Monday, April 11, 2011

Still Here, Just Kinda Busy With RL Right Now

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but it's been a particularly busy spring for me in RL, and so I've had very little time for STO and for gaming in general. I have done a few of the Foundry missions and I'll be doing more, and I've begun the Delta Flyer missions...I want one.

This too shall pass, and I'll be back in the saddle soon. One thing I have been doing when I have some time is replaying Mass Effect 1 and 2. Why that and not devote more time to STO? Well because the ME series is probably my all-time favorite sci-fi game series of all time and I've managed to acquire the books as well, but I'm waiting until I finish both games again before I read them (I'm in the middle of David Weber's Honor Harrington series right now anyway). I tend to read a lot more than I game because my e-reader is far more portable than my PC (I don't own a laptop and probably wouldn't game on one even if I did).

So anyway, that's the reason why you haven't seen anything here recently, but don't worry I'll be back, and pretty soon too.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What Do Ya Do When There’s Nothing To Do?

So, I’ve now played through just about everything in STO that doesn’t involve teaming at least once. That being the case, I decided to see what else I could do in-game that would be interesting, productive, and as non-repetitive as possible.

I realized that since coming back to STO and really since the beginning, I hadn’t given much attention to crafting at all. I decided to do a little research and see if I could make it worth my time. In this I was successful, but crafting itself really kept me entertained for about two days. The results, however, I expect will keep me entertained a lot longer.

After spending most of yesterday maxing out my crafting skill, I decided that my next project would be getting my assault cruiser outfitted with Aegis gear. This actually took longer than I expected it would as it required me to spend most of my day in the Zenas Expanse chasing down Tachyon Wave Signatures and Exobiological Samples. Once I had what I needed, I headed to Memory Alpha and outfitted my ship. Then it was off to try my new gear out in some combat.

What I came to realize as I was testing out my new gear is that I think it’s time for me start playing the next tougher mode. I’d intentionally left the slider at “Normal” when I’d returned because I felt I needed some time get back into the game before I increased the difficulty. Now with my newly upgraded ship, areas that were a lot more challenging before are suddenly a lot easier to deal with.

So I think starting tomorrow or whenever I next find myself in-game I’m going to move the slider to the next level and see how it goes. I can always go back if I find it too tough. There is one possible exception, though.

At one point, I decided to try a PvP arena and totally got my ass kicked. The problem was that I was probably the best-equipped ship in the arena so all the Klingons immediately ganged up on me first and ignored everyone else.

I probably could have done better if I was on a team with similarly equipped ships, but there was no way for me to survive for any length of time when the second I’d enter the combat zone all the Klingons would turn away from the ships they were fighting and pound me into dust. After a few attempts and repeated poundings, it got boring really fast, and I decided it was time to go try out my new gear somewhere else, in a PvE situation.

It was a lot more fun, but that got boring after a while too because my new gear made it so much easier to get through battles that had been a lot harder before.

So next time out, we move up the slider and see how it goes. should be…interesting.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Star Trek Online: Disconnected From Server

(As annoying as it is and continues to be, I decided to have a little fun with it -B.)

"I don't understand it, Captain."

"Don't understand what, Ensign?"

"I've been trying to contact Star Fleet Command to confirm our next mission as per your orders, but I can't seem to get through. It seems I make contact initially but then I lose the connection and have to reenter our authorization codes again. I must have tried twenty times in the last twenty minutes."

"Could it be a problem on our end or something external disrupting our communications?"

"No Ma'am. I've run a full diagnostic on our communications array. Telltales are all green and there's nothing out there our sensors can detect which should interfere with communications."

"Damn it, Starfleet Command has been promising to upgrade their main array since before I took command of the Invincible, even before Fleet Admiral Zinkievich left the service. I see Star Fleet Command is apparently still far too busy recruiting and training new personnel under Fleet Admiral Stahl to get its own house in order."

"In fairness, Captain," Commander Tolek said quietly, in that earnest Vulcan tone of his Captain Bekka Jai enjoyed on an aesthetic level but had also privately come to loathe when he used it at times when she found it inappropriate to the situation, "The number of ships patrolling the Alpha Quadrant has increased dramatically recently. It could simply be a matter of the system being overloaded beyond its capacity."

"I'm sure that's exactly what it is, Number One. The problem is that we've heard of this promised communications upgrade in dispatch after dispatch, yet it never seems to materialize while the size of the fleet continues to grow rapidly. It makes you wonder exactly what the Starfleet Corps of Engineers is actually working on, because it certainly doesn't seem that making sure that the ships already out here are able to get our own jobs done is a high priority for them."

Commander Tolek took a position just behind the Captain's chair and clasped his hands behind his back as they both watched Ensign Pretobere and Lt. Commander Ezib huddled around the communications station reentering authorization codes and trying anything they could think of to try to get a solid connection with Star Fleet Command. "If I see 'Disconnected from Server' just one more time, I swear I'll..." "Belay that, Commander. Just do the best you can." Captain Jai said sharply. "If anyone on this ship is going to give Starfleet Command hell about this, it'll be me." Chastened, Commander Ezib blushed, as much as it was possible for the Andorian to blush. "Sorry Ma'am."

Bekka Jai looked over her shoulder toward the communications station and her expression softened. "I know it's frustrating, Ezib. It is for all of us. We can't proceed until we get confirmation, which means we're stuck out here in the Hromi Cluster until we can get a solid connection. Believe me, I'm as annoyed as anyone." "I know that Ma'am. I just wish..." Ezib thought better of finishing the thought and instead said "Have you tried contacting the Starfleet Corp of Engineers directly, instead of going through command?"

The Captain's expression was one of wry amusement. "No. There's really no point. We know what the problem is and so do they. Until Starfleet Command pulls its head out of its...gets its act together and upgrades their communications hardware, this is the way it's going to be, I'm afraid." Captain Jai turned and looked over at the communications station again. "Oh and Commander, as a cadet I studied under Academy Commandant Janeway. Like her, I prefer to be addressed as 'Captain' rather than 'Ma'am'." "Yes, Ma...Captain." "Very good. Now help Ensign Pretobere get Starfleet on the line. We're done with our mission here, and I want to get..."

"Captain!" Ensign Pretobere's voice was so excited she nearly squeaked. "I'm in! Mission orders confirmed!"

Bekka Jai visibly relaxed, sank back into her command chair, and looked at the viewscreen. Finally. They have just got to get that damned array upgraded, she thought, or they're going to end up losing a lot of good officers. "Alright, Vwydek. We're headed for the Delta Volanis Cluster, followed by a stopover at Memory Alpha. Set a course, engage the Quantum Slipstream Drive, and get us the hell out of here."

"Yes, Ma'am!"

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

A few posts and slightly less than a year ago, I was bitching that the players I’d teamed with to do STF missions were unreliable. In one of my recent posts, I said I’d joined a fleet but didn’t remember doing it. Not surprisingly, given my lack of STO playtime over the last year, I’d never even made contact with any of my supposed fleetmates. It wasn’t a matter of animosity or being antisocial, it was just that I had neither the time to nor the interest in getting involved with a fleet at that point. A couple of days ago, I decided that it was time that changed.

When I was still playing Eve-Online, I’d teamed up with another player, Nick, and we created a corporation called Stonewall Interstellar. We were basically a manufacturing corp, and we were rather tiny, perhaps eight or ten members max. What was pretty unique about our corp was that we were openly LGBT-friendly and welcoming. We lasted a few months, but then I had to leave the game for a while. When I returned, I found that Nick had left the game for good and transferred control of the corp and its assets to me.

There was no way I was going to try to run our corp by myself, so after a few days I ended up draining all the assets into my personal accounts, disbanding the corp, and eventually joining a different one, this time in 0.0 (unsecure) space. This lasted a few months until I came to the conclusion that my RL schedule wasn’t going to allow me to play with any regularity in concert with my corpmates. The problem was that in 0.0 space there’s really not very much to do as a solo player, so it was at that point when I decided it was time to say goodbye to Eve.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago. While reading the STO forums in search of an STO fleet with similar values, I ran across a thread promoting an LGBT-welcoming fleet called, interestingly enough, Stonewall Fleet. Needless to say, I had to check it out.

I went to their website, poked around, and noticed that the username of the Fleet Admiral looked awfully familiar. It had been a while and I wasn’t certain, so I dropped him a note in-game and asked if he was the same person I’d gamed with in Eve. Nick responded soon afterward and confirmed that he was, That settled it for me. I knew right then that Stonewall Fleet was exactly what I’d been looking for. I jumped into the in-game fleet chat, found Nick there, and it wasn’t very long before I was one of Stonewall Fleet’s newest recruits.

My new fleetmates who I’ve met and interacted with so far are great, but the most interesting part of all this is discovering just how much I really didn’t and still don’t know about the social aspects of STO. I’m slowly learning the chat functions, many of which are different from Eve, and I’ve downloaded and installed Ventrilo on my PC for probably the first time in about two years. I had it on my old machine, but I’ve never really had any need for it since I left Eve so I hadn’t bothered to install it on my new one until now.

And, on top of all that, I’m slowly getting used to gaming as part of a group again, but it’s a much better situation for me than Eve was at the end. Sure, there are fleet events and plenty of things to do with other players, but I don’t feel obligated to be in-game at certain times unless I want to be. I expect to be participating in a lot of fleet-related events and other programs, but many of these don’t require me to be in-game at certain times. I can pick and choose those I want to join and those I can make, and that works for me. When Nick and I were running our Eve corp we were very loose in those kinds of things, and he’s clearly carried that administrative attitude on to Stonewall Fleet. I like that. I like it a lot. STO is a completely different game than Eve, yet somehow joining Stonewall Fleet feels like coming home.

I have a feeling that this is the start of a whole new dimension of fun for me in this game and I’m very excited about it.


In the Piss Me Off Department: Earlier tonight I fired up STO and went to try to do some of the missions I hadn’t done yet or hadn’t done in a while. I decided to go back to one I’d do all the time when I first started playing, exploring the B’Tran Cluster. That was the plan, anyway.

It took me something like ten minutes of trying to log in to finally get into the game. I accepted the mission and went to beam up to my ship. Suddenly, I found myself staring at the login screen again. After several more login attempts I made it back in and got myself to the Gamma Orionis transwarp gate, where I was booted out again.

Several more minutes of logins until I finally was able to get back in and make it actually into the B’Tran Cluster. When I went to explore a planet, I was booted again only this time it was even worse. Once I finally managed to successfully log in I made it to the planet, found out that I didn’t have enough of the terraforming systems they needed in my personal inventory and so I headed back out of the system to get more. Booted again. When I tried to log in again it still took as long as it had previously to get in but then once I’d successfully made it back into the game I discovered a new issue.

I’d hit the “PLAY” button on the login screen only to have it partially load and then I’d get a “Server Not Responding” notice. I’d sit there as the game would struggle along loading tiny bits, then go to “Server Not Responding”, then load a little bit more, then the notice again, until finally after the notice stayed up for about 45 seconds it would just give up and boot me again…over and over and over.

Finally, I’d had enough. I’d spent the better part of an hour trying to do run across a couple of sectors to get some commodities that should have probably taken me no more than five minutes or so even without using my Quantum Slipstream Drive. When I logged out, the game began downloading a new patch, very slowly.

I suspect (hope) that lots of players downloading the patch was why the servers were so terrible tonight, but even with that I think this is far below the level of service players should be able to expect from any MMO that has been live (read: charging people money to play) for over a year now. I’ve also experienced rubberbanding on missions and in station areas, sometimes to the point of major annoyance.

In a few minutes, I’m going to try to log in again. I’ve spent a while writing this post, so now I’ve only got about a little more than an hour before I have to bag it for the night, so I’m hoping to at least get my commodities and get back to the B’Tran Cluster before then. We’ll see, but right now, I am so not a happy camper.

See ya out there…I hope.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Warp Speed

That’s what it seems like anyway. I’ve been back in STO a little over a week and I’ve already run through all of the Featured Episodes, so now I’m pretty much doing stuff at random.

I’ve checked out a couple of the dailies. I need to do more before I can pass judgment, but my first impression is that they’ve been improved from when I was doing them previous to my near-year-long break. Back then it seemed like they were just the same five or six missions and themes combined in different ways to make them appear to be different missions, but in reality they were almost exactly the same every time, and it got pretty boring pretty quickly.

I also did one of the player-created missions. It wasn’t as good as the ones created by Cryptic, but I will say it was entertaining enough and held my interest all the way through. This is one of those things that I fully expect will improve over time, as those who enjoy creating these missions get better at making them and the Foundry software improves. I’ll probably take a look at the other two that are already up, and I look forward to more.

There are still many missions I haven’t tried, particularly those which require a team. Frankly, based on my experience last time I did one of these, I’ve been avoiding them. Nothing, and I mean nothing, pisses me off more than spending two hours getting most of the way through a multiplayer mission only to have my teammates bail out and find myself with no way to finish it.

Oh yeah, and also in the Pissed Off Department: For some reason Blogger’s post editor has suddenly decided to take a shit on me and refuse to load properly, so I’m now using Windows Live Writer to post. Normally I’m not a big fan of these kinds of free Microsoft tools since they’re often buggy, poorly designed, and usually tied into their crappy online services, but I will admit this one works well enough for my purposes. I just prefer the Blogger editor because I’m used to it.

One thing I was especially pleased to see in the latest feature episodes was the voice acting. It wasn’t perfect (it seemed to me that Admiral T’Nae had just a little too much emotion in her voice for a Vulcan), but it was a very welcome addition which helps to increase the immersion level.

One thing they haven’t done yet that I’d like to see is create voices for all of the primary NPCs in a featured episode series, including those drawn from the canon. Yes, I know DeForrest Kelley  and James Doohan are no longer with us, but that doesn’t mean Cryptic couldn’t find living actors to voice McCoy and Scotty in STO.

The same goes for any other characters original actors who have passed on or are unable to appear due to price or availability. My understanding is that Cryptic is licensed to use any and all of the Star Trek characters and canon in STO, so this should be a no-brainer and a logical next step in making the game more immersive and attractive to serious Trekkies especially, but also just for players in general, and make the STO experience more like participating in a real Star Trek storyline.

Another thing I really liked was the cutscenes. I only wish these could be a bit longer and flesh out the story a little more. The best thing about Star Trek, what has kept fans coming back for more for over forty years has always been the writing, the stories. In Star Trek, the action and the technology have always served to support the stories, not the other way around. I’d like to see that aspect played up more than it has been until now, and I know I’m not the only who feels that way.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. See ya out there.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hello Old Friend

Yeah, I know it's a Babylon 5 quote, but what the hell, it fits.

Those of you who read back in this blog will know that it's been almost a year since I posted here. It wasn't intentional or desired, just the reality of life taking precedence over gaming. In a way, it's a good thing. I hadn't logged in much over the last several months, and so, I really didn't have much if anything to say here.

Things are different now though. RL is now allowing me far more free time in front of my computer, and so I'm back in STO catching up on what I've missed while I've been gone. Quite an improvement from what I remember in some ways, not so much in others. Being a lifer makes things so much easier. If I were still having to pay monthly subscription fees I'm not sure STO would fit into my budget now.

And so, having returned to the fold after so long, here are some immediate impressions after about a week back:

One of the biggest problems I had when I began playing STO was that it launched with what I considered to be an unacceptably small amount of playable content. Sure, the content that was available was very good, and in fact that's what inspired me to take the plunge on a lifetime sub, but I all too soon reached a point in the game when it seemed that all there was left for me to do in the game was explore the B'Tran Cluster and similar areas over and over.

That, combined with some real life issues that had to take precedence over entertainment time, were key reasons why I ended up not playing STO with any regularity  for several months. Not only was my attention focused on other things, but I had no incentive to return. Frankly, had I been on an ongoing subscription plan, I probably would have just canceled my subscription and never looked back, just as I have with other games when I felt they were no longer worth the time and money I was spending on them.

As an STO lifer, however, having already spent around $300 on an STO Collector's Edition and a lifetime subscription, I also knew that whenever I found the time I could always return to the game when it recaptured my interest. I kept up with the game news and knew they were introducing more content and addressing some of the gameplay issues players had. I did log in a few times over the year just to see what changes, if any, I could see for myself, but RL kept me from making any serious attempt from getting really involved again. Then, a little more than a week ago, my schedule changed to one that allowed considerably more free time at home, so I decided it was time to see how the ol' Final Frontier had changed while I was gone.

The first thing I noticed was the most obvious: The content. Simply put, there was just a lot more to do in the game than there had been when I'd taken a break. The new episodic missions have kept me busy and I find them to be a lot of fun to play. While it seems that I somehow managed to join a fleet during my off-time (though I can't for the life of me remember when I did this), I'm mainly a solo player.

Even now, my schedule and available playtime, despite having more of it, are wonky and inconsistent. I play when I have time to play and I'm pretty unreliable in terms of being able to participate in scheduled events. In fact, that's the single biggest reason why I left Eve-Online. Once you reach a certain point in that game there's really not much you can do that's not done in concert with other players, and usually finding myself unable to coordinate my RL schedule with my corporation's scheduled events led to my eventually deciding that it just wasn't worth the $15 a month for a game I could barely play.

While I may catch up and find myself in the same place a while down the road, I've got plenty of content to keep me busy in STO for the moment, but there's one issue that's really bugging me about this game: Server stability.

It seems like the most common thing I do in STO these days is reentering my password. Just getting in is like breaking into Fort Knox. While that's a common and acceptable issue for an MMO still in beta, I don't think that should be the case for a game that launched over a year ago. It seems like almost every time I want to log in, leave or enter a system, take a lift, beam myself somewhere, or pretty much do anything that requires a map or instance change, I find myself kicked out and dealing with the login screen.

In addition, loading times can be slow to the point of ridiculousness. All too often, I find myself having to stop and rerun the game in order to get into the area I'm headed for in a reasonable amount of time. Again, while this kind of thing is acceptable in a game still in beta and perhaps even in the first few months, the fact that this is still an issue for STO over a year into it is not what I consider an acceptable level of quality or customer service. As enjoyable as the new content is to play, the STO experience can be all but ruined by having to spend several minutes at minimum having to enter and reenter my password over and over just to get into the game or continue playing.

I've spent some time reading the forums and so I know they're working on these issues. I just don't think they should still be this much of a problem this long after launch. Surely by now the devs have a pretty good idea of the size of their player base and what's needed on the back end to provide reliable service to their customers. The obvious question I have is why it seems things have actually gotten worse, not better, in this regard after all this time.

Despite these issues, I'm now enjoying myself with this game more than ever before, and remembering why I took the risk of shelling out for a lifetime subscription even before I knew if this game was going to be a long-term success or just a flash in the pan.

In my next post (and yes, there will be a next post, and another and another...), I'll talk about what I've been doing in-game and my thoughts on some of the new missions I've been playing. After that, who knows? I'm someone who enjoys writing about the games I play, especially MMO's, almost as much as I enjoy playing them, so stick around, there's lots more to come.

So, I won't say "Live long and prosper.". That seems a little too formal and a bit too final. Instead, I'll wind down this first post back with a different Vulcanism I find far more applicable to my own life (and maybe one day I'll tell you why). "Infinite diversity in infinite combinations".

And now, I've still got the better part of a free Sunday afternoon in front of me so it's time to post a quick note on the forums to let people know this blog is back, and then fire up STO so I can go destroy a dangerous comet and disable some 23rd century Klingons.

See ya next time.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

It's About Time, Not Space

So I tried Infected for the first time today. First spent a few minutes getting a group together, then we went in. We had one of our five bail on us just as we entered the system, but we managed to take down the gateway and beam down with just the four of us.

After about an hour or so of battling Borg in the station, team members began to bail one by one until I was finally the only one left and had to quit the mission because there was no way to finish on my own.

Oh yeah, that's right, the reason why I liked STO over EvE was because I didn't have to worry about finding teammates. Apparently in STO, finding teammates to take on a mission isn't the problem, it's finding teammates you can count on not to bail out before the end. Hmm.

I'll try again, of course, maybe even later today. In the meantime though, I'm kind of annoyed at blowing nearly two hours on a mission I'll now have to start from the beginning next time.

Fuck it, I think I'm gonna go play some Bioshock 2.