Darkfall: Unholy Wars – End of beta and the plan going forward

April 15, 2013

Originally I was going to chronicle the DF:UW beta from day one to close, but a lot of what I had down no longer applies, and after re-reading it, it was honestly not that interesting. Instead, I’ll just type up a few quick hits, and then talk a bit about what I expect at release and beyond.

Day one of beta was a comical disaster of epic proportions. You had the normal issues of login queues, disconnects, and patching failures that most/all MMOs have on day one. But magically, on top of all that, you had some pretty unique stuff as well.

For instance, since all new characters now start in a tutorial area, on day one everyone was piled on top of each other, and since DF has hard collision detection, most people were stuck and unable to move.

To make things even more fun, on day one characters stayed in the world even when you would disconnect, which meant the meatpile in the starting area was an ever-increasing trap of fail. The cherry on top was the inability to delete a character, and with DF:UW only allowing one character per server, if you were stuck in the pile, you were done playing.

For those lucky enough not to get stuck, they encountered the wonder that was the persistence bug. Basically, whenever you crashed or logged off, every item on your character and in your bank would go poof. For the first month or so, the only way to safely store anything was to put it in your clan bank, and you needed 2000 gold to start a clan. Oh the joy of farming 1900 gold and crashing!

Fast forward a few months, and Aventurine fixed many of the major issues and game became more (or reasonably) playable. Once that happened a lot of feedback was given and many things changed, not the least of which was the prowess system. In the last few weeks of beta, AV did a lot of patching around combat balance, and the last few days felt more like DF1 than at any point in beta.

Finally, debug mode, a mythical unicorn of performance issues and other assorted items, will be turned off for the live game, and what that means will be something to watch.

The false-start of the November launch burned a lot of Inquisition members, among them leadership, and as a clan Inq won’t be playing DF:UW at release. I and a few others will be playing with The Old Timers guild, and I’m really looking forward to being part of that well-established, solid group.

One of the interesting things right now about DF:UW is how similar it is to DF1 at release. On the one hand the game is missing a lot of features (few dungeons, few boats, no hot-spots like Sea Towers, only 2/4 specs per role), the performance is less-than-perfect, and no one really knows how certain aspects will play out (like the reduced number of holdings, or how the prowess system will hold up long-term).

On the other hand, even in its debug beta state, playing DF:UW is still more fun than just about any MMO out, the combat system makes games with ‘active combat’ like GW2 look like a bad joke, and it’s one of the few true virtual world PvP games out (still).

DF:UW won’t live or die by the minor tweaks it made to an established MMO formula like GW2 or SW:TOR did, simply because if a game like DF is your idea of a good time in an MMO, your options are to play DF or spin on your thumb (or fly a spaceship of course). It will live and die by how quickly AV can fix the major issues (and there will be major issues), and how quickly they can deliver the missing content and then keep going with new stuff.

DF1 was able to remain a subscription MMO for three years because in the first two, AV did a good-enough job with the updates and fixes. At the same time, DF1 could have been FAR more successful if major design mistakes (bloodwalls for example) where not present. DF:UW is that chance, and hopefully they don’t blow it.

Should be a fun ride. Hopefully it’s a long one. More to come as the game goes live tomorrow (probably…)


TESO looking great on all fronts!

April 15, 2013

Darkfall post coming in a bit, but I need to post this first.

The Elder Scrolls Online video leak disaster.

The video has already been removed from Youtube (if someone has a working link, please post a comment), but the Massively commentator gold is still there. My only question is, how much is Zenimax paying Broken Gears and Rufflepaws, and do they get a refund? Guess that’s what you get when you outsource damage control huh?

I’ll give the Massively crowd credit though, at least some of them are catching on. If this was pre-release SW:TOR-era Massively, the comments would be 90% Broken Gears-types, rather than the 50/50 split that I read (not that I read all 800+ comments, I can only take so much). Still a long way to go, but baby steps at least.

Devilish details

March 27, 2013

Yesterday’s post got some interesting replies, not the least of which is this post over at KTR. It got me wondering if I just over-focus on some things, or if other MMO players don’t see them or don’t care about them.

Zubon says you can play DF:UW’s prowess system in Asheron’s Call 1. Here is the quote:

“So if you like Darkfall’s prowess system, you can go play that right now in Asheron’s Call 1. Seriously, that system existed in 1999…”

(Note: the 1999 part is important, because that’s basically the version of AC I’m talking about. It’s been more than a decade since I last played it, and for all I know the game today is completely different.)

As I pointed out, yes, certain aspects of the AC1 system are similar on paper to DF:UW; primarily the act of spending points to increase skills. And I don’t want to get into a debate about what percentage of the systems are similar, because I see little value in that here. Whether it’s 99% different or 1% different, the two ARE different.

What I do want to point out is how these differences ultimately matter.

For example, DF:UW does not have levels, while AC1 did. Zubon talks about this in his second paragraph, but misses or does not address the main point; without levels, you don’t ‘progress’ through areas/zones. Without that progression (and other factors), you don’t fall into the themepark trap and instead create a virtual world. It’s the classic difference between UO and EQ, and while AC is in many ways the odd man in the middle from the big three era, in terms of progression and world feel it’s very much EQ and not UO.

The reason? It’s character progression system.

DF:UW? Far closer to UO in terms of world feel. The reason? It’s character progression system.

To me, that’s huge. Apples to oranges huge.

And yet Zubon made the post he made, and others made the comments they made. I respect Zubon, I know he knows MMOs, so I don’t think it’s a case of not getting it or not seeing how the pieces add up.

I’m left with the fact that to Zubon and others, maybe they don’t care? Maybe a virtual world or a bunch of connected zones is just shades of gray?

DF:UW – The brilliance of the prowess system

March 25, 2013

The appeal of a “use and improve” system to character progression is easy to understand, in part because it mimics real life. Want to get better at something? Do it (practice). Unfortunately sometimes being ‘realistic’ does not work in the gaming world, and “use and improve” systems very much fall into that category in the MMO genre.

From 1997 and Ultima Online’s skeleton wall, to Darkfall 1 and bloodwalls, players have always found a way to game such systems and get around them to get ahead. The devs in turn make changes to curb the behavior, be it slower skills gains in your house, slower gains off players, ‘power hours’, meditation, etc. The problem has always been that you are applying a Band-Aid to a wound that is ever-increasing (power-gamers will always create smarter macros, find better bugs, or simply brute-force harder).

The easy thing to do is blame the players, but the reality comes back to the fact that making an MMO is hard (right Lord British?), and making a PvP-based MMO might be the hardest design job in the industry. Design too much against the power-gamers, and your title becomes completely unplayable for anyone outside of that small minority. Limit the impact said minority can have, and you drive away the content-providers.

It’s with this history in mind that I bring such high praise to DF:UW’s new prowess progression system.

The basics of the system are this: every action earns you some amount of prowess points. Simple things like mining some iron might be worth 1 prowess per resource, while farming high-end mobs might be worth 20 or more prowess a kill.

On top of gaining pure prowess from your actions, the game also has an achievement system (feats) that reward prowess when completed. Gather 10 piece of iron, and you earn a bonus 7 prowess. Gather another 200, and you get 50. Gather an additional 3000, and you get 400. Feats cover all areas of the game; gathering, crafting, PvE, PvP, exploring, etc.

An example: You are out hunting goblins. Each goblin kill earns you one prowess. Skinning each goblin tombstone also rewards you with one prowess. After 10 goblins you earn the first goblin-slayer feat and open up the second (100 goblin kills). While skinning, you completed the first feat for collecting eyeballs (enchanting material). As you finish up your farming session, you return to town and salvage some of the drops, gaining a bit of prowess for that. Using those mats, you craft a new sword (prowess gain, progress towards crafting feats) to replace the one you just used and broke.

The beauty here is that a character at basically any level of prowess can do the above and make progress. The above can also be repeated for practically all varieties of mobs, as each has its own set of feats, and different mobs skin for different resources which again have their own feats.

So how you gain prowess is pretty brilliant, because you get it from simply playing the game, but not in the ‘play the game’ style of a “use and improve” system. That is only half the system however.

What you do with prowess is equally important. Simply put, you spend prowess on skills or character stats, with the cost increasing as the skill/stat gets higher and higher towards the cap. All skills outside of crafting can be increased in this way (crafting still increases from use, which works as you are resource-limited rather than time-limited with crafting).

The result is you can very easily become ‘viable’ with a bit of focus. Near-maxing one weapon skill, some basic spells, and your key stats can be done in a matter of weeks with normal (20ish hours a week) play. At the same time, ‘maxing out’ a character is incredibly difficult, both due to the increasing cost of skills as they increase and the diminishing returns on prowess gain as your overall total increases. On top of that, the more you play the more feats you will accomplish, so finding new feats to finish for a prowess boost will naturally drive players out of their comfort zone and into trying new things (different mob spawns, more PvP/PvE, crafting, etc).

How to spend prowess also adds some interesting decisions making, without becoming a “you just gimped yourself” choice system (you can always get more prowess). For instance, say you decide to gather for a bit; how much prowess do you spend on the mining skill initially? The more you spend, the faster you mine and the lower your chance of failure. However, spending those prowess points on the mining skill means you can’t spend them on combat-based skills. Each player will initially spend to a different level, in effect customizing their character’s skill to better suit their style of play.

And much like in EVE, maxing multiple weapon skills or role skills does not make you more powerful, it simply gives you more options. And just like docking up and getting a different ship in EVE, it will take some time and gear adjustment to make the switch in DF:UW. It’s good motivation to keep progressing, but it keeps the barrier-of-entry reasonable for players joining at a later date.

The impact this system has on how you play the game is rather dramatic, if sometimes in subtle ways. For instance, it’s no longer beneficial to use a spell as often as possible to skill it up, so players no longer run around cycling transfer spells ‘just because’. It’s not a game-defining change, but it cleans up one aspect that to new players traditionally quickly comes across as a flaw, or just stupid.

It also instantly removes blood walls, mount bashing, or the infamous ‘group-sex’ macroing from DF1. Instead you have the power-gamers identifying the best mob camps to farm, in the best group setup, and in the most efficient rotations. It creates new value in holdings close to such spawns, and rewards organized guilds that prioritize a guild crafter.

In short, the system rewards the kind of player behavior you want to encourage, which is basically going out and playing the game rather than doing boring/exploitive activities just to progress. It keeps the barrier-of-entry reasonable, while still retaining a very long character progression path. And most importantly, it feels fun and rewarding, both on a micro and a macro scale.

Funny that it took 15+ years, and a small indie studio to get us there, but better late than never.

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.


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