Jul 272012

Four months!

A great deal has happened. 38 Studios closed, meaning the beautiful and amazing game I spent the last two years working on will never see the light of day. The studio’s closure hit some employees very severely, since it happened with essentially no notice and every expectation that the situation we were in was something we could emerge from. We couldn’t, we didn’t, game over. Cody and I don’t tend to be extravagant spenders, and her benefits are equivalent to mine, so we simply rolled onto her plan with no interruption.

We finally got a dog! We adopted Crichton (named for John Crichton, FarScape’s astronaut protagonist) from a rescue shelter that operates out of New York. He’s a German Shepherd mix of some kind (strongly resembles a Rhodesian Ridgeback, too), born tailless. He chose Cody immediately, and that was basically that. He’s been an amazing addition to our lives and it’s actually hard to imagine what life was like before him. He’ll be six months old on Cody’s and my second wedding anniversary.

I had the excellent fortune to work with many amazing people at 38 Studios. One of them, with whom I worked very closely, made mention to me that his wife’s company was looking for a PHP developer. “Why, I’m a PHP developer!” I thought. I’ve been paid for PHP work in the past (when I worked for Northeastern while attending school there, and when I worked for Blue Fang), I use PHP on a regular basis in my own web projects, and I have a technical mind as a result of working on software for the last six years. A month after 38 Studios laid us off, I started work at Surf Merchants in Boston. So far, it has been amazing. The people are awesome, the company is fantastic, and I get to work in PHP every day–and get paid for it! I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, probably as a result of spending six years in a very volatile industry.

Ashes is making steady progress, thanks in part to my new commute that has Cody drop me off at the commuter rail in the morning for a 30 minute train ride into Boston. I use that time to continue working on the third draft, and have hit the troublesome middle section I mentioned several posts ago. And it is, indeed, troublesome. I thought I was nearing the end of chapter eighteen, only to realize that I was going to have to re-re-tool chapters fifteen through eighteen to make everything flow correctly. This is what happens when you think you remember your story treatment, but don’t actually double-check.

Joined Pax Gaming, to which Cody already belonged, and have started playing both The Secret World (due to Cody’s exhuberance and a desire to play an MMO together again) and Star Trek Online. I was very pleasantly surprised by STO. Cryptic did a great job capturing the feel of the Star Trek universe. Kudos to them. TSW is a blast, too, and I really dig the flexibility of their system, and the general ambiance of the world–except for all the damn zombies.

Why is everyone so into zombies? I mean, I guess Ashes sort of has zombie-like creatures in it, but not really. It seems like zombies are part of the modern zeitgeist, and I do not understand the appeal at all. I suppose the same argument could be made about vampires, but vampires don’t bother me nearly as much (or, at all, really; I enjoy vampires). I wonder if there’s an element of appeal to the monster. With a vampire, it’s a creature that has power, that has traits that are desirable despite the drawbacks. Same with a werewolf in some ways. But a zombie? Where’s the draw there? Why would you want to be a zombie? Why would you want to live in a world populated by zombies? I don’t get it.

I mentioned it briefly above, but Cody and my second wedding anniversary is coming up in a bit under two weeks. Last year, we went on a cruise. That’s not so feasible this year, what with Crichton and all, and it’s left us somewhat stymied as to what to do instead. Every time we think of things to do and look at the cost, it seems so inefficient compared to the cost/benefit ratio of a cruise. Instead, we’ve talked about doing something smaller for our anniversary (a nice dinner, for instance) and something larger later on.

I came across a fun little program called Manic Time, which tracks your application usage and document/website usage by time. I want to use it as a motivational tool to show myself how much time I waste that I could be writing. With actual metrics staring me in the face, I think that’ll be a decent motivator to not spend so much time idling.

That’s about it for now!

Oct 252011

Though I haven’t played for quite some time, I still keep track of EVE news. The EVE Dev Blog is still in my RSS feed, as are Ten Ton Hammer’s EVE posts. The most interesting news source, though, is definitely Jester’s Trek. The eponymous Jester and I have been good friends1 for nearly 15 years. His enthusiasm for the game, and the way he follows the changing tides of EVE, are fascinating reading. Naturally, he urges me to resubscribe at every opportunity.

There are two reasons why I have resisted doing so and I wanted to discuss them in a little more than soundbite detail.

The first is entirely on me: EVE felt to me like a second job, rather than a game. That’s because, in part, I made it a second job: it was my objective each month, while playing, to earn enough in-game money to pay for two PLEXes, which kept me from paying real-world subscription money. I had a spreadsheet to track this, to ensure I was on-track. I had to make so much per day in order to hit my mark, and if I skipped a day, or fell short, I had to make it up by the end of the month. There was real-world money on the line, even though it wasn’t a great deal. I made this money through mission grinding — essentially, soloing in an MMO.

I freely acknowledge this is stupid on a number of levels. For one, why was I not playing with my friends? That’s the whole point of an MMO — playing with others. There were many times when I commented that I wanted a single-player EVE. But why? The whole point is the fact that there are thousands of other players in the same universe. And while mission running brought in a decent amount of money, I could have been making substantially more with a bit more effort. The aforementioned Jester mentioned an in-game purchase recently that dwarfed the most in-game money I ever had. Clearly, I was just doing it wrong.

This was my fault and is something that I could probably fix were I ever to return to the game.

The second is entirely on EVE, though, and I’m skeptical it would ever change. The thing about an MMO is that you’re essentially paying an ongoing lease on an virtual investment. To play on the lease idea, I’ll compare your character in EVE to an apartment. When you get the apartment, it’s empty. Maybe it has some key furnishings like a refrigerator or a stove, but more than likely you’ll need to supply the actual furniture. You need to acquire food for that refrigerator, populate that apartment with your own furniture, supply your own wardrobe, and pay for all of that while also paying for the lease on the apartment.

No matter where you live, there’s always the risk that some nefarious villain is going to break into your home and take your stuff, mess up your apartment, and generally make your life sad. We combat this with insurance against things like theft, fire, weather, and so on. While insurance companies have earned a rather poor reputation for fulfilling their end of this contract, the spirit is nevertheless clear: you pay them a regular fee, they replace your stuff as best they can if and when you lose it.

This brings us to EVE. If I am to spend paycheck dollars for this lease — my subscription fee — and hours of my week investing time into creating this character, acquiring bigger and better ships and modules, and so on, I’m not going to be too pleased if someone asshole out for a griefing joyride swings by to blow up my ship. EVE is an everyone vs. everyone game, with PvP available all the time, and that’s fine. But I fundamentally disagree with the idea that someone can take away a thing I’ve poured hours of my life into without being compensated for it in some way. EVE has insurance for ships. It works fine to fund the replacement cost of any “tech 1” ship. It does nothing to cover the costs of the modules equipped on that ship, nor the cargo it carries. And insurance on “tech 2” ships is laughably low compared to their actual costs.

In WoW, if you’re on a PvP server, you’re pretty much fair game at all times. If another player kills you, it’s obnoxious. But you don’t lose the gear you spent hours of your life grinding dungeons or wiping against raid bosses to acquire. You keep it. Maybe it gets a little damaged2, but you don’t outright lose it, or your stuff. Realistic though it may be to loot the corpse of a vanquished foe, it’s not fun to be the vanquished foe. I’m not playing a game to be confronted with the harsh realities of life, wherein any asshole with half a mind to do so could potentially waltz up and shoot me at any given time.

I don’t mind being inconvenienced a bit to simulate this, as WoW does it. Some griefer comes along to kill me while I’m out questing, fine. That’s annoying, but it’s a risk you take on a PvP server. He has his fun, gets his reward3, and we go our separate ways. EVE is a different world, but that doesn’t change the fact that I spent a lot of time, as a player, acquiring that stuff.

If EVE wants me back, it won’t be hard: overhaul insurance. I don’t mind keeping my insurance paid up, and if I forget, then it’s all on my head. In return, I expect that when I lose an insured ship, fair market value4 for the ship, all installed modules, and all cargo be reimbursed to my wallet upon its destruction. That way, I can go re-acquire all of those things. It’s inconvenient to do so, but at least I can do it with only a minor disruption in my own game.

There’s an EVE mantra: “don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose.” I’m essentially advocating the nigh-abolition of this mantra. What you can “afford to lose” becomes “what you didn’t insure.” Getting your ship shot out from under you should be an annoyance, just as getting ganked in WoW is an annoyance. It should not represent the loss of hours and hours of labor on your part. That’s not fun.

If it’s not fun then why would I want to play it?

  1. To the point that he lived in my parents’ house for a while []
  2. The mechanics of PvP gear wear vs. PvE gear wear are unimportant to this particular discussion []
  3. Honor Points, with which he can buy PvP-specific gear []
  4. What’s fair market value? I would argue the median or mode cost for the item. Means are too subject to influence by outliers. This would, of course, require a continually updated database of these prices across the entirety of New Eden, tracking sales on both the open market and in contracts (or whatever they’re calling them these days). Naturally, such a system would be subject to manipulation all on its own, but I frankly don’t have a fool-proof answer. The key point is that I should get enough money from my insurance payout that I can go hop on the market and reasonably expect to buy a new ship and replace all modules and cargo for the amount I was reimbursed. []