Getting back to the source

January 11, 2012

Jester has a post up about how Sovereignty works in EVE, and how the game might benefit from borrowing some ideas from Perpetuum in that area. A good read as always, and it brings up a larger point: competition amongst MMOs can be a good thing, and ultimately if the devs are smart the real winners are the players.

Devs being smart is something that seems to be lacking in the genre of late.

Take for instance Rift. In beta, when Rift was limited to only one large zone (the 1-20 game), it was a great game. Players quickly learned which areas were the elite ‘tough’ areas, which parts were easier, and the different hubs truly felt like hubs given the player activity and uses. Combine this setup with how the invasion system worked back then (far more active, more impact to hubs), and while the ‘world’ back then was still a zone, it felt much larger and grander than the typical themepark zone.

The day-before-release nerf to invasions happened. The after-20 zone layout happened. And finally 1.2 happened.

And while this is just me speculating, IMO Trion tried to WoWify Rift. More speculating; they did it because WoWbies tried Rift and wanted it to be, well, WoW. It’s what the locust do after all. How’s that working out for Rift now? It’s one thing to ask your community for suggestions and such. It’s another to just blindly give the players exactly what they are asking for, regardless of how it fits into your game or what you originally set out to do.

What if Rift, start to finish, was like the beta version of the game? The one that was near-universally praised. The version that, for those how tried it, saw a game that, while still firmly themepark, at least felt a little different. Had a little more… MMO to it?

What if Rift borrowed from Guild Wars? 1-20 level game just to teach you the basics, and then all zones tuned to level 20, each one different based on theme and setting rather than level range. Make invasions really matter, allow them to dominate a zone to the point the players are ‘locked out’ until they rally together and fight back. At worst, one of the ten zones you can visit as a lvl 20 is blocked, big deal. Expand the game in that area, horizontally, rather than just repeating the same world event every few months, tacking on raids, and having everyone wait for the inevitable level increase and total content reset/replacement.

But, because while Rift was still cooking, WoW had its 11m ‘subs’, Trion borrowed from Blizzard rather than a different source. Same can be said for Mythic and WAR, Funcom and AoC, and today BioWare and SW:TOR. The results are in for WAR/AoC/Rift, and it’s not rocket science to predict what SW is going to look like in 5 months.

What’s amusing about all of this is that, because EQ1 had 500k subs and UO/AC ‘only’ had 100-250k, the big suit copy/paste monkeys looked at EQ1. And it works for a while, because for all its faults, at least EQ1 was still an MMO. And so was WoW origin. And… well we all know how things went, and what the ultimate result is.

So now, does the genre gravitate back towards EQ1-style design, or does it go full-circle to its roots, where we start seeing teams create worlds and make them work, rather than settling on a theme and tossing in some MMO concepts to calling it a day?

Is it 6 months yet?

Quick update

January 10, 2012

Sorry for the lack of posts of late, been under the weather a bit.

First a quick note about TW Shogun 2; it’s more fun than I initially though. Once I figured most of the systems out, and got the hang of the RTS battles, I’ve found the game as a whole very entertaining. Pulling off a siege defense when massively outnumbered is good stuff.

Things in EVE continue to go well. The Corp is now at 25 pilots, we are very active, and we have a nice mix of people interested in the different aspects of the game. Some are more PvP-oriented, some love industry, and others are trying out things like scanning and WH space. We also have a good spread of activity. While many of us are in EST, we have a few pilots who are on the west coast, and one member from New Zealand (which surprisingly works, even after you factor in the TZ differences).

On the industry side we have collected enough minerals to start producing ships for the Corp. Currently we are offering them at material cost only, and once people have what they need, we will start selling ships on the market for profit.

EVE: The most positive negative thing you will see all day

January 6, 2012

This is why the EVE economy works.

57 billion ISK destroyed in one fight.

57 billion ISK of ships and fittings ‘crafters’ get to produce and sell.

Neg-sum PvP sure is a huge positive eh?

Some other notes:

491 vs 236 fight (technically impossible, right Blizzard?)

The 236 side won. (Mass PvP is just zerging it up, yo)

A few of the ships flown could be flown by someone who has been playing EVE less than one week. (And many in under a month)

‘Sadly’ no B-list voice acting told the story behind the fight. Blasters were taken to the face, although not from the “giant leap forward” of the fourth pillar.

EVE: The story behind the killmail

January 5, 2012

Yesterday I posted my first-ever EVE killmail. Here is how it all went down.

I logged in and was informed a few Corp members were planning a little convoy into low-sec. Having a bunch of PvP-ready ships just sitting around, I figured why not. We got everyone into a fleet, everyone into Vent (which was very helpful, and good to see), and meet up at the first gate prior to entering low-sec. Our little gank included a HAM Caracal (me), a Thorax, a Merlin, and a Rifter. We were escorting three haulers.

The first few jumps of low-sec were uneventful. One of the hauler pilots was also scouting on another account, and most areas had at most two people in local.

Our first encounter was my killmail actually. That Cynabal was sitting at the gate, and (I learned this after the fact), he popped one of our haulers. Two of our haulers, and the Thorax/Merlin, had already jumped to the next gate, while the Rifter tackled the Cynabal. I locked him, started shooting missiles, and after a few volleys he went boom.

Some fun facts.

I had no idea we were fighting a pirate cruiser. No idea. I knew it was a cruiser-sized ship by the icon in the overview, but that was it. No idea about the fit, what tactics he would use, his tank, nothing. Just a ship in space I was going to shoot. Broken clock and all that, right?

I’m pretty sure, had he switched his fire over to me, I would have popped before he did. I’m not certain on this, and maybe I could have warped away, but knowing me I most likely would have gone down. I’m sure EVE-vets can confirm this for me based on his setup and mine.

I had no idea he blew up one of our haulers. Zero. This theme continued later in the trip, when I did not notice another hauler getting popped.

Overall we flew poorly as a group. We did not wait for our haulers to enter warp, we did not jump as a group, and we were semi-lost at times. We also had no FC. I was sorta-trying, but um, the guy who misses haulers getting popped might not be the best option here. I think I’d like to be a FC at some point though, so hey, another goal!

After we blew up the Cynabal, two jumps and one hauler later, we got into another fight. This one was fatal for me, as seen here. (I’m amused that my ship+fits were worth less than the loot I picked up from the Cynabal. And is it just me, or was my death very generous in terms of what was destroyed and what dropped?) The fight started when one of our haulers went down. We tackled the Stabber, I started shooting at it, and then the Vagabond jump in and blew me up real fast. It all happened pretty fast, so I’m not sure how close we were to taking down the Stabber or anything like that. And again, the fight was 2v2, instead of 4v2 like it should have been. I’m still not sure where our other guys were (my fault more than anything, being the FC (sorta) of the whole thing).

And the overall end result? One hell of a fun night for all involved, despite the fact that not a single hauler made it, two of our combat ships went boom, and all the mistakes that were made. We collectively learned a lot, had a good fun night as a Corp, and got out there and mixed it up. Good times.

EVE-related blog post notice: If you would like to join us, comment here or shoot me an email. If you don’t have an EVE account, I’m more than happy to send a 21-day trial invite, and split the PLEX-related profit if you decide to sign up. Again just comment or email me.

EVE: My first kill is a good one

January 4, 2012

The good news? This.

The bad news? Two jumps later my Caracal got popped at another gate camp.

Good times.

I find it really sad how the dominance of World of Warcraft has led so many people to believe that the way WoW does it is the only possible way to make a MMORPG.

January 4, 2012

I still don’t have an answer for how SWTOR will do. But increasingly I think the playerbase for MMOs won’t ever let another game do a WoW, they just have lost the patience we used to have for long term goals in games. And these are games which, at their outset, relied on people quietly getting on with progressing towards long term goals. – Spinks

The above is a comment from a Tobold post declaring hardcore gamers dinosaurs that the market no longer caters to. I like that through the power of the internet, I’m able to read blogs from different dimensions, because on planet earth, ‘hardcore’ games seem to dominate pretty hard.

For instance, take a look at the top 25 games on Xfire. It goes something like this: hardcore MOBA, shooter, WoW, SW:TOR, shooter, shooter, sandbox MMO, shooter, sandbox game, sandbox RPG, hardcore RTS, gold ammo, hardcore MOBA, shooter, shooter, shooter, hardcore RTS, shooter, shooter, indy TD, sandbox MMO, shooter, PvP MMO, shooter, EVE.

Who knew dinosaurs were so numerous and had so much time to play games?

Or take a look at last year’s best-sellers according to Amazon. Yes, Just Dance 3 is there, as are The Sims titles, but the rest? A pretty hardcore list eh? (Who the hell is buying FF11 in mass quantities?)

And most of us know that every year, in the console world, games like Madden and FIFA dominate the sales charts, along with console shooters like Halo and Gears. Madden is too hardcore for me folks, and I like football.

You know what games we don’t see dominating? Trash casual games. As the owner of Zynga, I can safely tell you that fad is over. People figured out that trash games are trash, and without the ability to scam you out of money, the model does not work. You know what does work? Quality casual games like Angry Birds, which are easy to pick up yet ‘hardcore’ enough to offer the kind of depth and enjoyment one needs to get from a game to tell a buddy about it.

And I’m pretty sure 2012 will only continue this trend. As the gaming scene matures, gamers as a whole get smarter. They get better at picking out the trash, at seeing through the smoke and mirrors of the hype machine. The more educated gamers get, the harder it will be to trick them into playing Farmville or knockoff clones. The age of some mom going into Walmart to pick up a random bargain bin title for little Billy based on the box art is over. We live in the age of Steam recommendations, of buddy bundles, and of every game for sale having dozens or hundreds of reviews right next to it (Amazon stars, Steam showing Metacritic, etc).

This brings me around, finally, to the initial quote from Spinks, who seems to suggest that MMO gamers have grown tired of playing titles long-term. Again I’d point to the top played games as counter-evidence to this. How many of those shooters are ‘old’ games? Why is it that Battlefield 3 players are so excited to get a re-release of an old map? Look at the top game, League of Legends. How is it that the most played game of the year, one that is printing money faster than Riot knows what to do with it, is basically a game from 2003, played on almost the exact same map? (And a game which, btw, is putting a lot of effort and money into courting the most hardcore of hardcore, from multi-million dollar tournaments to things like observer mode) What about a game like Skyrim, which is basically Oblivion in terms of gameplay but with dragons instead of demons? Minecraft and Terraria anyone?

Point being, gamers, be they MMO gamers or otherwise, are more than happy to stick with a title and repeat gameplay if, wait for it… the gameplay is good. If you take a game with previously great gameplay (WoW) and milk it by having the yearly update be an intern’s summer project, sooner or later people are going to notice and move on. Not because they have ‘burned out’, or because they have ‘grown out’ of MMOs, but because what they are playing today is worse than what the originally signed up for. And if you spent 300m recreating that summer intern’s project, and slap voicework on top of it, it’s still going to be a flawed product. Or more accurately, a flawed MMO. SW:TOR is, by most accounts, a pretty fun RPG if you enjoy blasters to the face. It just sucks as an MMO, kinda like WoW sucks as an MMO. Skyrim sucks as an MMO too by the way, but the difference is Bethesda never planned their budget around retaining Skyrim players for years, or hyped the game as such.

I find it really sad how the dominance of World of Warcraft has led so many people to believe that the way WoW does it is the only possible way to make a MMORPG.

Oh wait, the above is a Tobold quote. I think he slipped into this dimension for a moment. But it’s a good point right? Pretty insightful? If only someone had suggested earlier, like, back in 2007, on another blog, that WoW being so dominant is harmful to the MMO industry, that perhaps we could have avoided failures like SW:TOR? Ah well. Better late than never right?

And like I said way back in 2007, I don’t think a game exactly like 1997 UO would work. You need more structure. But there is a lot of space between more structure to UO and current-day WoW/SW. EVE and it’s Empire space is of course one good example, and EVE having the track record that it has shows that such design ‘works’. Which is why I still believe that something like EVE, but more mainstream in terms of setting (fantasy), gameplay (less Excel), and, well, no multi-hour shooting at static objects stuff, would do very well. Assuming, of course, that the core gameplay is solid. Not the amount of voice acting, not the total number of pokemon, and not whether it’s F2P/sub/runs-on-gumdrops. No, the gameplay, the design, the long-term “this is what you will be doing for years” vision. Maybe GW2 is that title? At worst it’ll cure cancer, right?

I don’t believe the desire to be part of an online world is lost. I don’t believe the general want to be part of something big, something evolving, something living and unpredictable, is gone. I don’t believe the ‘hook’ that only a real MMO can have on a player is something that is no longer possible to create. I just think a lot of people are having trouble see it past their solo-MMO that won’t stop talking. Let’s give it a month or three.

EVE: PLEX and Power

January 3, 2012

On two separate occasions, I’ve been invited to a convo with a corp mate, where said pilot sheepishly admitted to buying PLEX to fund some in-game activity. Both times they were sorta asking for permission / seeing if it was cool. Initially I was just amused, but considering my long-standing and very public rants about buying power in MMOs, it makes sense.

Only I don’t find buying PLEX in EVE as buying power. PLEX is not the gold ammo of EVE. It’s not even buying epics in a game like EQ2. It’s just skipping ahead, sorta.

“But SynCaine, you always say ISK is power, and PLEX = ISK!”

Both true. ISK is power, and PLEX is ISK.

But simply having ISK is not power itself. I could buy enough PLEX today to buy a pilot with a Titan. Do I insta-win EVE? Nope. What I do win is a shamemail. And however many thousands of dollars it would take to get said pilot/Titan flushed down the drain. And make no mistake about it, I would show up in a shamemail real fast, considering I have zero clue when it comes to piloting a Titan.

I could buy enough PLEX to ‘finish’ my mission-running Navy Raven. Officer fitted like a beast baby. Do I win EVE? Nope. Sure I can now run missions slightly faster, which gets me more ISK, but I also paint a giant target on my back, asking to get suicide-ganked or my corp to get war-decced. And a large part of my current in-game activity/fun is making ISK to upgrade that Navy Raven. Not going to Officer fit it, but some additional Faction mods would not hurt. But again, goals are what motivate me in EVE. Paying extra to have a goal wiped out for me is only slightly counter-productive IMO.

The general rule in EVE is that if you have more ISK than you know what to do with, EVE will fix that problem for you shortly. The easiest way to avoid that is to pace yourself, and only fly/attempt things you are ready for. PLEX will technically allow you to press fast-forward, but only from an ISK standpoint. You can’t convert PLEX into in-game knowledge, and that is far more important than the ISK itself. Combine this with the fact that nothing in EVE is permanent, and that the bigger the target, the more likely it is to get hit, and buying PLEX to fast-forward is not likely to get you the result you envisioned.

As for my corp-mates, what they used the ISK for was, in the grand scheme of things, very minor. Neither purchased significantly impacted the corp or their own game, and neither purchase pushed the limits of what they were doing. At the end of the day, the converted a few bucks into a few hours of in-game time.

Are they more ‘powerful’ now than pre-purchase? No. Not in gold ammo terms. Or permanent upgrades/boosts terms. Are they where they would be in a month, assuming unchanged timetables and gameplay? Yup. Could they instead of buying PLEX just played EVE more/better to get the same result. Yup.

Somewhat related, I’m always amused that non-EVE players consider accounts funded by PLEX as “not real subscribers”, in the same way that non-EVE players discount EVE’s total subscriber base by pointing out that people have multiple accounts.

One PLEX costs more than one month of directly purchased game time (significantly more if you use the 1yr sub payment option).

An account funded by PLEX is bringing in more than $15 a month for CCP.

What other subscription game can say that?

EVE: Goals goals goals

January 3, 2012

The biggest danger anyone faces in EVE is not suicide ganking, scams, or getting podded. It’s not having a goal. Or multiple goals, both short-term and long. When you run out of goals, or don’t have any that really motivate you, you get bored and quit. Unsubbing is the ultimate death in EVE.

What happens if you have too many goals?

That’s somewhat the ‘issue’ facing INQ-E. With each new pilot that joins (we have been doing well in that regard, much to my delight), another goal springs up. Some of our members are very into the industry side of the game, be it mining, production, or marketing. Others are more into PvE, starting with missions but dreaming of Incursions. Others still are more PvP-minded, be it roams or scouting low-sec.

Not that any of the above conflicts. Far from it actually. During our weekly mining Op, people show up and hang out, even if they can’t and don’t plan to fly a Hulk. Our more indy/PvE-focused pilots are still interested in learning PvP, be it to protect themselves during the inevitable war-decs or so they can contribute more to our PvP roams. And of course, as the corp’s industry activities pick up, everyone will benefit from the corp simply having more ISK in the wallet.

The same can be said for moving to low-sec. Yes low-sec is technically a more PvP-enabled area, but it’s also far more profitable for activities such as mining, planetary interaction, and ratting. Put up a POS, and our industrialists get a lot of research slots to play with. On and on the “what do we do next” ball rolls. Again, it’s good. Very good.

The one concern I have, and right now it’s minor, is keeping the corp in order while still making sure people are getting what they need. I know some are very excited about life in low-sec, while I also know that others, especially the newer guys, are still just trying to get their feet under them without the fear of getting shot at when they undock (pretty understandable, IMO). As we continue to grow as a corp, and raise our overall capabilities, this will hopefully become less of an issue, but we are not there just yet.

EVE-related blog post notice: If you would like to join us, comment here or shoot me an email. If you don’t have an EVE account, I’m more than happy to send a 21-day trial invite, and split the PLEX-related profit if you decide to sign up. Again just comment or email me.

Shogun 2 mini-review

January 3, 2012

While the Steam Holiday sale did not do much for me, I did pick up Total War: Shogun 2 and its DLC (all but the campaign) for about $10. I was tempted to grab Deus Ex as well, but I honestly don’t have the time to put into the game, and I know it’s one of those titles I want to play start-to-finish without taking a break.

The first thing I noticed about Shogun when I loaded it up was that all of the text was almost unreadable. At first I thought it was because the game had selected a different resolution for my monitor, but the options menu showed the correct 1900×1200 setting. Next I played around with some graphic options, but nothing made a big different. What was really odd was the fact that everything but the text looked fine. Some Googling revealed that others had similar issues, yet despite finding a few forum threads talking about it, I never read a solution. I was half a second away from just writing the game off as a $10 loss.

Then I switched the game from DX11 to DX9, and the issue was solved. I guess DX11 is a little buggy…

That issue resolved, Shogun so far has been an entertaining title. There appears to be a lot of depth, most of which I’ve only scratched the surface of while starting a few campaigns. Graphically the game is good, though not great, in most areas. The campaign map has some nice touches, my favorite being that it starts as a ‘paper’ version, and as you reveal territory, the paper fades and the ‘real’ physical terrain is revealed. Very fitting for the setting, and very cool.

The game is turn-based outside of combat, and with frequent use of auto-battle, Shogun plays like a TBS game, somewhat similar to Heroes 6 in many ways. In both title, you expand your empire by conquering new territory, building up your existing territory by improving the town/castle, and leading a hero/general-lead army around. The details are of course different, but to me the ‘feel’ is similar.

Where the two games differ most of course is combat. Heroes is turn-based on a grid, while Shogun is real-time on a larger map. Where I likely differ from most Total War fans, I don’t care much for the combat. The animations are in that silly “swing at the air” style, and in large battles it often feels like the two sides just clash together into a pile and swing away until one side dies. Granted, I’m sure that with more time you can come up with some nice strategic moves, but on normal difficulty the AI uses the “move forward, just fight” approach, and doing the same usually works well-enough. Luckily auto-battle gives you decent results most of the time, so I’ve mostly kept Shogun as a TBS game so far. The occasional castle defense/attack for a large, pivotal battle is a nice change of pace for me, rather than the core game.

At the discounted price, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth, and I have a feeling that as I learn more about the game, Shogun will become a nice addition to my strategy game library. With each turn being fairly short, jumping in to play for 30 minutes seems entirely possible, and with each game playing out differently (different AI clans doing well some games, not so well in others), I can see some good replay value here.


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