Pathfinder Online: It’s 2003 EVE!

March 12, 2015

Raise your hand if you knew Pathfinder Online was already playable?

Yea, me neither.

But it is, and my friend Rynnik hooked me up with a buddy key to take a look. To use his words, Pathfinder right now is 2003 EVE. That’s both the ultimate compliment and a reality check.

The good is the systems behind Pathfinder and the feel of the world are great. The game is very much a virtual world ala EVE, and that is exciting. Fantasy EVE has been something a lot of us have been waiting for since.. well almost 2003 really.

The bad is Pathfinder isn’t even close to ready. There is a massive amount of desync going on right now, which is so bad that even PvE combat is terrible. Stuff dies, but you don’t know if you are swinging or not, and it just doesn’t work. Graphically the game is very weak, other window dressing is almost non-existent, and the UI is… well EVE 2003 quality.

What drives me nuts is you have a game like Darkfall, which has hand-down the best combat and ‘feel’ in an MMO, but is missing so much in terms of design and long-term depth. Then you have Pathfinder, which has filled all the holes DF had, but is missing all of DF’s strengths. Can’t someone get both right? I’m not even asking for perfect, but just get both decent to start off?

So yea, Pathfinder is on my radar, and already has a core following that loves it, but until it takes some big steps in a few areas, it’s not something I’m going to dive into right now.


Crowfall: The winners stand alone

March 2, 2015

If there is one thing I still regret about Darkfall, it’s AV not making the now-gone MVP forums public after they did away with the program; a lot of good ideas and discussions all gone because I don’t think AV knows how to update or manage their forum software. More to today’s point; one of the ideas thrown out that had a good amount of backing was the idea of seasonal servers that would reset and could be ‘won’ based on different point systems. That sound familiar?

Imagine if AV had beaten Crowfall to the punch with one of their major features? Classic AV though; get a good idea, sit on it, and then end up going with something else (worse) instead. Moving past that little bit of amusement, lets talk the idea itself.

The biggest and most obvious fact is that everyone who plays an MMO on day-one loves it (bugs/crashing aside). There is just something about that ‘new world’ feel that works, and I think anyone who has played an MMO day-one can relate. Crowfall being able to replicate this feeling, especially with random geography on each world, is huge.

It’s huge for current players getting a built-in motivator to kick it up a notch, and its huge for former players and potential new ones as it gives everyone a ‘start this day’ indicator similar to the launch of an expansion.

The downside is perhaps similar to eating candy, maybe too much of a good thing isn’t that great? Right now I don’t see that being the case for me personally (the start of a new Civ game is always enjoyable for me, even after dozens of games), but the MMO space is a little different, so we will see.

The other downside is the counter-effect; when you know a world is set to end, only those truly invested in the ending (likely the winners) will stick around. Everyone else will likely be long gone, and so I can see worlds ending not in a final epic battle, but in days or weeks of cleanup by the winners. And if the cleanup time is lengthy or a pain, I can foresee even winning to be more grind than reward, and that overall would be a huge problem (think EVE null territory battles; some epic fighting, then a bunch of structure grinding).

I’m curious to see how Crowfall handles things in this regard, but overall I still like the general idea for the game.


Looking back at 2014, looking forward into 2015

December 15, 2014

Time to review 2014 and make some 2015 predictions (I don’t get as fancy as some people and do two posts!)

Here are the 2014 predictions:

EQNL will have everyone loving it the first month of release. Shortly after just about everyone will be asking “now what?” and drift away.

Anyone want to comment this isn’t 100% accurate, other than the whole “release but its beta” scam?

EQN will continue to attempt to copy/paste from my design docs, and will continue to SOE them into failure.

Nope, but only because literally NOTHING happened with EQN, because SOE, so 50/50?

ESO will have a big launch, followed by a quick death (F2P). I’d like to pretend that THIS massive themepark failure will teach the industry to stop, but if SW:TOR didn’t, nothing will.

Big launch; check. Quick death; nope. Game isn’t F2P (yet?), and I wouldn’t be totally surprised to hear it has more subs than we expect (not a ‘huge success’ amount, but not skeleton-crew numbers).

WildStar won’t suck. Just throwing a dart here, as WildStar doesn’t interest me personally, but what little I know about the dev team, I like. If they stick to their ideas/goals post-release, I can see WildStar being a solid ‘niche’ MMO. We might even be calling it “themepark done right”.

Mostly wrong here, other than I think WildStar clearly is a niche MMO, although I don’t think the plan was for it to be SO niche.

The GW2 train will continue to roll, although with less steam and more heavy-handedness towards the cash shop. Such is F2P life.

I guess? So little gets posted about GW2 its really hard to follow, but I’m assuming Anet is doing something with the game?

LotRO will continue to provide us with amusing stories, perhaps selling you a character 3/4th of the way into the game, or something equally dumb. 50/50 on being able to play Sauron. 75% chance you will be able to buy the One Ring in the shop.

Guess 3/4th of the way into the game was giving Turbine too much credit. My mistake.

CCP will go bankru… haha just kidding. Best MMO out will continue to play chess while the genre learns checkers. 450k subs in 2014. Edit: Since we are at 500K already and this isn’t WoW, raising this to 600k.

600k didn’t happen, so nope. On the other hand so far CCP is showing what they can do with quicker releases, which is basically more than anyone else, and I think they are in a good spot going forward to once again return to growth after a stagnant 2014.

WoW will bounce back with the next expansion and have a strong 2014. Now that the interns are back to being interns, and the real devs are back from failing to make anything with Titan, WoW will prosper. It will also help that 2014 won’t offer it much real competition (Unless WildStar draws away a significant portion of the raiding crowd, which is a possibility). WoW will end with more subs in 2014.

Other than the WildStar bit, rather accurate.

2015 predictions:

DF:UW will shut down. The population is at an all-time low, AV is completely lost with the title, and Forumfall continues to stick daggers into the one game even trying to give that crowd something to do. I don’t see how the game survives 2015 short of a miracle turnaround or wipe/DF3 plan.

WoW will lose subs. Yea, going for easy points here. I think the WoD bounce will fade, and I’m not sure New Blizzard is capable of really fixing the game to return it to growth.

FFXIV will gain subs. More easy points. With an expansion coming, a solid foundation, and a studio not called SOE or Trion supporting it, I think 2015 will be an even better year than 2014 was for this gem.

EVE will gain subs. Again more ‘in the right direction’ thinking here, although less confident in this predication than I am in FFXIV, especially if Star Citizen launches (it won’t) and isn’t completely horrible.

LoL will continue to sit atop the gaming world. I don’t see Riot slipping in 2015, I don’t see any game challenging its popularity, and the MOBA genre has a long-established history of longevity. The eSport side of the game will also continue to grow and dominate that segment.

CoC isn’t budging either. Similar story to LoL; solid developer, solid foundation, no serious challengers, CoC will finish 2015 as the top mobile game, just like it finished 2014.

Hearthstone will continue as Blizzard’s least-successful title. A weak foundation, core design flaws, and a complete lack of long-term hook will continue to see the title float between unknown mobile titles on the revenue list, while occasionally getting a jump when new cards are released and the whale famewhores dive in, only to drop back down shortly after. Won’t be much of a factor in the 2015 eSports scene either.

ArcheAge will continue to be comically mismanaged by Trion, giving us as least half a dozen “Trion being Trion” moments in 2015.

EQN won’t release. Nor will Landmark move out from under it’s ‘beta’ tag.

The rest of the ‘that’s still online huh’ F2P junk titles like LotRO, SW:TOR, EQ2, etc will float on in who-cares-land. None will be put out of their misery, but none will move up either.

I think game funding via Kickstarter will see an uptick as more Kickstarter-funded games launch and are well received. Pillars of Eternity is the one that has my eye (and money), and the continued positive development of MMOs like Camelot Unchained will show people that the platform, when used correctly, does work.

I honestly don’t see any MMO in 2015 shocking us and restoring faith in the genre. It will be more of the same, with some good (FFXIV), some bad (pick a F2P MMO), and most being meh.


DF:UW – Fresh ideas!

October 9, 2014

Watching Darkfall from afar has been entertaining, if tragically so.

First the game just finished it’s first elections for a player council, and it went about as well as you would expect from that fine collection of humanity. Among the highlight from all 390 votes casts: One player had votes removed after he was caught blatantly cheating the vote (this player was previously added to the MVP forums by AV, shortly after that sub-forum become completely useless. AV still can’t add 1+1, but more on that later).

Everyone’s favorite ragemonkey got elected, paving the way for crafting unicorn hunts and fluff-barrel suggestions (oh and he is, yet again, currently banned on the forums; see ragemonkey part), as did the main voice behind the population-crushing ‘jesus patch’ of removing classes, who is now a champion of the economy (guy is really on the cutting edge, but more on THAT shortly).

I legit feel bad for Kasmos, who will have to deal with it all as chairman. If he survives the upcoming three months without putting a bullet in his head, I’d consider that a major success.

AV has also posted an update on things they say they will do (but 90% odds say they won’t fully follow through with). The focus? Why the economy of course. This is my favorite line from the update:

For us, as well as the community from what we see, a functional economy is the stepping stone for a proper sandbox, so our attention is focused on it from the beginning of October and for the next development cycles.

99% sure that bolded part was copy/pasted from my first post in the MVP forum about a year ago (if not longer). Imagine if that had been their focus back then? People might still be playing the damn game! Sadly the entire focus post misses the one critical aspect of an economy actually working (sustainability), and instead has AV wasting yet more development resources on band-aids by just throwing in more new materials and raising the iLvl of gear. One might ask when will they learn, but the safe bet here is on ‘never’. The response to this announced future waste of time? Full community support, of course, because clearly the WoW method of econ balance is a better path to take than, oh I don’t know, following the example of an MMO that actually has a working economy.

The sub-genre of fantasy sandbox titles really is a crazy place. You have Trion doing its best to screw up AA, you have AV sitting on a potential golden goose and just time after time ‘listening to the community’ and burying the game, and you have kickstarter after kickstarter showing everyone that there is demand for someone, ANYONE, to get it right and profit, but nope, no one seems to want money so they all just screw one thing up after another. When freaking Mortal Online is one of the better options out right now, you know we have a serious problem.


Subtraction by addition

September 3, 2014

One of the lazier strawmen in MMO blogging land is to dismiss the success of an older MMO by stating that fewer people play it today. I’m sure you have read some version of “If UO did so many things right, why aren’t more people playing it today?” on one blog or another. The overall ‘why’ is a pretty complex topic that I won’t fully get into today, but what I do want to talk about is the fact that MMOs can get worse.

Time is one factor. As the months and years go by, a game ages. Visuals that at release looked great might not be so hot anymore. A feature that was special at release might be common in most games a few years later. You don’t have the newest, hottest feature. Etc, etc.

All of the above however doesn’t have to happen in an MMO. You can upgrade your visuals. You can patch in new features. You can introduce whatever the newest technology trend is (super servers for example). Just because WoW today looks like a game from 2005, or EQ2 looks like something from 1999, doesn’t mean that’s just how things go. EVE today looks like a game released in 2014, and its technical backend is still miles ahead of everyone else. UO did an engine update. So did DDO. Plenty of other examples exist. That’s a major selling point of the genre after all; you aren’t just buying a game as-is today, you are buying into a service that will evolve and improve as time goes on.

Yet while the intent of every update is to make an MMO better, not all do so. Of course famous examples like UO’s Trammel, SWG’s NGE, or DoAC’s ToA are well known and deservedly hated, but all MMOs have had some update that has driven someone away. Now most updates are positive, but even if a change brings or retains more people than it drives away, someone somewhere is going to hate that you did X instead of Y.

And sometimes an MMO does just get worse due to updates. How many half-decent MMOs have become complete dreck because of a F2P switch? Remember when LotRO was all about staying true to the lore, or when loading screens weren’t an opportunity to spam with you a cash-shop ad? When EVE forced you into the captains quarters? Etc, etc.

So yes, even if I did love what UO was in 97, that doesn’t mean that the 2014 version with elves, ninjas, and god knows what else is a game I want to play. Due to updates, the passing of time, and a multitude of other factors, in 2014 I’m not playing UO. That doesn’t change the fact that 1997 UO did a lot of things better than MMOs today, including 2014 UO, and that today’s devs could still learn a lot from it, or other once-successful MMOs.

And hopefully, they learn the right lessons, and make the right update, to actually make there MMO better with each update. Seems to be a rare thing these days.


DF:UW – Being right isn’t always fun

August 28, 2014

One of the better inside jokes around here is the concept of a ‘Jesus patch’, because all too often the fools tossing that term around are talking about an MMO that has either shut down or is a shell of itself. One of the best/worst example of this is/was Darkfall 1. To this day you will find forumfallers who will tell you patch X was a ‘jesus patch’ for that game and caused a ‘surge’ in population. It’s comical, and also a bit sad.

So how is DF:UW doing post ‘jesus patch’ (released 6/10/14)? Woops. I believe the term ‘off a cliff’ would be accurate?

And to make things about a million times worst, that pre-patch population spike was due to the stacking of a Steam sale, the introduction of a buddy key system, a ‘welcome back’ weekend, a PLEX-like system addition, and a bit later multiple “breaking the economy long-term for short-term gain” massive loot buff weekends, plus AV was on its best behavior in terms of communication (overrated) and patching speed (pretty important).

In other words, AV basically fired every bullet in the gun all at once, got a good number of people into the game for the first time in a long time, that crowd saw what the ‘jesus patch’ was really about, and basically everyone and then some left. Even Forumfall moves along at a crawl now, to the point that keeping up with it can be done in 30 minutes or less per week.

To save the game (if that’s even possible at this point), AV needs to pull what CCP did with Incarna, basically roll back the giant mistake that was the removal of classes, forget that ever happened, and return to what, despite being implemented half-assed, was giving them a slowly growing population; getting the economy under control and focusing on producing sustainable content that fit the theme of the virtual world they originally set out to create. They won’t do it unfortunately. At this point they are too far down the rabbit hole that is the current, oversized arena PvP-for-the-sake-of-PvP disaster that the game has become.

Again, its sad, even from the outside glancing back in.


Sandbox end-game: Why keep playing long-term?

July 21, 2014

Let’s talk PvP sandbox MMO end-game today.

One of my outstanding questions from the whole Warhammer Online saga is in a perfect world, what was the end-game for that MMO? I mean we know it was to raid the other faction’s capital city and sack it, but was that it? If it was, in that perfect world, how many times could the players repeat that activity before getting bored? And if there was something greater, did Mark Jacobs or anyone from Mythic ever talk about it?

Darkfall has a similar problem, where the end-game is territory control, but due to a broken economy and the overall trivial nature of acquiring gear, no one really needs or desperately wants holdings, and the fights that result over them are thinly disguised “fights for the sake of fighting”. The criticism that the game is an awkward oversized arena stems from this general lack of greater purpose.

Finally EVE, as usual, is the best example in the genre in terms of end-game, as null-sec has value and giant organizations via to control it. The current ‘crisis’ is that 2-3 groups control it too well, and the barrier of entry for anyone outside of those 2-3 groups is practically impossible to overcome (short of those established groups imploding and creating a vacuum of power). EVE also benefits here because it has other end-games, though most revolve around the acquisition and use of money.

End-game is one of the issues I thought about when writing up my PvE Sandbox posts, and my solution is rather than relying on the players to create ‘content’ by fighting each other, the game world itself would drive players into action by having mobs attacking their holdings, and for the world overall to be in flux based on player actions and success. This would be further sustainable with AI tweaks or mob changes; whenever the players would get too comfortable with the challenges facing them, whenever they got too good at fighting back the mobs, the devs could step in and alter things to keep it interesting.

Looking forward to some future MMOs like Camelot Unchained and Pathfinder, what are the true end-games for those titles? Both have territory control mechanics, but will they have the depth and detail of EVE to avoid the problems currently facing Darkfall’s end-game? Will either bring something new, interesting, and sustainable to the table to keep players happily playing/paying?


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