League of Legends is officially a sport now

July 31, 2013

The world, it’s changing!

Pretty cool all around, and further proof that LoL is kind of a big deal.

DF:UW – High risk harvesting at sea

July 29, 2013

MMOs (should) add lots of content over time. What is added and what it accomplishes varies. Sometimes you get more of the same (not a bad thing if ‘the same’ is still good), sometimes you get a revamp/upgrade, and sometimes you get something that not only adds content, but changes player behavior. Changing behavior is hard, risky, and underappreciated, but ultimately has the biggest impact. This post is about that kind of change.

When AV first added the Trawler, a ship that collects fish/lobsters/seaweed (mats for high-end food), it was a nice-enough addition. When AV added the Sea Scrapper, a ship that collects things off the sea floor (stone, broken items, ship cannons/mods, building mods, maps), the biggest buzz was that it pulled put a crazy amount of stuff and that it was ‘breaking’ the economy. (In reality it fixed the economy by reducing the cost of building mods, making city building/repair doable, reducing ship costs so more players can use/lose them, while not crushing the price of gear or other crafting, and creating a major gold sink from all of the broken items that need to be salvaged.)

Both ships gather materials and place them in a holding container on board so long as someone is sailing the ship and the sea ‘node’ is not empty. Additionally, the fish gathered by the Trawler earns you prowess, and if everyone on the ship is in a group, that prowess is split. Other than the captain, everyone on the ship can also use fishing rods off the deck, further gaining fish and prowess.

This weekend I took a group of new (5k or less prowess) players out on a Trawler, and while our trip ultimately ended in a fun PvP disaster, they gained a ton of prowess while also getting to experience one of the more unique and interesting aspects of DF. Again, the fact that you can do what would normally be a ‘high end’ activity with completely new players is a major, major strength of the game, but I’ve covered that aspect before.

Along with the above two ships, AV also changed how resource nodes in general work by adding danger levels to the world. Safe zones are level 0, player holdings are level 1, the areas just around that are level 2, a bit further you hit level 3, then 4, and the most dangers areas (red dragon, kraken, etc) are level 5. The higher the danger level, the higher the chance for a rare resource drop (essences, treasure maps, etc) from a node while harvesting.

On its own, the danger level added incentives to leave the safe zones to harvest (a notable issue until that point, as harvesting in the safe zone could be done afk without risk), and created ‘hotspots’ for killing harvesters in the level 5 areas. Those looking for harvesters might also run into others looking for them, and PvP happens. On its own it’s a great change that influences player behavior without FORCING people out of the safe zones or destroying a players ability to gather/craft in the safe zone to get started (essences are only used in mastery-level crafting).

Now combine the new gathering ships and danger zones, and you get something really great. The level 5 sea areas are MAJOR pirate magnets, but if harvested successfully bring in a crazy profit. The result is not only a white-hot PvP spot, but a spot of interest to both PvP’ers AND crafters/PvE’ers (the ice dragon and kraken spots are the level 5 areas). It’s a great risk/reward system all around. You can bring a fleet of ships and lots of players to enhance your chances of success, or you can venture out solo on a Scrapper and hopefully not run into anyone. If you do, you are likely dead and down a ship, but if you gather for a bit and get away with it, you just made some serious bank. Likewise, a fleet can contain both harvesting ships and PvP ships, so you potentially could not only bring home what you gathered, but someone else’s ship/loot as well. Or you run into a bigger/better fleet and win/lose a blowout fight in the ocean, which represents one of those rare but ultra-memorable sandbox ‘peaks’.

The last and hopefully biggest piece of this ocean puzzle will be the addition of Sea Fortresses ‘soon’. In DF1 these were large structures out in the ocean that would go live every 3 days (if I remember correctly), and whoever got the final cannon shot to reduce it to zero HP would gain a huge amount of wealth. This resulted in a timed, pre-planned spot to bring a navy and engage in sea combat. The fortress also had powerful cannons that could be used against ships, resulting in some tense ground fighting along with the action in the water. In addition to the general excitement of these coming back, I wonder what if any changes AV will make to how they function in DF:UW. I also suspect they will be level 5 danger zones, created yet another hot spot for PvP/gathering.

Side-note about the gathering ships; I love that they are a high risk, high reward, ‘better in a group but not forced grouping’ version of gathering. We so often talk about how to make gathering better or more interesting, and this is EXACTLY how I want it done. No stupid mini-game, no instanced garbage, no ‘end-game’ switch. Just a new tool (the ship), a small twist (resources in the box as you sail vs your character hitting a node), and emergent gameplay (pirating). More of this please, all around.

Fantasy Football time once again!

July 26, 2013

The yearly HC Fantasy Football league needs 3 new managers to replace some inactives. If interested, send me an email (top right of this site) and I’ll send you the invite. No draft date set yet, but should be on the weekend after the 3rd pre-season game.

DF:UW – Pirate dreams can come true

July 22, 2013

Over the last few patches AV has been adding more boats to Darkfall, including two utility boats, one that scoops up fish for mastery-level cooking, and another that scoops up ‘sea junk’ like ship cannons and building mods. Both ships add a PvE/harvesting element to the seas, and in turn bring out pirates looking to plunder them.

That last sentence is often seen on paper for games (including DF1) and never materializes. At least not organically; at best a game will add a ‘pirate’ class and stage pirate action under a specific scenario, but really the content is no different from any other pre-build; it’s just pirate themed now.

Currently in DF:UW pirating is a very real thing, and it’s a blast. Part of that comes from the fact that it happens out in the world rather than in an instance, which leads to things like a quick coastal spawn raid where you and ten others pull your boat up to the shore, jump off, and (hopefully) quickly kill anyone farming a spawn before sailing off into the distance with all the loot.

Or you spot one of the slower harvesting ships, successfully board and capture it, and as you finish up, a 3rd party comes along with their ships and you go from victorious pirate to desperately trying to escape.

Or as you are out looking for ships, players back at your coastal city report an enemy ship is attacking, and as the ship you are on returns home, you surprise the attackers and end up with a new ship for the clan to play with.

Point being, the fact that all of this happens out in the world means that while you might head out with the intention of fighting another ship, what ultimately ends up happening is far more varied than that, and not always by your choosing.

Another factor that makes all of this so fun is the combat mechanics of DF. If this was a tab-target game, ship to ship (and water fights) would not play out all that differently than ‘normal’ combat. In DF, what works on land might not in the water, and how a captain moves the ship is critical, as is the crew supporting it. In a way, ship combat in DF is a fun ‘mini-game’ without the usual shallow, short-term thinking that goes into most mini-game MMO implementations.

Lately the seas have been full of ships, combat is plentiful, and Sea Fortresses are coming ‘soon’. Good times.

Thanks for the spam WordPress

July 20, 2013

Back from vacation; nothing like spam-tagging close to a million comments.

Dear WordPress, do everyone a favor and just tag anything with a Facebook URL as spam. Thanks, everyone.


July 12, 2013

Vacation for a week. What MMO(s) will shut down by the time I get back?

The blogs reflect the genre

July 10, 2013

This post about blogging over at TAGN, along with the comments, is worth reading, even if you are only vaguely interested in the topic of MMO blogs. As the posts-per-day rate here has slowed over the last two months, it’s a topic I’ve thought about as well. This blog is almost 6 years old now (yikes), and I still don’t feel like I’m ‘done’ talking about the MMO genre. At the same time, something has happened to slow the content rate here, and not all of that can be pinned to changes in my RL (though that is a major factor). So what exactly is going on?

First, I don’t think the fad that is blogging is passing, if only because it never was a fad to begin with. Sure, blogging might have had its ‘time in the sun’ around the time the Warhammer hype machine was at its peak, but it was around before that and is still around after. So long as MMOs still somewhat resemble virtual worlds, they will be worth writing about.

What is happening is that the genre itself is changing, and right now the change is just not really giving us much to talk about. A little history lesson first.

When I was writing about WoW sucking before writing about WoW sucking was cool, a major reason for that was because Blizzard was shaping the genre, and the direction they were going in was not one I liked (or that works). I don’t really care about Blizzard/WoW now because they are non-factors. No one is building the next ‘WoW-killer/clone’. No one is taking a great IP (Warhammer) and driving it into the dirt thanks to the WoW taint.

Right now, everyone is basically in two camps. You are either in the EAWare camp, where you just believe MMOs don’t work, or you are in the indy camp, where you understand that MMOs work when they are virtual worlds rather than sRPGs with a login server, and that the market for THAT is not millions. There is no “let’s make a bigger/better WoW” camp, and so I no longer need to keep educating people about it. You’re welcome. When WoW goes F2P in 2015, it won’t be a surprise but rather confirmation of about a hundred posts I made in 2007/8. Feel free to look back and just leave a “damn, Syn right again” comment on each one. It’s the least you can do.

Where MMOs are going is both obvious and as uncertain as ever. It’s obvious because EVE is still crushing it and for good reason; it’s the definition of MMO design done right. If only someone had pointed that out in 2007… What’s really scary is that CCP might be doing its best work with the game right now, ten years in, so rather than decline like “all MMOs do”, EVE is still very much on the way up, with the only real question being just how high up it will go. I know I said the market is not millions, but CCP might prove me wrong in a few years.

The uncertain part is, spaceships aside, where does everyone else go? I think Darkfall: Unholy Wars is a much improved version of DF, and the patches Aventurine has been doing are hitting all the right areas, but the game and the company behind it have a long, long way to go before they reach anything close to current EVE/CCP status. The foundation is there, certainly, but the goal is so far away its borderline impossible to even think about right now. And much like EVE itself, DF doesn’t NEED 1m subs to be what it needs to be. The current population in the game is just right; fights can be found, but the world is not overcrowded to the point of game-breaking (as can happen).

GW2 continues to do what it’s doing, but nothing since the 3rd week has struck me as a reason to return. It’s just there, which since day one has pretty much been the issue with the game. Again, there is a reason Anet isn’t asking for a monthly fee, and it’s not because they are just that nice. Similar statements can be made about most other MMOs; it’s amazing SW:TOR has not been shut down, Secret World is what it is, and a few other titles are chugging along or milking the last bits for whatever is left (LotRO).

The genre is evolving and devolving at the same time. It’s evolving in terms of how games are made; Kickstarter being the biggest factor, but even having games on Steam vs requiring a box in a store is a big change for gaming, and MMOs in particular. A niche game for 50k gets made today if that 50k votes with their wallet strongly enough, while just a few years back this wasn’t the case.

It’s devolving in that we are returning to games based off what Ultima Online was trying to do (virtual world) vs what WoW became (sRPG). Designing your game for a target audience vs ‘for everyone’ is once again happening. Games with scale and longevity are being pitched. Catering to the lowest common denominator is once again seen as a negative.

The great unknown right now is whether the above will deliver or not. Will an MMO off Kickstarter release and be what it promised? Are all of the devs that today talk about “not being WoW” follow through, or are we just in another Warhammer cycle where people in white shades talk about bears but really just deliver a crappy knockoff?

And because all of this is unknown right now, we can’t really blog about it at length. The genre, and as a result, blogs covering the genre, are in a bit of wait-and-see mode.


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