Reality Bites

I apologize for the lack of posts of late. Unfortunately real life issues have forced me out of my virtual reality for the moment. The software start-up I’ve been at for the past 5 years was forced to close its doors thus I’ve been trying to find work ever since. The belts had to be tightened and most things unnecessary had to be cut back. If anyone happens to know of some openings for Software Developers please send them my way, here’s my LinkedIn profile just in case.

With all the doom & gloom I’ve still found a little time to keeps things at least progressing in EVE Online. Freddy finished up all the neccessary skills for flying a Hulk the other day and I’m almost done with the prerequisites for a Stealth Bomber. I guess that’s one of the reasons I like EVE’s character advancement system. Even if you can’t log in, you can still advance. That’s not to say I will know what I’m doing when I finally dust off my old account, but at least I still feel like I’ve accomplished something.

I’ve also found a small amount of time to get back into World of Warcraft. I’ve found that with my very limited play time running my Alts is the most rewarding. I can get on, do a quest or two and be done. I can’t say I’m an Alt-o-halic, but I’m getting there I guess. Once this economy and my personal situation turn around I’m sure I’ll have much more stories to share. Thank you for sticking with me!

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Flame Warden Bob

Blizzard currently has their Midsummer Fire Festival event running in World of Warcraft. It runs from June 21 – July 5 and has a number of varying ‘festivities’ and quests.

I have been on an EVE Online kick for a few weeks now and am really enjoying it. Thus I haven’t logged into WoW since around early may…until last night. Now I’ve been playing since launch and have experienced most content, but WoW is slowly losing it’s appeal for me mainly because it less ‘new’ and more ‘grind’ nowadays.

I tend to be obsessive-compulsive at times and WoW’s wonderful achievement system has had its hooks in me for awhile now. Again I’m by no means ‘hardcore’, but I enjoy running around completing the achievements I can. My main quest has been to complete What A Long, Straing Trip It’s Been. Thus, every in-game event season, I have to get in and grind out the sub-achievement.

Being that I will be away for a couple weeks here soon and that Mrs. Facepalm is away on business for a couple days, I knew I had a good opportunity to get the achievement done. It was hard to get motivated, but once I got home I fired up the WoW Launcher, plugged in my iPhone Authenticator code (I used to have the fob, but upgraded to the app) and off I went.

I had completely forgotten where I had last logged out. There was a patch I needed to download, so that took an extra 15 minutes or so. Eventually I was sitting at the entrance to Stratholme, apparently I was grinding Baron Rivendare for his mount when I last logged, so there I was. As Wilhelm pointed out in his post earlier, this event is much like the Lunar Festival. You run to practically every corner of the world talking to quest NPCs and/or interacting with quest items, in this case giant bonfires. Ugh, I was definitely not looking forward to riding around all night long. Regardless, I saddled up and off I went.

I tried to map out the most efficient path to hit all the festival locations. Being that I was in a hurry I used the wonderful guide over at Wowhead. The Eastern Kingdoms was pretty quick, it took me about an hour and a half. After that I headed to Outlands where my epic flying mount and crusader aura helped me knocked that sub-achievement out in around thirty minutes. Then the part I was dreading, Kalimdor.

I’ve never played a Night Elf or a Draeni, or much Horde for that matter, so I haven’t spent too much time in the West. The flight paths are long and the running around is pretty much a pain in the arse. The festival locations where spread out pretty far in between so it took me the better part of two and a half hours to get everything completed. Finally, I hearthed to Dalaran and hit all the locations in Northrend even though they are not required for the meta-achievement and have no achievement of their own. My obsessive-compulsive side showing through yet again.

I finally tackled the King of the Fire Festival sub-achievement where you have to visit all the Horde capital cities and steal their fire. I had somehow forgotten to do this while I was running to all the festival sites. Ugh. I made it through Thunderbluff, Silvermoon, and The Undercity with no problems. Orgrimmar however proved to be another story. Being a Paladin I was able to bubble up and get to the fire, but I had a dozen or so guards on me as well as half as many Horde, needless to say I took the graveyard resurrection (since there was a festival site right next to it) and moved on.

When all was said and done, it had taken me around five hours to compelete everything minus Ice the Frost Lord, where you have to visit The Slave Pens in Zangarmarch in The Outlands to summon and kill a festival-only boss. Now, as Wilhelm pointed out, this festival can have amazing experience gains for lower level characters. I had made just shy of 950 gold on the quest turn-ins alone. A lower-level character wouldn’t make quite that much (extra gold for being max-level) but it would still be worthwhile, though it would probably take a little longer considering I used the portals in Dalaran and Shattrath profusely, plus my epic mounts and crusader aura.

It was nearing midnight, but I was able to get in a quick group to dive into Slave Pens for the final piece of the meta-achievement. This is an encounter that, for max-level characters, should be fairly trivial. The hard part comes from the fact that you can only summon the boss one time per day, per character. Unfortunately no one in our group was able to summon him, me included since I had attempted to help a lower level character with the achievement and had wiped. Finally, around 1 am we found someone to help us. Three minutes later and Bob had his ‘Flame Warden’ Title along with the meta-achievement. Being that I had waffle face from falling asleep on my keyboard a few times times I forgot to grab a screen shot, and I was really trying to remember to do that too! Argh. I promise I’ll be better at taking pictures in the future, I think it really helps to break apart these walls-of-text that I write.

Anyways, one step closer to completing the uber-meta-achievement I so eagerly covet. Bob was in Azeroth for six hours, became 950 gold richer, and was a little saddle sore, but all-in-all another successful MMO evening.

p.s. – Bob is my main WoW character in case you were wondering.

MMO vs. mMO

There has been a lot of debate recently regarding Blizzard’s announcement to regulate participation in Wintergrasp. I can’t say I’m much of a PvP’er, per say, but it’s still noteworthy enough to chime in on the subject.

Massively Multiplayer Online

Obviously one of the main draws for any MMO is the ability to make its players feel a part of something larger than themselves. To live, breath and exist in a vibrant, dynamic (virtual) world has much appeal to it. Being able to adventure with your friends, wander through fully populated cities, and participate it epic battles knowing that every character you see is another human being who is reacting, just as you are to, the situation can be truly exhilarating. There have been countless studies and writings on the subject, so I won’t bore you (any more at least) with my pedestrian point of view on the matter, but it seems Blizzard has again evoked the heated debate on what actually defines massively in an MMO.

miniature Multiplayer Online

If I had to put a number on the total number of people I could interact with in a single online situation before dubbing it ‘massive’, I would probably say 1000 players. This is quite miniature compared to what some other people would define the number to be.

It has been interesting to read about requests for battles of 10,000 players or more, and that unless an MMO can deliver that, it only qualifies as an mMO.

Clearly a healthy player base is needed to sustain a truly dynamic environment, but what is the limit? I’ve always been drawn towards systems like EVE Online that have a single, seamless world server architecture, as compared to World of Warcraft’s ‘shard’ model. Yet considering the size of Azeroth it would be an understatement to say it would be a bit crowded if all 11 million subscribers co-existed in unison.

The Point

Forgive the rambling, I’ll get to it. In theory, being a part of single situation where 9,999+ other players are all interacting directly at once truly would be massive (and bring any current client/server architecture to its knees) yet I believe the player would get the same experience interacting with a much smaller number. After all, you can only fit so many orcs on a screen at once.

“But that’s not the point! An MMO should be designed and architected to handle as many people as humanly possible. And at the same time even!”

Let’s come back to Planet Earth for a second. Data, Bandwidth, Packets and Protocols aside, a fully extensible system with an infinite number of participants just isn’t possible with current technology or infrastructure. (for the next decade at least)

Now I know we’re only talking about 200 vs. 200 Wintergrasp Battles here (as opposed to what, 300 vs. 300 that was typical on a ‘heavy’ night?), and I may be over simplifying the issue, but I think ultimately Blizzard is doing the right thing. Sure people will say Blizzard is ‘giving up’, but I hardly believe they are just throwing up their arms. They tried something truly ‘massive’ (kudos to them) and ultimately had to decide between their users’ experiences and a mere numbers game. Clearly they choose correctly. The choice between a game that supports 200 vs. 200 “miniature” battles within an amazingly detailed and dynamic (destructive) environment and one that supports 10,000 vs. 10,000 “epic” wars of stick figures in a devoid box, is an easy one to make.

Rambling continued

I believe there is more to an MMO than the ego inflating spec of how many people are supported in a single encounter. I’ve been reading alot lately about EVE Online’s ‘Great War’. The magnitude of which has never been seen before in any MMO. The mere fact that such a great event existed, with all it’s twisting plots lines, politics and drama, oh and a few epic space battles here and there, should be a testament to how far our virtual worlds have come. So what if there were only 200 vs. 200 ships flying around at a single point in time and space? I bet if you ask some of the pilots involved in this ‘Great War’ that they’d tell you how exhilarating it was, in all respects.

Conclusion (optional)

So in closing I figured I pose a question. Now I know there are far more intelligent people at work in the industry (and at Blizzard) that have already tackled this problem in length than I, but what the heck. We have some pretty intelligent guys and gals here too that wouldn’t mind chiming in. What are some of the ways you would implement or architect a solution that would enable such truly massive encounters? I’ll start off…shoot holes where you see fit. Constructive criticism is always welcome let’s just keep our eyes on the end goal.

  • In structured encounters, where people don’t come and go freely, caching all user gear and appearance before hand would alleviate some packet data.
  • Using UDP (fire and forget) messaging to transmit non-critical data to clients (i.e. – movement, animation, etc.)
  • Distances between players dictates frequency of information. If player A is 500 yards away from player B, they don’t need to know much information about them other than they are moving in direction X and speed Y. Next update is in 5 seconds or when the distance between them is less than 250 yards, etc.
  • Distances are calculated based on a global player positioning system, not between players
  • Data type prioritization. As the packet size increases, information gets pushed off. Possibly queued up for later delivery or discarded completely.
  • Fast data encoding/decoding algorithms used to package data. More data stuffed in infrequent packets or smaller packets send faster and more frequently.
  • Queued engagement system. This one is a stretch, but something like a quasi-turn based system. Like a global, global cool down that affects all players. You’re able to queue up movement and abilities, of which the top 10 will execute every 5 seconds or so. Lots of server number crunching but possibly less ‘chatter’.

Those are just off the top of my head. Again, nothing great but at least a topic for discussion.