DarkFall: Lessons from the fall of TRA

November 30, 2009

Sunday night saw VAMP and co (the alliance either has no name, or the name changes on a daily basis, so I’ll just refer to our side as VAMP going forward) siege another TRA city on Yssam. While there was some fighting, the siege was never in question and the whole thing overall was ‘easy’. After the siege the TRA alliance called it quits and their clans went their own way, even though many still have a number of holdings (I believe TRA had a total of 17 holdings, and VAMP only took three).

First let’s break down why VAMP had so little trouble with TRA. For starters, VAMP itself is a very strong alliance. Clans like VAMP, Nemesis, and Black Shields all have some of the servers best PvPers (both from a player skill and a character development standpoint), and when combined under one alliance you create a beast of a force. So while in many fights numbers were even or perhaps in TRAs minor favor, the average VAMP members simply outclasses the average TRA member. (Which is not to say I help in this regard, considering I was one of the few VAMP members do die during the siege, getting too close to a Wall of Force bubble out of curiosity. Lesson learned, and luckily I was rezzed and was able to witness the conclusion of the siege.)

VAMP also had a spy within the TRA high command, so any time they attempted anything sneaky, we knew it was coming. The main force trying to draw us out to the north while the elite attacked from the south might have been a good plan, except we had a welcome party ready for the south group, and never really chased the north group. Spies are a part of any war, but with TRA having such lax recruiting standards overall, it was not all that difficult to get a spy inside. Beyond the tactical advantage, I imagine it must also have been very demoralizing to watch your enemy react ahead of time to your every move. When you are already outclassed, you don’t need things stacked against you.

Finally there is the experience factor. Many of the leaders in VAMP have a great deal of siege experience from playing on EU and being highly aggressive there. TRA on the other hand has been inactive when it comes to sieging on NA, and while I’m guessing they have some EU-based leadership, from our fights with them it seemed they were again outclasses in this area.

With TRA gone, VAMP will need a new target to drum up PvP (the overall point of seiging to begin with). Who that will be remains to be seen, and with the expansion set to make some radical (hopefully) changes to PvP and siege mechanics, some time will no doubt be spent just figuring everything out. The launch of the expansion is also likely to trigger a return of former players who are currently on the sidelines, so perhaps some mid-sized clans will grow, and some returning veterans may shift power around a bit.

The one thing I currently find a bit off about a siege in DarkFall is how everything plays out overall. Basically in order to start a siege, the attacker must get to the targets bindstone to use a clan shard, and usually the best way to proceed at this point is to hold the city for the four hour timer and then smash the clan stone. In essence, the owner of the city is actually attacking and trying to push those inside out, which is odd considering they own the damn thing. And currently there is little that can be done to reverse this. If you happen to catch the attackers before they get inside, the clan shard is not used and the siege never actually starts.

It will be interesting to see if this changes with the coming expansion and the 24hr ‘warning’ window before a siege, along with the new siege stones that can be used. Already players are adjusting war funds to account for siege hammers not bringing down city walls and the need to destroy them, which means more warhulks and cannons will be deployed (hopefully at a reduced cost as well). What else changes will be interesting to watch.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)


DarkFall: CtS gets a Q&A and a release date.

November 27, 2009

Taking a break from tourist talk and doomed MMOs for a moment, lets talk about what really matters to MMO gamers, DarkFall!

First off the next expansion got delayed until Thursday, with a notice that DF might be down for 24 hours as the patch is added and some last-minute-testing is done. Aventurine has stated that players will be credited for however long the game is down, which is a nice (and rare) move. Place your bets on how many things will get borked by the patch now.

Next up is a Q&A from MMORPG.com about the upcoming expansion, with some talk about what Aventurine will be doing after as well. Between expanding the DF staff, moving to a larger office, and hinting at finally have time/resources to devote to areas outside of game development (like advertising and community relations), clearly Aventurine is very happy with DF’s current and future success. Shame on the usual trolls over at MMORPG.com though, the comments section for the FAQ is far too friendly. Have the haters given up already? What happened to DF shutting down after 6 months because all the sheep would leave and the wolves would get bored?

Finally I just wanted to make a note related to my current in-game activities, which have mostly consisted of PvE around my new home city of Dagnamyr with the occasional PvP trip to mix things up. Around the city we have a great selection of PvE camps, from higher-end stuff like Blood Knights and Forest Golems to easier prey like Revenants and Wind Lords, all within a five minute ride. It’s also possible to ride around for an hour near Dagnamyr and not see a single mob if you don’t know where to look. Sure some of the camps are a bit more obvious (like the Blood Knight in the middle of some ruins), but others are not (like the Forest Golem in a random spot in, well, the forest). My point is, and this applies to basically all of Agon and DF in general, is that if you don’t know where to go, the world seems very empty as you ride past mob camp after mob camp. If you have a good understanding of your local surroundings however, you should never be lacking for PvE options. That understanding takes either some time personally exploring, or… wait for it… interacting with others in an MMO and asking for help. Stupid niche game design and encouraging/rewarding multiplayer play in a massive world. Who needs that, right solo-heroes?

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)


Mark Jacobs should have listened to his own blog.

November 27, 2009

File this one under “Dark Humor”, but Mark Jacob’s (former Warhammer Online lead designer) now-dead blog was called “Online Games Are a Niche Market”, a title that at the time was used as a joke because Mark believed MMOs had ‘made it’ and were mainstream because of WoW. What Mark has now learned, and at some point people like Tobold will realize, is that the MMO genre IS a niche genre, and taking one pop sensation and trying to pretend that’s the actual market size is well… a good way to merge servers after a few months and a quick way to get fired.

Which is not to say that as a niche the genre can’t be hugely profitable, just ask CCP or Turbine. What’s not profitable is looking at one outlier and thinking your great idea is enough to draw that population in, a population that NO MATTER WHAT is not interested. They do a good job of pretending to be interested, sure, but the sooner you realize they are not, the better (for your game and your job security).

Sadly games like WAR, Aion, and soon enough SW:TOR don’t seem to understand this, and the aftermath can/will be brutal. The one big question I have is; does Blizzard understand this? Is their next MMO aiming to replicate the EVE model of slow but steady growth over 5+ years through superior MMO design, or will they go even further than WoW has and remove even more of what makes an MMO an MMO to appeal to the far larger but fickle non-MMO gamer segment? Are they prepping Blizzard’s take on sandbox MMO design, or a highly polished Mafia Wars?


What caused Warhammer Online to fail?

November 26, 2009

Today Tobold is asking why Warhammer Online failed to live up to it’s mega-title expectations (expectations that I was grossly wrong about as well), give readers either the choice that WotLK killed it (tourists) or that WAR was just a bad game. While the obvious answer is “both”, it’s still interesting to break down exactly what happened here.

Lets assume WAR sold 1m boxes total (it’s a little higher than that, but 1m is a nice round number). (Oh and before someone mentions Paul Barnet, his job was to hype WAR, and WAR sold over 1m boxes. He did his job, and did it well, no matter how much you might hate him) Of that 1m, I’d say 600k (60%) were WoW tourists, who no matter how good WAR was were going back for WotLK. Because unless you are a believer in the Eurogamer method of MMO evaluation, for most players a month or less is not enough time to fully evaluate a game, especially an MMO, and especially in it’s first month of release. But whatever the reason, that 60% does not count, because no matter what your game is or how good it is, they are going to leave in the first month. Accept their one-time payment of $50 and forget about them.

The problem for WAR is that, even after we forget the tourists, you still have 400k or so customers who are interested in what you offer, and 400k is more than enough subs to keep even a AAA title profitable and happy. But WAR does not have 400k, or 300k, or probably even 200k subs today, and the WotLK/tourist effect has long since passed. WAR lost a significant portion of it’s remaining 400k because, quite simply, it’s a flawed game. It’s not an outright ‘bad’ game, because many of it’s systems and overall engine are very good, but none of that matters when at the end of the game you have the utter disaster that is T4 sitting and waiting for you. That end-game RvR is a disaster is told to us by Mythic loud and clear, as every major patch is another attempt to fix it, and as every patch passes, T4 remains worthless. And sadly, at this point, with all the budget/workforce cuts, it’s unlikely WAR will get the resources to get it right. It really is sad too, because I fully believe if Mythic had fixed T4 (and it was possible), WAR would have rebounded and would have established itself as a solid choice for MMO casuals looking for some friendly RvR.

Back to the original question, as applied to any upcoming releases (or most recently Aion), you can easily write off 60% of whatever your initial sales are for any MMO due to the pop sensation that is the Mr. T grenade of WoW. The worst thing any developer can do is try and retain that 60% by modifying their game, because most likely whatever change you make to please the tourists is going to piss of your core base, and the tourist will leave regardless.

Once the first month is over and the tourists have moved on, whether you retain the remaining 40% is indeed up to your game. We are seeing with Aion that, like WAR, it’s issues are driving players away in bulk (which is even more comical given that most of whose who leave never experienced the real flaw that is the end-game RvR), while titles like Fallen Earth and DarkFall are stabilizing and slowly growing after experiencing their own (but much smaller) cases of tourism.

The tourist population makes evaluating success in the current MMO space more difficult initially, because at first glance 60% of your customers leaving in the first month does seem drastic. But if you ignore and forget them, and instead focus on the group that is ultimately going to matter, the picture gets a little clearer (plus you get a nice one-time funding bonus). Regardless of market conditions or trends, good MMOs will prosper and bad ones will struggle, you just might not be able to identify who is who in the first month.


DarkFall: Spotlight on ship-related changes

November 25, 2009

For the TL:DR crowd, I’ll just sum up the new spotlight for you: bla bla bla pure gold bla bla bla.

I’m curious to see how the new collision detection works with bigger ships pushing smaller ones, and whether this might lead to future changes of say, mounts/warhulks pushing (or better yet, crushing) players. The combination of nerfed and fixed AoE magic, cheaper and more useful ships, and more ‘stuff’ in the ocean should make life on the open sea far more interesting though. This also means a huge boost in value to seaside cities and hamlets.

And while this addition is clearly aimed at fixing/improving naval PvP, hopefully there will also be direct economic and PvE advantages to sea life in the future as well. Currently only a few mobs populate the water, and while sea towers will provide some monetary benefit, I think fighting over things like offshore mining platforms or some ocean-only resources would also be interesting. Grab your clan together, get on a boat, and head off on some water-based PvE adventure (with of course the ‘opportunity’ to get Pk’ed while doing so).

Assuming the hit their Friday deadline (ha), this might be a very busy weekend in DarkFall.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)


Dragon Age: Thoughts after the finish.

November 25, 2009

I finished Dragon Age last night, and I must say the ending was somewhat disappointing. I mean the actual ending, not the events leading up to it and the final fight with the Archdemon (did I just spoil that for you? Sorry, and enjoy the rest of your first RPG). For a game with some much talking and cutscenes, the ending is some written text and a few pictures? Weak. Plus aside from one little “but wait, there’s more” hint, nothing else really gets progressed significantly.

The game itself though is, IMO, a masterpiece among single player RPG games. It’s technically very solid (crashed once for me?), looks great, sounds great, and has a familiar yet interesting and lore-deep story. I laugh whenever I read a complaint that the game is too linear or predictable, because in part that’s exactly what the RPG genre is built around. I’d compare it to complaining that an MMO requires you to play with others, but well, yea. You ALWAYS fight the big bad guy at the end to save the world here folks. It’s not about changing the outcome, but rather the journey you take to arrive at that outcome, and in that regard DA is excellent.

You can actual ruin a good part of the game if you ‘game’ it too much. By that I mean it’s easy to destroy most of the challenge if you stack your party with Cone of Cold-tossing mages, kit mobs around, or save/reload to make sure you get the ‘perfect’ dialog responses every time. Once I shut the gamer part of my brain off, and just played the game as it was meant to be played, it was a far more enjoyable ride that still remained a good challenge.

I don’t think I’ll be playing it a second time just yet, even with the option to change the outcome of major events. My plan is to allow the mod community to expand and refine the game, and perhaps take a second trip through once things have changed ‘enough’ to make it worthwhile. That and DarkFall is going to return to dominating my game time with the new expansion, so the pull to jump right back into DA is just not there. If you like traditional RPG games though, it’s hard to find a better way to spend $50.


Life Evolution in the sandbox

November 24, 2009

Pacing and gameplay evolution are very important and at times overlooked factors in any MMO. The actions and motivations of a day one player are very different than those of a two year veteran, and good game design takes that into consideration. What can be enjoyable in the first month might very well be considered a ‘grind’ one year in, and something that might cause confusion after a few weeks could be a key feature keeping someone around month after month.

Themeparks get off easy in this regard because the developer is always in control of the rope pulling you forward, and they decide what is available to you day one, day one hundred, and ultimately on your last day. On the other hand a sandbox by design does not have such a rope, but rather multiple points-of-interest that server to motivate and influence, but never force, player behavior.

DarkFall has not always had the smoothest progression path, and while improved today it still has a ways to go before it’s fully there. Beyond the differences in control and UI, I believe the initial pacing of the game is currently solid. Skill gain from 1-50 is IMO relatively fast for most skills, and a skill at 50 is generally ‘good enough’. In relatively short order (10 hours?) you can be well on your way to establishing your preferred method of combat (melee/archery/magic), and in that time the average player should be comfortable with the controls, immediate environment, and basic concepts of the game. You certainly won’t be a master at anything, but your character should begin to establish an identity and purpose (being a part of a clan at this point will of course help in both regards, but motivated solo players should be fine).

In-game this means exploring and finding local mob spawns that are a good source of skill and loot gain, building up your bank, and learning the basics of crafting, PvE, and PvP (likely from getting attacked) combat. If you are part of a clan at this point you are likely still focusing more on PvE than PvP, with the major difference being that you are hunting mobs around your clan’s current location rather than a starter city, perhaps even in small groups. You can still join in on any PvP runs (with the knowledge that you will likely be going up against superior enemies and 1v1 situations will result in death, so just play your part and help out rather then trying to play the spearhead of any attack), and you will be included in major events such as sieges or large raids.

At some point later down the road (30-40 hours?), player motivation and gameplay should shift from discovery and growth to role execution. At this point your core skills should be around 75 or above, your secondary skills should be coming along, and you should have a solid understanding of most in-game mechanics and happenings. Your in-game time should be shifting away from focused skill gain to doing and reacting to what is happening around you (which is why a clan is key for all but the most self-motivated individuals), and through those actions your skills will continue to increase more ‘naturally’.

In-game this means you are now hunting mobs with a more focused goal (enchanting mats, gold for a specific skill/goal, rank 40+ weapons), and really working on your PvP skills, both group and solo. You should be able to hold your own in most combat situations (although power-gamers will still dominate you), and most importantly that initial rush and panic will be controlled.

The final ‘phase’ in a sandbox is true role pursuit and acceptance. Whether this means being a powerful economic force, a name to be fears on the battlefield, a regarded tactician, or simply a local area menace, you should have SOME purpose other than more gold/skills. Your character should be ‘done’ in most areas, with perhaps some secondary goals that serve more as a side project than a true need.

In-game this is where a sandbox shines, because the number of options and possibilities should be great, and the ability to change direction should be possible without a complete re-roll. This is also the stage of the game where upcoming additions and changes affect you most, and you should be heavily involved (directly or otherwise) in the ‘end-game’ of politics, city warfare, and empire building. The amount of content here should be nearly endless, as things such as alliances and military power change almost daily. Your allies today might be your enemy tomorrow and vice versa.

It’s this final phase that is both the major strength and current weakness of DarkFall. On the one hand, it deserves credit for having such a solid and functional end-game this early in its MMO life. That you want to and can siege a city without the server blowing up is more of an accomplishment then you might think, considering MMO history like SB (SB.exe), AoC (instanced city fails), WAR (the whole endgame), WoW (world PvP and Wintergrasp fails), Aion (fortresses). At the same time, clearly some issues exist, such as OP AoE magic, 6 hour sieges, ships and warhulk functionality, etc. And compared to other sandbox titles such as UO (pre-tram) and EVE, DarkFall is lacking the true depth those titles features in areas such as economic balance and possibility, non-combat influence/power, and RP/fluff possibilities (think player-made orc clans in UO).

The good news is that because of it’s solid base, developer time can and is being focused on adding and expending those areas rather than continually trying to get the core working, so while DarkFall might not be the game for you right now Mr. Exclusive Crafter Economy guy, it should/will be at some point ‘soon’, and when you do join up, you’ll have a lot of other options to entertain you as well.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)


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