what a defining moment that was for the game. It's also interesting that I still have a strong negative emotional response about it. (The sense of betrayal is still there after almost a decade, wow.)

We also hopped into the Valkyrie demo and I was blown away by the tech.  I don't really plan to buy a VR rig, but after the demo I was tempted to price check.  To quote Darth Vader, Valkyrie is impressive. Most impressive.

We didn't go to the party last night. I am still mostly on east coast time (hence why I am pecking on the phone at 5:30am) and have been collapsing early each night.  Such a party animal.

Today is the last day. I'll attend the PVE round table, and hope to get another go at Valkyrie. A couple more agenda items of personal interest, and we'll be thinking about going home.  It is 45 degrees there as I type with colder weather on the way.

Time to find the Starbucks.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

EVE Vegas Day 1

Day 1 is complete.

As an overall schedule, Day 1 was the simplest.  We had 2 tasks - get badges, attend keynote.  Today will be a little more involved from that aspect. 

At its core, EVE is about People, and Day 1 is arranged to reflect that.  There was a big gap between badge pickup and the store opening; this was time for mingling and wandering.  I met many random people; most were very friendly and since we shared a common EVE vocabulary, conversations were fun once they got going.

We spent more time with Sugar, and though I am forgetting many of the names and faces we encountered, I must give a shout to a few:  VoV, Epigene, Dire, and NoizyGamer are super folks in person.  Mynxee of Signal Cartel is funny and genuine, and we chatted a bit in a group though I realized after that I didn't manage to actually introduce myself.  We likewise spoke briefly to Mike Azriah (spelling his name wrong no doubt) but he got pulled away before we got to trade names, and I found out later who he was.

Badges: the line to get badges initially looked daunting but moved reasonably well once it got started.  We showed up just after 11 and were thru in under an hour.  We figured out that we were in line behind Noizy about 25 minutes in, weird coincidence.  Behind us were a few guys from EVE-Uni, so we got to hear a few things from their point of view and some interesting details if how "personal dancers" work on the Vegas strip.

The Keynote:  I am not a null/capship player, but the Citadel brief had me smiling and cheering.  "But Aba," you say, "you're the guy that wants more PVE content, you should be angry that CCP is spending yet more dev time on other stuff. Wtf?"

Well, I am a PVE guy, sure. But I'm also realistic enough to know that ALL aspects of EVE must be singing in grand harmony. Capship play has been broken a good long time, and CCP has made no secret that there's a roadmap established to move the game forward. The end of that roadmap is player made gates and new star systems.  I'm neither surprised or upset that capships play a role in that future.  It was a good pitch and the changes look fun. EVE needs a nullsec that looks fun. (Said another way: There are plenty of people actively lobbying for null/cap changes, the role I play/represent is different but that doesn't mean I disagree with the need for change).

Oh, and there's a PVE segment today (EDIT: oops, I meant tomorrow). I plan to attend and see what gets said, so I'm reserving nerdrage until after that. ;)

(PS: posting from phone, I'm sure that the capship keynote details are out there, don't have a good way to link them.  I do know that MassivelyOP sent a delegate, so that's where I would check first for stuff.)

Friday, October 23, 2015

EVE Vegas Day Zero

Mmmmm. Coffee.

Sitting on our balcony looking over the strip as it wakes up for another day.  EVE Vegas day 1 is today, but let's start by talking about yesterday.

Other than being hurtful early, our flight went without incident. It was a direct route with no layover shenanigans.  Normally I travel for work, which means lugging around a laptop, extra clothes for work and play, and perhaps a binder of crap or two.  For this trip, all my stuff fit in a smallish carry on.  This meant no waiting for luggage at the carousel, easy security screen, and much less fuss and overall lower stress.  We didn't rent a car, so our only real pause for consternation was trying to find the taxi stand at McCarran international (which is one of my generally less favorable airports, tho O'Hare and Washington Dulles certainly suck a lot more).

I could get used to traveling light. Soooo much easier.

On the ground, we had a great day walking the strip. From Planet Hollywood we ventured north to the Wynn and back, gawking like the tourists we are. We stopped at the Venetian for a bit for a snack and drink and watched the statue lady living sculpture.  Other than dodging all the folks trying to hand us stuff and give us "free show tickets" it was a great morning.

In the afternoon we caught up with Sugar, and chatted for not nearly long enough.  My sister in-law had a break from her conference at the Bellagio, so we introduced her to Sugar.  Sis in-law is not a gamer, but took the nerd things in stride as best she could. We love her anyway. :)

Sugar took our picture to send to mom (mom thinks its super cool that we're here the same time as sis in-law, who we generally see only a few times a year).

After dinner, Mrs. Durden and I had drinks on our balcony and watched the strip change colors. I managed to stay awake until 8pm, but had been on the move since 00:30 (yes, midnight-thirty) local time.

Today is registration and the keynotes. We will disappear during the keynote to make our show time up the strip a ways. It should be another good day.

Well, the douchbags on the next balcony are smoking weed, yelling at each other, and spitting snot hockers over the rail, so my moment here is ended.  Coffee is cold anyway.  Time to find a real breakfast and go do nerd things.

Alpha State

"Everything that has a beginning has an end."  That's one of my favorite quotes from the Matrix 2.  It has to do with the ...