2010 Predictions

December 31, 2009

While I’d love to do an overarching 2010 predictions post, covering all things MMO, the fact that I’m basically playing one game right now and not really following anything else makes that somewhat difficult. I mean sure, I could make a bunch of stuff up (for the first time, EVER, here at this blog), but given how spot-on my 2009 post was, I’d rather not. Instead I think I’m going to try and do a more personal 2010 prediction piece, both for my gaming and this blog. If nothing else, halfway through 2010 I can look back at this post and crank out a bunch of stuff just to earn some prediction points. Everyone loves points.

DarkFall: Two expansions will be released in 2010, each one bringing something as new and interesting as the first two. Best guess is a major enhancement to the economy/trading that brings DF’s economy closer to EVE-levels, and something that really focuses on improving PvE, perhaps expanding the current dungeons and somehow making them better PvE destinations and PvP hotspots. I’m thinking AV uses the center dungeon as an example and gives each region it’s own great dungeon, with all the other dungeons serving a distinct purpose (chests, specific mobs).

PvP itself will continue to be refined and balanced, and the specialization system will continue to get fleshed out. The worry of ‘uber’ toons will subside as many reach a highly competitive level, and overall the time to reach that level is decreased thanks to specialization. PvP battles will only continue to get more epic, as the big toys are brought out more consistantly, the server code is improved, and more and more activity becomes the norm. The war between VAMP/NEM and Cairn will be the first ‘world war’ of NA1, and will rage for some time.

Each expansion release will bring an influx of new players, older players will be retained at a higher rate than the average MMO, and overall DF will end 2010 with more subscribers than it has today. Some form of a restricted free trial will be introduced, along with boxed copies being made available in US stores. I’ll still be subscribed and playing for the entire year, and buying a second Ferrari off Community Publisher earnings.

Warhammer Online: I hope Mythic is given enough resources to release an expansion, one that brings a third faction to the game and basically saves it from getting AutoAssaulted. Assuming the third faction is added, WAR will see a resurgence of interest as people come back for some casual PvP and find a much-improved game, especially now that the tech behind it has been fixed up and the large-scale stuff is playable. The game won’t ever fully recover and live up to its original expectations, but assuming that third side arrives, it will see a healthy recovery in 2010.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will eventually be released, and everyone plus their mom will rush to experience a brand new(turd) Azeroth. Many will be disappointed that not as much of the old content got a makeover as they expected, and the instances/endgame will primarily consist of recycled content. Clueless noobs dealing 900dps will be slaying C’thun in a 10 man all goblin paladin pickup group. The ‘new shiny’ of Cataclysm will be shorter lived than WotLK, and Blizzard will be focusing on starting up the hype for their next MMO. One highly-touted feature of Cataclysm will ‘fail’ similar to WotLK’s WinterGrasp, but the millions playing will be too busy buying pets, grinding dailies, and collecting achievements to notice. WoW will be even less of an MMO at the end of 2010 than it was in 2009.

The rest: Stuff will be released, the AAA stuff will be flooded with tourists, they will leave after a month, and everyone will be wondering why in 2010 no MMO outside of WoW has a million subs. Some will still cling to the believe that WoW really is just that good and something like it will also get millions of subs, more will accept that the MMO market is just not that big. Those in the second group will find a way to profit, those in the first will be unemployed and asking ‘why’.

This blog: I’ll continue to mix in-game reports from DarkFall with opinion posts about the game itself, plus commenting on whatever happens to be going on in the MMO space. The big challenge I’ve personally set out for myself is to maintain an ‘accessible’ blog for all while basically only playing a game most don’t. Part of that will be to present the in-game reports in a way that is understandable and enjoyable for all readers and not just DF players, without always sounding like a broken record of some in-game tutorial. The other part will be to use DF as an example for opinion pieces but try to branch the overall idea out to be discussed among other MMO fans.

Friday Blog wars are likely to continue at random, although hopefully with those of slightly thicker skin and people who understand its all in good fun. Over/under on number of bloggers I offend deeply and on a personal level is five. Over/under on the number of people who ragequit reading this blog and take their entire guild with them is ten. Correct guesses will earn you an exclusive invite to the DF limited trial that will be linked to current subscriber accounts.

In terms of blog growth, I hope the trend from 2009 continues into 2010. The increase in comments and cross-blog feedback has not only increased my enjoyment of this blog immensely (and after all, everything always comes back to #1), but has also increased my rate of posting, which of course benefits all of you lovely carebears. Similar to MMOs themselves, the more activity a blog sees from the author and visitors, the faster the snowball roles down the hill and grows in momentum and size, and I can’t wait to see what 2010 beings.

Happy gaming in 2010 everyone!

(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.)


2009 predictions: BINGO! (not exactly)

December 30, 2009

Can you believe I had trouble finding my 2009 predictions post. I know, how hard is it to find a post titled “2009 Predictions” on my own blog, but um, it took a lot longer than I care to admit. I blame not tagging it with the “Site Update” tag, now fixed. Personal stupidity in the clear, we move on…

Actually not really, we just move on to a different form of stupidity, that being my 2009 predictions. They are… not exactly as on-target as I would have liked them to be. To the fail list!

WoW: All players will burn through WotLK faster than they did TBC, increasing the churn rate. WoW will launch in new areas of the world and count those players towards its own overall sub number (despite more than half of those not being full-paid subs), which counters the effects of the above and WoW retains its 11 million ’subs’. The new raid content will be beaten the day it is released live by top guilds, but it will be considered tuned ‘correctly’ despite the churn. More daily grinds in 09.

I think the burn/churn part was/is correct, as WotLK shipped with a very limited and easy endgame, and updates have been traditionally slow to come. By the looks of things everyone is waiting for Cataclysm to really shake things up, although the now-fixed LFG is allowing the antisocial crowd to see some ‘new’ instances. The biggest thing I missed is WoW being banned in China, which has actually cut 6 million or so gamers out, rather then the predicted “new territory” opening to keep numbers stable. 2009 being a ‘failed’ year in terms of AAA titles also helped maintain WoW sub numbers IMO. “More daily grinds in 09″ is a great line by me though, good job self.

WAR: Mythic steals CCP’s stackless I/O tech and Fortress sieges without lag become a reality. The Choppa and Slayer classes are added, and the game overall is ‘fixed’, with balance becoming the never-ending debate. Keeps gain the functionality they have in DAoC, along with some new features. WAR continues as the #2 sub MMO in the US/EU.

Oops. So not only is WAR not the current #2 MMO, it’s actually one step away from the grave, and EA is very NCSoft-like in killing underperforming titles (AC2, Sims Online). The big thing of course is that WAR is, by all accounts, still not ‘fixed’. That requires a third+ faction, and with it’s budget/staff cut, I wonder if that will ever happen. More than anything I’m disappointed in myself for not spotting this design error sooner, or perhaps believing that Mythic would be able to pull off a set two-sided conflict. I still hope Mythic can turn WAR around, as I’d love to play it as a casual PvP game to jump into and enjoy for a few hours a week. The game overall is not nearly as bad as some make it out to be, but when your entire endgame is marred by such a huge blunder, it’s impossible to ignore.

LoTRO: Replaces EQ2 as the ‘other’ fantasy PvE game in town, and continues to improve monthly. The overall effects of MoM are seen as a huge long-term positive for the game, and take its focus in that direction, with more legendary items and complex classes. The bread and butter book quests continue to be the best PvE in MMOs.

A bit off here as well. While LotRO is currently bigger (in terms of subs) than EQ2, it’s not enjoyed as successful a year as it did in 2008. The pace and quality of updates has slowed, MoM had/has some issues (and I’m not sure it’s long-term additions are positive), and currently LotRO has nothing that screams “come back!” to me, which back then I was almost positive would happen.

SOE and EQ2: Not much will change for EQ2, as 2009 will being ‘more of the same’, which will be embraced by the core players. Thanks to Station Access it will remain a nice option, yet it will concede more players as the engine continues to get more dated. FreeRealms will launch, and no one above the age of ten will notice. It certainly won’t be the MMO jesus SOE is praying it will be, but rather will become another free-to-play cartoon. The Agency will flop, as MMO players will reject the FPS-lite gameplay.

I think I got the EQ2 part right (anyone playing care to confirm?), and certainly FR is not the barn burner some predicted (when is the last time they released one of those enlightening ‘120 billion characters created’ PR pieces?). The Agency is still MIA, and news (at least in the sources I check) has been non-existent about it. Is anyone still looking forward to this game?

AoC: Closed before we see 2010.

Yup, wrong again. The most surprising part about AoC is not that it’s still alive, but that it’s still alive despite not being fixed (again, at least according to the sites I visit). I think the general down year that was 2009 actually saved AoC, as those playing it really did not have anything major to pull them away.

EVE: Continues to grow, with avatars in stations bringing in many new players. Most leave once they fly out to low-sec and get podded. EVE continues to be the one MMO that defies all of the ‘WoW or bust’ logic, and gives hope to anyone looking for a different and yet successful MMO.

If you want easy prediction points, predict EVE will continue to grow. Still waiting on those avatars though. If we attribute the business models behind Fallen Earth and DarkFall to EVE, the last part of that prediction also works.

Free-to-play MMOs: They continue to be pumped out at dime-a-dozen rates, each a bit more anime than the last. Without a AAA representative, they remain in the same spot as they have been in 2008, an MMO afterthought or ‘niche’. The few gems in the crowd have difficulty finding an audience due to the overall perception of free-to-play games.

While the perception may be slowly shifting, F2P is still without a AAA representative, and instead has become the ‘fall back’ plan for failed sub games, most notably DDO. I think I got the ‘gems in the crowd’ part right, as we still see piles of F2P games released and sifting through them is a difficult and time-consuming process. Oddly enough the successful niche titles of 2009 (Fallen Earth and DarkFall) have gone with the subscription model, although W101 is a hit F2P game.

RMT: Again as in 2008, RMT is kept to buying ponies or cute dresses, though all games in the MMO graveyard (Station Access) gain some form of RMT. At least one major MMO will make a legitimate push into full-on RMT, giving us the NGE of 2009.

The pet store in WoW was not even close to NGE, but it did ruffle some feathers, and overall more games added RMT-like ‘features’. This is still an area the genre is trying to figure out, as we have seen titles offer too much (FR) and get burned, while others (DDO) seem to be offering ‘just enough’ to satisfy. Certainly one of the trickier balancing acts in the business today.

So overall I was a lot more wrong than right, and things did not play out like I expected them to. It’s been somewhat of a strange year in the MMO genre. On the one hand, unless you are currently enjoying FE or DF, you can easily view 2009 as a down year for the genre in terms of new games. Older titles got some nice updates and continued to do what they do, yet nothing earth-shattering really happened in those games either.

The difficult part for me is separating my opinion of the year with what overall happened. For me personally 2009 was a great year, but that’s solely based on DarkFall delivering far beyond my expectations and being a consistent source of entertainment for basically the whole year. That I don’t see this greatly changing in 2010 is also something to really look forward to. I’m also very happy to see Fallen Earth doing well and bringing some new ideas and formulas to the MMO table; it’s always good to see someone rewarded for NOT cloning EQ1. If either title inspires more creativity to actually be released, then 2009 was a good year.

I should have my fail-tastic 2010 predictions up tomorrow.


Double siege night in DarkFall

December 30, 2009

The NA server had its busiest night to date yesterday, with VAMP/NEM (and basically the whole server) being involved in two city sieges. The first (Kvet) was our siege, the second (Mam) we were hired to help take. We failed at both.

The Kvet siege was overall rather hectic, and we were never truly able to bring one fighting force together after the initial battle that pushed us out of the city. While no one truly knows the numbers on both sides, it sure felt like we were heavily outnumbered, as anytime we would try to rally, a much larger force would show up and scatter us. There was some great fighting in and around the city, and I personally recalled back three times to try and aid the battle.

The first time back was a total waste, as I was decapped before I was even able to move, as the location of my previous logout was being heavily camped. The second time back was with a few other VAMP members, and we were able to break off and engage some enemies off to the side, but midway through that battle enemy reinforcements showed up and swarmed us. The third time back was similar to the second, as we initially held some ground only to be swarmed before we could really shore things up. We were halfway back to the city for a fourth attempt when the final siege stone was taken down and the siege ended.

The Mam fight was better/worse for a number of reasons. Initially we had an easier time establishing a force thanks to owning a hamlet close by, and this allowed us to make a solid initial push into the city, gaining control of most of it. As the siege was not live at this point, we killed who we could and moved back out to the large siege stone.

As the attack phase of the siege went live, we again pushed in and were making good progress. We dropped a few cannons to start hitting the city stone, and I believe we got it down to about 50% before we were pushed back. Mam is a fun city to fight in (I believe this is the 3rd or 4th siege in that city that I’ve been a part of) because its flat and tightly packed, given it a very ‘urban combat’ feel, great for melee. Control of various buildings (fighters guild, church, barracks) would change hands often, and ‘safe spots’ continued to shift as the battle went on. AoE magic being fixed to no longer go through walls has hada huge impact in such fighting. ID’ing targets was difficult due to the large number of clans present and the general confusion, and even once you found a target it was difficult to finish anyone before they ran back into a crowd.

Eventually however our numbers were thinned and we were not able to keep enough pressure to knock the stone down. With the enemy bound at the city and constantly respawning/regearing (the city was not fully disabled, so the enemy had a good amount of bind spots available) they were simply able to keep a larger force going in the long run. Again no one is sure on numbers, but they felt more or less even to me, at least initially.

One personal highlight from the Mam siege was when I went back for the final time and played solo ninja on the city walls. I would sneak around and hide, waiting for an enemy to face the outside. As they did, I would rush out and knock them off the wall, down to our allies who would then blast them down (hopefully anyway). As most of our force was outside, and the enemy assumed the city was secure, I was able to knock a good number of people off before finally being detected and chased down. At least that was a good and comical ending to my long (9pm to 2am) night.

Overall though I was rather disappointed/frustrated by the whole night, as technical issues caused more deaths than anything else. Between ‘out of memory’ crashing and my FPS dropping down to 4 at some points (on average I was sitting at 20ish, which is low but playable), it was just difficult to really enjoy either event. DarkFall had made good progress in this area prior to the latest expansion, as previously a 100v100+ battle was not something that would cause this many issue, but since CtS was released performance has taken a noticeable drop.

I would say more than half my deaths were the result of an ‘out of memory’ crash, and many of our members were also experiencing similar difficulties. When you are trying to pull of precision group tactics, huge lag and leaders crashing makes this impossible, and everyone fighting is reduced to a mindless zerg. I’m not saying in perfect conditions either fights result would have been different, but they would have at least been a lot more entertaining.

In total I would say I lost a good 50% of my gear/wealth, at least in pure value (I have dozens of lesser sets, but top-tier stuff is exponentially more valuable). Three sets of post-patch self-crafted Full Plate, keened r60 Greatswords, r60 bows, about a dozen mounts and jewelers etc hurts when half of it is gone because you crashed. I don’t mind losing gear in combat, hell the whole point of getting it is to use it, but nothing sours your night like losing a top set because you crashing, knowing that hours of ‘work’ farming it is gone without a single swing.

Going forward I’m not sure how optimistic everyone feels about battles on such a massive scale like this without some work from Aventurine. Pre-CtS such battles were more than possible, and the end result was always an amazing experience, but that’s just not the case right now. Smaller scale stuff is possible, and it seems like sea-based battles are good as well, but massive city sieges (which are the crown jewel of DF’s endgame) are somewhat screwed right now. Hopefully Aventurine acknowledges and addresses the issue soon. But for now, I’m off to farm the Selentine Golem and restock my bank…

(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.)


Another epic naval battle (video)

December 29, 2009

Why did this have to happen on Monday, the night I don’t play. Damnit.

Video really picks up at around the 4 minute mark. The on-deck ship fighting was amazing, ValRoth is a beast. Hopefully in an upcoming Sea Fortress battle some of the bigger ships will be brought up.

Enjoy!

(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.)


Agro rules: ‘working as intended’ is not working out

December 29, 2009

We hear the phrase “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” often in the MMO genre, and sometimes you have to ask “Do we know what broken is?” I’d like to throw out that I believe mob AI, in particular agro rules, are in fact ‘broken’ in many of today’s MMOs, but they are accepted because they don’t come out and scream “BROKEN!” like falling through the world or other obvious errors.

Let’s start with the most basic of mob rules: If I see you, I attack you. We know this as ‘agro radius’, and we simply accept it. Why? Why is every creature you encounter outside of a squirrel immediately interested in nothing but running up to you and bashing you until someone dies, especially when 99% of the time it’s the mob running towards its inevitable death?

I get that some creatures are brainless and only interested in violence, so maybe that line of thinking works for them, but what about ‘smart’ monsters? Why would a might dragon be interested in attacking a clearly weaker player just passing by? Beyond just a lack of realism (which should only be considered when it helps gameplay, not when it hinders it), a dragon programmed in that way is basically griefing everyone who passes it, killing them only for the sake of killing them, over and over if given the chance.

I think part of the problem is many of the design decisions in an MMO come from their solo player RPG history. In a tightly scripted and paced RPG, mobs rushing you when they see you usually makes sense. The story is designed to have you invade an orc lair at point A, defend a village at point B, and slay a dragon at point C. But while that works in a scripted single player game, it does not translate perfectly to a virtual world (themeparks, especially solo-hero based ones, are somewhat of a gray area here). The designers don’t know when you will be slaying that dragon, or with who, yet the same rule of “if I see you, I attack” still applies.

The traditional solution to this problem is to place only the monsters you want a player to fight in a certain zone/area. If you are level 50, you go to the level 50 zone and fight level 50 monsters. Obviously in a seamless virtual world this gets tricky the more freedom you give your players, but again the solution only goes so far as to say ‘fight what you can, move on if you can’t’. It’s the reason starter areas are populated by weakling mobs, and only the highest areas get the really cool stuff.

What if you placed the hardest mob in the game right in the starter area?

Everyone joining the game would get bind-camped by the impossible mob and quit shortly after, but only if we play by today’s rules.

If you change the dragon’s agro rules to only attack when someone attacks him, or when someone enters his lair, you can place him in that starter area and allow new players to see him flying around without being ‘griefed’ by such a powerful mob. The mob is ‘real’, so anyone can attack him, and high-level characters will eventually make the trip back to challenge him (with new players able to watch the show), which gives the area some multi-purpose. New players on the other hand will quickly learn to not attack him and to avoid his lair, all while enjoying seeing him flying above, perhaps even occasionally lighting a weak goblin on fire or swooping down for a snack. As a new player, one of your eventual goals (get strong enough to slay the dragon) is put directly in front of you, connecting you more directly with the game, all while giving you some nice eye candy as you bash goblins. Plus now all that time and effort put into creating and animating the dragon is enjoyed by almost everyone, even those who never make it to the ‘end’.

The important point to remember here is that mobs exist to be killed, rather than to kill the player. Of course challenge is important, and in the right situation dying can be more interesting than rolling over countless creatures, but at the end of the day a mobs job is to die, so you don’t want to make them frustratingly hard or behave in a way that makes players avoid the ‘hassle’ of killing them. At the same time, keeping a mob interesting to kill is a great way to keep a player coming back, especially if it’s not a given that the mob will die every time, or at least in the same way.


A look behind the MMO dev curtain

December 29, 2009

I don’t much to add to this post by Brian (Psychochild) Green other than to say it was a great read for someone who is heavily invested in the MMO and game dev space, even if its from the outside looking in. The connection to “Superstar” by Cyprus Hill is indeed a good one (plus its a good song), as I think many times MMO fans expect miracles to happen, even when that ‘miracle’ is considered an obvious change in the minds of the fans. If reading the forums as a player can make you depressed, I can’t image what it could do to someone actually invested and working on a game. Again, the post is a great read, so go check it out.


A closer look at what wildlife brings

December 28, 2009

You learn a lot of things about a game when you stop min/max playing 24/7 and occasionally log in just to have some fun. I know, blasphemy, but it happens, and now that my DarkFall character is ‘good enough’ for what I want to do, I’ve been doing more and more random stuff rather than logging in with a set goal of increasing X or skilling up Y. The road to recovery from min-max-itus is a long one, but the poster on my wall keeps reminding me to just take it one step at a time.

One thing I’ve been keeping an eye on lately is the new wildlife added to DarkFall; how exactly it functions and what it really brings. When you are busy and just going from point A to point B, wildlife plays a very minimal role in the game; some might go as far as to call it useless, but if you dig a little deeper they actually add a few interesting things to the game beyond just moving scenery.

For starters, killing wildlife is not exactly a braindead task, especially for the usual reward (rumor has it they occasionally drop something nice, but I’ve never seen it myself). The reason behind this difficulty has nothing to do with HP totals or attack power, but rather their AI and the combat mechanics of DF. Unlike a normal mob, wildlife never fights back, and so as soon as you hit one, the whole pack goes into ‘run away’ mode and you are left to chase. If you can fire off a quick second shot, you can score an easy kill, but if not you are likely going to have to give chase and miss a few times (I guess this would be much easier with AoE magic, but what fun is that?). And because you can’t tab-target and insta-cast in DF, actually hitting a scurrying fox or armadillo is not a guaranteed task.

Speaking of a herds or packs, it’s also interesting to watch how the wildlife gathers, scatters, and comes back together again. It looks very natural, especially if you mount-chase one member of a pack for a bit, scattering it a good distance from everyone else. If you stop and just watch, the rest of the herd will continue it’s slow pace in a random direction together, while the once-chased solo member will go looking for buddies, be it his former herd or new wildlife. It would be interesting to see future AI additions add things like water dependence (a herd would proceed to grab a drink occasionally), seeking shelter when it snows/rains, or traveling to spots with know food sources. As far as I can tell right now, once a herd has gathered they simply move in a random direction until scattered.

But in addition to being low-risk targets (not zero, since anytime you are out a PK can come by and drop you), wildlife also server another role, that of random movement on the horizon. In the always risky world of Agon, anything that moves is a potential PK, so when you see something out of the corner of your eye/screen, you can’t just ignore it and continue mining or PvE’ing away. And because wildlife has no ‘spawn radius’, it’s always around, and can be seen from a long ways away. As they also move in somewhat random ways across longer distances (at least compared to normal mobs), depending on the time of day or the terrain you can’t always identify them quickly. If it’s night time and foggy, a bighorn from a distance can easily look like a player mount at first glance.

Finally, certain mobs will actually spawn and attack wildlife, which can lead to some confusion if you are out looking for PvP. More than once now a group I’ve been in has dismounted and crept up on a spawn only to find the mobs launching spells and arrows at some wildlife running for its life, with a few wildlife tombs littering the ground. I’m always amused by this because it just feels like you are watching a living world (however simple) rather than some very specific set-piece scenery.

Overall I would say the addition of wildlife to DarkFall is a great thing, and while a power-gamer might view it as clutter, there is a lot to appreciate if you take the time. I also believe that this is just one piece of a much bigger ‘world’ puzzle that Aventurine is putting together. I’ve been saying since the beginning that while the initial focus was on getting the core of the game (PvP) right, the overarching direction DF is going in is to be the best fantasy world in the MMO space.

(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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