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 was right there with 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.


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!


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