Aion: Eminem’s “Kim” track, final verse, final line.

October 30, 2009

Watching Aion bleed out in record time is, to be honest, enjoyable for me.

Part of that just comes from my general dislike that the genre of gaming I enjoy most has, on the AAA level, gone from persistent worlds and virtual communities to candy-covered themeparks full of solo-heroes. I know Aion failing won’t completely change that around, but it can’t hurt either.

Another part of the enjoyment is watching what is an obviously flawed PvP setup (forced two-sided gear-based PvP with an exploitable PvE element that gives PvP rewards) fail in dramatic fashion. How anyone can think a setup like that will just work itself out in 2009 is beyond me. 1998, sure, but we have over 10 years of MMO history to look back on now; did NCSoft learn NOTHING from UO/AC-DT/DAoC/SB?

And finally, on a more personal level, many of the fools that left DarkFall for the pretty pastures of Aion PvP are now rapidly flapping their fairy wings and flying back. While it may be rude to say “I told you so”, it does still feel good to say it. Welcome back to Agon fairies, rebind your tab key.

DarkFall: Bounty Hunter event aftermath.

October 29, 2009

Last night the NA DarkFall server saw its first major player-driven event, a bounty hunter chase that went off very well considering it was the first of its kind in DF. I was able to log on just after the start, and Apollo already had a group together ready to rumble. Most of the server’s big names showed up, and the center of Agon became a PvP hotspot for a few hours on a Wednesday night.

The event showed me two things. First, the DF player base on NA is very willing to get behind community-driven events like this and things like the NEW clan initiative. I think everyone playing DarkFall is just happy to finally have a real fantasy PvP MMO not crippled by technical shortfalls (ShadowBane), and so are willing to pull together and make things happen for the good of the game. When server moral counts so much because your game is so reliant on word-of-mouth promotion, it’s interesting and encouraging to watch the players (with some GM support, which was nice to see) step up and provide some content to mix things up.

The other thing such an event shows is just how much potential a sandbox MMO has when it comes to player-generated content. The best aspects of DarkFall (PvP, huge world, zero instancing) were all on display because a few players decided to pool some funds together and have the entire server hunt them. As it was just the first such event, no doubt future events will not only be more creative, but also more tightly executed and with more refined twists and surprises. Plus like any good sandbox, such ‘content’ will never become obsolete because a new patch brought the next tier of shiny suits to collect. If anything, more options will be added as Aventurine adds more tools for the players to use as they see fit. This event was made possible, in part, because a crafters name shows up when you make an item. That simple feature, along with items never being bound, allows for a bounty hunter event to take place. You don’t need overly complicated systems and hard-coded motivational factors to get the most out of your game and player base in a sandbox, just some creative players and community support behind them.

DarkFall’s version of EVE University

October 28, 2009

As frequent readers here know, one of the reasons I greatly prefer a sandbox MMO over a themepark is the amount of control players have in shaping their game and the world around them. While that control is a double edged sword (EVE University vs Goonswarm), I’ll take that risk over a foam sword (themepark) any day of the week.

And much like EVE Online has the player-created and run EVE University to guide new players, DarkFall on the NA server now has NEW. Similar in idea to its Ultima Online Siege Perilous forefather, the idea behind NEW is to give young DarkFall players a chance to learn about the game without getting constantly rolled while trying to solo kill goblins. It is, in a good way, UO’s Trammel. In a good way because its player controlled, it’s not absolute (30 day time limit until players are kicked from NEW), and other players are free to raid NEW’s city of Hammerdale (Yes, Apollo’s old city. In a way we did our part by building it up for all the new guys. At least that’s our story damnit!).

It’s those raiders that, IMO, will really draw those younger players into DarkFall. They will see PvP firsthand, and assuming NEW grows to a reasonable size, they won’t always be sitting ducks. Add in the fact that many of the server’s biggest alliances support the idea, and Hammerdale itself is perhaps the safest city in the game in terms of being taken in a siege, which will help to prevent the previously common ‘city loss ragequit’. And with the city being a well-known location for player activity, that will just make it a natural hotspot, be it for PvE, trade, or PvP. All of these factors added together create an almost perfect environment to show the best of DarkFall, and that’s exactly what you need to get those MMO hooks into someone. Now about that free trial Aventurine…

edit: Oh and speaking of AV, good job for quickly making the NEW thread a sticky and writing a Spotlight piece about it as well. That shows everyone they are paying attention to what is happening in their game, and that they clearly support such player-driven ideas. Also in the Spotlight a few days back was a player-run Bounty Hunter event. Between this and the hints of GM-run events, I’m feeling good about AV’s involvement in DarkFall beyond just adding more stuff and tweaking balance.

Dragon Age does hype the right way

October 27, 2009

My anticipation for Dragon Age has been slowly ramping up, and not in the usual ‘watch ever movie/screen shot asap!’ way. I actually made it a point to avoid all that in order to keep the experience of playing the game as spoiler-free as possible, and so my expectations going in are ‘It should be a quality RPG experience’ and nothing more. But two unique pieces of ‘hype’ have managed to get my all fanboi’ed-up this past week. First was the release of the character creator, and now Dragon Age Journeys, two very different tools to get people excited about an upcoming title.

The release of the character creator is genius for a few reasons. One, it’s very cheap promotion for the game, since it’s already been created and I’m guessing it’s not very difficult to cut it from the full game and release it as a separate download. But the real genius is that usually having 300 different face options in a game is more of a pain than a plus. I mean I’d rather actually start playing within the first 5 minutes than continue to tweak nose sliders to get my character ‘just right’ (and since I’m talking as an MMO fan here, I think we all know exactly how far we are willing to go to get little crap just right). But on its own, with the game not out yet, hell yea I’m going to sit there for 30+ minutes tweaking every last slider and option, and you better believe I’m damn ready to play the game when I’m looking at the best damn RPG hero EVA! Like I said, genius.

And now that I have my character created and ready, along comes Dragon Age Journeys to not only provide a fun turn-based strategy/rpg, but also to give me additional backstory/lore about that created hero’s world. And much like the character creator, when the real game is released you want to play RIGHT NOW, so you might skip some of the background stuff just to get into the meat of things (and in turn you might miss some of the detail of the world/story), but when the games release is still weeks away, even little bits of lore or story will get eaten up. Genius part two.

And so here I sit, exactly one week away from release day, Direct2Drive pre-order waiting, and without having downloaded every video or read every dev log/forum, I’m hyped for Dragon Age in a somewhat natural (if we can call it that) way. I know enough of the story/world to look forward to it without feeling like anything has been spoiled, and I have a character which I’m excited to play rolled up and ready to go. Nov 3rd can’t come soon enough now.

More Aion vs Fallen Earth observations

October 26, 2009

The trending examples provided by the recently released Aion and Fallen Earth continue, and some interesting if not entirely unexpected observations can be made. Today’s topic is player reaction, and how it differs when comparing a niche game (FE) versus a mass-market (Aion) game.

The quick take is this: An average mass-market game is a slow burn, while a niche game is a black/white type of deal.

Niche games are niche for a reason; there is a small group of people who really, really like what the product offers, and then everyone else looks at the same thing and goes “wtf is fun about THAT?” That’s the black/white aspect of it, as very few people will look at a niche product and just go “eh, that’s just ok”.

On the other hand, a mass-market game is DESIGNED to appeal to as many people as possible, and the best way to go about this is to play it safe and avoid any black/white reactions. Some people may dislike generic questing, but very few players will outright avoid a game because its leveling gameplay is focused around MMO-style questing, and many players will feel ‘comfortable’ progressing in that manner. Mix together a few ‘safe’ gameplay styles, hope it comes together, and bam, mass-market MMO.

And now, a few months later, we are seeing how the two styles progress. The ‘slow burn’ is starting to sink into some Aion players, as what was initially considered comfortable is now ‘more of the same’. Executed at a top-notch level, ‘more of the same’ might be good enough, but anything less than spectacular and the feeling of burnout is only accelerated. Since you drew from a mass market audience, the majority of your player base is not heavily invested in what you specifically offer, and so even the smallest excuse to leave might be taken. If you are bothered by something in Aion, you always have WoW, LotRO, WAR, EQ2, AoC etc to fall back on. Sure each game is a bit different, but all more or less achieve the same thing, just in different flavors.

On the other hand, for the niche that Fallen Earth caters to it’s basically the only game in town. Sure the jump animation might not be spot on, or you might run into a bug or three, but if you are part of the niche, you will take that bug and ten more before you leave FE and make the switch to a mass market game. FE would have to do something drastic (Trammel, NGE) to push away those it caters to. At the same time, those who are just now trying FE (for free) are having a tough time seeing what all the fuss is about, having read blog after blog gushing about it (it also does not help that the niche is likely highly represented among bloggers). That’s natural, because remember we are talking about a NICHE product, and its niche because only a small subset of the gaming population finds what it offers appealing. That the majority will find a product like Fallen Earth lacking is not a shot at the game (directly anyway), as they never were the intended audience anyway. When your niche starts taking shots, well then you better start listening.

DDO: Too fast?

October 22, 2009

Am I the only one who thinks DDO would be a better game if everything inside a dungeon was at 50% speed?

I think they have a great combat system, one that is both a little action hack-n-slash and also has some nice depth and utility to it. The problem is that everything moves so fast, things are either dead before you blink or you have wiped. All those great utility spells and abilities get ignored because you just don’t have enough time to use then effectively. How many times have you been inside a dungeon, the front of the party spots the enemy boss, and by the time the trailing member rounds the corner, the mob is dead or stepping over the bodies of your party?

Shocking! Asian grind game is grindy

October 21, 2009

This is rather amussing.

Damn NCSoft for tricking everyone into believe this Asian import with a year+ record of well documented grinding would be a grind. Those bastards.

(Bonus points for kicking those with high-end rigs in the nuts once they reach end-game. Why would the end-game need to work for everyone just a year after release?)


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