Boxed in

January 10, 2013

I bet you are wondering why I’m blogging less huh? Yea, I figured you were.

Darkfall NDA is mostly to blame.

MMO genre being a pile of crap is another factor.

I mean, not only is there not a title out right now that I bother to waste time on (other than playing EVE Offline), but nothing is happening in the genre worth blogging about, and those that are blogging are not posting anything I need a response post to. It’s that bad.

So I fill my gaming time with random titles. 10 hours of FTL, a few hours of Witcher 2, beating Xcom, playing Civ V multiplayer, playing some Endor while waiting for its graphically updated version, trolling Steam in desperation, and right now, playing Skyrim again with some DLC and mods.

Skyrim is blog-worthy, but I’ve already done that, and other than stating once again that the amount of content in that game makes something as ‘content rich’ as GW2 look like pong, I don’t have much.

As for the rest? A post at most really, and I personally don’t even find those all that interesting to write or read. Just not much debate to “hey, FTL is fun for 10 hours, spend the $3”.

So while racking my brain for something to blog about, I’ve realized that if a game is not blog-worthy, it’s also not that memorable or ‘important’ to me. Take Xcom. Great, great game. I would recommend it to everyone. But I’d trade in Xcom for Heroes 6 and all its horrible flaws 10 times out of 10. Why? Because Heroes 6 stuck with me longer, left more of an impression, and I walked away with more thoughts about it than Xcom. Xcom was what it was, and I moved on.

I don’t know if that means Heroes 6 is better. I know it’s not better if judged hour-per-hour (in a pound-for-pound kind of way), but I was done with Xcom far sooner than Heroes, and in ‘total enjoyment’, Heroes wins.

And if I apply that thinking to the MMO genre, it explains why flawed yet deep games like Darkfall last for me, while ‘perfected’ shortness like GW2 is ultimately disappointing and a waste. Because unlike FTL, I’m not looking just to waste 10 hours in an MMO. That’s not my expectation. And that shouldn’t be anyone’s expectation if you are playing an MMO ‘correctly’, with a guild and digging into the social aspects and caring about the world rather than just your own person experience. For all of that to happen, you need way more than 10 hours.

Of course that last part is basically impossible in so many ‘MMOs’ today. SW:TOR is the poster child, but GW2 has a personal story as well, and so many of its praised design decisions help turn everyone into a helpful yet silence NPC/bot. Awesome for 10 hours, entirely forgettable long-term. It’s the reason the ‘new hotness’ in the MMO genre is just selling you a box. That’s all you get. The content in the box. Play it, finish it, move on. Other silent drones will replace you. Or not. It doesn’t matter to anyone but you (and the soon-to-be-laid of devs).

So until the drought ends, or the NDA drops, I don’t know how much I’ll be posting here. Dark times indeed.

Still here

December 24, 2012

Fear not, I’m still here. The DF NDA is killing me, lot of items to blog about, both good and bad.

Steam sale is going on, but so far nothing amazing has come up.

Darkfall: Unholy Wars – Voicing the Manifested Vision in White Shades

December 20, 2012

Darkfall is under NDA right now, so while I’m writing about it, I can’t post details until the NDA is down. Whenever that happens (current date I have is Dec 27th) expect either a long post, or a bunch all in rapid fashion.

Without breaking NDA, I will say that DF:UW is indeed a sequel to DF1, rather than the suspected ‘large patch’. It’s also already provided a single high point above anything in my one month trip to 80-ending in GW2, and done more to encourage grouping than any ‘fix’ to the formula that Anet aimed at. Wish I could say more, but ‘soon’.

I’ll be deleting any comments that break NDA here, so save me the clicks and don’t if you are in the beta.

Darkfall Hobbit

December 17, 2012

Waiting for the Darkfall beta to start is like watching The Hobbit; way too long, way too much focus put on the stupid filler you forget the moment it’s over, and everyone already knows the ending so just get to it already.

Darkfall: Unholy War pre-order is here

December 14, 2012

Pre-order Darkfall: Unholy Wars here.

Sadly no referral program yet. Not sure how I’m going to fuel up the Ferrari without one, so hopefully AV gets on that ‘soon’. The bank account that DF1 funded is running dangerously close to falling out of the seven digit range, and I’d hate to drop my standard of living back to something like you people endure. :shudder:

Edit: Just your average MMO combat.

Elementalist vs Skirmisher

Elementalist vs Skirmisher (click for full size)

Darkfall: Beta blues

December 12, 2012

Darkfall Delay; part 72,343.

First off, massive points for announcing the delay minutes before you are set to go live. There is trolling, and then there is AV. Just next level stuff that gets forumfall to exactly where it needs to be; on the bleeding edge of suicide (get it). The delay sucks, but at least beta is going to start Monday (hahaha).

Having the beta sucks a lot more though. We live in a world where everything in an MMO is known and well documented before the game even comes out, so it would have been fun to have everyone go in blind for DF:UW. Especially because DF is a virtual world rather than a generic themepark, so things like city locations, farming spots, and builds matter more here than knowing the layout of the next zone in something like GW2.

Having this beta and letting organized guilds pre-plan everything is also going to take away some potential fun. Pre-beta, everyone was going to scramble and take cities they believed would be worthwhile, but that very well could have ended up with powerhouse guilds in below-average cities. That would have resulted in motivation for sieges and conflict. The pre-release meta-gaming was already great fun, with alliances spreading misinformation about their plans and where they will go.

With beta, all of this will be known, and so the most powerful alliances will grab the best locations, while the have-nots will have to settle for lesser spots. That right there will reduce conflict, at least initially. A pity.

Another pity is what day one will look like now vs in a no-beta state. Without beta, day one would have been a wild scramble with unpredictable results. With beta, organized clans will be following a tight script for success, while those less organized will instantly fall behind much further than they would have otherwise. The scramble would have been a chaotic mess of fun. The script execution will be doing what needs to be done, which is important and ultimately leads to what we want (winning), but short-term is a lot less fun.

Of course things could be a lot worse. Instead of a delay, Aventurine could announce that they plan to sell UI elements for $5 apiece in the cash shop, or mount skins for $50. They could have announced the addition of a new race, the pink anime bunny from outer space. Or a RM auction house. Or that they plan to add a new gear tier a week after release. Or that they have downgraded their graphics engine to EQ2-quality. Or just done basically anything that SOE has ever done.

Now that would be worth raging about. A delay? Welcome to Darkfall.

Rift: Storm Legion – Who put this sand in here?

October 22, 2012

James, a community manager from Trion recently reached out to me and asked if I’d be interesting in taking Rift’s upcoming expansion Storm Legion for a guided tour. While I’m not currently playing Rift, and my reasons why are well documented here, I still have a lot of respect for Trion as a company and Rift as a themepark, so I took James up on his offer and last Friday he joined Inq’s vent and set me up with a beta account and character.

I went into this with two goals; the first was to see if anything in Storm Legion was more than just “more themepark”, and the second was to ask some general MMO questions and see what info I could get out of James. I’d say I was successful in both.

As for Storm Legion itself, the feature that stood out to me most was the housing system, because just from the glimpse I saw, I can safely say this is how themepark housing should be done. The design issue with instanced housing has always been the ‘why’. Why would you want/need to zone into your own area? Many themeparks give small incentives like crafting bonuses, or rely purely on Barbie dress up to sell the feature, turning what should be a core feature for everyone into a niche space for fantasy fashion designers and interior decorators.

Rift lets you do that as well, but also allows you to set your space to public, so that anyone can zone into it. On top of this, they also have a simple +1 rating system, and you can sort public housing zones by rating. In the beta, the house with the highest rating was from a player who clearly put in a lot of time with the new system, and had created something pretty unique (he took the base house and added a second level through creative use of stone and wooden planks, among other creative uses of basic materials). As I was being shown this area, he was actually in-game and designing a lawn statue, which was actually a pretty cool moment.

And if that was all that housing offered, it would be a nice step forward. But in a rare turn down sandbox lane, Trion lets you basically place items anywhere you want, up to the skycap. So our next stop on the tour was a ‘housing’ area that some player had converted into a giant jumping puzzle ala GW2. As James was explaining this, I watched dozens of players attempt this guy’s puzzle, which again was a pretty cool moment in “hey, people are actually going to use this feature”. I can only imagine as players have more time, they will create better and more creative stuff here, far beyond just fantasy houses you visit once. (The feature needs some additions, like the ability to create a loot chest, or to display armor, but James noted that what they have here now is just the first step, and expanding the feature will be an ongoing focus)

Housing aside, the other ‘feature’ that stood out to me was the overall size of the new zones; they are huge and more Rift-like than many of the games original zones. Also good to see is that the expansion is aligning to have the death rifts fighting the air rifts, a point of focus I thought the original game greatly lacked after rifts were overall nerfed at the end of beta. I’m not sure if this expansion is going to push the zones into complete three-way battles (death vs air vs players), but it should at least be closer to that.

I also saw the new raid that will be ready at release, as well as the first raid to be added post-release. They both looked interesting visually, and certainly captured that epic feeling in terms of mob and room size. Getting one-shot by different bosses and then having James one-shot them with GM powers was also pretty cool.

Since this was beta, we did run into a few issues, mostly around bosses showing up. But considering we were teleporting around so often and using GM powers to kill stuff, I’m not too worried. Even at its original release, Rift was a polished product, and Trion has always been quick with the fixes and updates. That there is no NDA around anything I saw or talked about with James, including the raid that is very clearly still in development should tell you a lot about how confident Trion is in their ability to deliver a solid product.

Moving away from the expansion itself and to more general topics about Trion and the MMO genre itself, I talked with James about Rift staying a subscription MMO when so many others are forced into F2P. He noted that Rift has always been profitable for Trion, and that they have a good balance between players who subscribe long-term and those who come back for a month or so to see an update. As the updates are frequent and substantial, it’s no surprise that the flow of returning players is as well.

Another major competitive advantage Trion has with Rift is that everything around the game was built to allow for rapid content development, something that is pretty obvious when you look at all the updates Trion has released since day one. The size and depth of Storm Legion also drives this home.

It sounds like a pretty obvious thing (being able to provide update to a game who’s business model is based around updates), but take a quick look around the themepark space and compare Trion’s release pace with its main competitors. The biggest design flaw around the themepark space vs sandbox titles has always been content creation being slower than consumption, and Trion has set themselves up well to minimize, if not outright counter this.

If themeparks are your thing, I’d say the way Trion handles Rift is how you’d want your themepark handled, and I’m actually curious to see just what players eventually do with the housing system. I think Rift players and general themepark fans will be very happy with Storm Legion, and the general direction Rift is moving in.

The good times will return

October 18, 2012

As we draw closer to the release of DF:UW (which, considering AV just made DF1 free, indicates it might actually happen on Nov 20th?), the launch brings up an interesting question that has often been alluded to on blogs and forums; if a game you loved re-launched, would it still have that same magic it did the first time around, or are people really viewing those experiences through rose-tinted glasses?

If returning clans and general forum interest is any indicator, DF:UW will certainly look very similar to DF1 in terms of who you will be playing with and fighting against. Personally, I’d be shocked if the magic does not return, simply because the core formula works, and on top of that the game engine has had three years of intense beta testing to polish it.

Unlike so many other MMOs, DF’s problems were not core design flaws, but issues that can be attributed to a limited budget or poor issue focus by Aventurine. Rather than the game putting up a giant “game over” screen the minute you hit the level cap, DF suffered because different clans were driven away by different bugs (desyncs,acid pools, bloodwalls, firekicks, city defenses, AoE spam, insta-rays, etc), and as more clans left, the ones remaining lost allies or enemies to drive the game forward. One look at EVE’s long null history and the bitter hatred it has inspired for years is all the proof you need that names and history matter, and without it people are more likely to drift away.

Another example might be TAGN’s recent posts about an unofficial WoW server running vanilla WoW. Maybe it’s just me, but his posts about the early leveling experience have been the most interesting WoW-related posts I’ve read since… whenever I stopped posting about how WoW sucked because of WotLK (and the number of comments to his posts would reflect that). Wilhelm is a great writer, but his posts are also entertaining because the context is far closer to the core of what an MMO is vs the stuff you do in more modern MMOs. Posts about the 1-20 leveling experience in GW2 are mind-numbingly boring for a reason, and that reason reflects more on the games overall design than on the author (and some good ones have tried). How many MoP leveling posts have you read with interest? I can’t wait to start blogging about in-game activities in DF:UW, and I’m guessing more than a few of you are looking forward to those as well.

One of the strawmen of people saying to go back to UO if I liked it so much is that not only is current-day UO nothing like what made the original release great in terms of design, it also lacks the players that made it great. An MMO’s design determines who it attracts. There is a reason The Mittani and players like him play EVE and not GW2. And should EVE ever turn into GW2, those players will leave.

The players that made DF1 so great in its early years are back. Now assuming AV delivers on their end, and a year or so in don’t attempt to release DF2014, the good times should be here again, no glasses needed.

DF:UW – Totally fresh

September 19, 2012

Let’s assume AV does not hold any kind of beta for DF:UW.

This would mean that everyone would be blind on day one of go-live in terms of locations, tactics, builds, and just general game info. The mass confusion and searching would only last for so long, but still, that might be worth a bug or three.

Something to think about at least.

Darkfall Unholy War: The what and the why

September 19, 2012

It would seem the recent Darkfall: Unholy War (DF:UW) announcement has caused some confusion, so consider this my public service in attempting to clear some things up. Note that most of this is just personal speculation based on what AV has released and from what I’ve observed. My personal batphone to AV HQ is currently undergoing maintenance.

The biggest question seems to be is DF:UW a totally new game?

The answer is no. It’s more like what Mount and Blade 2 was to the original.  It’s still the same engine that DF1 used, but updated with the new lighting and sound systems (among other updates). The gameplay will likely feel very similar, which is good considering DF1 had the best combat in MMO history (fact not opinion), but with additions like crosshair wobble and momentum, which hopefully works like Mount and Blade (best combat system period).

The world itself has been revamped and reworked, but expect it to look and feel similar, but hopefully better in terms of hamlet/city balance and overall flow. I would expect to see many of the same monsters, but again with some additions and tweaks behavior.

So why is DF:UW being pitched as a new game instead of an expansion to DF1?

My speculation here is that AV wants a fresh start for everyone, themselves included. I consider DF1 to be the 3-year open paid beta for DF:UW, and like any beta, everything gets wiped and everyone starts fresh come release.

Using the above theory, my hope is that AV has been internally testing the new features coming in DF:UW, while using the last three years of DF1 to work out the major engine bugs. This should lead to a smoother launch for DF:UW, although I still fully expect some major hiccups given the nature of the sandbox genre and… well AV being AV (small indie studio biting off more than they sometimes should). Hopefully we see a beta for DF1 players soon to really hammer it and get it ready.

So if this is just an expansion, what’s the big deal?

For all its faults, DF1 did a lot of things right, especially if you consider what the MMO genre as a whole has looked like of late. The biggest non-failure of the last three years has been a game with no end-game (more on that in another post), which is really, really not saying much. What AV is doing with DF:UW is giving everyone who liked or wanted to like the idea of DF but hated the bugs, exploits, or some of the silly gameplay (AoE magic spam, bunnyhopping, mount boots, or whatever FOTM was OP at the time) another chance to start fresh, and (hopefully) this time not be turned away. It will still be a FFA full-loot player-skill-based PvP MMO, so it will certainly still be a niche title, but that niche is larger than what DF1 ultimately retained post-launch.

According to info from AV, anyone who purchased DF1 will get DF:UW for free, which if still true will guarantee a very sizable player pool for day one. Even with all its bugs and server issues, DF1 with a high population was amazing, and remained so for longer than current-day MMOs stay with the subscription business model, so (again) assuming AV gets it mostly right and DF:UW is as stable as current-day DF1, and they stay active with updated and fixes as they had in the first year, there will be a sizable playerbase and the game should once again be an absolute blast to play for those who enjoy that style of MMO. It’s not like you have a lot of options anyway.

Plus if nothing else, I’m sure Eurogamer will have a glowing review with 100% factual accuracy, and well-informed bloggers will no doubt produce insightful posts about the game. That alone is reason to be excited.

Hopefully more soon, especially if that damn batphone gets fixed.


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