Urge to play… fading

May 29, 2009

I’ve stated all along that one of my favorite aspects of playing an MMO is the continual progression, both from an individual perspective and for the game overall. I like knowing that as I play, I continue to get stronger or learn to play better, and that this ‘counts’ because it happens in a world filled with other characters doing the same.

WoW stopped being worthwhile for me in part because each expansion is a complete reset, and it’s that knowledge that helped to drive me away. In a similar vein, I’m having trouble staying motivated to log into DarkFall as often now, knowing that I will be re-rolling when the US-1 server is released. Knowing what you are doing does not ‘count’ puts a completely different light on a lot of activities, and at least for me, is a good reminder of why exactly I do love the genre.

Take mining for instance. It’s technically a boring activity in DarkFall, as all it requires is finding a node and left-clicking once to start, stopping only when you are out of stamina or feel the need to move on. When it ‘counts’, I have no problem with mining, and actually enjoy it. It’s a way to build wealth, further your crafting, gain some skill/stat points, chat with guildmates, and while the activity itself is simple, knowing you have to stay sharp to avoid PKs keeps it from being a click and walk away activity. It’s fun finding a good spot to mine, one with good resources but not frequented by PKs. That in itself is almost a mini-game. But when it stops counting, when you don’t care about the skill/stat gain, you don’t need the wealth it brings, and your concern for PKs drops to zero, all that’s left is that technically boring activity of a bar filling up and ore being placed in your bag.

So I remove harvesting from my list of DarkFall activities, along with any crafting that I won’t directly use myself, and also trading, since I currently have everything I might need in my bank for the next 1-2 months. What’s left is exploring and PvP. PvP is still fun because the actual combat is great. Missing is that ‘building up’ aspect from gaining gear from a kill, but even without that PvP is a lot of fun, and I’m still getting better at it from a player-skill perspective. The only downside to this is that I’m affected by the memory crash more than most, which can literally get you killed in PvP. Assuming that gets fixed soon, I don’t see myself stopping my regular PvP trips anytime before US-1.

Exploring is also fun, especially given how expansive Agon is, and how many interesting little nooks exist. Considering I’ll likely be rolling a different race, exploring those areas and getting comfortable for US-1 is a nice goal to work towards. Exploring naturally leads to PvP as well, so that’s a plus. The memory crash puts a damper on exploring, especially since it happens more often when traveling long distances, and because crashing while mounted can cost you that mount if you crash in the wrong spot.

So yea, the announcement that I was waiting for, the upcoming release of the US-1 server, has in fact slowed my time in DarkFall, or at least changed up my day-to-day gameplay. When you remove the ‘it counts’ factor from an MMO activity, you remove a major part of why I do it, and if what’s left is in itself not much fun, it limits my options. I am getting close to finishing Puzzle Kingdoms though (early analysis: way too easy), and should have a post up about that at some point.

Big DarkFall update, Aventurine-style of course

May 28, 2009

It’s not often (ever?) that Aventurine gives it’s fans a preview of what’s ahead for everyone’s favorite and 100% perfect MMO, Darkfall, yet we got just that yesterday from Tasos. Or at least, we got a long post with a lot of words, and a whole bunch of ‘more stuff’ announced. Let’s see if we can break down the update, and see if any real meat was included.

The first section addressed the RAMPANT (ask Youtube or any ForumFaller) cheating and hacking that plagues DarkFall. It’s more or less a repeat of their previous stance, with the only new addition being that they will start banning geometry exploiters and looting script users. Here is the part I found interesting:

Unattended macroing and unattended use of autorun and swimming against obstacles are also prohibited. We have taken great measures to limit macroing, to reward the players who are actually playing the game and allow them to catch up easily. We will continue working on making macroing and its effects irrelevant in Darkfall.

They state auto-running into a wall is prohibited, but left off the ‘and will result in a ban’ that was included in all the other statements. Odd, but my guess is they want some players to settle into the ‘new’ rules before whipping out the ban stick. Otherwise, if you started banning everyone running into a wall today, the world would be a very empty place. Baby steps and all that. They honestly should just remove those skills and be done with it, as everyone has 100 run/sprint/swim/riding anyway.

Next on the list, the North America server. Before DF was released Aventurine said they would allow NA players to transfer off the EU server once the NA server was up, in part no doubt to get some NA players into the game and not have them all waiting for the NA server before dropping some cash. Under normal circumstances this would be fine, but DarkFall had/has some early issues with character skill exploits, and bringing over those enhanced characters won’t be ‘fair’ to all the new players. Add to that the fact that skill gain is also now harder or easier (depending on your playstyle and the skill in question), and it’s hard to compare a 1st month character to someone starting fresh when the NA server goes up. Here is the meat of the section:

Character transfer/cloning will become available with a significant delay (months) and possible further restrictions. This concerns only the characters without any of their possessions. More on this at a later date

Obviously the two big questions are the length of the delay and what exactly the ‘further restrictions’ might be. Already confirmed is the fact that the transfer will be a naked transfer, so all items are lost. It’s hard to say what a good length for the delay would be without knowing the other restrictions. Lets say a hard cap on skills gets implemented between now and the NA launch, and the cap is restrictive enough that a new player can reach it within 2-3 months of ‘normal’ play. In that scenario, a 3 month delay will be more than enough time to get everyone on more even ground, especially since the transfers will be coming over naked into a world already occupied by established guilds with gear and cities. It’s also possible the transfer could include some kind of skill modification, let’s say all skills are capped at 75 points, so any skill at 100 is reduced. How long does the delay have to be with that factor? I’ve already decided to reroll come NA-1 (more on that in a later post), but the exact details of the transfer will likely sway a great deal of others on their decision.

Plans for more servers are also underway. Announcements will be made as needed.

Who was it that said if you are not opening up more servers 6 months after launch you are failing? (yay reference to that quote, +1 blog score) I’m curious though, if they open up an EU-2 server, just how many people would reroll for a chance to get away from the rigormax characters?

We’ve performed a complete overhaul of the account management system and things are running much smoother than they used to. We have increased our capacity repeatedly and we’ve been trying to keep the Darkfall shop open as much as possible since last week. This has been increasingly difficult to maintain as demand remains high. This despite the fact that there is still no “Buy Darkfall” button anywhere and our release has been limited to the Darkfall community.
Our number one concern is the quality of the experience for our existing users. We don’t want to create any problems by allowing too many new users in. This is why we have no boxes in the market, why we haven’t been promoting the game, why our new site isn’t up yet, why we don’t offer a free trial, why we don’t offer more payment options etc.

We understand that Darkfall’s soft launch is unorthodox, but we are working hard to change all that while maintaining the best possible experience for our existing users.

Now, if you only play ForumFall you take the above as “lulz they can’t update their website, DF sux!”, but if you have spent more time than a EuroGamer reviewer in DarkFall, you know exactly how important population balance is, especially on the high-end. The server constantly crashing is not going to help anyone have a good time, and while in the end DarkFall WON’T be the game for most people, tourists have a way of ruining a launch, and I’ll once again give Aventurine props for planning ahead and reducing their influx to a trickle.

Next is the meat (or lack of) of the update, and what Aventurine has coming down the pipe for DarkFall. Let’s look at each point separately.

Imminent massive optimizations to further improve gameplay, massive battles and sieges

Fix the sound-created slowdown, and 90% of the optimization will be realized. Without sound enabled, DarkFall actually runs amazingly well even with all it’s graphics turned on during a massive siege. With sound enabled, you get crippled down to 5 FPS. I’m sure they are aware of the issue, and hopefully it’s one that’s addressed soon. The other 9.9% of the work needed is a fix for the memory error crash, which while not usually gamebreaking, it’s quite annoying when chasing or being chased in PvP. Dying because your client crashed really puts a damper on the experience.

Improving the newbie experience, making the transition to Darkfall smoother and lowering the learning curve

Set our course to “Follow in EVE’s footsteps”. Smart move.

Continuously adding polish to the game

Disappointed by this one, I was hoping they would remove polish. Seriously, wtf is the point of the above? We all assume you will polish the game as you go. Next they will release how many characters have been created in the last 18.4 minutes.

Substantial improvements to the graphics

You know people are going to roast them for the use of ‘substantial’ when a patch comes out and changes something minor (or even major, because even that won’t be ‘substantial’ enough for everyone) As someone who has never been bothered with the graphics of DarkFall (other than how it looks on Youtube, fix that!), so long as the update does not hinder client performance, I don’t care all that much.

Large content updates

This next to “adding polish” really brings a wealth of information for all of us, thank you.

Massive feature updates

Add this to the list above.

Further improvements to the economy

Player run vendors please, Blizzard it and copy/paste UO on this one.

Massive improvements to the solo and the small group experience

If by this they mean “90% of the worlds mobs will no longer require a huge group, or dubious abuse of the AI”, then yes please. PvP should be the challenge of DarkFall, we don’t need more than half the mobs in the game being able to easily solo a player in a ‘fair’ fight. Sure keep a few mobs tough, but the majority should be doable in a small (3-4) man group, and larger (6-10) groups should be able to take down 99% of all mobs in a straight up fight. Reducing mob hp/damage would also allow players to actually go out and gain combat skill gain by fighting mobs. Crazy, I know!

More PvP diversity and options

I was hoping they would keep PvP for white people only. I blame Obama.

Substantial improvements to PvE

Raiding yo! Hopefully they can get the instances working and not keep everyone locked out, or have to bring this down a month after its release due to poor planning. Luckily they have the massive resources and glacial update schedule to accomplish this…

And finally, the update links a bunch of media coverage about the game. Oddly no link is provided to that amazingly entertaining EuroGamer ‘review’, although a certain kids table is indeed linked. Someone needs to send a note to Tasos and let him know that that tourist has moved on, and won’t be back until (LotD release + 2 weeks + 1 month on X new shiny). Funny that Tasos would EuroGamer his own update and only skim a site he linked, unless somewhere along the line he agrees that DF is ‘beyond repair’ and a ‘bad game’, but I have my doubts about that.

DarkFall: US server population (non)issue

May 27, 2009

With the all-but-confirmed US-1 (or NA-1) server being geared up for release, many in the DarkFall (and ForumFall) community are wondering if the player base can support two separate servers, using the current in-game population as a barometer. The all too common “if Aventurine can’t fill EU-1, what will happen with the US-1 split?” argument often finds its way into any thread on the topic.

What I don’t see mentioned often is the current state of DarkFall in terms of availability, advertising, and overall ‘buzz’ generated by Aventurine. For starters, it’s only very recently that DarkFall has become available 24/7 at the online store; previously all buyers had to play ‘is the shop up?’ and hope they were lucky enough to have the shop load for them during the availability window. While that release strategy worked well to keep the in-game population under control and prevent first-month flooding, it also kept a lot of potential buyers out, as not everyone is going to be crazy enough to camp a website for a chance to buy a game. Yes the fanatics did it, but even in a niche like the one DarkFall is filling, only a percentage are willing to go THAT far to play.

Beyond the shop going 24/7, Aventurines own website promoting the game has yet to receive an update, and if someone is only passing by they might assume DarkFall is still in beta. How many more potential customers could a simple “DarkFall is out, click here to buy” button attract? Furthermore, a full update to the website, including some kind of “What’s already happened in-game” information could also draw new players to the game. EVE is famous for this, as anytime a big event happens it gets a ton of publicity and the stories draw fresh eyes to the games possibilities. Already DarkFall has seen it’s first major event (the fall of Hyperion) and some player-driven story published on the official site would really help to show people exactly what has drawn the current players into the game, distancing it a bit from the ‘Fantasy FPS’ image many have of DarkFall.

Going one step further, how about some damn advertising? We all know internet advertising is cheap these days, so when will we see a few DarkFall banner ads on Massively or other MMO sites? When a small MMO blog like this site here still gets “Is DarkFall out” in the comments, you know a ton of potential customers are not even aware of your games status or even existence. Sure it’s a niche product, so you don’t need Mr. T advertising ganking noobs on TV for DarkFall, but I’m sure many players that DO fall into the DarkFall niche might not be aware of the game.

It’s also a bit foolish to discount all of the players who are interested in DarkFall but are simply waiting for the North American release, afraid of bad pings to the EU server or simply not wanting to bother playing on a temporary server, especially since the full details of a transfer, if there even is one, are unknown. Before DarkFall went live on EU-1, Aventurine announced that a North American server would become available at a later date, so it’s not surprising some fans decided to wait.

Edit: Oh, and right as I finish writing this, Tasos gives the community an update and echo’s some of my statements. Now if only he had not linked to a site which dubbed his game ‘beyond repair’, but hey, even DarkFall news releases contain some bugs.

DarkFall: NA-1 and quick in-game update.

May 26, 2009

Rumor has it the DarkFall NA-1 server is coming in June. Consider the release history for DarkFall overall, would anyone be surprised if it’s a bit late? Granted setting up hardware and launching an MMO are two very different things, but as a company you first have to deliver on a few promises before people take you on your word (Mythic has bought a lot of credit in this regard with the timing and delivery of WAR updates). No news on how exactly NA-1 will be done in terms of the transfer. Will it be a full transfer, partial, delayed, or a blank slate? Hopefully more on this from Aventurine soon, as I know a good amount of people are waiting on the sidelines until this server goes live. With the shop going online 24/7 recently, a good influx of new players have entered the game, and I believe the launch of NA-1 will bring in another wave.

As far as in-game activities go, RL has been a bit busy for me recently, so my online time has been reduced a bit. On Saturday Inquisition took part in TheMerc’s siege of Mar Shrall (The Goons capital city), but I personally did not see much of the action as our group was on shard defense duty, and no real attempt was made against it. Not going to break down the whole siege, but the end result was that TheMerc’s were not able to bring down the city’s clan stone to 0% before the attack window expired, resulting in a technical draw (but really a lose for TheMercs, since the 180k used to initiate the challenge is lost)

This week should be interesting however, as Inquisition has stirred up some new wars (more PvP targets), and you never know what our new friends are going to get involved with next.

DarkFall: 3 month review

May 21, 2009

Edit: My newer, one year review of DarkFall can be found here.

DarkFall has been out just shy of three months now, and for me it’s been the most interesting three months of any MMO since UO, for a variety of factor. Going in with low expectations, finding an amazing guild to play with, and actually playing an MMO that is designed from the ground up to be all about impact PvP all contribute to a great three months.

The low expectations part has been well covered, but I think it’s important to remember what people were saying back prior to release. DarkFall is a game that was called vaporware throughout much of its development, all the way until the very day it went live. It’s the game many predicted would be a repeat of Shadowbane from a technical perspective, and it’s the game many claimed would fundamentally not work from a design perspective. It was low on my radar because after all these years following the MMO genre, I’ve learned not to get myself hyped up about website details, screenshots, or bullet-point lists like some little school girl waiting for Miley Cyrus at the mall. No one actually playing DarkFall will claim its perfect, or even at 75% of what it can be, but for anyone looking for a player-skill based impact PvP game, it’s hard to argue that DarkFall has not delivered on the promise to cater to that niche with a worthwhile product.

Most MMOs outside of the growing ‘solo hero’ segment depend on player communities to draw and keep players going. Anyone who has ever been in a solid, close-knit guild knows whatever game they are playing is infinitely more fun because of the people around you, which can make a good game great, or keep you playing something average just for the people. Inquisition is a great group of guys to game with, both because of their overall in-game skill and the leadership’s ability to maintain a good balance of serious yet laid-back gaming. We are not a dominant, all powergamer guild like TheMercs, but we are far from the casual, non-factor guilds that spring up and die after the first defeat. Given my current playstyle and gaming time, this fits me perfectly, and has added a ton of enjoyment to DarkFall.

Outside of my clan, I actually really enjoy the DarkFall community as a whole. Beyond the ForumFall aspect that non-players love to point at as a negative is a solid group of people who all love the same thing; good PvP. As the three months have progressed we have seen the niche start to establish itself, as players who can’t handle or don’t like impact PvP quit or go inactive, and those looking for exactly that rise up to be major players. In today’s MMO market you don’t need sheep among the wolves; you just have to provide enough tools for the wolves to keep them entertained. In three months, DarkFall has slowly started to shed its sheep, and continues to cater to the wolves as they go at it. As most MMO fans know, it’s not about how many other solo-heroes play the game on x server, but about the people you actually play with or against on a daily basis that matters.

Finally the game itself is above and beyond what I thought it would be. The graphics are fine (unless all you know is screenshots or youtube), most of the technology works until you get a zerg vs zerg battle, and for as complex a system as PvP is in Darkfall, balance is actually very decent. Compared to other MMOs, DarkFall has made good progress in refining its formula over the last three months, especially when you factor in the size and resources of the developer. While the outgoing sheep cry for Trammel before they go inactive, those actually playing know very well what areas need work and what needs to change to make DarkFall a better game. Beyond that, the player base is still in its infancy in terms of understanding the game, as just last night the server saw the first player-built warhulk in action. As the players become settled, more complex strategies and tools will be used, further enhancing the player experience. Just like EVE took some time to settle in and for player run empires to establish themselves, DarkFall is in that phase now. Expecting ships and warhulks to be common in the first months is a fool’s request, as is the thought that the first month of DarkFall looks anything like the third, or that what is happening now will remain unchanged in the next three. Unlike a themepark, a sandbox is always shifting, and so far DarkFall is shaping up nicely.

DarkFall: New home, new friends

May 20, 2009

Having worked out a deal with TheMercs alliance, we now have access to the city they took from Mortis Consortium. Most of our members are bound at the old NPC city TheMercs worked out of, which is just a short trip south of their new home. The details of our agreement are not public knowledge so I can’t go into it here, but I can talk about how they run their city/alliance in general.

Very simply, it’s ruled with an iron fist and everyone is under a ‘one and done’ mistake policy. Everyone is expected to carry their weight, and anyone slacking is quickly replaced. When you are inside the city, you just ‘feel’ it’s not the place to screw around or act like an asshat. It’s both amazingly imposing and at the same time incredibly inspiring. These guys are pros, and when you see the machine from the inside, it’s easy to see why TheMercs are as efficient and successful as they are.

A simple example: In DarkFall leaving your mount out in a city usually results in someone jumping on it within a few seconds. If you are lucky, it’s just someone messing around and they jump off shortly after, rather then take off. With TheMercs, you can leave a mount out and come back an hour later to find it in the same spot, untouched. From an outsiders perspective this might seem like such a silly and minor point, but when you factor in the internet fuckwad theory and the anonymity it provides, it’s an amazing accomplishment in leadership and control.

Being associated with one of the more hated yet feared alliances will surely bring a lot of PvP our way, both defending the city and accepting contracts from others. Now that the foundry is up in the city, and TheMercs having created a bunch of warhulks, I’m sure some serious sieging is in the works. Good times ahead.

DarkFall: Still looking for a new home

May 18, 2009

It would seem that Inquisition is cursed when it comes to sieging. Every time we set something up, bad luck seems to follow. This really only happens when it’s our guild/alliance launching the siege, as anytime we attend someone else’s siege things usually go well. As always, we have plans currently brewing for a new home, as living out of an NPC city does start to wear on you since you can’t control who binds at the city stone.

That said, our current NPC home does have some advantages, mostly in that I can harvest while playing iPhone games or Puzzle Kingdom on the second PC (more on both later this week) thanks to being within close proximity to a tower, and living in a somewhat remote city that most PK groups avoid entering. Our old hamlet was located along a popular PK path, which while great for PvP, was a bit tough on harvesting. The result of selling our hamlet and moving is that we have all been able to focus more on harvesting, building up our supplies and also getting nice crafting skill and stat gains. It’s a nice short-term solution, but since we all play to PvP, it’s not going to work long-term. One of the things I miss most about having the hamlet is the warning system. Before, anytime a group entered our hamlets area, everyone in the guild would get a system message telling us who arrived. This made it very easy to know when to return to the hamlet to defend, or when to avoid it if overwhelming numbers showed up. Living in an NPC city, you don’t get that benefit.

Hopefully this week or upcoming long weekend results in some more dramatic changes. If nothing else, some interesting options/locations are out there for us.


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