Town control in Atlantica Online, another winning system.

January 30, 2009

My guild in Atlantica Online (Hunters on Argos, if you play, recruitment is open) recently won the bid for a town, which has opened up some interesting game systems I’d like to talk about. As with my previous AO posts, the overall feature that AO really nails is community and player interaction, and controlling a town fits directly into that as well.

I want to start by saying I’m not an expert on towns in AO, I only know what little I’ve asked while playing. The whole system seems somewhat complex, and certainly has a lot of layers. The basics is that once you win a town by outbidding other guilds using guild points, you gain control of it and it’s functions, including the tax on listing items for auction or the fee for using the bank. At a set schedule, your town goes up for auction again, and the cycle repeats. Each town has a different cycle, so there is always something come up for auction.

Each town has a population number, and I believe this ties into the amount the guild earns from taxes. You raise this population in an interesting way. Various NPCs walk around the game world along the roads, and these can be ‘persuaded’ to join your town if you have 100 will. If the persuasion is successful, they will start walking toward your guilds town, and if they make it everyone online gets an XP bonus and your town earns however many population points that NPC was worth (between 50 and 200 from what I’ve seen). What’s really interesting is anyone else can try to persuade that same NPC as he walks toward your town to join theirs, and they can in effect ‘steal’ your NPC. If you have a rival guild that controls a town, camp out in front of it and persuade their NPCs away as they come in. It’s not devastating, but it can have an effect, without direct combat. Having a few guild mates spend some time doing this is a nice leisurely activity, and gives you time to chat while helping your guild.

Towns can also be improved with additional factuality, such as a training center or travel agency. As I understand, these upgrades are costly, but once complete bring in additional revenue. This encourages the guild to go out and earn money for the guild, which later will help everyone else. Guild training runs and dungeons play into this, as they are an excellent source of guild points and funds. The location of the town is also very important, as high traffic town obviously generate more revenue, and in turn are bid on by the more powerful guilds. Access to the guild dungeon is also determined by which town you control, with the better dungeon towns again being highly sought after.

The town system adds a nice, complimentary layer to AO, which basically describes most of the games systems. Unlike most other MMOs, AO takes a simple combat grind base and throws in enough systems around it to keep the overall product interesting. As I’ve stated before, if you are looking to take a break from the WoW-clone MMO model, Atlantica Online is a good place to start. The F2P model might hurt it when you get into the upper power levels, but outside of those it’s a very enjoyable, and free, MMO experience.

First take on the 1/29 announcement by Mythic.

January 29, 2009

It’s 1/29, and as expected Mythic has announced their plans for Warhammer Online. First good job on actually hitting the date as promised, something not all MMO developers have mastered yet. Second, it’s going to take a bit of time to really analyze the new info, but so far nothing majorly surprising has been announced, and that personally is a bit disappointing.

I mean we basically knew the Slayer and Choppa were coming, and while I’m sure they will be awesome classes and really help add more of a melee focus to WAR, their inclusion was expected. Still, I’m glad Mythic scrapped the Hammerer and went with the Slayer, it just makes more sense. These two classes are also mirrors, which means for the first time since release we will be seeing a new class mechanic at work. The previous two classes were mirrors of already existing mechanics.

I found the announcement of the new RvR dungeon interesting, in that Mythic called it the spiritual successor of Darkness Falls from Dark Age of Camelot. The reason I find this interesting is it’s an outright admission that WAR is heading towards DAoC 2.0, rather than continue with their resistance to copy DAoC and try something new. Refining the DAoC formula makes a lot of sense, and should make everyone happy. That more than anything might be the best news to come out of the announcement for me.

Each live event has been better than the one before it in WAR, and if that trend continues, the next few months should really be interesting. Another event-exclusive scenario is a major plus, especially if it’s of the same quality as Riekland Factory was. Mythic is really cranking out content for WAR, given the number of scenarios already in the game, and now a second event scenario being added. At this rate, WAR will have added more come-and-go scenarios by the end of the year than WoW has added in five, which is impressive considering their quality and price (free).

My slight disappointment is that nothing really shocking was announced. No major overhaul of keeps or the current RvR areas, no update on the RvR Fame system, nothing really ‘out of left field’. Perhaps the announcement was limited to focusing on just the new stuff, and more will be said later, but if this is it, it’s a bit underwhelming. More to come I’m sure, but I wanted to get some first impressions out.

DarkFall anticipation +1

January 27, 2009

I said I would not do it, but yet again I’m in “excited about an upcoming MMO” mode. This time around it’s Darkfall, and my interest has been raised by unexpected sources. As anyone with access to a gaming forum knows, the core Darkfall community is rather… aggressive in their view of the game, and that makes it tough to get solid information about the game from official sources. Hell even the developers themselves sound like uncontrolled fanboys at times, and you certainly can’t trust ‘selected’ quotes from beta testers.

While the very concept of a fantasy PvP sandbox MMO (UO basically) has always been of some appeal to me, this nicely put together beta preview over at The Noob comic really sold me. Just reading that aspects of the game function as we were led to believe, and that the game itself is playable and overall enjoyable, was very refreshing. My biggest fear for DF was not that it was vaporware, but that it would be horribly crippled by its ambition, with hundreds of little systems never meeting up to deliver a solid product (sounds a lot like a problem the current MMO I’m playing is trying to fix…)

Much like EVE, I think the MMO space needs games like Darkfall to succeed. The space needs titles to fill a niche and provide an escape from well polished foozle slaughter, to push out ideas that might be too aggressive or extreme for every Joe and Jane Casual. If the market only supports WoW and it’s clone army, it can’t possible grow and evolve constantly playing it safe.

Now it’s not hard to predict the first few months for Darkfall. An oversized initial rush by those chasing the new shiny, followed by countless “I got ganked and lost my gear, account cancelled, DF sucks” posts on blogs and forums, and hopefully finally a settling in by the 100k or so players who enjoy the style of gaming DF is aiming for. That final step will only be achieved if DF can actually deliver on its core goal, delivering a world of consequences rather than a theme park of on-rails rides, and bugs or technical difficulties don’t bring it down, which is why the above linked preview is encouraging. It goes without saying that more people will hate DF than enjoy it; let’s just hope those that would enjoy it don’t move on because of server/code problems.

Patch day in a F2P game, not all that fun.

January 26, 2009

Generally patch day for an MMO is a good thing. Usually patches bring fixes, changes, and new content. Patches are part of the justification for spending $15 or so a month for an MMO. So what happens when you patch a free-to-play MMO?

Unlike the traditional model, F2P patches usually contain a mixed bag (or worst) of changes. Hopefully you get more content or some needed bug fixes, but along with that you usually get changes aimed at increasing micro transactions. This can be as simple as just announcing new items available in the shop, to more drastic changes that strongly ‘encourage’ players to spend money if they want to remain viable or even continue playing as they have before the patch.

Atlantica Online received a patch recently, and along with the more normal content changes and class balance, part of the patch revolved around increasing shop activity. The simplest change was allowing players to use 3 scrolls per fight rather than 2 in PvE. On the surface this makes PvE easier for everyone, but when you consider the majority of scrolls are micro transaction-fueled purchases, it’s a bit shady. Far more blatant is the increased cost of converting xp books through an NPC merchant. Jacking up the price makes it much harder for players to keep up without outside help, and strongly pushes players to spend money in the item shop in order to continue taking advantage of that feature.

The patch reminded me of the differences between the two pricing models, and added another drawback to F2P games going forward. Dreading a patch rather than looking forward to one seems very odd to me, almost anti-Christmas-like. Rather than getting fun new toys, the patch comes in and takes them away, or at least puts up barriers to access them.

I think this is all more apparent to me given the hype/excitement surrounding Mythic’s 1/29 patch announcement, with players theorizing about the possibilities and generally just looking forward to it. To replace that feeling with “I hope I don’t have to pay more going forward to keep playing” is a tough sell for me.

A message for Tobold

January 23, 2009

Dear Tobold,

If you make one more QQ post, I will be forced to cancel my account and stop reading your blog. I did not sign up to read about your emotions or personal opinions, I just want (whatever the hell people expect from a blog), and nothing else. Furthermore, if am I being a little emo asshat, I fully expect you to take the abuse as I post an anonymous comment on your blog, as again I’m a paying customer and the customer is always right. Finally, I expect high quality post each and ever day, and won’t tolerate days without content. You owe us!

Thank you,

Assholes of the Internet

Fame has its price I guess, even within our own little MMO blog world. We will miss you anon cowards, back to the official forums you go.

Man, I’m glad I’m not playing THAT game.

January 22, 2009

Dear Warhammer fans,

We know the recent patch was a bit of a letdown, but please let us explain. We have a lot going on around here, and we are still new to this MMO thing. We also don’t have the resources or player base to really test everything as much as we’d like. Plus I’m sure you have noticed our furious pace of content updates and fixes, all free of charge!

The reason we did not include anything beyond a Fortress siege is because we wanted to keep the end-game accessible to all players, and we felt that including anything harder than the most basic and recycled content would be too difficult and exclude members of our awesome community. You might also have noticed we did a copy/paste from DAoC for the Fortress, but come on, it was awesome content then, why not use it now?

For those seeking a true challenge, you can now attempt to kill a Fortress lord without wearing armor, earning you the title “slap in the face”.

You may also have noticed we disabled scenarios. We found a bug that was crashing the server when too many players wanted to PvP, and so in order to accommodate everyone, scenarios have been removed. We would like to point out that while we removed scenarios, we did add the “slap in the face” challenge, which we find is a suitable replacement. Scenarios will be added back into the game ‘soon’.

We have significantly nerfed many classes. Our data has shown that too many players were killing Fortress lords, and while the actual city siege content is coming ‘real soon’, for now we have decided to increase the challenge by nerfing the players. We realize this might not be popular, but we remind you that our game is still very new, PvP balance is like, really hard, and how can you expect us to balance 9 classes with our limited budget? To compensate for the massive nerfs, along with the continual ignorance of class bugs, we have added a new purple pony mount. The mount has a .01% drop rate whenever a Fortress lord is killed without the use of weapons.

Finally, we know many of you are excited to finally play the one class we added with the recent paid update. Unfortunately a bug crept into our air-tight testing facility, and the class has been disabled for many of you. Rest assured, the next paid update should give you access. That updated is coming ‘soon’.

We know this might not be the news you were hoping for, but rest assured that in the coming months (read: years), we have many exciting changes coming, including fixing instance lag that has only been around since 2005. You might get your mail to work as well, but no promises.

Ah waitwrong game.

Slayers, Darkness Falls, and other ‘big news’ for Warhammer Online.

January 20, 2009

There is a lot of news and information concerning Warhammer Online right now, and I’m not quite sure what to comment on. Now that the ‘new game’ shine has worn off, I can’t help but think what WAR will be once Mythic figures out all the moving parts. Lots of parts in their current form are a blast (scenarios, PQs, dungeons, warband on warband RvR), but they don’t quite mesh together just yet. They will, and I believe sooner than most people expect, but right now they don’t.

The layoffs of the QA staff and others can’t help, but exactly what impact they have on the final product is tough to tell. All of the comments about “paying customers as testers” is a bit off base, considering since UO in 97 MMO players have ALWAYS been testers. You have two options, don’t play MMOs, or accept that in a constantly evolving game, things will never go as planned and at times the game will feel like a work in progress. If you think that at some magic point, some company will figure it all out and release a perfect product with perfect content patching after, good luck waiting for that. Still, less people working on the game can’t be good, but given the current economy, this kind of move is to be expected.

Slayers will be announced soon. It’s nice to speculate, but let’s be honest, this might be the most anticipated class in MMO history, and might just be the thing to help balance Order and Destruction. Including the Hammerer over the Slayer would be an NGE-equivalent mistake. Not exaggerating one bit about that either, fans would be crushed. This also allows Mythic to make the Choppa class as cool as possible, since regardless people will focus on the Slayer. Both classes could go a long way to help bring the focus of RvR back to melee classes, and along with stun tuning, could make RvR as a whole even more enjoyable.

Lastly, I’m really hoping the two new classes are not the only thing Mythic has planned for the ‘big news’ coming soon. They need to announce the DarknessFalls-style RvR dungeon, and hopefully the redesign of keeps to include customization and destructible walls. Moving the sole focus of the endgame away from the city siege, and giving guilds some sort of meta-game with the RvR dungeon and keeps would go a long way to keep everyone interested and playing T4.

WoW tourists attack DarkFall.

January 15, 2009

Let’s pretend this press release about Darkfall is being honest, and not just painting a delay in a positive light. I know, it’s a stretch, but “zomg vaporware lulz” posts have been done and bring little to the table.

Thanks to the popularity of the MMO genre, and more specifically WoW, new games have to deal with the MMO tourist population. They flood servers in the first month, find out that game X is not WoW, bitch about how the game should have more welfare and run on a toaster, and leave. The plus side is you just sold a ton of extra copies; the downside is having to deal with a huge initial spike of activity before your game finally settles into its core market. Either your servers lag to death, you have massive queues, or you add more hardware and end up with dead servers in a few months.

From what I’ve read about Darkfall, the developer understands they are aiming for a niche, and they intend to cater to that niche. That’s smart business if you budget accordingly, and can be very profitable if your game appeals to that niche. 200k beta apps for a hardcore PvP game is a clear case of tourism, and hopefully DF deals with it accordingly. Lets hope the planned stress test happens on the 22nd, and more fans can give this game a shot.

The endless sandbox vs the safe theme park.

January 14, 2009

MMOs are designed without a ‘game over’ screen, and one of the major appeals of the genre is that the player, rather than the game, determines when you are done. No matter how much you loved Final Fantasy 7, at the end you always kill Seph and the credits roll. In an MMO you can keep going, and ideally you should always have things you can do. Your character, and the world around him/her, will continue for you as long as you keep logging in.

That was how I saw MMOs when I played my first, Ultima Online, and that feeling of the game never ending still has major appeal to me. There was never a point in UO where I was ‘done’, where every goal was accomplished. I could always gain more wealth, or help my guild grow, or just get engaged in whatever everyone else was doing. UO was a sandbox MMO before the concept of sandbox was created. It was design to be a virtual world, a world that REACTS to the players rather than the players reacting to the game. When I finally moved on from UO, it was not because I had killed the final boss and the game told me it was over, but rather it was because I was done with my character, I had accomplished what I wanted.

It’s 2009 now, and while the MMO genre has exploded in popularity, we have very few sandbox MMOs. EQ1, and to a much larger extend WoW, popularized the theme park MMO, with one of the more basic differences being that the game more or less dictates your actions (sets a path), rather than reacting to whatever the player is doing. The advantage of this is that every player always has a goal, and more importantly always has a carrot within clear sight to keep them going. A well designed theme park MMO will always guide the player and keep them on-rails, removing the chance they may stray or get lost, or even worst, find themselves without a goal or motivation to log in.

The genre’s current top sandbox MMO is EVE, and the number one complaint about it is a lack of direction. Players hear all about the endless possibilities and the exciting things happening, yet when they go to log in and experience it for themselves, they more often than not are unable to find what they are looking for. Or they find the path only to learn of the barriers in front of them before they reach whatever goal attracted them. (Letting off a Titan shot sounds awesome, but actually being able to fly a Titan is far beyond most gamers limits)

The original appeal of MMOs, an unending world with limitless choices, is also the genre’s biggest crutch when it comes to appeal to the mainstream. EVE may be the genre’s best designed, best looking, and most advanced MMO, but unless it adds NPCs with golden icons above their heads, it will always remain a niche product. (Which is not to say its not a success, because it is)

The major problem with a theme park is that eventually you have been on all the rides, and while repeating the best ones is fine for a time, even that beings to grow tiring. Adding more rides is possible, but customers will always ride then to boredom faster than they can be built, and if you are sticking with your theme, each ride gets boring faster than the one before it. Change the theme and you might alienate a portion of your customer base, driving them away permanently (in the theme park world, this is called Not Good Entertainment)

This is why I’ll always favor the MMO going more towards a sandbox design over that of a theme park. I know that no matter how fun a theme park may be, it’s time is limited, and eventually my character will be forced to retire earlier than I had planned. While no actual credits will roll, the cap will be hit and the gameplay will change. At the same time, I’ve seen enough MMOs to know that designing a good sandbox MMO is very difficulty, and even the best laid plans go up in smoke the day the players are let loose in the world. In that regard, the theme park is the ‘safe’ bet, an almost guaranteed quantity of entertainment, while the sandbox will always remain hit or miss. The misses may sting with disappointment (hi Shadowbane), but the hits more than make up for it.

Blogging meh, and should Mythic stop listening to you?

January 13, 2009

RL is kicking my ass lately, can’t exactly focus fully on a blog post. I’ve written about five different posts today, all which have been scrapped due to them not exactly saying much of anything.

The one that came closest to being finished was a commentary about WAR’s RvR, and how Mythic listening to DAoC players might not have been the best idea. I’m not sure I completely agree, but I can’t think of enough examples to justify a full post. I think the idea that a developer could be influenced TOO much by the player base is rather interesting. Is Mythic now suffering because they listened too much to players in beta?


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