Maintaining gaming momentum

July 30, 2010

I find that momentum is a very important aspect to playing an MMO for a prolong length of time, and it’s also very difficult to maintain, especially when RL forces a break. It’s also something that is equally influenced by both game design and player action. If you are playing an MMO that is overall less than great, even the most motivated groups will have a tough time keeping their momentum. On the other side of the coin, even a great game might fade for you if you don’t have a social backing to keep you going. Throw in the wildcard of a different title drawing away your attention, perhaps instantly breaking whatever momentum you had, and staying with any one title for a long time seems like a rather difficult or unlikely occurrence.

I bring this up because I’ve been playing Darkfall since its EU release, back in early 2009. When the NA server opened, Inquisition did not transfer over immediately, yet even with that I continued to play the game and enjoyed it. Inq came back, then left again, and still I continued, joining up with Blood down on Ruby. I now find myself in an odd spot, where day to day I’ve not found my rhythm with the game since returning from vacation, yet being more excited about the game than ever before due to both the upcoming changes and also in-game events (the return of TheMercs and the overall shifting of power with the relative decline of Zealots).

Other factors include my two good friends going on DF hiatus, playing the very enjoyable League of Legends with Inq, and Blood being somewhat less active then when I originally joined. To top it all off, the majority of my character development is more or less done, and while there are still plenty of skills I could improve, none of them are really ‘key’ skills I’m dying to reach.

Those negatives are offset by the fact that PvP in Darkfall has really never been better thanks to the most recent patch, and that I’ve yet to really experience more than a few major battles since that update. I was looking forward to last night as a siege was going to be dropped, but unfortunately that ended up not happening.

From my current perspective, I need some long-term goals added to the game, something to slowly work on during the downtime between PvP encounters or clan events. EVE is full of such possibilities, which no doubt partly explains not only its continued growth, but also its ability to retain players for such extended amounts of time. I’m hoping the soon-to-arrive expansion brings at least something like this, and I don’t doubt the next expansion will give everyone plenty of new things to do. At the same time, I know that if I make a solid effort to get myself back in the mix of things, the natural social momentum will start up and give me reason to log in on a consistent basis, and perhaps a major siege will be just the catalyst I need to jump back in.

Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris owns the other half of the mask from Phantom of the Opera.

Another look into the future of Darkfall

July 29, 2010

Some more info from my visit to Aventurine:

The new, faster mount looks great. It has a sleek, horse/zebra/something look to it. No idea on its stats, but unless something has changed, it will arrive with the upcoming expansion.

In addition to some of the mob changes I mentioned before, the plan is to also make mobs drop regs according to what spells they cast, similar to how they today drop weapons/armor based on what they use. If you see a mob spamming fireball often, you can bet it will drop sulfur, etc. Keep in mind that in addition to some mobs receiving an overhaul (like the Spotlighted Sarlids), other ‘families’ of mobs will receive new members to fill out their roster as well. Among the few that I saw, the newly revamped beastmen (which also look awesome) are getting some help. Let’s hope they skin for more beastmen teeth.

Speaking of that Sarlid Spotlight, did anyone notice how detailed the new mobs look? Don’t worry though; the detail is thanks to better textures, not more polygons, so the better look does not come at a heavy cost in performance.  Seeing some of the models without textures was very interesting as well, as its crazy just how much ‘depth’ the textures add to otherwise ‘plain’ looking models.

I asked about the player character models, and unfortunately those will debut in the DF2010 expansion, not this upcoming one. While most of the models themselves are done, animation work is still ongoing, plus the models will be introduced with the new armor system.

Oh right, that. When I asked if the plan was to continue giving races unique looks to their armor (bone armor looking different for every race) vs making things more standardized (think scale gloves), AV revealed a rather interesting bit of information. Assuming things stay on target, one of the big changes coming in DF2010 is how armor looks between races. Instead of a bone chest changing looks based on what race is wearing it, the new system will set a look based on the race of the crafter, so a human can equip a dwarf-made bone chest and still have it retain the dwarven look. Think how mounts work today, with every race being able to craft something different, but all races being able to use each mount and retain its look while the stats remain constant.

Obviously this not only expands the uniqueness of crafting between races and allows everyone to ‘dress up’ a bit more, but also means AV can allow different races to craft different armor while still allowing all players to wear it. So for instance dwarven crafters might get a special set of armor that has better melee-based stats, while alfar crafters might be able to create better magic-related items. (Just examples I created btw, AV did not confirm WHAT the items may be, just that with the new system something like this is now possible.)

My follow-up question after learning this was what they had planned in terms of the economy, but I was not able to get a whole lot out of them on that topic. It was mentioned as an area that could use some improvement, and one that IS going to see significant changes not only in DF2010, but in this upcoming expansion as well. My take on things is that given AV’s style of implementation (releasing something like Trade Routes in a phase one, phase two, etc fashion), it’s difficult to reveal the ‘master plan’ for the economy with so many parts still in motion and midway into being fully fleshed out. A rather frustrating situation for economy-minded players who wish to do serious work right now, but hopefully things will improve soon, and really get cranked up with DF2010 (hey look, I sound like Tasos now, answering everything with “DF2010”, but really, that’s just how massive that update will be, not only in terms of overall addition, but in how it will make sense of many of the games current systems).

Boats will be better able to handle enemy swimmers, as AV is aware and unhappy with swim teams being able to overtake a ship. They would not reveal how, or when (I suspect this coming expansion), but good news regardless.

Fun Hulks: The name is a touchy subject at AV, but the overall point behind the addition is to get more use out of the basic warhulk mechanic/coding, and allow more players to experience controlling one. With more players using them, obviously more data gets collected about warhulks and how best to improve them going forward.

Finally, and this is very rough, but we will soon be seeing some race-neutral NPC factions around Agon that will be moving the overarching story along. How this will all work is still tentative, but it will factor into the overall PvE enhancements that AV has planned (new quests, new reasons to go to certain areas, etc).

That’s about it I believe. I’m sure I’ve missed some stuff, but what I’ve covered are the items I can remember right now. Given just how small the dev team is, it’s rather crazy what they have planned for Darkfall, and just how extensive their plans are for the game. Compared to many other MMOs, who’s future plans are to just add ‘more of the same’ and bump up the level cap a bit, AV is clearly looking to make Agon a fully fleshed out virtual world with many interacting systems, all working together to drive the overall player experience forward.

Patience is a virtue and all that, but DF2010 (DF2.0) really can’t come soon enough.

Chuck-o-the-day: In the time it took you to read this sentence, Chuck Norris destroyed four thousand acres of rainforest.

(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.)

RealID, SC2, F2P EQ2, and why LoL does F2P right

July 28, 2010

Taking a quick break from the Darkfall-related posts today to cover a few different topics. I’ve got a cold that won’t go away, which could explain my overly positive view in things. Or that’s just me, Mr. glass-half-empty-and-whats-left-is-likely-terribly-anyway. You have issue too, at least I’m aware of mine…

First, is anyone else horribly disappointed that Blizzard delayed (you don’t really think it’s gone, do you now?) the inevitable train wreck that is RealID? The fireworks would have been spectacular, and now I feel like Blizzard has once again robbed me of some great content to pander to all of the lowlife parasites of the world (inside joke). The only way they can redeem themselves is if they spring RealID on everyone without warning once they are hooked on SC2. That I could see working; plus toss it in as a requirement to log into WoW while you are at it, and I’ll forgive you, maybe.

Speaking of SC2, between certain people ballwashing Blizzard at such extreme speeds that it’s getting dangerous, to others buying it to confirm the don’t like it (way to vote with what counts…), I just don’t get it. Do that many people really miss decade-old RTS gaming with toaster-powered graphics so extremely polished you can literally see the late 90s staring back at you? I know the Koreans do, and cool, enjoy that along with your endless grind games featuring little girls getting it on with tentacle monsters. Different cultures and all that, it’s cool. But that crowd aside, I just don’t get it, and it’s a little sick to see rehashing on such a blatant scale being rewarded (I’m assuming SC2 did rather well at retail). Best part is the same people who gobble up SC2 today are going to turn around and bitch about the lack of innovation in gaming next week.

About EQ2 going F2P: meh game from a less-then-meh company going to a meh payment model designed for suckers. Good fit IMO, and an advanced sorry to anyone on the subscriber servers thinking they are not a dying breed in that game. Enjoy mixing with the upstanding gentlemen’s club that is the F2P crowd sooner than you expect. SOE deserves some bonus points though; they not only brought F2P to EQ2, but also figured out how to add a twist to it so they screw over their old players that have remained loyal and supported the at-release abomination that was EQ2, rather than really giving everyone the F2P sucker option like DDO did. Bravo on that move, but honestly I would expect no less from SOE, it’s what they do.

Finally, League of Legends is not only a damn fun game that Aria is starting to get into (and that some other female needs to start playing in a certain vent…), unlike the F2P crap that goes on in the vast majority of MMOs, their model is spot on and one I very-much welcome going forward. Want instant access to a hero or twelve; feel free to pay up and go nuts to collect them all. Are you someone who is able to focus on just a few heroes and possesses an attention span greater than a flee (or the average WoW players)? Hey look, you don’t pay a dime to play LoL with the heroes you want, and those who pay have absolutely no in-game power or content benefit over you. Want to make your hero look different with a skin or two? That’s going to cost you (pure fluff purchase), and you decide what skin you feel warrants such a purchase, if any.

Want to buy slight power enhancing gems to beef up your heroes? You can’t, play the game and earn the points like everyone else. Now in all fairness, you CAN buy temporary point-gain boosters, which is I guess a sorta-kinda way to buy the points, and hence buy the gems. But given that the amount of gems you need is limited, and that getting a full set is very much possible just by normally playing for a bit, the boosters more or less work like paying to own more heroes does: you can do it if you REALLY want a large variety NOW, but playing normally will get you want you need just fine if you plan ahead a little and spend wisely.

The last bit is very important IMO, because it shows that Riot Games (the devs) respect the game over a quick cash grab, as clearly selling gems directly for cash would net them some decent money, but at the expense of directly selling power (even though you could still get that same power just by playing, so they went even further than almost all F2P setups). I applaud that, and as such have no trouble spending some money to pick up a fluff skin or two.

This also solves another issue F2P games come across, that the players fear a patch rather than eagerly await it. With the way Riot has set things up, every update not only includes profit-making additions like new skins or heroes that are completely options (rather than strongly encouraged), but also balance updates, features such as the start of a ranked league, and (hopefully at some point) things like new maps or in-game items available to everyone. Again, it’s very easy for someone like me, who avoids the usual F2P scam, to get behind this take on the payment model. Good stuff behind a very entertaining game.

Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris is neither pro-life nor pro-choice. He is pro-death.

Peeking into the future of Darkfall PvE

July 27, 2010

Did you know that the undead in Darkfall have bad hearing, and due to that it’s easier to sneak up on them so long as they don’t see you? Did you know they have above-average vision at night? Did you even know that mob vision is affected by night/day conditions, and that rather than a pre-set ‘agro range’, the mobs do in fact have to detect you before they attack?

If you answered no to any of the above, you are not alone. The often-times ridiculed ‘advanced mob AI’ in Darkfall is indeed real when compared to most MMO mobs, it’s just that the game does a rather poor job of displaying it, and so that advanced AI far too often looks like “dumb mobs spazzing out” rather than the player witnessing something interesting.

Remember the first time you played Metal Gear Solid, and as you walked around, that giant pre-WoW exclamation point would pop up along with that distinctive “ving!” sound, letting you know the enemy is on to you? If you are like me, you marveled at how cool the AI in MGS was, how smart it was about vision, sound, the how realistic it was in trying to find you. And while the AI was indeed decent, especially for a PS1 game, it’s HOW that AI was represented that made it seem special. The game did a great job of communicating what it’s AI was thinking at the time, and that, perhaps more then even the AI itself, is what the players notice and respond to.

Darkfall needs its version of that “ving!” sound, it needs something like those giant exclamation points popping up letting you know a mob has seen you, or that the mob is scared and about to run to look for help. The AI is already there, now it’s time to let the players actually see it in action without sitting around and heavily studying mob behavior.

Imagine that as you walk near a goblin spawn, the first goblin you see points directly at you, bangs his shield to raise the alarm, and then charges you. Due to his banging, not only do the other goblins start to head over to check things out (they don’t make a b-line towards you, but rather gravitate naturally towards the general area of the original sound), but all of the players in the area also hear the commotion, letting them either come over to help, or to sneak up and set up a gank. Imagine that as you fight that goblin, you see him start to shake due to the fight going poorly for him, and then as he turns to run he waves his hands above his head, yelling for help. Imagine sneaky mobs actually using crouch-walk to sneak up on you, or territorial mobs like bears using a threatening emote to warn you they are going to attack if you don’t leave their area. All of that (to some extent) already exists in terms of AI coding, it’s just currently hard for the players to really see it in action.  Show off all of that work Aventurine!

Along with better communication of mob AI, the next ‘big thing’ for PvE is the addition of special attacks for mobs. Currently most of the mobs in Darkfall play with the same tools a normal player has, meaning melee attacks, bow shots, and spells. This was done mostly to save time, as coding a special attack takes time, and Aventurine wanted to work on PvP balance before adding additional complexity to the engine with special mob-only attacks. While that makes sense, and the combat being more FPS-ish than most MMOs means fighting even plain-attacking mobs is interesting, true PvE variety is needed to keep players around and entertained long-term.

Special attacks can be a wide variety of things, including PvP-destroying skills like stuns, snares, disables, etc. You don’t want players to be able to take away control from another player (DAoC being the perfect example of this flaw), but the rules are a bit different in PvE, as mobs won’t (hopefully) do underhanded things like taunt-chain a player off a cliff, or stun-lock someone to death. Varied abilities such a cleave attacks, knockbacks, and stuns would also open up group dynamics for PvE, and the rewards could be adjusted to compensate. You could, for instance, create a small-group encounter simply by having a mob stun a player often, making the mob impossible to solo but very doable for even new-ish player groups of 2-3.

Beyond adding variety to ‘average’ mobs, the ability for designers to include special attacks would open up the possibility to add more boss-like mobs to Darkfall; mobs similar to the Red Dragon. Whether these mobs are added to the new dungeons or the overworld, they could be rather unique encounters given Darkfall’s combat engine, and the possibilities for PvP to break out at any moment. A somewhat rare roaming boss mob that spawns on a 24 hour timer, drops mini Sea Fortress-style loot, and has some mechanic to make most players aware of his presence in-game? Yea, I’m guessing that might create a PvP hotspot or two, and the basic tech behind such a creature is well within the possibilities of the DF engine. Furthermore, the expansion of PvE variety, and its attractiveness, would open up Darkfall to players who gravitate more towards PvE than PvP, but still enjoy the occasional rush that PvP offers. I think that crowd is not only larger than most believe, but also heavily underserved in the current MMO market. Give those players more of a reason to jump in, and everyone benefits from their inclusion.

The good news is that all of this IS coming, the bad news is that while some of it is on the ‘coming soon’ schedule, other parts are ‘coming not so soon’. Waiting is a bitch, but the eventual future is indeed very bright.

Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris owns all of the No.1 pencils.

(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.)

I’m back and full of Darkfall goodness

July 26, 2010

Did you miss me?

I’d say it’s good to be back, but really being back at work rather than sitting on a patio overlooking the caldera (google it) while eating breakfast that was just delivered is, well, not as cool? The honeymoon was amazing, as was the wedding, and Aria and I both had an unforgettable time. Greece was phenomenal all around as well; great people, great food, crazy sights, very relaxing. What more could you ask for?

But this is a blog about MMOs and gaming, not my personal life, so let’s get back on topic. As I mentioned before I left, while in Greece we had a visit set up with Aventurine to check out the studio, meet the team, and get some info about everyone’s favorite MMO. While I can’t say that was the highlight of the trip (Aria skims the blog), it certainly was a ton of fun, as was the dinner we had that night. Can’t really beat talking MMOs while eating great Greece food (and booze) until 2am, now can you? Plus we got a ride back to the hotel in the Darkfall mobile (ok just Tasos’s car with a DF sticker on the back, but still…) Everyone we meet at AV was extremely nice, and they really went out of their way to make us feel welcome and comfortable.

It was genuinely very interesting to talk to them about Darkfall, how they viewed the game, how I believe players/fans view it, and what the overall ‘vision’ for the game is going forward. Talking to both Klaus and Tasos, it was very clear that this is their baby, along with being the dream game they created as MMO fans themselves. Whether it was the early issues the game faced, the ‘unique’ relationship Darkfall has with certain media groups, just how aware they are of the community (they love you Ginger Magician), and how they react to the fans response to updates (Henning, the lead artist, needs some love. The man can’t fix bugs people, and the new terrain tech IS a big deal). I think, as fans, its not always easy/possible to put faces to the games we plan and the work that gets done, and seeing things from the other side was both eye opening and just very entertaining for someone who has been a fan of the genre for so long. We talked for many hours about Darkfall, and yet at the end I felt like I barely got to the different topics I wanted to bring up.

I got to talk to a lot of different people at AV, seeing what everyone does and what they are currently working on. While AV did not specifically say not to talk about anything (which was rather shocking), I did ‘accidentally’ see a few things that I just don’t think they want out their right now. That said there are things I know I CAN talk about that I think everyone here will find interesting, and the plan is to go over that in the next few days.

The first and perhaps most surprising item for me was just how happy Tasos and AV are overall with Darkfall right now, and when I asked about expanding the game to make it more attractive to a wider audience, ala EVE, they seemed somewhat taken aback by that. Maybe the question simply surprised them, but overall I just got the feeling that they like where Darkfall is at the moment, and are very confident in their plans going forward. I was surprised by this because while currently Darkfall is very strong in its PvP game, it has the potential to be a standout game with its PvE and economy as well. If those two areas see their full potential, it would attract a much different, and bigger, crowd to the game. One would think a company would be trying to attract all of their potential customers, but it says something about the PvP focus AV has that this is not a more pressing issue. That said, as time goes on I fully expect both PvE and the economy to get some major updates and hopefully reach that potential. It is reassuring to know however that we won’t be seeing F2P Darkfall soon, or an item shop selling $25 sparkle ponies. I think cash shops are just below EG on the AV list of things they dislike.

Speaking of PvE, I did get a chance to see some upcoming content, including a completely new dungeon that is set to arrive with the next expansion. The new dungeon reminded me heavily of DDO in terms of its look, layout, and overall feel, which is a good thing IMO as DDO has some of the most interesting dungeons in the genre. Inside the dungeon players will find an NPC belonging to some new neutral factions, who will hand out quests related to the dungeon. From what I gathered, these quests will be somewhat similar to the titles quests in the game, intended to be completed over a longer period of time rather then instantly, with suitable rewards. That’s subject to change based on balancing and testing of course, but the overall idea is to not only get players into the dungeons, but give them a reason to return or stay around, hopefully creating some PvP hotspots along with more focused PvE. Beyond the addition of the NPC, there are bigger plans for dungeons as well, but those are still very preliminary.

As with basically everything else, the plan here is to slowly role things out, and build upon a solid base one change at a time. It’s a design style that clearly frustrates some fans, but seeing it from the other side now, it certainly makes sense in terms of being able to deliver things within a reasonable time, as well as being able to get feedback on ‘phase 1’ of something and react by the time phase 2, 3, and 4 come around. Player feedback plays a huge role at AV, and this style allows them to get that feedback before becoming overly committed to a certain direction.

It feels good to be back and blogging again, funny how much I missed it actually. Guess doing something consistently for 3+ years now (yearly wrap-up post is on its way) kind of grows on you.

Chuck-o-the-day: Before Leo Tolstoy meet Chuck Norris, his book was called Peace.

(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.)

You, me, and Darkfall.

July 8, 2010

Thanks to the happy combo of my wedding + honeymoon, it’s rather unlikely this blog will see many (if any) updates in the next two weeks. Yes, this means you will need to go out and find your very own Chuck-o-the-day. I’m sorry, and I’m also sorry that there will be one less girl gamer available out there in the world. Get yours while you still can!

Now don’t think I’m just abandoning all of you for two weeks to go island hopping, sip drinks on a beach, and eat some amazing food, all while accompanied by a great girl. No no no. Because you see Greece is not just a great honeymoon destination, it’s also the home of Aventurine, and what says “I love you forever” better than getting some behind-the-scenes info about Darkfall and meeting the people behind the game? No promises on what I’ll see and what I can share with all the little people here (that would be you), but I’m sure I’ll get something. At the very least I’m stealing one of those sweet Darkfall posters they have to put up in my command center (the 3rd bedroom).

Until then, may your epics be shiny, may your world-saving go as planned, and may Blizzard not get you killed and/or raped IRL. At least not until I return to blog about it.

Chuck-for-the-next-two-weeks: When ghosts go camping, they sit around the fire telling stories about Chuck Norris.

I strongly support Blizzard’s RealID

July 7, 2010

What could possibly go wrong if this fine gentlemen (I know it’s a girl, but damn…) knows your RL name, one that happens to be somewhat unique or she just knows enough about you to put the details together, and he… sorry, she drives her spinner hubcap’ed minivan to your house to chat about why you removed him from the guild?

I’ll tell you what!

Free WoW for the rest of your life my friend! Because after you wake up from your coma and sue the shit out of Mr. “We don’t make games to have fun” Kotick, and assuming WoW still has servers up (hey, a guy can dream right?), you better believe you are going to be sitting on a really sweet VIP account. Granted everyone will know your RL name, and if they then get pissed because they want your VIP account, they might come over and send you back into that coma, but who cares, that VIP account most likely gets you a sparkle pony or some other ‘epic’ loot. Totally worth it IMO.

Can this thing launch already? This is like watching a car accident, only instead of seeing the flaming wreck after it happens, you’re like Nicolas Cage in that movie no one saw where he can predict the future, and you actually get to wait for the car wreck to happen right in front of you.

/large popcorn

Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris fears RealID.


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