Tuesday, 17 November 2015

I'm no economist, but...

I'm pretty sure the asking price these sellers have listed has created a no-win situation for all involved.

Keep in mind that the item shown in this picture is only needed by non-subscribers with credit limits capped at either 350K or 250K. (Preferred and Free, respectively).

You can click on this image to see a bigger version of it.
  1. The going price on the Galactic Trade Network.
  2. The Cartel Coin cost of pulling enough credits out of escrow
  3. The Cartel Coin cost of buying the pass directly from the Cartel Market
Obviously, if I can afford 240 Cartel Coins to pull 600K out of escrow, I'm going to use those Coins to buy the pass directly and save myself over half a million credits.

Alternatively I could use two escrow transactions of 150K each, totalling 160 Cartel Coins to get a 300K temporary bump in my credit limit, which would allow me to make the purchase.

The trade off with this method is that the escrow transactions are priced in a way to offer more value for bigger packages.

Assuming that each Coin spent offers better value the more credits it releases, then by buying a smaller package of credits I'd be devaluing each Cartel Coin I spent by 25%. Meaning, I'd've cost myself the value equivalent of 200 Cartel Coins. And the unlock still costs me 650K credits over and above!

If I'm missing something here, could someone with a better grasp of economic theory explain to me how this is anything other than a fool's game, and that no non-subscriber would ever purchase this unlock when it's priced this way.

Author's Note: I concede that if you had maxxed a Preferred credit limit, and you had 300K in escrow and you only had 160 Cartel Coins, you could use the alternate method to purchase the unlock instead of the 240 directly from the Cartel Market. But that's a pretty specific scenario. And you'd be ripping yourself off.

Monday, 16 November 2015

My Fine-to-Play experience in SW:tOR

If you've read this blog for a while (although, to be completely honest, why the Hell would you?) you'll know that until recently I only blogged about SW:tOR; it was the only game I played.

Not long ago, however, other games started to get a mention here and there (Wildstar, primarily, and GW2).

I realised that after three years of playing SW:tOR exclusively, it was time I branched out and tried other things. So I chose a bunch of games that had Free to Play (F2P) models and that looked mildly interesting and I set about installing them on my trusty Linux operating system.

I used to easily rack up 20-30 hours a week of game-time. These days, between other games and RL commitments, I squeeze in significantly less, making the $20 a month (after converting my South Pacific Pesos to USD) subscription much less of a value-for-money proposition.

So I cancelled my recurring payments and waited for the day my account got bounced back into the friendzone that is Preferred status.

That day came recently, and with it it brought a raft of unexpected difficulties. This blog post is my way of venting about, exploring, and possibly finding peace with, those problems.

As the Escrow flies:

This was a weird problem to bump into. I knew going in that I was going to be limited to 350K in-game currency on any given toon. I took the precaution of stockpiling commodities that I could reliably sell for a reasonable amount whenever I needed cash (but not more than I could bank in any one transaction).

The problem has arisen because I didn't bother to check the market price on some of the unlocks I need as a Preferred account. For some reason, people think it's sane to list items that are only of use to F2P accounts for more than a Freeper can have in their wallet at any given time (in some cases twice as much).

I know that I have access to the Escrow system, and that when I have enough currency to afford the unlock I need, I can cough up some Cartel Coins to pull the appropriate (preset) amount back into my active wallet to buy the unlock. But as a Freeper, it takes a longer to save up that cash. And the experience is no sweeter knowing you're being gouged for (up to) twice your allowable limit.


Edited to add: I've explored this situation more fully in a follow-up post here.

Cartel Coin Stipend(ed):

This was a silly oversight on my part. Once I realised the difficulty I was going to have buying the necessary unlocks with in-game currency, I thought to myself "Oh, that's fine. I'll just wait and get them with my Cartel Coin stipend.

Except my stipend has ended. Or it would have if not for the fact that I have a security key attached to my account. 

Which means I can score 100 Cartel Coins a month...one sixth what I'm used to. At this rate it would take three months to save up for the cheapest unlock I need (which only lasts a week).



The unlock I keep referring to is the Weekly PvP Pass. The one that gives unlimited access to PvP for a week to non-subscribers. 

Aside from the cost of the subscription, another reason I was keen to downgrade my account was to focus-level some toons I created solely for PvP. 

I'd left them languishing while I concentrated on getting my PvE toons up to max-level and through Shadow of Revan (as well as grinding out all the Legacy-bound companion gear and weapons I needed from Rishi and Yavin).

Since a Preferred account is topped at six active characters, I figured I could activate my PvE main, and then, one at a time, activate and level my lowbie PvP characters.

Yeah..that's gonna be tough when I'm only allowed to do five Warzones a week!

And to think, there's so many subscribers in this game who NEVER set foot in a single warzone...and they have unlimited access!!


Artifactually Speaking:

So far I haven't activated any characters other than my PvE main. I wanted to glut myself on the 'Alliance' content at the end of KotFE Chapter 9 first. 

But even though it's my main PvE character, I do PvP on it as well, and I happened to be in my PvP gear when my account was demoted. And now I can't take it off. 

F2P and Preferred accounts need to buy an unlock in order to be able to use Artifact (purple) level gear (because of course, why not?!).

Like most people, I've worked hard to attain purple gear. Only now all that gear is worthless to me. I can't use it until I get the unlock (which thankfully is account wide and permanent):

But until I can save up the Cartel Coins for it (at my new crippled rate) I'm too scared to take off my (purple) PvP gear for fear I won't be able to either equip it again or put my PvE gear on instead. 

So I can't take off my PvP gear, can't equip my PvE gear, and can't buy upgrades to either!


Edited to add: I've just found out that I can, in fact, equip the purple items that were greyed out to me when I wrote this. All I had to do was log out with them in my inventory (they were in Legacy Storage before). Apparently they are "Previously authorized by subscription" according to the tooltip.


But it's not all bad.

Admittedly I haven't been a Preferred account holder for even a week yet, but so far, I'm not hating it. Yes there are some obstacles to my original idea. But they're not driving me away from the game.

In fact, the gameplay changes introduced in update 4.0, and the fact that I'm now playing for free, is attracting me to the game even more. I like that I'm having the same fun as I used to, without the monthly price tag.

Cheers, and thanks for reading.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Going Korri-bananas!

The term 'gamechanger' gets used quite a lot, in a lot of different contexts and not always when it's deserved.

It's deserved here and now because BioWare's updates for SW:tOR in the 4.0 expac are, literally, game changing.

The changes are so deep and so encompassing that they can, and likely will, have a profound effect on how you play the game, not just your experiences in it.

I have a few plans for after the release and I want to discuss one here.

I want to level a character entirely on a starter planet.

I'm seriously considering levelling a new toon as far as I can while staying on a starter planet.

Since the new level-sync mechanic guarantees you'll be getting rewards and experience commensurate with your actual level (regardless of what planet you're on) it's now become entirely possible to level, using PvE content, on a starter planet. True, you'll need to kill a lot of NPCs, and repeat the Heroics enough times to make your eyes bleed. But it's possible.

Although nebulous at this point, my plan is to roll a Sith Warrior and play as much as I can on Korriban.

Ideally I'd like to go all the way to level cap without leaving the planet, but, considering the starter planets are so small, I'm probably going to need to move on at some point (even if it's just for my own sanity).

I'll probably end up undertaking a one-time relocation to the broader pastures of Drommund Kaas, with it's greater variety of NPCs, higher number of repeatable Heroic missions and access to a Stronghold and GTN terminal.

I know something like this has already been done by players who were focussing solely on Galactic Starfighter and rolled up a toon for that game-mode only. For many of them, they never needed to leave the starter planet. But I'm proposing doing this more as a role-play choice than just staying put simply because the game mode you've chosen to focus on doesn't require you to travel.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Don't get defensive!

I want to talk about the changes upcoming to Snipers (my main class) in KotFE.

I sat on this post for a while, to see what came out of the various datamining sources and/or BioWare themselves. I also wanted to see if anyone else was discussing this and what their thoughts were.

I heard the team on the Galactic Gamers Coalition being decidedly unimpressed with what Snipers got out of the ability lucky-dip. The Angry Sniper on Youtube was likewise non-plussed, calling the changes little more than a return of some of the utility that was taken away from Engineering Snipers in 3.0.

I'd like to offer a different interpretation.

Something to keep in mind is that the Sniper is the antithesis of the philosophy behind the changes BioWare is implementing in 4.0. It's been clearly stated that the intent is to grant more mobility to classes. But the Sniper is a 'turret' class. It always has been.

So what was BioWare to do when the philosophy that is informing upcoming changes is in direct opposition to the philosophy that informed the very design of the class?

They decided to stay true to spirit of the class (which I applaud considering the freedom they've already granted by taking the reliance on cover away from a lot of abilities) and instead used the opportunity to address some very pertinent concerns being raised about the class's performance in Ranked PvP instead.

Because the changes coming in 4.0 are meant for PvP, specifically Ranked PvP.

Consider the following:

I'm blue da ba dee da ba die...
  • The new skill is a comprehensive defensive cooldown reset, and it's pretty unanimously agreed upon that Snipers are a free kill in Ranked Arenas.
  • Sniper's don't have an 'Oh shit!' button, like so many other classes do. Their health tends to continue dropping once it starts until there's none left.
  • The new skill has a remarkably long cooldown of its own...which means nothing in a Ranked match as CDs are reset between rounds.
  • Any Sniper who needs all of their DCDs reset during a PvE encounter should probably consider playing a different class.

So, while I feel sorry for any Sniper devotees who were hoping for a shiny new variant of 'BANG! BANG!' to impress their friends with, I look forward to seeing how the class starts to perform on the Ranked Arena leaderboards

Author's Note: I don't consider myself to be an expert on Ranked PvP and its meta-game. Far from it, I've never played a single ranked match. But I have experienced arenas in the regs solo queue. Also, I am an expert in playing the Devil's Advocate. ;)

Monday, 14 September 2015

On kneejerk reactions

When I first found out that BioWare was going to do away with the four character class main stat system in SW:ToR (in favour of one main combat stat across all classes) I was a little stunned.
That system has been a cornerstone of gameplay since the game launched. It's informed pretty much every decision and all aspects of play (except GSF) so deeply that it's hard to think about it not being a factor.

After my bewilderment lessened a bit, I moved on to anger. I was mad that BioWare was about to render months and months of work, grinding and very carefully selecting gear in order to cover all classes, obsolete. Not only had I built a Legacy PvE set for each class (one for each of the four stats), I'd also ground out the same for PvP (another four sets), and for all my toons' companions (another eight, across two possible roles for each stat-using companion) AND a wardrobe of levelling sets, at four-level increments for each of the four stats.

So all told, the four-stat system has influenced the building of about five dozen gear sets in my Legacy. That's a lot of work and expense to have rendered useless.

So yeah, I was mad.


I've since realised that with this shift BioWare has actually done me a favour. Take for example those PvE sets. Not a single one of them was completely at raid-level. Each of them had some raid drops in it, but the nature of group compositions meant that I'd as often as not, be taking a different toon into an instance than I had the last time. But now, since all of the sets will be just as effective no matter what character class I put it on, I can mix and match to make one set that uses the best of all of them. It's quite likely that this new uber-set will be either at, or very near, raid-level in all slots. Saving me having to grind out the rest of the Willpower set, for example.

The same thing goes for the PvP sets. Not all were tier 2 in all slots, much less fully min-maxed. But some of the pieces were. And soon I'll be able to consolidate those pieces into one set. That's awesome!

And while I can't consolidate the many sets of companion gear that I've collected, I can just vendor them now. Companions won't need stats of their own in this new system. So there's an easy couple hundred thousand credits just waiting to be had.

So yeah, all in all and on more relaxed reflection, I'm actually seeing the benefits coming out of this change. Very real benefits that more than make up for some imagined slight of having had months of grinding thrown out the window!

Postscript: Also, I've been enjoying a similar system in Wildstar which is moving to a two-stat system in its transition to F2P; all gear will have  'Assault' (damage) and 'Support' (healing and maybe some tanking benefit). So you only need to check if any gear drop has more of the role-appropriate stat than the item you currently have, rather than having to remember to grab Moxie, or Grit gear. It's much more fun this way.

If you want to check out Star Wars: The Old Republic, you can play for free by downloading the game from  http://www.swtor.com and earn some free swag if you decided to subscribe!

Monday, 7 September 2015

I'm not a Gilded Warrior

In keeping with my newfound interest in trying out new (to me) free-to-play MMOs, and after a strong recommendation from an old SW:TOR guildie, I decided to give Guild Wars 2 a try.

And because I'm a masochist, I decided to not even bother with a Windows installation first and went directly to PlayonLinux.

I actually thought it would be pretty easy to install since it's such a popular game and there's already a PoL script available. That was my first mistake!

I didn't know, at the time, how much memory my video card has (I sure do know now, thought!). So when the installer script asked me for a figure, I did a quick Google search and pasted in the first answer I found. Which was, of course, wrong.

This mistake lead (or so I thought) to the game spiking my CPU and locking up my system whenever I tried to launch it. After more research, however, I found out that because of some quirk in the way that GW2 renders itself on the screen,  we Linux users need to tell Wine (via PoL) to create a virtual desktop for the game to run in.

None of my other games need this so I wasn't familiar with the process, but it wasn't actually too hard to configure. Setting it up got the CPU problem under control and gave me an actual window wherein I could see the game running (or at this point, downloading).

Unfortunately, something in my stack, (Xorg or PoL or Wine or something) insisted that this virtual desktop belonged on my laptop's built-in screen, and not on the significantly larger monitor I have attached.

Again, much googling finally yielded a command that I could use to grab the virtual desktop window (which the Gnome window manager steadfastly refuses to decorate with borders) and offset it by the width of my laptop screen, effectively shoving it onto the external monitor.

So, all in all, it's not an elegant installation, but it works. The game launches, runs, and appears at the right resolution on the correct monitor. But it's been the hardest PoL installation I've tackled to date.

By this time the game had downloaded to the point where I could log in, create a character and begin futzing around in the starter area. So, on to my thoughts about it.

Firstly I don't really go in for 'fantasy' settings in my media, be it books, movies or video games. I'm a die-hard sci-fi guy. Not that I won't make exceptions if the work in question is good enough. But usually don't feel any pull towards the fantastical realms of speculative fiction.

I'll be honest and say up front that Guild Wars 2 isn't likely to change that preference. It's got all the usual fantasy tropes and, thus far, it doesn't really do anything new or interesting with them.

I created a human engineer (because dual wielding pistols!) after a failed attempt at playing an Asura (Asuran?). I've played him to around level 6 or so and, while the game is interesting (because it's new), I'm already starting to struggle to see what will keep me interested long enough to grind to the endgame.

So far I feel the setting and storylines (such that I've encountered in beginner regions) are generic, the movement and character models feel clunky and awkward, and even the UI, trying to be all Gothic and mystical, is just ugly.

Having said that, though, there are some things that have jumped out and really impressed me.

I really like the way 'group' content happens organically through one player spawning an 'event' that all nearby players are informed of and encouraged to join. It's usually just a boss fight, but still, the unexpected, organic and cooperative nature makes them kind of fun.

I accidentally spawned one of these group events during my most recent session and was gratified to see other players pitching in to help carry it to conclusion (especially because it became rather tedious in the end).

I'm also a big fan of the way GW2 offers multiple weapon options to a class. My other MMOs (SW:TOR and Wildstar) give each class precisely one weapon option. I was pleasantly surprised when I recently realised that my engineer could stow his dual pistols in favour of a two-handed rifle. And that when he equipped it, it changed all of his abilities to ones more befitting the weapon!

This versatility really feels like it could keep the game interesting, especially during long levelling grinds. Equipping different weapons loads different abilities which creates a different rotation and leads to a different playstyle for your character. I like this idea so much I wish it would be adopted by other games.

But yeah, all in all, unless something changes soon to keep me engaged with GW2, I can't see it becoming a permanent feature in my gaming roster. Sorry Narine.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Getting Wild with the Wine again.

In my last post I mentioned I'd been given a key to the Wildstar closed beta testing effort. I'm still very much enjoying being back on 'Nexus', so much so that I will definitely be continuing, at least with a F2P account once the transition to that model is complete.

So, Wildstar is now a part of my ongoing gaming roster (actually, adding it takes my gaming from 'a game' to 'a roster'; I'm such a noob). And, of course, having to maintain a Windows environment just to play it was annoying me a bit.

So, after my success running SW:ToR in a Wine virtual drive using PlayOnLinux (PoL), I decided I had nothing to lose by trying to replicate that success with Wildstar.

I was mildly concerned that there was no scripted installation option in the PoL ecosystem (PoL makes installing software with Wine easy as it uses scripts written by gurus to provide guided, if not automated, installation).

Since an install script exists for SW:ToR, I'd never manually installed anything through PoL before. A bit of googling and a few PoL forum posts suggested that it wasn't actually that hard to get running, so I dove on in.

The process, I'm happy to report, went pretty smoothly.

I've outlined the steps I took below for those of you who might be interested:

  1. Start a manual installation from the PoL interface.
  2. Create a new virtual drive (rather an modify an existing drive)
  3. Name it (Wildstar, obv)
  4. Choose the 'Install some libraries' option (as I'd read that wininet and winhttp were needed)
  5. Choose '32 bits' as the architecture (even if you're on a 64 bit system, this is usually safest)
  6. PoL creates the drive
  7. Find the installer file (I initially tried running it directly from my Win 7 partition...didn't work)
  8. Let the installer do its thing.
Wine crashed randomly a few times during the installation, but I was able to nurse it through to completion by repeating the process above and choosing to modify the existing drive in step 2 (leaving everything after that unchanged).

Once the installation was finished, but before I fired up the game, I disabled the OpenGL Shading Language (GLSL) as I'd also read that it was causing poor framerates when active (select Wildstar in the PoL games list, click Modify, go to the Display tab, find the GLSL Support entry, choose Disable in dropdown menu).

And that was that. The game runs as smoothly as it does in a Windows environment.

Postscript: Another awesome feature I've found is the PoL Vault, which is a plugin that backs up  (and optionally compresses) your virtual drives to a different location (in my case, an external storage drive) for easy re-installation later. Needless to say that I've backed up both my SW:ToR and Wildstar virtual drives. Obviously the backups won't get any patches applied to the games, and I'll need to reinstall Wildstar when I switch over to the live client (the closed beta is a separate client installation), but still. you can never have too much backed up!