Shadowbane reset sparks interest.

January 31, 2008

I guess Shadowbane is going to reset its server, putting everyone back to square one. A bold move, and interesting enough that I might have to check back in to Shadowbane, especially since its free…

Flying solo.

January 31, 2008

Tobold has a rather popular (based on replies) post with a simple premise; would you buy WoW if it was a single player game? The immediate reaction I think most people have is ‘no’, because logging on and seeing other players running around or chatting in the different chat channels is just something all WoW players have grown accustomed to.

But with all the changes to WoW since release, especially with the 2.3 patch and how it applies to the old world content, does old world WoW really need to be online? Most zones are void of life, almost all quests can be completed solo regardless of your class, and the XP system in WoW actually encourages players to solo.

If you repackaged the 1-60 game in WoW and sold it as a $30 box in stores as a single player no monthly fee game, I think it would sell like crazy. The low system specs combined with the still serviceable graphics would mean the game is highly accessible, even more so now that you have removed the internet connection and monthly fee requirements.

A few people point out that offline, the grindy gameplay would be more obvious to the player, and that would ruin the enjoyment, yet I can’t help but ask how that is any different than what the majority of WoW is now, pre-70? People avoid PUGs, and most guilds are either raiding or PvP focused, two aspects that would be removed from single player WoW. Give the single game a 5 or 10 player hosting option, and you cover the ‘I just play with my friends’ crowd as well.

To me the more important issue raised by this is not whether it would sell, but on how this reflects on MMOs in general. Do the majority of MMO players really just desire a single player game? How is it that a genre built around the ideas of player interaction and a virtual world has transformed into a monthly fee single player game? And is this the natural evolution of the MMO market, or is WoW just an odd phenom, and once the phenom is over, do we go back to the ‘norm’ before it? Or has WoW changed the MMO space forever, leaving behind it a trail of online single player games?

Goons, EVE, and Freedom!

January 29, 2008

This Wired article is making the rounds on various blogs, and as it focuses on griefing, which is somewhat related to PvP, I figured I would throw in my two cents. Go read the article first, if nothing else it’s an interesting piece.

The biggest ‘news’ out of the whole thing seems to be the intent of the Goons in EVE Online to not only destroy your ship, but to make you quit the game itself. Many people are viewing this as exactly the reason no sane developer would let such PvP exist; who wants to lose accounts and money, right? The somewhat ironic thing is that EVE Online, a 4 year old game that had a horrible launch, no marketing budget, and is limited in its appeal due to being Sci-Fi and terribly difficult to get into at the start, is still growing at a very healthy rate. Go look at what MMOs launched around the same time as EVE, and see how many of them are still growing or even maintaining their numbers.

So how is it that a game which allows players to abuse others and to beat them to the point where they quit is still growing? Has WoW not taught us that unless we give everyone access to everything in a no risk solo manner, we are doomed to fail miserably? Sure the slaughter of ‘sheep’ worked in 98 with Ultima Online, but we have grown since then, all the ‘sheep’ have options now, and they won’t stand to be butchered. As soon as the first sign of unwanted danger arises, they cancel their account and jump ship, leaving that game to slowly rot and die, right?

Yes, some do get frustrated and quit. It would be foolish to think otherwise and clearly this type of game is not for everyone. But how many players have downloaded the trial for EVE because they have heard or read about the incredible stuff players are doing in EVE? How many read the story about the bank heist, or heard about a titan being destroyed in an epic battle, and said ‘that’s awesome, let me give that game a shot’. Can you say the same thing about the first time Onyxia was killed, or the first time someone completed an epic armor set in WoW? How many players signed up for the WoW trial because of some guild’s raid progression or high ranking Arena team? And all those stories are products of EVE’s design, a design which gives such great freedom to its players. Take away that freedom, and you quickly take away every great moment in that games very rich history, a history which has no doubt created more paying accounts than it has destroyed. In gaming, just like in life, freedom is a double edged sword. Some will find ways to abuse it, while others will embrace it and creating unexpected and positive results. The real question is, are you a communist (WoW player) or a free thinking man/woman (EVE)? (bets on who will fail to see that as a joke anyone?)

And before everyone points out that WoW has 10 billion users, let’s just remember that WoW is a phenomenon that is as much a product of timing as it is of game design. A far more accurate comparison would be something like EQ2 or LoTRO numbers, which are still higher, but not in a hundreds of thousands vs millions way. Oh and before this turns into another PvP vs PvE debate, keep in mind I’m not saying all PvE games should be burned and destroyed, but rather that the market supports both styles in a financially viable way. Had WoW not gotten lucky, perhaps both styles would be viewed as equally viable models, but that’s an entirely different post…

The Witcher, gaming done right.

January 29, 2008

Over the last few days all gaming has come to a near standstill thanks to The Witcher. I figured I would put down what really strikes me about the game. Notice that this is all purely based on a limited amount of time with the game, specifically up to the start of Chapter 3, which is perhaps 20 hours in, so things might get better/worse as I get further in.

First I’ll just cover the basics; The Witcher is gorgeous, and not just in a ‘million polygons per model’ technical way. Everything in the game looks ‘right’, it all fits together and never draws you out, while still having its own unique look. The characters, the towns, the monsters, even the weapons, it all works. The sound is equally good, oftentimes being used as a queue for combat, be it to continue a combo or to inform you that something just popped up behind you and is ready to take your face off. The voice acting, while always debatable, works for me. From the random banter in town between NPCs, or towards you as you pass them, to dialog during the many in-game cut scenes, nothing you hear will ruin the gaming experience for you, and at times will make you laugh or slightly shock you in its directness. More than once I’ve been running through town only to stop on a dime and turn around due to some NPC yelling something vulgar at me. While amusingly childish in a game like Grand Theft Auto, for some reason in The Witcher it sounds real, and at times it can be tough to disconcert random quips from something story driven, which is a huge plus towards immersion.

The combat system, a timing driven take on the Diablo’s ‘click to attack’ model, is solid but not great. If the appeal of The Witcher relied heavily on its combat model, it would simply be an average game, but due to the fact that everything else in The Witcher is top notch, the combat being serviceable is not an issue. This is not to say that the combat is bad, as visually all the combos and finishing moves look fantastic, and the system itself has a bit of depth with the different sword types and fighting styles. For me however, I find I look at combat as a means to an end, I engage to push the story along, rather than engage for the pure enjoyment of the system itself.

This brings me to the parts that I feel The Witcher hits dead on, story and immersion. In most RPG’s you either play the good guy hero, or are given obvious choices whether to play the good guy, the neutral guy, or the ‘kinda bad but ultimately going to save the world anyway’ guy. The Witcher is all shades of gray, with most choices being a tough call between the lesser of two evils, with future impacts that are very difficult to predict. Knowing that regardless of the choice you make, a possibly innocent NPC is going to get butchered actually makes you stop and think. And instead of trying to pick the dialog option that will yield the most gold or grant the best item, I often found myself thinking about which path will leave the characters I like alive, or which choice I should make to exact revenge. It’s odd that such meaningful choices are so rare in games, that it is so rare for a game to come along and do a great job in hiding the outcomes so naturally. Without even being halfway through the game, I’ve already been genuinely surprised a few times by the consequences of my past actions, choices that at the time seemed so unimportant are coming back to haunt me and determine the future of my progression. Once you see a result, you honestly get that ‘what if’ feeling, leaving you to wonder how different things would be if you made a different decision a few hours back.

The story itself is also interesting, a simple case of chasing a murderer and thief that quickly gets very complicated. The game is filled with great characters, each one as two faced as the next. That seemingly helpful grandfather turns out to be a cannibal, the local thug leader becomes an ally, and the shady merchant turns out to be nothing more than a shady merchant rather than some greater evil, despite his best effort to make himself seem important.

Everything has an adult overtone to it, which is mostly successful. The f bomb gets used, plenty of women get called whores, actual whores walk the streets, you sleep with a bunch of women, some of them whores, racism is rampant, kids get sold into slavery, and it seems everyone you talk to is a murderer, rapist, or just plain crazy. The few times you talk to a seemingly honest character, you suspect them more than anyone else, since it feels like everyone in The Witcher has skeletons in their closet. All of this would not matter much if the choices you made did not have so much impact, or if the game did not pull you in as much as it does. A classic case of the sum is greater than its parts I guess. To me personally the whole ‘adult’ thing works, and feels natural, but others might find it crude, offensive or maybe even childish.

To me The Witcher is a breath of fresh air, not only for RPG games but gaming overall. While not one single feature is revolutionary, the game overall just feels so different than any game before it. While a game like Oblivion gave us a huge world to explore, it was still filled with the generic RPG characters we have seen time and time again, with a story that while well crafted, did nothing truly memorable. In contrast, it’s going to be difficult for me to go back to another RPG after playing The Witcher. I think that more than anything else is a statement to the impact The Witcher makes. Highly recommended.

Virgin Worlds Podcast 100!

January 28, 2008

Congrats to Brent on show 100. A huge achievement for an awesome site. Go check it out!

edit: That “I love that” clip has to be one of the better sound bites ever, right along with the whole Archlord praise piece, great stuff.

Misunderstanding PvP.

January 25, 2008

I think ‘PvP’ is the new ‘nerf’. Remember back in the day anytime anything bad happened, it was called a nerf? And nerf was this dirty word you used to blame the developers for everything going wrong in your MMO? That’s the reaction to PvP now. As soon as it pops up, out comes the mob to burn it at the stake and save humanity from the horrors. Ah the fickle MMO crowd, how we love you.

In my post below I talked a bit about ‘impact PvP’ and my hopes for it in Warhammer. It looks like I should have defined ‘impact PvP’ first, as there seems to be some confusion about what exactly that means, and what it does NOT mean.

Impact PvP does not mean UO98, where I can go around and gank you at will, 24/7, and completely ruin your gaming experience while collecting your head to put on my vendor for the world to see. We all accept that what ‘worked’ in 98 will not work now. It does not mean AC Darktide either, another free-for-all PvP setup. No one is asking for a mass murder simulator when we ask for PvP.

I also don’t mean WoW PvP, which sadly consists of one meh form, and one trash form. The meh are the battlegrounds, where skill and common sense are thrown out in favor of a point grind for shiny epics that are eventually handed out to everyone who logs in. While not downright terrible, battlegrounds are a poorly tacked on feature in WoW that are terribly imbalanced due to WoW’s PvE focus. Fun little distractions, they are a poor representation of actual PvP.

The trash is the STV ganking, pointless for both the ganker and the victim, and the pinnacle of what PvP should NOT be. Sadly WoW PvP is the ONLY PvP experienced by a large portion of today’s MMO population, so it’s no wonder so many people hate it. Hell if WoW PvP was my only experience with it, I would jump right on the carebear* train as well.

What I do mean when I say impact PvP is what happens in a game like EVE, a game entirely driven by its PvP, a game where everyone is affected from its impact. The reason the miners and mission runners are able to profit is due to PvP, the reason the market works is due to PvP, and the reason players stick around for years, not months, is due to PvP. Even if you have never fired a single shot at another player, and never been shot yourself, PvP has impacted you.

And the groundwork for such a system has to be set early. Why else can CCP (the developer of EVE) manage to balance so many ships and fittings, keeping so many of them viable options, and Blizzard can’t seem to balance Paladins vs Shamans? Lets not kid ourselves here, the reason both sides have access to both classes now is because after many attempts, Blizzard caved in and gave up; the easiest way to balance anything is to make it identical. Warhammer has that chance now, with its multitude of classes. They don’t need (and should not) be equal, just balanced enough to make it work. Sounds simple, but its hard to nail down, yet not impossible.

So while I completely understand people’s apprehension about PvP, especially from the WoW-only crowd, I also think too many people are selling it short. Remember that an MMO is a virtual world, one that SHOULD be player driven, shaped not by the latest patch or update, but by the community that logs in each day. Don’t sell PvP short in the assumption that it’s only form is a 10 on 1 gank performed by a group of 13 year old kids, but rather the very basic nature of me vs you. Also don’t assume the only form of PvP is actual ‘physical’ combat, the ‘who has better gear or faster fingers’ stuff. PvP is just as effective in an economic sense, or something as simple as spreading rumors and distrust among your enemy. Illidan will never care that you undersell him in the market, or that you spread a false rumor about him, or that you just snuck in and took all his resources, but players will. They will care and react, and you will react back. It’s endless content without the need for a new instance every three months.

*Oh, and while I throw around the word carebear, it’s purely because I am entertained by the word and its UO-inspired context. Don’t get too caught up in it, I ‘carebear’ just as much as anyone else when I log in, even in EVE.

Another Warhammer rant, add it to the pile.

January 23, 2008

Rant on carebears incoming, you have been warned.

Why don’t people understand that Warhammer Online plans to be a PvP focused game? Again, PvP focused. Player vs Player. The focus of Warhammer will be to fight other players. The gameplay is based around the assumption that people like to PvP, that they enjoy PvP. We good on that? Ok, moving on.

If you HATE PvP, you won’t like Warhammer. “I plan to avoid PvP” should be translated to “I’m not looking forward to Warhammer Online, it won’t offer what I want”. If you make a list of things you enjoy in an MMO, and near the top you put crafting, raiding, exploration, questing, etc, and PvP is missing from your top 5, Warhammer is not the game for you.

On almost every single Warhammer post on any blog I read, I see a comment or two basically stating “I don’t like PvP and I’m looking forward to WAR, hopefully I will like it”. I sincerely hope you HATE Warhammer. I mean absolutely HATE it. Because if carebear Joey likes Warhammer for its fun questing, crafting, and easy solo nature, that means everyone looking forward to Warhammer for it’s impact PvP will hate it.

They don’t mix people, and you know what, THAT’S OK! There are plenty of solo-friendly MMOs out now, one of them being the current 800 pound gorilla called WoW. It’s very solo friend, easy epics abound, and it’s a great casual game. LoTRO, EQ2 are also great PvE games, along with countless others. The triple A fantasy PvE market is well represented, no worries.

The most upsetting rumor out of Warhammer’s beta was that it was WoW-like, a rumor that was addressed and emphatically denied by Mythic. If (big if, I know) they deliver on their mission statement, the Warhammer Online gaming experience should be radically different than WoW, at least in areas where it counts; game balance and goal focus. PvE games balance skills/classes/items around PvE content, and feature PvE as the end-game (raiding). PvP games are the exact opposite; balance is designed around PvP, with PvE balance being an afterthought. People PvP for the enjoyment of PvP first, and any rewards that come from it are secondary. If you currently ‘grind’ PvP in order to achieve some items/skills to help you progress in PvE, you have the wrong mindset.

I can only imagine the general forum one week after launch. Right below and above and in-between the “Warhammer stole it’s lore/look from Warcraft!” posts we will see “Warhammer needs more solo-friendly quests!”, followed by “I’m level 50 with nothing to do but PvP, fix it Mythic!”. Why are so many people so hell bent on trying to make a PvP game what they want? Why is the “It’s a PvP focused game” message so hard for some to understand or accept?


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