Old nightmares still haunt some people.

February 26, 2009

Dear Lum,

Some of us remember the torment that was pre-trammies UO for you. You got killed, ganked, decapitated, harassed, etc. People called you fat, and a picture of you ‘leaked’ out and was the source of entertainment for many. Basically wtfman.com would ridicule your futile attempts to play UO on a daily basis. We understand; UO was really hard for you. But you need to move on; you need to let the wounds heal. After all, bitching daily on your site about all those mean PKs got you a job at Mythic for a bit, plus that NCSoft game, right?

So while Darkfall launching might bring back all those awful memories for you, not all of us have had all that pent up anger festering in us. Most of us grew up, moved on, and are now looking forward to reliving some good times with old friends, even if that means picking on the next easy target whiny fat kid. Who knows, maybe by ganking him, he will grow up to be an indie designer as well.

Well I screwed something up…

February 25, 2009

While editing the CSS for this blog, I changed… something… to make the header image disappear. Anyone have any idea wtf I could have changed to do this? The only change I made was editing the sidebar color. Is this something that happens when you edit CSS for the first time, or some known wordpress problem?

edit: Checking my media/images section on wordpress, it seems the old header is now gone… The file location is still there, but no image is actually showing up. So odd…

edit2: Deleting the old header (the blank), and re-uploading the image does nothing. Under appearance -> Custom Header wordpress is still showing the correct image, but on the actual blog itself its just the default blue color.

edit3: Well got the image back, but now the tagline is stuck in gray color (although I’m ok with that). Changing that one color was totally not worth it.

Congress: QQ more noobz

February 25, 2009

“We have legislation here now with the money to do something about the schools, do something about water and sewage along that corridor in these 12 counties. And now the governor says, ‘I don’t want to accept the money.’ That’s why I called this an insult, that’s why I said this is a slap in the face, because a majority of those counties are, in fact, inhabited by African-Americans,” (South Carolina Rep. James) Clyburn said on CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.

Well now, clearly someone has been reading MMO class forums. Maybe Clyburn plays a Witch Elf and was thinking about the 1.2 patch when he was on with Wolf… I wonder if ‘slap in the face’ gets the same reaction in Congress that it does on forums. Think anyone showed him an ascii Picard?

The highs and lows of RvR, a worthwhile tradeoff

February 23, 2009

WAR RvR is one frustrating bastard, and I’m not talking about city PQs, scenarios, or why the layout of T4 zones sucks/rocks. It’s frustrating because when everything aligns and you get the right (not even) number of Destruction and Order players in one area, with good leadership and coordination fighting it out, it’s amazing. I mean ‘best MMO experience out’ amazing. It’s only then that you start to notice the details put into the layout of each RvR area (no, they are not all basically the same), the balance between the classes (not as bad as some of the QQ you read), and just overall how well the engine handles everything (up to a certain number of players, but that upper cap is incredibly high all things considered).

The problem is, the stars are not aligned every single time you log on, which makes NOT having that experience more painful because of how quality it really is. Sometimes one side greatly outnumbers the other, and when that happens no amount of terrain layout or class balance is going to change the fact that the zerg is going to roll you. Other times the sides are so evenly matched it’s a stalemate, and the usual objective flipping and keep ignoring sets in, with the campaign not progressing past the current zone. And sometimes (depending on your servers population), there is just nothing really going on, and the RvR areas give off a seriously empty feeling.

Mythic has an incredible challenge ahead of them, and that’s getting all those factors listed above aligning more often, and creating that ‘perfect RvR’ feeling more frequently. It’s a tough task, considering so many of those factors are near-random due to player involvement. If you over-incentive players to look one way, they will in turn ignore everything else (the now-fixed scenario problem), but if you don’t provide SOME incentives, players tend to get lost and wander without goals. The balance is key, and will often swing on its own based on player/server maturity. What works on one server will be disastrous on another.

It’s this never-ending balancing act that makes WAR a bit tougher to stick with than a more traditional MMOs for many players. When you log into EQ2/WoW/LotRO, the content is sitting there waiting for you. Sure it’s just a script that always plays out in the same way, but at least it’s available. It’s the choice between poor/great or constantly decent, and it’s easy to focus on the poor if you tend to dwell on the negative. As someone who has been a fan of PvP since the early days of MMOs, I’ve developed somewhat of a tougher skin, accepting that the tradeoff for those high points is a string of low points. For me, I’ll take that over the day-to-day mediocrity that is the norm in more traditional games now. But I guess that makes me part of the niche crowd now.

Shocker, MMO questing sucks.

February 23, 2009

Having gone back (again) to TES Oblivion, its once again painful how bad questing is in MMOs. When you compare the best quests from your favorite MMO, and you look at some of the better quests in a game like Oblivion, it’s not even remotely close.

Oblivion has a bunch of ‘random’ dungeons and ruins to explore, non-quest stuff you enter to skill up and gain loot. These are entirely optional, the difficulty, length, and rewards vary (more so with one of the mods that tweaks the games auto-level feature), and you can go in/out at will. These locations are generally the equivalent of most MMO quest content, and in some cases far better. But Oblivion never pretends that these dungeons are its main content, or its focus, and that’s something MMOs have yet to learn.

MMOs try to hide simple tasks behind the word ‘quest’, and spend a lot of time putting filler around that task to make it seem special. That needs to stop. The reason most people skip flavor text is because there is too much of it and the good gets lost in the bla. If the game wants me to kill ten rats, just have an NPC tell me “go kill ten rats and I’ll give you gold”. Don’t pretend the rat kill task is something epic because the poor static NPC’s family is starving due to the rats getting into his grain bla bla bla. I don’t care, I’m killing rats in order to move my xp bar along, not because I want to save the static NPCs family (which I can’t anyway, and we all know that going into it)

If an MMO was up front with its tasks, the actual quests would in turn stand out, and players would have a better understanding on when they are working on something more epic, and when they are logging on for an hour to move their xp bar along. Just like we don’t like quests with simple tasks, we also don’t ALWAYS want to be working on something epic, sometimes we just want to log on and grind out some mindless content, as that can be relaxing and non-committal.

Labeling the simpler activities as tasks also allows the developer to drop the other unnecessary quest trappings like flavor text, repeatability, and a set reward. What if every task had a somewhat random reward, with a 90% chance to get just gold, and a 10% chance to get something random, be it gear or bonus gold or an xp boost. Nothing too major, just something to spice up the act of turning in the task a bit. Leave the major loot for the actual quests, and make sure players know exactly what they are working towards from the start.

The other major fault of current questing in an MMO is its static nature. If you ‘save’ a village, you have just repeated what the past 1000 players have done before you, and the next 1000 will do after. The logic behind this is that if the first player saves the town, and it no longer needs saving, the other 999 players miss out on that content. However if we limit such events to a select group of actual quests, the developers would have a few options to make this work. One would be to create a chain reaction system, where the completion of one quest opens up other choices for future players, and eventually the chain goes back to square one (hopefully long after the first player has moved on). While not a true change, it would at least give a zone some life based on the players. Another option would be a tug-of-war style system, where a player picks a side to quest for, and those quests would put the players directly in competition against each other, each completed step pushing that side further towards victory, changing objectives and available quests. As different players enter the level range of the zone, they too would pick sides and continue the system.

It’s scary that actual questing has changed so little in the MMO space, especially with some many PvE-focused games. Playing it safe is certainly the current trend, but how many elaborately written rat kill quests can we stomach?

The iPhone app store = the MMO space?

February 20, 2009

I found this article about iPhone apps interesting, especially from an MMO fans perspective, as I believe the study is a good reflection of society as a whole right now. In short, lots of initial interest followed by near immediate decline, in this case 50% or so. Sound like a recent trend we are familiar with?

Granted it’s not a straight up apples to apples comparison, as the app store has a bunch of unique factors associated with it, but I think there are some correlations. The trend of ‘new shiny’ applies, as people jump on what looks interesting with limited knowledge of the product. Instead of long magazine previews and reviews, you have a short developer description and user reviews that at times resemble the WoW general forum in usefulness. You more or less sell an app based on its icon and a single screen shot, which makes it very difficult to sift through the clutter and find the few solid apps. Sounds a bit like the F2P MMO market, does it not?

Great Darkfall preview

February 19, 2009

I guess it’s not vaporware after all :)

I found this to be the best Darkfall write-up to date, as it’s written by someone with clear UO/AC experience, and that’s really the core audience DF is aiming for. While I’ve yet to personally play DF, I’ve been following it a bit lately and generally think it’s going to be an interesting game. To echo the preview, it certainly won’t be a game for 99% of all WoW-like players, and the ‘I quit’ posts will certainly dominate the first few months of the games release.

To borrow a phrase from an Alliance member in WAR, “Your QQ tears taste delicious”.

Aldorf must burn: Destructions first city siege on Monolith.

February 18, 2009

Monolith saw its first siege of Aldorf last night, and I’m happy to report members of Casualties played a key roll. The unplanned nature of the event, and how smooth the execution was towards the end really encouraged everyone on the Destruction side, and overall this is a good step for the server.

At around 9pm EST I logged on to find all CoW members on our alliance vent, which usually indicates some oRvR is happening. Turns out we were just about to lock Reikland and open the empire Fortress. Once open, over five warbands of Destruction players began working on the outer gates. Breaking in, we sent one warband to watch the postern door of the Fort, with everyone else working on the main door. This worked well in theory, but splitting our forces only slowed progress on the door, and some Order players were getting inside regardless. With the changes to Fort zone populations, the attackers have a numerical advantage anyway, so as long as everyone is coordinated and doing their job, the situation favors offense.

Our first attempt at the Lord was rather weak, and only a few players broke through the Order tank wall and engaged the Lord and his guards. Our second attempt was far more successful, and we got a large number of our players to the top. Some mismanagement of the Lord and his agro proved troublesome, and eventually the remaining Order players and the NPCs wiped everyone. With time running low, we made our third attempt, and this time broke through the tank wall with ease. Setting tanks on the NPCs, we were able to focus on killing the Order players first, and finally burning the Lord down. The chest spawned, everyone got the Fortress buff, and it was on to Eataine to try and open Aldorf.

The fighting in Eataine was minimal, as Destruction was rolling and Order seemed fairly disorganized. It took 30 minutes or so to lock up Eataine, and we killed the Fortress Lord on our first attempt. A combination of good strategy, patience, and numbers lead to our victory here. With a second Fortress locked, Aldorf was open and waiting.

Having defended our capital recently, we had a good idea of how the city siege worked, and got our warband to the front gate and into a PQ instance. Seeing Aldorf in its ruined, burning state was amazing, and the PQ had a good 5-6 quests to complete. The PQ itself was very similar to the one in IC, only this time we were the attackers setting stuff on fire and killing the helpless peasants. For the first hour or so our PQ was empty of Order players, allowing us to get our bearings and learn the ins and outs of the area. A group of 12 or so Order players did eventually enter, but at 48v12, they were little more than speed bumps on our path to gold bags. Knowing we stood little chance to actually push Aldorf into phase two, we figured we might as well farm the PQ for as much loot as we can, gearing up for a future assault. The general confusion on the Order side played right into this, and we were able to knock out PQ after PQ. I logged out at around 12am, completing 8-10 PQs.

The feeling of attacking a city, rather than defending one, is certainly noticeable. As the attackers, you are trying to loot and pillage as much as you can, and the increased bag drops from the PQ reflect this. Once 1.2 is live, all those purple and blue bags will finally contain worthwhile items as well, which will only help to encourage future city raids. Currently both sides have seen the first stage of each city, and the race is on to see who will be the first to reach phase two. While there are still bugs to fix and changes to be made, overall I’m still happy with how phase one of the siege plays out, both from a defenders and now an attackers point of view.

Long list of SOE hate.

February 17, 2009

Can someone explain to me why some people think SOE is going to push the MMO genre forward? I keep hearing about how SOE is the company that is going to finally get us out of the WoW-too rut the genre is stuck in, how its upcoming titles are all doing new and great things. First is my take on the history of SOE MMOs, just to establish a base.

EverQuest® – The original game that put SOE on the map, and the overall ‘winner’ of the first gen MMO war. Undeniably a huge hit that expanded the MMO market and set standards going forward.

EverQuest® II – Considering the name and following, overall a huge disappointment at launch. It’s been fixed up over the years and currently enjoys a solid following having defined its core features. If in 2003 someone said EQ2 would be a me-too MMO rather than a major player, people would have laughed. An underperformer who has recovered well thanks to the resources available to SOE.

Pirates of the Burning SeaTM – A unique selling point (great ship to ship combat engine) ruined by a tacked on avatar system. Huge initial interest followed by a sharp decline as players revealed design flaws in its endgame and economy. Even as a niche title, this one has disappointed.

PlanetSide® – A FPS/MMO that never really hit its stride. It’s been a non-factor since release.

Star Wars GalaxiesTM – Considering the combination of MMO and Star Wars, this was basically declared a money tree before release. Some launch troubles, unmeet expectations (thanks in part to WoW), and then the NGE catastrophe seal SWG place in MMO history as a massive waste of potential. Such a giant mishandling of potential would likely have cost many companies their entire business.

The Matrix Online – While this brand has faded since its peak, The Matrix was a huge property back in the day, and considering the movie, it’s a paint-by-numbers MMO setting. The Matrix Online SHOULD have been the defining Sci-Fi MMO, and not the tiny niche game it currently is. While not exactly a SWG-sized waste of potential, it’s hard to argue that The Matrix Online fell short of expectations.

Vanguard Saga of Heroes® - The much-heralded spiritual successor of the original Everquest, Vanguard has a well documented history of failure. Starting with its much-reported beta troubles, to its epic fail of a launch, and the subsequent circus of its developers, Vanguard made history for all the wrong reasons. While currently the game is reportedly in much better shape, it’s niche status has long since been established, and many still credit it with their distaste for trying newly launched MMOs.

One undeniable hit (EQ1), two currently healthy MMOs that underperformed or disappointed (EQ2, SWG), and four titles that would be shut down if taken off the MMO life-support system that is Station Access (PS, Matrix, VG, PotBS). One out of seven MMOs from SOE live up to their potential/expectations. Outside of its first title, what exactly are we looking at as the example of MMO excellence with SOE? Sure they have a lot of history in the genre, but how do we take a history of failure as a positive? When you swing and miss with such IP’s as Star Wars and The Matrix, not to mention release a sequel to the previous king of the genre that scares away all but the most hardcore of fans, normal rational would paint you as a company to avoid going forward. Let’s also consider the upcoming MMO titles set for release.

The AgencyTM – Another attempt at FPS/MMO, only this time with a spy twist. Considering the core FPS crowd, it’s hard to imagine them going for something so FPS-lite. Core MMO fans have generally avoided past FPS-like MMOs, so it’s tough to say who the market is here. The PS3 being the trailing console of this generation can’t help either.

DC UniverseTM Online – Not out yet, but clearly moving away from the traditional MMO setup and going for a more action/beat-em-up setup with some MMO-like features. Also has the Batman/Superman videogame curse to deal with. Overall solid potential for a fun ‘diversion’ MMO, but does it have the hooks to make it the main MMO for most players? Good potential is a hit on the PS3 given the controller setup, but how will it stack up to Champions Online on the PC?

Free RealmsTM – Out soon, kid-aimed browser game going for a WoW-lite approach. It could do well, but not a product aimed at the traditional sub-based MMO crowd. Considering the Wii is the dominate console, especially among a younger demographic, it’s tough to picture FR really selling PS3 units, or the core PS3 crowd jumping all over a kids game. The PC success of kid-friendly F2P MMOs like Wizard 101 shows the market exists, but will FR capture it in a profitable way?

I’m sorry, but I don’t see MMO baby jesus on that list, do you? We have one potential flop (Agency), one niche title (DCU), and one kids game (FR). Is that really the future of the genre? What in the three above is the next great step in MMO gaming, especially considering the history of the company behind them?

PS: Part of my SOE-hate still stems back to 1999 and luring the carebears away from UO. Yes, I hold a grudge. But fanboy exaggerated hate aside, I still don’t understand the blind love by some for SOE considering their overall history…

Edit: Sorry the original version of this post was a formatted nightmare. That should all be fixed now.

The need for alts in WAR, and back to Oblivion

February 17, 2009

Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t think oRvR is something I can do day-in, day-out as my main MMO activity. Not because oRvR is subpar or poorly designed, but because it just takes more out of you as a player, and therefore requires breaks. Breaks mean you either play another MMO, or you roll an alt. Considering how many alts members of CoW have, clearly I’m not alone on this.

I generally hate MMO alts, so this is a rather big change for me. This ‘revelation’ of mine also makes me re-consider the structure of how WAR’s world is designed. At first I thought the three pairings setup was a bit of a waste, as it’s close to impossible to experience all of it on one character, and some of it seems very similar. Now when you consider the motivation to play an alt, it’s refreshing. Personally I’ve seen perhaps 5% of the greenskin content since my main is a Dark Elf, so playing the Choppa will be close to a new game. Once the alt is rank 40, this gives me two options for end-game T4 oRvR, and since gear has such a minimal impact in WAR, both will be viable. So yes, I’m looking forward to 1.2 and the new classes. Which is not to say I’ve abandoned my current 40, and I still intend to jump into oRvR consistently (and perhaps even more after 1.2 and the Domination system), but it will be nice to have the option to play WAR and not be focused on T4.

In the mean time, I’ve reinstalled The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion for the first time on my Alienware. It’s crazy that a game released in 2006 can still look so gorgeous. It’s also nice to just turn everything on max, at 1900×1200, and have it never drop below 30 FPS. Oblivion is a game I’ve put considerable time into before, but never actually finished it, or seen some of the more major quest lines. Anyone have any ‘must have’ mods for Oblivion? So far I’ve only installed Oscuro’s Overhaul.


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