AA: Trade Routes bring life to the roads and waves

October 1, 2014

With ArcheAge being a sandbox, it’s somewhat difficult to talk about just one aspect of the game without the post spiraling into a dozen other supporting topics. If I focus too much on just the actual topic, I feel like much of the ‘why’ behind the activity is lost, while if I keep things too broad, the little details that can be critical (like the jump/walk difference with portals) would not be given the attention they deserve. Hopefully I can strike a decent balance.

Let’s talk about trade routes today. At a high level trade routes in AA require you to craft a pack at a specific crafting station, when crafted the pack goes on your back and slows you down, you bring the pack to a one of various NPCs in different zones, and when you arrive you turn the pack in for a gold, resource, or token reward. Pretty basic right?

Each zone has, I believe, two different trade packs that can be crafted. Each pack has a different set of materials you need, and these materials come from farms, be it crops or livestock. You also must buy a somewhat inexpensive item from an NPC to finish the pack. This means that the system ties nicely into the harvesting aspect of the game, and setting up your farm to produce the right products for a certain trade pack feels a bit like setting up production chains in city building econ games ala Tropico or The Settlers. You can of course buy the materials off the auction house, but that will generally cut into your profits.

Once crafted the pack weights you down, reducing your movement speed and disabling the use of your glider or basic mount. You can use a special donkey mount, as well as certain vehicles to speed you up. You can also take advantage of the NPC transportation options such as carriages or air ships.

One very cool aspect of AA you will shortly notice is that players use roads to travel, rather than always going in a straight line from point A to point B like one would in most other games (especially games with flying mounts). This is mostly due to trade routes, as you want to avoid catching agro and having mobs slow you down, or agro on your lower level donkey mount and disable it until you heal it. You certainly feel like you are living in a virtual world traveling down a road with a pack on your back, seeing other traders pass you by, be they on foot, on a donkey, or one of the various steam-punk vehicles. It’s one of those nice little details that answers the question “how do you make roads feel like roads in an MMO?”.

Where you decide to travel with your pack is another important question. If you want to avoid PvP, you can stay on your side of the world. This however limits you to only getting gold as a possible reward, while intercontinental travel gives you the option to select a trade-only resource reward or gilda tokens, which are used for things like buying a house, ship, or vehicle blueprint. You can also access a ‘trade report’ window that shows you current prices of the various trade packs and NPCs, which fluctuate based on turn-in volume, meaning the same route you did yesterday might not be as profitable today. Again just another little touch that breaks up the ‘grind’ that is all too common in MMOs.

If you go with the higher risk/reward option of intercontinental travel, if you get killed you drop your trade pack for anyone else to pick up and turn in. Should the pack be turned in, you will still receive 20% of the reward, but the player who turned it in will get the other 80%.

This opens up a lot of gameplay options, from pirates on the seas to mercenary protection guilds. It also highly encourages guild runs of trade packs, and raises the appeal of the larger ships, especially the merchant ship that can actually hold trade packs so guild members can better defend the ship.

Ultimately trade packs are just one of many options to acquire wealth in AA. You never ‘need’ to run one, and when you do, the game has lots of options on how to do so. They bring life to the virtual world, create demand and a ‘sink’ for basic goods, enable opt-in loot-based PvP, and can be used as both a major guild activity or as calm, easy downtime task for a solo player.

They aren’t a tacked-on ‘bullet list’ feature, but rather a solid and fun piece of AA’s virtual world puzzle.


AA: The true spiritual successor to UO

September 30, 2014

With the lead weight that is Trion and F2P covered yesterday, let’s start digging into WHY you should tolerate Trion and play ArcheAge anyway, because yea, you should be if you enjoy virtual worlds and smart MMO design.

I always go back to this point, but for me the perfect MMO is basically a great RPG game that doesn’t end and greatly benefits from the fact that you are playing with others. It’s because of this that I inherently dislike themeparks over virtual worlds; a themepark MMO has an end, and it also has a preset path you travel along to reach that end.

When this is done well you get quality themeparks like 2005 WoW or FFXIV, which can be very entertaining but ultimately not hit the highs of a great virtual world. Nothing a themepark can do will ever top the best moments in games like UO or EVE for me; by design they simply aren’t capable of such highs, and so themeparks in general are a ‘waste’ of MMO development time compared to crafting virtual worlds.

To call ArcheAge a ‘sandpark’ is selling the game short, or getting an EG-level of experience with the title and claiming you ‘get it’. One flaw AA has is that its first 15-20 levels, which in retrospect are basically an overly long and probably unnecessary tutorial, are classic themepark questing gameplay, and if you don’t know better you might think that is actually a major part of what AA is about. But it’s not, not at all really. It would be like saying mission running in EVE is a major focus of the game, with the other bits being side activities, and hence EVE is a ‘sandpark’.

The truth is that AA is very much a virtual world, and it is indeed a modern-day version of UO. Where UO had very rough “bring the NPC here” ‘quests’, AA has all the questing mechanics and systems of today’s MMOs covered. Where UO had basic crafting, AA has crafting depth deeper than most titles in the genre, and crafting that isn’t a tacked-on mini-game but rather a core feature. Where UO had effective yet simplified combat, AA has all the lessons learned about modern tab-target combat included. Where UO had basic but open character building, AA has a very refined skill-tree setup, with a good mix of options and tradeoffs. Where UO had a large but somewhat unrefined world, AA has a ‘zones without actually being zones’ world, one that feels open yet at the same time organized, focused, and interesting.

Some or all of those points might be covered in future posts, but that’s AA in a nutshell; a virtual world MMORPG the feels like it was made in 2014, with 17 or so years of MMO lessons learned under it.

AA also feels like an MMO made by someone who has actually played an MMO before. For instance, players start with the ability to recall, which works just like it does in most MMOs; use the ability, and you get sent back to your bind spot for free. Simple yet useful. But AA also gives you a teleport book, which has all of your discovered teleport spots, along with a tab for your personal locations (such as your house). To teleport, you must have a craftable item in your inventory, and rather than moving you to the spot, a portal opens. If you jump through the portal, you teleport. Simple again, right?

Only if you have been paying attention to the genre, your first thought should be “someone is going to open a portal in the starting area to a death trap and grief new players”, or “someone is going to use portals to make PvP a complete cluster”. And if AA was made by someone who had never played an MMO, like say SOE or Trion, portals wouldn’t require you to JUMP through them rather than WALK through them. But XLGames made AA, and clearly at least one person there has played an MMO, and so they added that little yet critical tweak to something as basic as moving around.

Plus if SOE or Trion were in charge, not only would the game have gone live with the grief portals, but then the fix those clowncars would have added would be to make portals only work for the player who summoned them, killing another awesome feature that AA has going for it; being able to open a portal for your whole guild/group, and regardless of level or if someone has that location or not, everyone being able to travel together without the usual hassle and, wait for it, play together in an MMO. Mindblowing! And this is just one of many examples of AA feeling like a ‘next gen’ MMO, rather than telling us it is in some manifesto and delivering yet another generic and completely forgettable themepark experience. A title that has learned from previous MMOs and feels like it has actually been designed to not neuter, limit, or ‘make everything accessible’, but just solve the previous issues or flaws while still retaining what made the original ideas so great in the first place.

Speaking of feel, AA has that feel of playing to progress forward, without ‘forward’ being some developer-defined thing like a level cap, or a certain item level, or clearing a certain tier of raiding. It feels similar to playing EVE, that feel of always need more ISK, but not needing to always do the most ISK-effective activity just because the game or the devs laid out the path that way for you. I might not have a clear plan for the eggs I gather from the chickens on a farm, but damnit, gathering those eggs IS progress, however big or small it might be. And if a day comes where I can’t stand the thought of gathering another egg, or watering another plant, I can stop doing that completely and, so long as I have another income stream, never be forced to do that activity ever again while still being able to progress forward.

That is sadly the all-too-rare ‘feel’ of a sandbox, the ability to progress forward in a number of different ways, without any one way being the ‘right’ or the ‘required’ way.

Finally, don’t believe the lies and misinformation spread by some, because while AA certainly has a good amount of PvP-focus to it, it is even more limited than EVE in just how open that PvP is. Should you choose so, you can avoid PvP completely and still quest, farm, trade, and progress. Up to level 30 all questing zones are protected (you can attack enemy players and flag yourself, but they can’t attack you), and within those zones you can set up a house or a farm, complete trade runs, harvest, fish, etc. Even further zones change from allowing PvP to not, so a trade route, house, or farm placed in one of those zones could still be tended by someone looking to avoid PvP so long as they enter when the zone is safe (which is visible from the world map).

Your risk vs reward ratio won’t be the same as someone who does head into more dangerous territory, but AA is far from the fully FFA PvP experience of games such as Darkfall or Mortal Online. As stated above, this is yet another example of the game clearly learning from previous games, and rather than taking the easy or limited route, there exists a nicely working balance that caters to many different types of players.

Ultimately I believe AA is worth your time if you are looking for a solid virtual world experience. It’s not without flaws, certainly, but especially in a genre with such slim pickings, it’s easily one of the better-crafted experiences outside of New Eden.

 


Pathfinder Online: Everything but the game is looking awesome!

July 16, 2014

I was recently talking to a friend about Pathfinder Online, with the gist of the conversation being that I love everything about the game on paper, from the design docs to what the devs have said, but actually seeing it in video is a complete no-go for me, and what that ultimately means.

On the one hand, ‘gameplay’ is a rather important aspect of any game, if not the most important. If what you are doing in the game isn’t actually fun most of the time, what kind of crazy person must you be to keep playing?

As crazy as most EVE players?

I mean, how much fun gameplay is there in many of EVE’s activities? Is mining ‘fun’? Are missions great gameplay? Even the high-point events like massive battles; for the average F1 pilot, is the gameplay really that great? I think most of the above can be answered with a “no, but…”. And that ‘but’ is huge (rimshot), because while mining is either boring or relaxing depending on perspective, it feeding into the best economy in the genre is a large part of what makes it such a popular activity in the game.

If Pathfinder gets the economy right, if it has interesting/worthwhile crafting, etc, would the fact that it has rather poor mining ‘gameplay’ matter? Because at this point I’d rather take poor gameplay but solid, sustainable systems over the opposite. If I just want great but shallow gameplay, I’ll play something other than an MMO.

Of course some of the gameplay has to be good/great. In EVE PvP can be thrilling, and at the highest levels (Alliance Tourney) it’s as deep and skillful as anything else. Pathfinder is in alpha still, so maybe the combat/gameplay will improve significantly, but even if it doesn’t, I can’t fully rule it out, even in the shape it’s in today.

(That said, please for the love of god improve the gameplay Goblin Works!)

 


DF:UW – At 95k prowess and counting

August 28, 2013

Alright, long overdue personal progress update on DF:UW time.

Currently my character is at 95k prowess, with 10k of that being spent on Armorsmith mastery. The rest is in stats (100str, 95dex, 95wis), general skills (100 in transfers, heal self, etc), and combat/warrior skills (100 greatsword mastery, 100 archery mastery, most battlebrand and berzark skills at 50-75).

The next big chunk of prowess is coming from finishing Fire Giants (35 of 150) and Terrors (180 of 400), as well as the gathering feats from our city’s grove and farm. My plan for more prowess is to pick up the dex booster, and buy the Skirmisher role skills. I’d like to switch to skirmisher for large-scale naval combat and just as a change of pace for sieges.

Proxy as a clan has been great. We are very active daily in terms of PvE and PvP, and with our allies Blood find ourselves in the middle of most sieges and Sea Fortresses. Thanks to the clan’s emphasis on getting better as a player, both from duels and after-combat reviews, I feel I’ve improved significantly. I’m still far from a top-tier player, but feel like I make a solid contribution in group combat, and 1v1 I can hold my own against many players.

The current war between the Death alliance and NOX has been the source of the large sieges for the last month or more, including perhaps the best battle in DF:UW happening a few days ago. The fight was over the city of Aradoth (again), and for multiple hours both sides would push in and out of the city and its surrounding area. One side would land some critical AoEs and push the enemy back, killing a few players in the process, only to have the other side regroup or receive reinforcements and make a counter-push.

Proxy was in the middle for most of the night on the side of the Death alliance, and we did a good job of keeping our 12-15 players together amongst the masses. When one of our own would go down, we would converge on that location and prevent the enemy from getting off a gank using our knockbacks. Another tactic that currently works very well is to intentionally knock a downed player further back behind the lines, making it easier to rez them and allow them to recover. Our primalists also did an excellent job of landing heals and revives as needed.

As for the game itself, AV is currently busy launching the game in Korea and Japan, leaving the US/EU without a patch since mid-August, much to the delight of Forumfall. As for the content added, I’ve still yet to visit the two newest dungeons, but have attended all but one of the Sea Fortresses. The revamped village capture and stealing system has made the villages around Izkand a source of activity for myself and Proxy, and we continue to be active on the seas in Scrapers and combat ships.

 


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.


DF:UW – The value of owning a city

May 13, 2013

A popular topic on ForumFall of late has been the value of player cities and hamlets, with some believe they are not worth owning, or that the cost to build them up is too great and needs to be reduced. OTG has been living out of our city (Kvit) for about a week now, and it’s highlighted some ‘hidden values’ to me.

There are the obvious benefits of owning a city, such as being able to bind at the stone, receiving the system messages when anyone comes in/out, and the minor regen buff the city provides to its owners. Cities also have resource nodes (mines, farms, etc) that can be built, but OTG has yet to build ours so I can’t really comment on that.

The above are nice, but certainly not worth the large amount of resources needed to build up a city. But because DF:UW is a sandbox, the hard-coded benefits are only a small part of the value.

Since moving in, we have put up the keep and some houses to increase the maximum number of binds allowed, and currently we are at 71. This has allowed many (but still not all) of our members to bind from the same spot, making grouping and responding to attacks much easier.

For a more casual clan that has a wide range of PvP-skilled players, having numbers close by means we don’t get rolled whenever someone comes along. It also means we can farm high-value spots like Ogre Bullies or Arctic Bears with confidence, and have the numbers to chase someone off the spawn should we need to. It also allows for quicker grouping, so those with less time don’t spend most of it riding to get to a group. And since we are all concentrated, groups are always up and something is always happening.

Another benefit is learning the local area. By knowing where all of the local spawns are, as well as the major geographic features, we are better able to quickly respond to a call for help, and when fighting know the terrain and how best to use it. For instance, we know where the land gets relatively flat and clear of obstacles, so we know when to keep chasing someone on a mount and when it’s best to jump off and try to bow them down. We know the location of iron nodes for quick gathering, and where the best hiding spots are for escaping a chase.

Owning and building up a city also motivates us to take group mining trips, where a bunch of us will head and out clean out iron nodes for the clan. We do this geared up for PvP, and often find it (or it finds us). Seeing the city gain buildings and (soon) added functionality gives everyone a goal to work towards, and creates game and clan ‘buy in’.

Finally, because other players know OTG lives out of Kvit, we in essence have created a bit of a PvP hotspot. This is greatly beneficial for a number of reasons. First, DF:UW is a PvP MMO, and having PvP come to us saves us the trouble of having to finding it (though we do plenty of that as well). Near-constant PvP also means our members are getting experience and becoming better players, rather than sitting in a secluded corner getting fat and lazy off nothing but PvE (something that happened in DF1 to many clans). And thanks to the factors above, OTG has been holding its own in most fights, meaning not only do we have PvP delivered to our front door, but nice loot as well.

Owning and actively living out of Kvit has been a major boon for OTG, and we are excited to continue building up the city and carving out a place for ourselves in Agon.


DF:UW – Story of a new player

May 1, 2013

Copy/pasting this from the Darkfall forums, written by Hydride.

—————

So I’m currently working abroad, playing on my laptop and have crap internet. I have a 6k pp Warrior. My FPS in the cities is around 10 and outside 17 on average. So I am forced to be a Crafter because every time I go to hit a Mob, by the time I’m synced the MOFO is on my back.

So I hit nodes all day, buy and sell stuff and I know what your saying that is boring as hell “Yes it is”. However, I will be home in a few Months and I love this game so much that I am totally dedicated to it and can’t wait to start actually being able to PvE and PvP. By that time, gold and equipment will not be a issue because I will hopefully have a lot of crafts maxed out by then.

So Today, I got real tired of running round looking for full nodes and not finding any. I decided to empty my pockets into the Bank and just kept on me a 2 Pick Axes and a Mount. I jumped on my Mount and for the first time ventured way outside the SZ. I decided to head for the Coast and was constantly looking around me to make sure there was no players chasing me and also looking at the terrain. I stayed away from Mob spawns, also I used the terrain to my benefit by riding in the shadows, dead ground and also terrain that was the same colour as myself and my mount. Laugh some of you might, but it worked.

So I get to the Coast, jumped of my Mount and went in to total tactical mode. I crouch walked everywhere, I stuck to the shadows, manoeuvred round rocks and trees, checking my every direction there was before moving, popped my head up from behind rocks and through bushes to make sure I was alone. Believe me if I could have done a combat roll I would have done. I remember thinking to myself that if there was a GM in invisible mode, he would be laughing at me saying “Look at this Ninja Noob right here”. But hey it worked!!!

So I see a nice place to mine with 5 nodes within reasonable close prox of each other. Now 4 of the nodes was in cover or within the shadows, so I told myself I will only hit the ones that had decent cover from view and I did just that. Now I started tapping away and I would stop at any sound, because I had the in game music on, so I turned it off. Now I could hear everything and anything that sounded out of place I would stop, pop my head out left and right and carry on again. I soon got tired of this and said to myself I’m being paranoid. Low and behold I start tapping and I see this player on a Mount in the distances, I pressed C so damn hard to stop tapping this node and to crouch down that I am surprised I didn’t snap my laptop in Two right there and then. So this player on this Mount stops quickly and starts looking round, I already had my escape routes pre planned out and jumped in this bush where I could see what he was doing. He came right up to the node that was in the open and look at another node and must of said to himself I must of been hearing things and pushed off. My Heart was beating so fast it, I thought it was going to jump out my Chest. I kept eyes on him until he hit the horizon and carried on tapping the nodes. Every time I would tap out a node, I could hear this voice inside me saying get the hell out of there now, but there was one more node to rinse so I decided to stay and carry on.

I was tapping the last node and I heard another Mount, voice inside me saying “I f-ing told you to get the hell out of there”. I pressed C again but didn’t have eyes on this player, I moved across in the shadow to a Bush and jumped in it. Waiting to see where this Mount was and then I laid eyes on this Player and this Mount, but wait he was stood still and I could hear a Mount. I kept on watching and this player was being chased and was setting a ambush. “WAM PAM BOOM” they was going at it, I was like $%^& the Ore I gotta see this !@%^. So I ducked and dodge my way to a safe spot to get eyes on and on my way there, I had to bypass the Ambush dudes Mount. So I done what any half decent DF Noob would have done and I stole his Mount. I watched the fight to the end and see the Ambush dude win and the best bit afterwards was watching this dude who won try and find his Mount. After he left I found a nice place behind two big rocks with a bush in front of it to bindstone recall back.

Today was my most fun day in DF and I pocketed 800 ore, with 2 other trips out. I am a solo crafter and for the rest of the Noobs inside the SZ don’t be afraid to go outside. I have been lucky not to get killed, but Tomorrow I might get killed and so what if I do. This game is a dog eat dog world and only the strong or the smart survive. They might take your gear and your mats, but they can’t take away the fun moments or your pp and they can’t make you pregnant, so it’s all good.

I hope my fellow Noobs have the same experience I had Today and stay with this great game. To all you 10 year olds that want you hands held through this game and moan about dying on global and this forum, I don’t care you can quit. Because the real world is very much like DF and your Mum’s ain’t gonna be there to swipe your butts for you forever.


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