Today’s reason to hate the French

April 29, 2010

Well this is rather sad news.

While I don’t personally care much for the Halo franchise, Marathon and especially Myth were two franchises that were head and shoulders above the rest of gaming in their respective genres (FPS and RTS), and Bungie.net was right there with Battle.net in terms of online matchmaking services, so I’m a bit sad to see a great studio like Bungie get swallowed by the pump-and-dump company. I’m sure the bonuses (the ones you do get to keep) will help easy the transition though.


Perma-death to all Darkfriends!

April 29, 2010

Since 1997 and Ultima Online the concept of perma-death in an MMO has always interested me. I think a large part of it has to do with a core appeal of MMOs themselves; the fact that everything ‘counts’ and you can’t save and reload at will like you can in most single-player games. Everything is always saved, everything is permanent and persistent, and what you do could have an impact on others. Those are very strong and unique characteristics of the MMO genre (or were, far too many games today minimize all of this to do their best job at creating online single player experiences), and so the ultimate permanence, perma-death, is never far from my mind.

Yesterday I talked a bit about fantasy IPs, in particular the Wheel of Time IP, and today I’d like to continue using that IP as a base to throw out “yet another perma-death idea”. My thinking goes like this: A strong PvE base is needed to make a successful mass-market MMO, so the WoT MMO would be PvE heavy while still being more of a world rather than a string of zones/tiers. All areas of the world would hold some interest to all players, new and old, and so where you adventure has more to do with what you are currently trying to accomplish rather than your current level. The main game for most players would be the familiar questing/items/rep game, just done up with all the lessons learn over the years. The goal is to attract a large audience, not to create a niche game here.

The only combat PvP would be against Darkfriends, and all Darkfriend characters play with perma-death. The system would basically work like a PvP flag, only it would be a permanent one-way switch. All characters would start out as ‘good’ characters, and only though a special series of quests would you be able to become a Darkfriend. Once you make the switch, options such as stealing from and attacking other players open up. The attacker would be able to earn some worthwhile evil-only reward, while the victim would suffer some penalties (but nothing like full loot or even losing a given item. Perhaps some gold or other penalty to ‘make it matter’, but not something to drive away PvE-focused players). Now the key to the whole setup would be the fact that Darkfriends don’t show up as ‘red’ to other players until they are identified. Unidentified Darkfriends could still enter towns, shop, train, etc. They would have the OPTION of stealing/murder, but otherwise they remain unchanged save for perma-death. For all you know, someone ‘blue’ in your party, or the guy next to you at the auction house, could be a Darkfriend.

The identification system would work much like the system in Oblivion, where if an NPC sees you committing a crime, you are reported and the guards notified. If the crime is minor (stealing), only the local guards are made aware, and you are only identified as a Darkfriend to everyone else in that area. If the crime is major (murder), a wide region is made aware. The more crimes you commit that are witnessed, the wider the knowledge that you are a Darkfriend gets, until ultimately you are so infamous that in all regions of the world you are known as a villain.

Good characters always have the option to attack a Darkfriend at will, and while a good character will be able to respawn with whatever penalty, remember that once a Darkfriend is killed, he is deleted. To take SOME of the edge off, and not making the death of a Darkfriend a major motivator to quit the game, an account-wide banking system (only accessible at say a few special locations in the entire world) would be in place, so that anything of major value could be stored away, and even should the Darkfriend die, the next character you roll could withdraw some nice gear or bonus items. After all, even good characters at times ‘come across’ evil but powerful artifacts, right?

The overall idea is to give everyone an OPTION to PvP, although it would be a difficult life with a major penalty always hanging over your head. History has shown that most won’t go for that option (EVE and the number of players in 0.0 space, Trammel), but it’s also my belief that having SOME threat of PvP creates a more interesting environment for everyone playing, and that some of the genres most creative, dedicated, and influential players are PvP-driven. By creating an environment where you combine the two in a somewhat ‘friendly’ manner, you would hopefully get the best of both worlds. A game where the devs are focused on updating the PvE aspects and keep everything going, while also having a small but influential population of PvP risk-takers to add some spice to the world is a game that, IMO of course, would really work. So who wants to give me a truckload of cash so I can make it happen? Anyone, anyone?


The dreams of an IP, and the inevitable reality

April 28, 2010

Over vacation I read a good chunk of Vampire Wars, a collection of books set in the Warhammer universe all about the von Carstein vampire counts. Considering I’ve been reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series almost exclusively for the last… well it’s been a while, the change to a different writing style took a little getting use to, but overall I still enjoyed the read, and Vlad von Carstein has always been one of my favorite characters in that setting. But reading the book also got me thinking once again about MMOs and what a great setting Warhammer is for one. Which of course got me thinking about Warhammer Online, and just how far off WAR is from how the Warhammer universe should look and feel.

I think the main issue is that in WAR every player character is playing the role of a flawless hero, which does not work out great in a setting where most ‘heroes’ are ordinary people who occasionally do something special (usually to die quickly afterwards), and the real heroes are not only uncommon but highly flawed. Vlad for example is a great character because he is that rare, very powerful individual who alters history, and those who stand against him are usually ordinary men who just happen to pull off some great feat to stop his terror. In WAR you can roll  someone who is Vlad’s equal, and go off to fight with/against hundreds of others like you. This is how most MMOs function (everyone is ‘epic’ in WoW for example), but it’s not how the Warhammer universe should be, and by changing this fundamental aspect you lose a lot of its charm and feel.

In addition, Warhammer is all about the little stories that add up to write history, rather than a set series of ‘epic’ events (city siege). It’s about a small town in some random swamp dealing with a plague, it’s about some random priest with a secret, and it’s about local lords and counts just trying to maintain their little corner of the world. Of course major events do happen, but they are the exception rather than the rule. And when translated to an MMO, this would work beautifully if pulled off correctly.

But it won’t be, at least not for the foreseeable future, because we already have an MMO using the Warhammer IP. And in a way, that’s almost worst than an IP like Wheel of Time, which again would make for a great MMO setting. At least WoT has yet to be made and the dream of that world remains intact, yet to be shattered by the reality of what is actually created. I know I won’t be able to roll a character in the Warhammer universe and play out some adventure like I just read, while I can still hope for one when I read WoT. I think it’s this fact, among others, that makes creating an MMO based on an existing IP all that much harder. People go in ‘knowing’ how the world works, how things SHOULD be, and what to expect. And almost every time, you are not going to be able to deliver on any/all of that, and regardless of how fun or entertaining your product is, it still won’t be someone’s idea of that world made real. And once the game is out and the IP is used, it’s very unlikely fans will get a second shot at getting what they expected.


SC2, heat, the heat, and nuts

April 27, 2010

First a quick note for any former DarkFall players, today Aventurine started their welcome back program, giving inactive accounts 14 free days to come back and see what has changed. All the details can be found here. If you have been looking for a reason to come back and check out the recent changes, now is your chance. Offer ends May 31st.

On the PC issues front, the secondary PC is back up and running. I installed the StarCraft 2 beta on it and so far no technical issues have popped up. SC2 itself is… well its exactly like SC. At first that’s a very good thing, as SC was an excellent game, but I can’t help but think that the sequel being little more than a graphics update is going to seriously limit the games long-term appeal, at least for me. For now though it should prove to be a fun little distraction. More on SC2 itself as I spend some time with it.

My main PC is still out of commission, although I’ve at least now identified the issue: CPU overheating due to the liquid cooling unit not doing its job. Hopefully tonight I’ll get the chance to clean it out with some help from my buddy (who knows a lot more about this than I do). If that fails and the actual cooling unit itself is busted, I’m guessing I’ll just end up replacing it with a standard fan setup, but hopefully it does not come down to that.

Going back to DarkFall, Aventurine has completed another round of mass bannings for people who used third-party programs. The most amusing part of it all is the crying at the cheating forum; people shocked that their ‘undetectable’ software cost them months of character development. Idiots will never learn I guess. Should be interesting to see who has ‘retired’ a character from DarkFall in the coming days.

Oh, and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for the Wii is brutally hard early on. Like punch-you-in-the-nuts-over-and-over-and-over-again brutal. Looking forward to playing that more as well.


The future of DarkFall.

April 26, 2010

During my week of vacation Aventurine was busy on the forums making posts about upcoming changes to DarkFall, along with a new initiative to drive more developer-player interaction as related to the design of the game. They also gave more solid information about their plans for 2010, with expansions coming in June and Q4. The June expansion is likely to feature, among many things, the graphical updates to player models (including the new dwarf model shown here), while the Q4 expansion is likely to bring DX11 enhancements and prestige classes.

The addition of a proper Maharim mount (found here) is nice, and gives Maharim tamers a unique mount to craft and everyone else one more option for transportation. It should be fun to see bear cavalry charging into battle, and variety in a game like DarkFall never hurts. The more interesting info revealed in the post was some more specifics about specialized mounts. This was hinted at when the battlehorn was introduced, and now we have confirmation that Agon will be getting a weaker, faster mount as well. Without going into too much detail, such an addition opens up a lot of tactical options. The faster mount won’t help much in mount vs mount combat, but certainly will to chase people down, or to escape yourself (assuming you can get away before it is killed). As some have suggested, a water-based mount would be nice as well, especially if it had the ability to dive underwater (the current weakness of going into water on a mount), along with whatever else Aventurine has planned for future mounts. All balance concerns aside, more options and tactical decisions to be made by players in a sandbox is a good thing, so bring on the new mounts.

The other major post made last week was about character progression and Aventurine’s view on how quickly characters should develop. The post itself is a good overview/reminder of some of the freedoms DarkFall allows compared to other MMOs in terms of character restrictions, and also what AV views as a viable and then advanced character.

One thing that stuck out to me was the timeframe they used to hit the viable phase and then the advanced phase. They state two months of moderate (which of course is itself very debatable) to double (high 30s low 40s) your stats, and 4-6 months to triple (50s-60s) them. My current NA1 character, who I have been playing since the release of the server (July 13th), is right in line with what AV considers advanced, as his primary stats are in the 60s and I have many of my skills at 100, with a bank full of moderate to high-end loot/wealth. However that’s over 9 months of playing, and fairly consistently at that. I will say though that if I had really, really focused on character development,  I would be much farther along, but instead I spent a lot of time either working on non-combat stuff (crafting, exploring) or PvP’ing. Things have also changed in that time in regards to progression speed, so in the games current state I don’t think the 4-6 month timeframe to triple your stats is unreasonable.

The adjustment to hitpoints is a good one however, as currently that is the one major difference between a really build up character and someone in that 2-6 month range. Having 260hp and facing someone with 390 is just a major disadvantage. The veteran SHOULD have some advantages over a newer player, such as hitting slightly harder and having access to more utility options, but the massive hitpoint difference is just too much, and tips the scale too far into character strength rather than player skill to determine who comes out as the winner. The other benefit of hitpoint gains scaling is that newer players will see results faster, which will be just one more hook to keep them around. Everyone loves seeing character progression, and a characters hitpoint total is one of those fundamental stats that everyone is always looking at and hoping to increase.

Finally, prestige classes were mentioned, with a target date of Q4 2010. Not much information was actually given, but my hope is that prestige classes will function like a collection of specializations, giving you significant benefits in one area at the expense of others. Perhaps this will also return some of the original balance planning AV had in, such as being able to only select certain spell schools at the expense of others. With a selectable and changeable prestige class kit, you could get a boost in say fire magic at the expense of your water magic access, or necro at the expense of arcane, etc.

The final post made last week was one about communication, and the creation of a new forum sub-section intended to drive player ideas and reaction to upcoming gameplay and balance changes, and foster dev-player interaction. One thing that AV (and anyone reading the forums) noticed was that whenever a non-gameplay spotlight was posted, some would complain that this was a waste of time and why was AV not fixing MY issue. Now this happens on all game forums, and no change you make will ever please everyone, so it’s interesting that AV is actually responding to this and creating a new forum section. The benefit of course will be that moderators will then be able to delete any non-related posts when things like art or community items are highlighted, which will clean things up nicely.

The one fear I do have over this new sub-section is Aventurine listening too much to the player base. MMO history is littered with examples of when NOT to listen to your players, and while some teen with too much time on his hands might think he is gods gift to game dev (and look, all his group-think buddies agree!), that’s not exactly who I want influencing what I’m currently playing. That said, I’m fairly confident that AV will do a good job to filter out or minimize the noise made by those who have “perfectly balanced” something based on a forum post, but stranger things have happened to an MMO.

Which is not to say all player suggestions should be ignored, far from it. The best testers in the world are MMO players (we pay monthly for beta software!), and who better to highlight details or imperfections than those who play more than most people work in a given week? Gaming history is also full of player-made content that easily trumps professional work (be it WoW’s player-made UI, Counter-Strike, or the DotA map for WC3), so completely ignoring that resource would be foolish. As with most things, proper balance and filtering is key, and hopefully Aventurine has the team to get it right.

And all of this talk about DarkFall really sucks when you don’t have a PC to play it on, especially after a week away due to vacation. The itch to play is certainly there, and something tells me the shakes I’m experiencing are not just from being back at work…


Vacation, good. Computers, bad.

April 24, 2010

On the plus side, vacation was phenomenal. Hard to beat an all-inclusive resort right on the beach in Mexico, and the break was much needed. The downside is that someone must have broken into our home while we were away, but rather than steal anything they must sabotaged BOTH of my gaming computers. How does that even happen…

Actually the older of the two went down a few days before vacation with a combo of CPU heat issues and a busted hard drive. Good times. The newer of the two, the Alienware, is currently in the shop for god knows what, I got home and after firing it up it shut itself down after a few minutes. It seems like a heat issue, but it’s not the video card. The CPU is liquid cooled, so let’s just pray it’s not that. I should know more Monday; hopefully it’s not a major issue.

The Wii sure is looking purdy right now… fml.


Vacation

April 16, 2010

Off to Mexico for a week, so don’t expect many (any?) blog updates until I return. Have a good week blog world!


PLEX vs Cash Shops, plus the e-peen pony

April 16, 2010

To finish off a week of EVE-related posting, let’s talk about PLEX vs Cash Shops and how I believe they are two extremely different pieces of an MMO. As a side bonus this should also cover the e-peen pony that has been recently released.

As most readers here know, I’m not a huge fan of F2P games and the cash shops related to them. Now much of my dislike for F2P games is that many of them are low quality anime kids games not worth the download time, but even if that sub-genre was full of AAA-quality titles, I would still not be a fan.

The main issue I have is price. Simply put, the more you like a F2P game, the more you pay. That’s just how the model is designed to work. And as someone who aims to really get into whatever game I play, going from a subscription game to a F2P title means a hefty price increase for me. That in itself would be fine if the F2P game offered superior gaming, but that has never been the case. As interesting as I thought Atlantica Online was, it simply was NOT a better game than my subscription-based alternatives at the time, and for me, it can’t hold a candle to DarkFall for what I’m looking for. So it’s not that AO is a bad game, its not, but it’s not good enough to pay $50+ a month for when I have a better, cheaper alternative. And that’s what it would cost to continue playing AO beyond an introductory level for me. And before the “it’s all optional” bandwagon rolls in, it’s not. When your end-game is PvP based, and your PvE XP curve is atrocious at the higher levels, and when many of the ‘convenience’ features become required (TP license) in order to play the game ‘as intended’, you have to spend. Again, that’s the business model, and going into a F2P game thinking otherwise is a nice way to set yourself up for disappointment (unless you are someone who would rather pay instead of play, but I’m not).

On top of the higher price / lower return issue, the fundamental setup of a F2P game is not one I enjoy. You end up fearing every patch rather than looking forward to it. The next F2P patch is likely to add more items to the cash shop, ones you need to purchase to simply keep up. Or the addition is content only truly accessible with the aid of purchased items, either direct (gear) or indirect (XP tomes just to reach the entry level). And again, this is how it works. If the ‘convenience’ items are not needed and those who actively play see no reason to buy them, the company does not make money. If sales are slow, the solution is to make them more and more ‘required’ to play. It puts the devs AGAINST the players, rather than with them. At least in the sub model the dev’s goal is to keep you playing rather than paying, and they keep me playing by offering enjoyable content. A F2P game keeps me paying by continually increasing the cost of continuing to play the way I’m use to.

And it’s for those reasons that I don’t view PLEX as an issue. CCP is not designing the next patch in EVE to encourage PLEX buying, and at the higher levels of play selling PLEX for ISK is not a very efficient way to keep up. The ‘flaw’ of a new player selling PLEX and having enough ISK to buy his first few ships and skill books is a problem for the player, not the game. If you want to skip ahead, go for it, just don’t blame anyone but yourself when you end up having “nothing to do”, or you sit around waiting. Just like skipping ahead in any other game, all you do is rob yourself of content to get to some half-ass “you win” screen, with the major difference here being that there is no “you win” screen in EVE. What you can’t do with PLEX that you can often do in a cash shop is buy over-powered gear or an advantage not able to be gained in-game. PLEX is just ISK (and not even a huge amount of it once you get to a reasonable level), and it’s how you use that ISK in-game that determines its power.

As for the e-peen pony, while it would have been better for Blizzard to add actual content (a complex quest to earn the mount perhaps), the fact that thousands of people are lining up to hand Blizzard $25 to be handed a new shiny and to pretend they are a special snowflake is reason enough to not bother with the content piece. The customer dictates the direct you go in, and when you have thousands (or millions) of people screaming that they would rather pay for items than play to get them, it would be foolish to ignore them. Just like it would be foolish to assume that if a $25 pony has a waiting list, a $50 vanity sword or $100 bonus race option can’t be far behind. Or that when you step back and see what people really want, your next game charging $15 an instance and $30 a zone, with perhaps class abilities and other items also for sale, seems like a really good idea. Again, as long as people are buying, who are you to stop selling?


Sometimes others just say it better

April 15, 2010

This.

edit: Fixed for grammar. IBB (In before Bonedead)


Give me a reason to return

April 15, 2010

Continuing the recent string of WAR-related musings, I’d like to talk about developer focus today. As I see it, there are basically three groups of players for any MMO at all times: those who never played your game, those who currently play, and those who played but canceled. So whenever you are working on an update to your MMO, you are likely targeting one or more of those groups, but they don’t all want the same thing, and this is where I believe Mythic could use a little focus-shift.

First lets get the “those who never played” out of the way. The best way to transition them to the other two groups is with a quality free trial. WAR has that, as do many other MMOs. This is not the only way to get someone’s attention (an exciting expansion certainly helps, as does a re-release to retail or a price drop), but IMO it’s the best/cheapest route to go for any studio. If your game is a quality product, people will enjoy the trial enough to make a purchase and move into the ‘currently playing’ group. If they decide not to purchase, I’m not sure they really qualify for the ‘played but quit’ group, as I think a certain (debatable) amount of time has to be spent to really ‘get’ an MMO and judge it on more than a superficial level.

So we are left with those who currently play and those who played but quit. Those who currently play follow the game on a much deeper level than most who don’t, so patches that address balance or minor but annoying bugs are going to appeal to this crowd. If you are still playing you are likely (hopefully?) happy enough with the game to keep paying, so rather than dramatic changes you generally want ‘more’ of whatever you are getting. If you are playing WoW you want more PvE, if you are playing WAR you want more RvR, etc. What you definitely don’t want is an NGE-style update to a game you enjoy, be it full loot added to WoW or a total focus shift to PvE in WAR.

I also believe that the faster you see updates, the better, even if those updates are small little bites rather than massive updates. The knowledge that ‘something’ is being worked on by the dev team is reassuring, and long periods without an update will anger those who are currently playing. You pay every month; you expect to see something from that payment. From a business standpoint, obviously you want to keep as many of your current players playing/paying as you can, so ignoring them to the point of a mass exodus is self-defeating.

With that said, and especially for WAR, a far larger population of ex players exists compared to current players, and while making sure those who are currently playing stay happy is important, you also need to try and bring those who left back. Especially those who left not because they thought the game was terrible, but either they ran out of content, just got a bit burned out, or took issue with one or two particular items but overall enjoyed the product. I mean if you hated the game, yea, no updated short of a overhaul is going to bring you back, but for WAR I believe many who tried it found that while the game has many things going for it, it’s missing something ( :cough: 3rd faction :cough: ) to make it really click.

That crowd is not lost forever, far from it IMO. What they are looking for is something to trigger a return, and small balance updates or performance tweaks are not going to do it. A promising expansion would, or a major patch that addresses some of their concerns or sparks interest. And when those ex players do return, they WILL notice all the work you have done to clean up the little things, to make everything a bit cleaner/smoother/more enjoyable, and they are then more likely to stick around for a bit. But in order for them to see all of that work done, they need that catalyst to come back in the first place. That IMO is what WAR is missing right now, and given how many players already bought the game originally versus how many are currently playing, I’m really hoping Mythic has something up their sleeve to bring many of us back. I for one am just looking for a good reason, and I’m guessing I’m not alone.


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