Why a hip-hop based MMO is genius

July 31, 2009

At first glance one might dismiss this gem of an idea and logically conclude that the overlap between hip-hop fans and MMO players is rather slim. You might also be thinking “wtf does rap music have to do with grinding XP and elves”? But before we move on from this incoming disaster, let’s see just how different a Rap-based MMO would be from what we play today.

Called Platinum Life, the microtransactions-based title will take standard free-to-play role-playing game mechanics and adapt them to a hip-hop music-scene setting. Players will take the role of an aspiring musician who must earn “fame,” the game’s version of experience points. This is accomplished primarily by playing shows in the game, where players will perform existing hip-hop hits by engaging in Guitar Hero-like, pattern-matching rhythm minigames and more traditional RPG actions.

So, they are already setting the bar low by going F2P instead of sub, which means unreleased this game is at least better than 50% of all F2P games out today. Plus you can pay a few bucks to buy an iced-out chain or sweet rims for your ride, which are WAY cooler than the normal pink dress you can buy in most F2P cash shops. And pattern-matching rhythm minigames? Sounds like WoW raiding to me, and EVERYONE loves WoW. Just rotate which event is the ‘daily’ event and bam, 11 million customers.

Platinum Life will also incorporate other RPG elements, such as non-player characters. NPCs can also be used as back-up musicians or DJs during shows, although Heatwave CEO Anthony Castoro, a former Ultima Online developer, said that players will be encouraged to form their own groups. These groups will be able to take advantage of a certain level of music-creation tools, but will act more like a party in a traditional RPG, using spell-like special abilities to move the virtual crowd.

So they are avoiding forced grouping, but encouraging players to team up, a valuable MMO lesson learned. You also know the big bouncer guy will be your tank, the hot chick will be the healer (moral booster, get it?), and your old buddies from the block will be your DPS (they always pack heat, being stuck in that hood mentality). And throwing in a guy who was a dev on UO, genius!

As a player becomes more famous, the size of his NPC entourage will increase–as will the “drama” the NPCs in said entourage creates. This drama system will task the player with missions, such as helping out an entourage member who is in a troubled relationship or in trouble with the law.

To translate the above, what they are basically creating is the current raiding dynamic. The better your raiding guild, the more people want to join in, and your loot drama is sure to increase. Why deal with some random people over the internet for drama when you can get it from NPCs? Remember, NPCs don’t ultimately care if you abuse them, so now everyone can play the raid leader screaming at his players to avoid the whelps as they raid Onyxia, and who out there does not want to be THAT guy?

Speaking of legal troubles, Castoro was emphatic that Platinum Life would not be as violent as other hip-hop themed games, such as Def Jam Icon or 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand. Though players can get into scuffles with rival crews, there won’t be any shooting or killing.

Look, the guy is basically saying “our game is carebear”, and we all know carebear sells. They have clearly done their homework here, and are bringing the best of ALL worlds to this future MMO. I’m sold!

Warhammer: New live event starts soon.

July 30, 2009

This looks rather interesting, as it’s sounds like a mix of PvP and PvE, plus an event-only dungeon sounds fun. I’m very curious how they will scale the new dungeon for all tiers, and wonder if this ‘test’ works out, perhaps we will see more/all dungeons adapt the “All tiers” method? As always, we will see if what Mythic puts on paper translates in-game, but at least we won’t have to wait long to find out.

Warhammer Online: The oRvR/Scenario tug-of-war

July 29, 2009

The topic of whether scenarios in Warhammer Online do more to harm the game than help/enhance it has been debated a few times already, but with the recent server mergers and overall increase in server population, I think it might be worthwhile to bring it up again. As time goes on and WAR continues to improve in all areas, both oRvR and scenarios benefit from these improvements, yet no degree of changes will ever really change the fact that both oRvR and scenarios basically server the same purpose (PvP), just in different settings.

Open RvR is the key selling point of WAR, it’s the main feature the separates the game from every other hotbar mashing fantasy MMO. While it continues to have issues surrounding it, it’s overall much improved since WAR’s release, and if you are in the mood for some casual PvP, it’s great fun. Scenarios on the other hand were originally designed to compliment oRvR, influence the overall campaign in their own way, and also provide a quick burst of PvP in manageable 15 minute or less chunks of time. To Mythic’s credit, scenarios are so well done that they at one point dominated the game, and even today are often featured in live events. Rather than being the side distraction or ‘time filler’ they were designed to be, for many players scenarios ARE the game.

If not for the mutual reliance on player population, scenarios and oRvR could co-exist without issue and be viewed as equal options for a player looking for some PvP. However, due exclusively to the population issue, scenarios and oRvR basically pull players from opposite ends of a rope. If you jump into a scenario, you are ‘abandoning’ the oRvR field and not helping your side. If you focus too much on scenarios, you quickly outrank the lower tiers and miss out on keep raids, oRvR influence rewards, and basically seeing the different details Mythic has placed in all the varied oRvR lakes, of which there are many.

In an odd way, WAR with just scenarios would basically be a working version of Fury (Google is your friend), while WAR without scenarios would be far closer to DAoC. Together they cause some issues, especially on lower population servers or at off-peak hours. The other question is would you pay X amount per month for a scenario-based WAR? Perhaps not $15, but $10 or $5, especially if development from Mythic focused on providing even more scenarios, more races (remember in a scenario-based game, you don’t need to develop PvE areas), and a bigger focus on balance based on scenarios? Even for an ‘end-game’, you could rework the whole city capture stuff to be some kind of scenario championship (weekly, monthly) based on some kind of ranking system.

WAR without scenarios would of course place a much higher focus on improving oRvR areas, starting at T1 and going all the way up to city captures. Yet with everyone out of scenarios, zone control no longer affected by them, oRvR would become the ONLY way to gain renown. It would make for a more focused game, both in terms of player expectations and developer focus.

Perhaps by combining the two, Mythic may have actually done more harm than good (which can also be said about the effort put into PvE), or at least kept WAR’s true identity somewhat muddled.

DarkFall: Don’t worry, that review won’t be around for long

July 28, 2009

Sorry for the lack of posts around here of late; a bad blogging combo of work being very busy and nothing really jumping out at me in terms of topics. Hopefully both situations resolve themselves soon.

One side-bonus to a less active blog is a better view of the ‘general’ traffic that comes in; in other words the stuff people look at beyond the newest posts. In my case here, currently that is heavily dominated by people searching for DarkFall reviews, no doubt in part due to the EG ‘scandal’, and also because DarkFall is a newish MMO that is still generating new-user interest.

Sadly the damage done by top-notch journalist Ed Zitron and the geniuses who backed him is still being felt. Up until very recently, MetaCritic still featured the original 2/10 review for DarkFall, and even today GameRankings has it. Neither site uses the more updated review. In this regard, Tasos and Aventurine were right in demanding EG take down the original mistake, as even today we can see its false message is still being spread while the more accurate review is currently being ignored.

This issue is even more pertinent to DarkFall due to the games more unique rules and setup. A poor review of a WoW-clone is easier to explain, as almost all MMO fans know what to expect from a quest-hub, level grind, item collection MMO, and general reviews usually don’t dive too deep into the finer details that separate one clone from another. If you want a PvE-focused WoW-clone, LotRO should work for you. If you want some casual PvP in your WoW-clone, WAR fits the bill. Both games have finer details that might make or break the game for you in the long run, but from a general overview it’s easy to direct players towards what they might be looking for.

With DarkFall, even something basic like the combat system is difficult for people to full understand without having actually played it, let alone when trying to explain why that combat system fits into the PvP ruleset so well. Add to this that the vast majority of current MMO players have never played with full looting, open PvP, or a zone-less world, and it’s easy to see why so many people would have some rather basic questions about DarkFall that they might not have with more standard MMOs. Combine all that with the simple fact that DarkFall WON’T appeal to a large chunk of even the MMO fanbase due to its design, and again further importance is placed on at least reporting accurate details. DarkFall has enough intended design decisions to dissuade 90% of MMO gamers, it does not need Ed Zitron spreading lies to further drive people away.

And before people jump to the conclusion that “Those who like hardcore PvP know about DarkFall, everyone else does not care”, I’m the perfect example of why this might not always apply. All throughout DarkFall’s storied development I never gave the game much of a shot, having already gone through the launch of ShadowBane and all the wonders that sb.exe brought. Small dev + PvP MMO generally = failure. It was only until I read from a reliable source (The dearly departed Tobold in this case) that the beta client was technically solid that I became interested enough to purchase the game. Had Tobold pulled a Zitron and just copy/pasted ForumFall into his review, I most likely would have never picked up the game, and certainly not at release. When a developer already knows they are aiming for a small niche, they can’t afford losing potential customers because some hack has an ax to grind and picks your game to further whatever troubles him. WoW can brush off a false review and not give it a second though, but that’s not a luxury a developer like Aventurine can afford, and so it only makes sense they would do everything they could to correct the mistakes made.

Gaming Progress Report: WAR, DarkFall, and some Blood Bowl.

July 24, 2009

Some random Friday updates today, as I don’t have anything major to talk about. In an odd way, the last few days have been an ‘all good’ type of deal in Syn’s MMO land. Happy times lead to less blogging topics, go figure.

DarkFall: Still happily building my character and exploring human lands. The human area is very populated, both from an active players standpoint and from a world/NPC view. It’s tough to tell if this is due to all the changes AV has made to DF since launch, or if human lands are simply more ‘done’ than the Maharim area, but regardless everything just feels a lot busier in a good way. While a small addition, I think the title quests will go a long way to give some people direction beyond “go PvP” (Which is a great direction, but having more choices is never a bad thing), and while on those title quests I think the more casual players will find themselves introduced to other areas of the game. In an odd way, the title quests are somewhat of an extended ‘intro’ into DarkFall, and if anything AV should place further emphasis on getting new players to them or at least making them aware of their existence. I’ve also noticed that the progression of quests in DarkFall has been improved (again maybe it’s just the human area, maybe it’s the patching), with a more standard ‘Do 3-5 quests, get sent to the next town’, which in DarkFall is much needed due to the fact that you can at any time go in any direction, unlike more guided zone-based games. It still feels odd talking so much about DF’s PvE side, but in all honesty the PvP in DF is already better than any other MMO that I’ve played, so repeating “It’s awesome” over and over does not make for good blogging IMO.

WAR: All good on the WAR front in tier 2. I was worried that perhaps the fun we (CoW) had in T1 would fade in T2, but if anything it’s been even better. The RvR lakes are busy, scenarios pop frequently and feature a good mix of pre-mades and PUGs, and with all the new and old ways to get gear, PvE in WAR can be completely ignored without crippling your character. (I’ve not done a PvE quest since rank 4, and not once have I felt my gear is so behind as to be a noticeable hindrance) In a true sign that WAR (with a good population) is indeed a great PvP game for casuals, Aria is more into WAR now than ever, able to play beyond her previous MMO limit of about an hour. That it took Mythic this long to merge more servers and get everyone playing into this situation is sad, and I’ll wait until we hit T3 and finally T4 before going so far as to say everything is fine. The ‘end-game’ of the city siege still likely needs some work as well. As a side note, the current live event “Return to Nordenwatch” is both simple and great fun. Being able to play a T1 scenario in other tiers is great, as you get to see how the setup and terrain works when you add in more complexity due to higher ranks. Playing to WAR’s strength of having a massive amount of great scenarios is a good move by Mythic, and hopefully they can get even more creative with the live events in the future. They don’t all need to be super complex additions to provide a welcome 2-3 week change, so long as the underlying idea behind the event is actually fun. I’ll take something along the lines of the current event over the more complex but ultimately boring collection events any day.

Blood Bowl: I’m still learning the finer details and math behind this great game, and online play continues to entertain. My Human team is up to a team value of 1920, with a star thrower and catcher, along with some solid blitzers and linemen. My ogre is still rank one and very situational, but hopefully once he causes a few more injuries or deaths he will start to shape up and really contribute. Dwarf teams still give me the most trouble, while high-ranked Chaos teams can be hit or miss depending on how the injury rolls go. I’ve had games where I dominate if I knock a chaos warrior or two out, and I’ve had games that have devastated my team when the opponent stacks claws and might blow on too many of their guys. Wood Elves seem to be my easiest matchup, as I can keep up with them in terms of speed, and knocking them down and out usually goes well.

Happy weekend of gaming everyone, back on Monday.

DarkFall: Quick look at player-housing Villages

July 22, 2009

Last night while out exploring I came across a Village, one of the new areas added with the last expansion that supports player housing. This particular village was unclaimed, and had yet to have a house built on any of the predetermined lots. Even in its unfinished state, it was still impressive and interesting.

For starters, every house is placed in a preset spot, much like current city building works. This village had 2-3 cottage spots, 2 house spots, one villa spot and finally one large villa spot. As the village was set near a steep mountain cliff, some of the house spots were set a little higher, accessible by climbing some stairs or a rope ladder. The large villa, sure to be the ‘center piece’ of this particular village, was located right next to the village stone and had what I would consider the prime spot, being out away from the mountain and somewhat separate.

In its unfinished state, each spot had some stone blocks and beams of lumber, along with cranes and other building tools, giving it a very ‘in progress’ feel. The rest of the village, outside of the house spots, was already built and features a watchtower (with rope ladder), some walkways, and gardened trees and other minor details. Fully built I can image it would look like a nice spot and a good ‘home’ location for its owners.

Now, if only one of the many chaos chests that I’ve opened would give me a house deed, maybe I could do more than just look and imagine…

DarkFall: Might as well call it a WoW-clone now.

July 21, 2009

I noticed two disturbing signs of ‘polish’ in DarkFall last night. First, the tooltip for starter weapons now indicates you won’t gain skill ups while using them. Second, when you now link a magic item in trade chat, it not only correctly displays as said enchanted item, but also shows the enchant benefit/strength.

So now not only is skill gain more reasonable, the world spawns random chests to find for the chance at great rewards, PvE is better balanced and more populated, title quests give you some long-term goals to go after, but now we are getting tooltip fixes and item linking enhancements?

What’s next, Trammel or an instanced newbie starting area…?

DarkFall is getting soft.

DarkFall: EuroGamer is here to make us laugh yet again. 4/10 style this time.

July 19, 2009

As others have pointed out, the bastion of journalistic integrity, Eurogamer, has another DarkFall review up. It seems since release, DarkFall is now 100% better in the ever-virtuous eyes of EG, funny how that works…

To quickly summerize the four page review: DarkFall is a good game for it’s audience, but makes a poor WoW clone. Thanks EG.

But just as with the last go-around, there is comedy to be found in this review, starting up front with the author claiming he never read the initial review. Barry Bonds also never did steroids kids, he swears. It makes sense to deny reading the initial piece though, as it gets you out of the odd position of having to confirm, to the same employer, that the first piece they not only published but defended was/is indeed garbage. Yet while no direct ‘he got this wrong’ statements are made, reading the two reviews makes it rather clear who actually played the game, and who spent a few minutes on a forum gathering ‘facts’ while trying to get past character creation.

For instance, odd that in the first review, that ‘professional journalist’ Ed Zitron had major issues with the basics of the UI, to the point that he found them crippling to do even basic tasks such as NPC interaction or looting.

Unbelievably, to do anything that involves any interaction at all, you have to stop still – this includes any and all inventory management, looting, chatting – anything interactive.

The above sounds rather major to me, and certainly something I myself would point out if I was to write a review. Yet the second time EG takes a look at the game, they are somehow able to not only get past these major issues, but never even mention them. Either they are trying to keep a positive spin on DarkFall and hide the truth, or perhaps the forums got some facts wrong the first time around. Yes, how odd indeed, and certainly not the only example.

Perhaps even more telling is that the review itself is positive in the spots that count, like the combat system, PvP, and even PvE:

Even better is the actual player-versus-player combat. The first time I was hunted was absolutely thrilling.

Most of all, when something goes wrong, it’s often a case of you realizing entirely you were pushing it too far. Losing a couple of hours’ worth of random loot when I stop to wipe out some goblins on the final length home, letting my health deplete and then getting jumped by some opportunistic bastard… well, it’s annoying. But it’s also my fault. I’m annoyed with myself more than the game. Bad play. I was punished for it.

In my time in Darkfall, when going player-versus-environment, I fought far fewer enemy types than I would in any other major recent MMO… but I didn’t care. The variety in the conflict based around situational elements – luring people out with arrow-fire, using the terrain to separate members from the pack, whatever – kept it as entertaining.

Now if I’m looking for an MMO, and I’m going for the one with the best PvP, how exactly does the above go hand and hand with 2/10 and: “…every little thing Darkfall does is tragic… any attempt to glean joy from this torrid husk of an entertainment product is met with disdain.”

If I’m looking at the scale right, a 2/10 game has no business being ‘thrilling’ or ‘entertaining’. But hey, EG stands behind the first review, and Ed is a really honest guy. But do tell EG, is “every little thing tragic”, or is it “thrilling”? Is it a “torrid husk of entertainment”, or is it “entertaining”?

The final score (the original non-issue that gaming journalism can’t seem to stop harping on) the second time around is also telling, not because it’s low/high at 4/10, but because it had no other place to go. Higher than that, and EG might as well call themselves garbage for backing the initial 2/10, and it would be hard to match up anything lower than 4/10 with what was actually written in the review.

As with any score on a review, it’s also meaningless. If you are a WoW player happily running your daily quests, DF is far below a 4/10 for you. If you are an MMO gamer from the UO/AC days, or just someone who likes a little player-skill over hotbar mashing, DarkFall is far above a 4/10. And since Aventurine is not aiming to capture all 11 million WoW players (or even one, for that matter), so long as the niche crowd supporting the game is happy (and the recent ‘expansion’ did a lot for that), EG can keep entertaining everyone with their high standards and hard-hitting ‘journalism’.

Now excuse me, I’m off to join the rest of the miserable and play my tragic husk of a game.

DarkFall: Much improved, and still great

July 17, 2009

Dear DarkFall: I’m sorry I doubted you, or considered not playing on the NA server. I was wrong. My bad.

Seriously though, the last patch has improved a ton of stuff, and overall the game is still great fun. More after the weekend.

WAR: Solid core with pieces of suck, but is there any hope?

July 16, 2009

Out of all the recent MMOs I’ve played or been playing, by far the most frustrating one is Warhammer Online. Not because of anything related to bugs, crashes, or features/ui stuff, but because of how much the game changes from the early levels to end-game. Simply put, the game is amazingly fun in tier one and two, stalls somewhat in three, and just offers very little in tier four in terms of long-term, sustainable fun.

You would think that for RvR, tier one would be the one you want to leave asap, since your character is limited in terms of skills and abilities, and the entire mastery tree system has yet to start. Yet it’s this simplicity that really makes the game enjoyable, as the difference between winning and losing comes down to good communication among group members, rather than who gets the most CC/AoE off on the opponent. In a strange way, tier one in WAR is somewhat similar to PvP in DarkFall (which from a pure PvP standpoint, DF is far superior to WAR IMO), in that what you do is more important than what weapons/tools you bring to the fight. By the time you enter tier four, the winner/loser is often times pre-determined thanks to disparities in class/gear/mastery/RR/etc. That’s how the game works, you know that going into it, but it’s just strange how MUCH those factors affect the game in T4.

The only explanation that I can come up with is that once you reach T4, a lot of little factors add up to one big problem; it’s just not that fun. I don’t think its one major problem that Mythic can fix to turn T4 around (although population, both server and order vs destroy is a big issue), and while making changes to CC and such helps, it’s not like once CC is under control the lights come on and bam, T4 is awesome. It will be better, yes, but I still don’t think it will be great. It will still be zerg vs zerg thanks to players being able to travel quickly to any area at will (which is why anyone arguing AGAINST travel times in games like this is crazy). It still won’t really ‘matter’, as even a city siege at this point is somewhat meh in terms of impact, and the gear can now be gained through other means (a good change btw). And unless further changes to keeps are made, those battles will still be more about bashing a door than bashing other players (an issue Mythic really needs to address soon, as I believe the basic idea of fighting in/around a keep is solid in WAR).

LotD, which was the much-hyped major addition set to spice up T4, is IMO an utter failure, one that I’m okay with comparing to Trials of Atlantis in DAoC. Much like ToA, LotD more or less killed T4 RvR activity thanks to its lockout system of fail. If you want people to fight each other, why in gods name are you keeping one side OUT of the area for an extended amount of time, and the method for which that side gets back in is tied to fight whose inside in the standard T4 areas. A child could have pointed out why this won’t work, especially when half the servers (or more) are already having population issues in T4. The sad part is lockout method aside, LotD is actually rather decent content, and would be one hell of a zone to fight over if you know, Mythic actually let you fight more than 10 minutes every two hours or so. The ‘fun’ of trying to organize dungeon groups when you don’t know if you can even enter or not is also a rather glaring oversight. Imagine if in WoW, whenever your guild tried to enter a raid the game would randomly assign a wait period of up to two hours, and your entire raid got to sit around and wait to get in. Yea, that would go over REALLY well, and I’m sure plenty of raiders would just love to have that much time wasted…

So does WAR suck and everyone should mass quit? No, because at its core it’s a good, fun RvR game. It’s just that the core gets massively bogged down by little nagging issues that pile on and ultimately, by the time you get to T4, overwhelm the fun with suck. The good news is that removing each piece of suck (like overpowered CC) is very doable, and Mythic at least seems to get it. The bad news is that they have a long list of issues to get to, and Mythic seems to be going at a two steps forward, one step back pace (or one giant leap back when you factor in LotD).

Now, image the game with most of the little issues addressed and the launching of a paid expansion (3rd faction included) being announced. Yea, that might generate some legitimate hype, no Paul B needed.


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