We didn’t want those millions anyway

March 5, 2010

I’ve been reading a fair bit about this whole Infinity Ward vs Activision thing today, mostly from Lum, Jake Simpson, and David Taylor, and the whole thing really is a royal mess. Like others have said, I don’t see how Activision comes out of this one ahead. The next MW game is likely to be of lower quality than MW2, their image around the dev community has taken a huge hit, and they lost two obviously talented people who made them a TON of money. Stupid is a word that comes to mind right now. I mean you are literally sitting on a gold mine (the MW IP), why would you do ANYTHING to screw with that?

I’m sure we will read more about all of this as it unfolds, and my guess is its only going to get uglier.


Visiting an old friend of the MMO blog world.

March 4, 2010

Sandbox vs Themepark, I love this topic. But in this post Sid67 looks at the base words used to describe the two sub-genres in the MMO world, and disagrees with their meaning (and I’m fairly sure I was not the first one to start using the term ‘sandbox’, but I’ll gladly accept credit). I tend to think both words do a good job describing the basics of what each style offers and who they cater to, but this does not mean MMO X is 100% sandbox or themepark, and I think at least some of the confusion arises from this fact.

Let’s start with sandbox. The basic idea is that you can build whatever you want out of the sand, so creativity is rewarded and guidance is low. A very creative person will make some really cool stuff from the sand, while the uninspired will dig a small hole or make a mound of sand. The more ‘tools’ or ‘toys’ in the sandbox, the more options you have to be creative. Providing JUST sand does not make for a great sandbox. How quickly you get bored of the sandbox is in large part up to your personal motivation (of course if the sand is really glass shards, even the most creative person is going to quickly move on). Someone who continues to come up with new castles to build will have a great time. Someone digging a hole will find the task boring after the first attempt.

A themepark is a pre-constructed place intended to amuse. Each ride has a set beginning, middle, and end, and is tuned specifically to entertain in that given amount of time. While a park visitor can wander around, a good themepark is laid out in such a way that it guides you from ride to ride in the most entertaining manner, and skipping around is often seen as less-than-optimal for your enjoyment. Regardless of the visitor, the ride is the same for everyone, every time, and the only time the themepark changes is when the builder (devs) make a change. You generally will grow bored of the themepark after you have been on the rides a few times, though someone’s tolerance for repetition will factor in heavily in determining the number of times you can repeat a ride and still find it entertaining.

Themeparks are more successful than sandboxes because, at their most basic, they are easier for the ‘average’ person to find the entertainment. You don’t need to think, to be creative, or to be self-motivated, you simply need to show up and let the ride run its course. There is a reason so many families visit Disney Land yearly, usually in the same week each year. It’s safe and easy. You don’t need to look for a new vacation spot, you don’t need to worry about the new spot being ‘fun enough’, and you don’t need to worry about the experience or the quality changing. You just book your trip, go through your routine (going to the same restaurant, the same hotel, the same car rental), and get your safe and controlled experience.

Now personally I’d rather play a $2000 raid-boss gerbil than do the above, but millions love it, and if you are in the tourism business, that’s a very large, easy crowd to aim at.

Sid67 also implies that the word themepark is meant as a negative due to the ‘on-rails’ connotation. I don’t see it that way at all. I think for many, ‘on-rails’ is exactly what they want in an MMO, and the more guided the experience the better. If you ask them about it they might claim to want freedom or the chance to do something unique, but look at their actions and its clear what their real preference is. Ask that Disney Land family why they are not more adventurous or creative and they might get insulted, but not enough so to stop their yearly tradition. Not many will admit to wanting to be just another soldier in an army, but give each one of them the chance to step up and be a leader, and see how many make the effort and take advantage of the opportunity. Most people ARE sheep, all too happy to be lead day to day so long as they are kept safe. And as MMO history has shown, like in the real world, even when given the opportunity to stand out, the majority would rather blend in.

To take it back to the MMO genre, the majority would rather be told what quest to do next than to create their own. The majority would rather play it safe and fight a mob they know they can beat rather than face something with a high chance of failure. The very option of having multiple ways of accomplishing something is not seen as a benefit, but as a problem. The majority are all too happy to follow one path, because if you have only one option, it’s not your fault if it’s not a good one.

Some themepark games do a better job than others at creating the illusion of an option, or the illusion of being unique, but it’s ‘bad design’ to actually offer an option or an opportunity to be unique. If you offer an option that matters, it likely means one will eventually be considered ‘better’ than the rest. The result is ‘gimp’ character builds, bad specs, wearing the wrong gear, or wandering an area that is impossible for you to succeed in (or even more difficult than intended). Being truly unique means everyone else is ‘missing out’ on that content/experience, and the first time that happens its time to grab your pitchfork and head to the forums.

The two terms are applicable. The issue is facing the reality of their implications. Admitting you would rather be a grunt than a hero is not something anyone wants to do, yet playing the role of grunt is what most end up signing up for, even when the option of being a hero is available. The grunt is just ‘easier’, and like someone with a slow-to-update blog said, for most easy=fun.


Stealing content: More on Allods

March 4, 2010

Every time I go to write a blog post for today, the only thing on my mind is how silly Allods (and the majority of the F2P market) really is. People FEARING upcoming patches? People calculating how much they will need to spend to just get by? People hoping the cash shop is not abused by others and balance is somewhat maintained? Really, THAT’S how you want to play your MMO? Living in fear of tomorrow? So so backwards.

And in case you need more convincing that Allods might not use lube when bending you over, here is a copy/paste from someone over at Keen and Greav’s (I’d link but Keen gets all upset with me trying to steal his audience…) with a bit more Allods experience. Thanks Alex VAO.

Hi everybody!

I am one of russian beta-testers of AO. So please forgive my bad English, I had no pactice in it for about 10 years. :)

I surfed the WWW and ran into this blog. Looks like no one here have REAL knowledge about things happening in russian AO.

And those things are really awful.
You know that Perfume price lowered from 5 roubles to 2 in patch 1.0.07.07. But it’s just a visible part of an iceberg.
With this cheaping, Mail.ru (real owner of the game, Astrum Nival was bought by them in December 2009) did something to increase it’s expenditure havily.
Patronage has now points. 30 points for one unit of Perfume. 1 point = 1 minute. You can not just activate it by perfume, you can now stack it over up to level number times: some people told they’ve seen one 40-level warrior under 40 “smokes”. Demigod. Unkillable. There is a full raid (24 players) needed to kill him without any garantee. Just one more donate-born disbalance.
Patronage gives you extra char points (about 60 on level 40). Those are given to you when you activate the patronage with a Perfume and you can add it to any characteristic you wish. Points are taken off when a patronage ends.
Also they added a new skills given to player according to the patronage level.
1st level gives the skill which fully regenerates your health and mana/stamina for 10 seconds in rest or full mana for 20 seconds in battle. It consumes 1 patronage point! Yeah, minus 1 minute of patronage for one skill use.
2nd level gives instant regen of mana/energy and consumes 10 patronage points.
3rd level gives instant health regen – 10 patronage points.
4th level (a mistery… there’s rumors that there is an Astral island called Argus where you can start the quest chain for getting this 4th level. There’s legends about players who saw that island) – gives skill that instantly removes any Control effect from you. Also 10 points. Psionics are now just a meat for 4-patr person.

Just calculate. No more 30 minutes for Perfume bit. Cast, cast, cast – and it is gone.
When we looked at patch-note 07.7 we asked ourselves – why do we need a 1st-level patronage skill? We all have skills to regen mana. That’s simple – after this patch all the mana users HAVE NO mana-regen skills! If you cast spells – you have to “smoke”. Only psionics still have their “battle trance”, but the cool-down time of this trance is now 3.5 minutes. And the Empathic Gift (we call it “pouring”) is decreased in 7-10 times. Psionic can’t now pour all the party with full mana each cast, then sit in battle trance, and pour again, as it was before. Pour-pour-pour-trance-pour-pour-pour and finish. No mana for healers, tanks die, casters die.
We, mana users, are FORCED to “smoke” because we cannot play without mana-regen.

After the patch that brought a FoD (on russian “strakh smerti”, we abbreviate it to SS – quite a simbol, eh?) the gamers community initiated a petition to eliminate this debuff. That petition had a result – after 07.7 the length of SS became 1h46m on level 40. 2 times increase.

Nearly 80% of “old guardians” – fans of Allods series since ‘98 – have already left the game. After patch 07.7 gamers initiated a 7-days boycott of the game. It did not help.

Astral that amased you so much is dead now. No one sails there because there is no reason to sail. Astral monsters are divided on 2 classes: one is so weak that it is just a source of astral emanations, and the others is so strong that you have no chance to kill them, and in fact there is no hope to flee if it saw your ship.
Monsters on astral islands became too strong. A full-violet crew (that obtained their armor in “days before SS”) wipes out on most “thrash” mobs, not even a bosses.

Official forum of the game now is like a forum of KGB of soviet times. Those who complain are banned. Those who say anything bad about Astrum Nival or Mail.ru – are banned. Those who tell something “in allods this works bad because …, and in works good because …” – are banned. You can be banned even if you say a word “WoW” or “Aion” – I’m not joking, things happened!

The number of players online is decreased since December for about 4-5 times. My guild has about 70 40-level players, and 50 of them whom I did not see for about a month. Nearly half of those who are still in the game really do not play – they just sit in chat with friends, do daily quests for gold (in a hope of “better times”). “Full-violets” and “semi-violets” walks into heroic adventures out of habit (“green-blue’s” have no chances in these “heroics”, monsters are too strong for them). It’s real pain in my heart: the game based on my favorite game universe, a potential masterpiece of game industry, is dying. As it happens with any game having misfortune to fall into the dirty hands of Mail.ru.

Becoming a raid boss, now only $2000 in the Allods cash shop, buy today! Now who’s excited about that upcoming patch, eh eh?


We are talking some big numbers here

March 3, 2010

Two things of grave significance have happened today. Two very generous gifts delivered to MMO fans.

The first, Aventurine will give you $5000 if you come up with the coolest DarkFall-related promotional item. That’s $5000 dollars, not potatoes or onions or pink dresses. RL money.

The second, the makers of Allods have really come to their senses and are going to start treating their fans with some respect! They will allow you to pay them JUST $1 for each bag slot you wish to purchase (to hold the countless quest items they fill you up with), allow you to play the end-game at around $15 a month, and have dropped the price of end-game gear (runes) to just under $2000. Not 2000 potatoes onions or pink dresses; dollars. US dollars. Like 400 five dollar footlongs of food dollars. For one rune. Not joking.

The joke is it cost $7000+ before this benevolent change of heart. Yes, $7000. For one. Item. In an MMO. That’s not real. Or great. Or good (it is good for a F2P though!). Oh, and wait until they release the super awesome expansion that makes your previous runes shit, and add new super awesome runes to the cash shop. But you can totally play for free, at least until the patch that bumps all runes up in power (that one is coming soon, and you better believe it’s not coming Blizzard soon), so without them you can’t play but rather log in and get steamrolled. For free. F2P revolution, as awesome today as it was five years ago!

But my plan? Win the DarkFall contest and then spend the 5 grand to be (until the next patch) the most badass gerbil in Allods, right after I light myself on fire so the oncoming traffic will be sure to notice me before ending the stupidity. I would suggest that the runes in Allods also make your character glow, so everyone else online can easily spot the idiot, and then get one-shotted by him. For free!


Some DarkFall plans, Final Fantasy on the iPhone, and Lost

March 3, 2010

With the DarkFall trial of my two friends coming to an end this Thursday, we set out last night to work on their archery in preparation for a PvP trip tonight. While DarkFall does not limit what a new character can do like many other MMOs, that does not mean you want to run out and go PvP without at least some focus. Being that time was limited, I figured archery would be the quickest, safest, and most effective skill for them to raise.

In just one night I believe they gained close to 20 points and are close to 50 total, which is amusing considering my EU character ended his career at just under 50 archery (though in all fairness I did not focus on that skill, but still, he had a good many months of play time under him and did shoot arrows now and then). While 50 archery and 22 dexterity won’t scare any veteran players anytime soon, in a group it will allow them to add some damage to a fight. The other bonus is that unlike magic or melee, archery does not draw much attention, and so hopefully in the confusion of combat they will be able to sit back and plink away. 202hp and lesser armor (to avoid the archery encumbrance penalty) does not make for a tough character to bring down, so keeping them out of harms way is likely our best bet. Hopefully I have something good to report on that front tomorrow.

In unrelated gaming news, the iPhone app store recently saw the release of the PSP versions of Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II. I grabbed FF1 and so far I’m having a good time with it. It’s very, very oldschool, meaning its light on story and heavy on combat, as at times it seems you get attacked every second step. The graphics are very nice for an iPhone game, and the music is also classic FF. Some of the sound effects are a bit much, and the control scheme takes some time to adjust to, but neither is reason to not play. I’m only about two hours into it right now, so we will see how long it holds my attention going forward.

In completely unrelated news, Aria and I are watching Lost season 5 on DVD now. We originally got into Lost through Netflix just before season 5 come out on TV, and were all caught up and excited to watch the episodes premier on TV. After about 3-4 weeks, we stopped watching the weekly TV broadcast. At the time I thought it was because season 5 was just not as good as the previous seasons, but watching it now on DVD it’s very enjoyable. Odd how that works. Hopefully season 6 is released to DVD shortly after its conclusion.


New DarkFall pricing announced

March 2, 2010

There are a few ways you can interpret this special offer from Aventurine for new DarkFall customers:

  • The box cost of the game has just been lowered to $15 if you purchase a three month subscription at regular price,

Or

  • You can buy a three month subscription for $3.33 per month when you buy the game at regular price.

Or

  • The box cost has been reduced to $30, and you also get three months of game time for just $10 a month.

Whichever way you do decide to interpret it, DarkFall is now cheaper than a single item from the Allods cash shop, and rather than buying a temporary fix to a dev-imposed barrier, you are buying a ticket to the best PvP MMO out. Then again, Allods has a really nice WoW-look UI and great polish (for a F2P game), so at least you can get right into the soulless grind to the cash shop quickly. It does have that going for it…

(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.)


Reaction to DF Trial reactions

March 1, 2010

Initial reactions from DarkFall trial users have begun popping up. Some are positive, others are a little more negative, and still some are neutral. I find all of them interesting to read from my point of view however. There are a lot of little (and some perhaps not so little) intricacies that stick out to new players that older players simply no longer think about, and so reading these first impressions is a good way to try and get back into that mentality.

Of course the main topic for anyone new is the UI, in part because it’s so different from the standard WoW-like UI, and because it COULD be a little (or a lot) better in some areas. What’s somewhat frustrating at times is when something is called ‘broken’ when in fact it’s working perfectly fine, but due to design/balance reasons it is the way it is. Looting is the prime example of this, but many others exist as well. When the ‘why’ is so different, it’s understandable that sometimes something so different can indeed feel broken.

This can make separating the areas that DO need work (chat functionality being one major area) more difficult to filter out from the noise. It’s also tough to really worry about the UI when after a month, no DarkFall players mention it. You get use to it, it does what you need it to do, and it does not get in your way (usually) or hamper your enjoyment of the game. That’s not much help to someone new of course, and is likely the motivator for Aventurine to rework at least parts of it.

Moving past the tech issues, DarkFall is also somewhat difficult to get into for someone who has mostly (or only) known themepark MMO design. Last night I was playing with two long-time online friends, both new to DarkFall, and we went into a dungeon to do some farming. One of them more or less asked what the point of the dungeon was, like if there was a boss mob or some reason to going there beyond killing mobs. It’s a perfectly valid question, yet seems like a strange thing to ask in DarkFall.

Now the reason it seems like a strange question is because the motivational factors in DarkFall are much different than those of a themepark. The themepark will give you a very direct reason to go into a dungeon, be it a quest or a rare drop from a boss. No one goes into a WoW instance to farm the trash mobs for gold, yet that’s basically what every dungeon in DarkFall is like. Except that it’s in DarkFall, so the rules and mentality are totally different.

You don’t consider going into a dungeon in WoW to avoid PK traffic, or because the mobs respawn faster, or because if PvP does happen, you will have an easier time escaping or finding a good spot to hold the fight. And you don’t farm level 10 mobs as a level 30 in WoW because those level 10s have nice enchanting drops and still give you good skill gains. But you do in DarkFall. And until you fully switch over to that mentality, a lot of things that players do in DarkFall just seem strange.

As I questioned before, I don’t know if seven days is long enough for the average player to really switch over and to get wrapped up in what’s really happening in DarkFall. And then for many others, no length of time would help. If you like guided content, no amount of patching or expansions is going to turn DarkFall into the game for you, which is why, like always, DarkFall is indeed not for everyone.

(If I missed your post about the DF trial, please mention it in the comments)

Edit: Victor Stillwaters trial experience.

(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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