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: Housing the way it should be done

September 25, 2014

If you ask any well-informed MMO player what two games have/had the best housing in the genre, the answer will be UO and SWG. It’s those two titles by a landslide, with basically everyone else in a distant, forgettable pile. The common thread between those two classics? Open world, non-instanced housing. Instanced housing by comparison is just a sad, cheap Sims knockoff mini-game the devs tossed in to +1 their MMO bullet list of features.

Moving past the obviously predictable, ArcheAge also has open-world housing, which already puts it ahead of most. Layer on top of that real functionality (farming that is critical to crafting, which itself is critical for everything else), and you have the basis for something pretty special.

If we go back to UO (and perhaps SWG, although my experience with that game is limited because, well, it was SW), the two biggest issues people had were the ‘urban sprawl’ of too many houses, and the fact that once a house was placed, that was basically it for that spot. AA has systems that fix both problems.

For the urban sprawl issue, housing is limited to certain spots, although said spots are often varied and in interesting spots rather than generic “housing corner” areas. When you come across housing locations they still feel organic, while at the same time you won’t find a house plopped in the middle of your quest location. It’s a solid compromise, though it perhaps leans a little too much towards themepark; I would have preferred more ‘prime location’ housing areas, though perhaps that’s something that happens in the later zones (still just level 26).

The second and IMO bigger issue of houses never going away is fixed with the tax system. If you don’t pay your taxes, you eventually lose ownership, the land is cleared, and someone else is able to come along and claim it. This system will ensure that inactive accounts can’t clutter a server, and will also make hunting for a housing spot a constant activity, rather than the one-and-done scan that it was in early UO (UO would later add a taxing system as well, I believe).

The big non-issue with open-world housing is availability, and especially with prime location availability. A location is a prime location because it’s limited. In the real world a large portion of a house’s value is based on location, meaning not everyone can have a mansion in the most ideal spot. This creates structure, demand, and a pecking order. Those with more can afford better, and almost everyone works to move on up the ladder.

An MMO retaining the gameplay of moving on up isn’t a negative, unless of course you are an entitled little brat who just stands around crying ‘gimmie gimmie gimmie’ and doesn’t actually want to work towards something. For everyone else, the added value of location is fantastic, as it gives everyone something to work towards. Players can make a solid income by snatching up locations and reselling them, and just about anyone can get something if they pay enough. That isn’t a problem, it’s an amazing feature. Tossing all of that in the trash by instancing your housing is a crime, not an improvement, and it’s nice to see at least one game build on a great feature from previously great MMOs.

On our server (Ollo) we currently have a large chunk of land claimed in one of the level 50 zones, as one of us was able to get in early and make a deal, basically buying out a guild that had put down a few houses in that area. Currently we have this section claimed by placing one small house and multiple farms around it (preventing others from interrupting our ‘chain of land’), but this area will be redone with a bigger house and more structured farming as soon as we have the resource to do so. It’s an exciting, long-term plan that will not only provide a good looking, but also highly functional space for us to use for our future housing and crafting needs. Unless of course we flip it for something better, which is always an option. Again, more on the personal side in a future post.

DF:UW – Two more videos of the triple siege night

June 13, 2013

Rather than an extensive battle report, I’m just going to post the key details and let the videos fill in the blanks (aka: lazy blogging).

Here is one from our initial enemies and then mercenaries point of view, and here is a good one from OTG member Cotton.

Our alliance got triple sieged Monday night. Our hamlet on Niff, our hamlet in elf lands, and the hamlet closest to our city of Kvit where all sieged, with roughly two hours or so between each siege. We attempted to defend all three, and only lost the hamlet on Niff.

The battle on Niff was fairly close, but ultimately we got pushed away from the siege stones and as we had a second and third siege to still attend, we back off and took the loss. The high ground taken by the enemy was a huge asset to them, and we simply could not push them off despite our best efforts.

The elf lands hamlet was not heavily contested, and after one push up the ramp to the siege stones, and attackers broke and we quickly destroyed the siege stones to end the contest.

By far the heaviest fighting occurred at the 3rd siege, the hamlet near Kvit. Our first two attempts to get to the siege stones were repelled after heavy fighting, and the decisive battle was also very close. In the Nox video you can see that the enemy was attempting to destroy the hamlet stone as our forces destroyed the siege stones, so it was very, very close.

Now that the crashing issue has been resolved, I think everyone is looking forward to more sieges, and the political aspect of DF is going to really get rolling. Good times!

DF:UW – Dungeon content in a virtual world

June 3, 2013

Last Friday the latest patch for DF:UW was released, and it included the first dungeon added to the game. Sunday night OTG and allies put together a group of eight to go check it out.

Entering the dungeon works like it did in DF1, where you click on the portal entrance, charge for a few seconds, and then you are taking down into the dungeon. You are not in an instance like in themepark MMOs, but rather in a different ‘zone’ that anyone else can enter as well.

A bit of strategy plays into entering or exit a dungeon, as we sent in our warriors first and delayed the entry of our squishy characters. This is done in case someone is camping the dungeon entrance/exit, but that was not the case last night.

Once inside, we explored what is ultimately a large loop with a few offshoots, one being a spawn of lizard-like creatures and another being the boss room. The main room of the dungeon contains a large cave troll (new mob) spawn, featuring cave trolls (easy), cave troll shamans, and cave troll fighters (fairly tough in numbers). The boss is a Primordial Troll Juggernaut, who while not overly difficult for our group of eight, was not a complete pushover either.

The dungeon itself has a good look and feel thanks to the advanced lighting and effects new to DF:UW, and the spawn rates are such that you are always kept busy. The loot from the troll mobs was nice (they drop gold and a good amount of large pots), and the boss mob drops a key to a chest that, among other loot, usually had 1-2 portal shards inside.

The dungeon overall would be decent content in a pure PvE game. It’s not huge or overly challenging, but it is larger and more detailed than the starter dungeons found in the capital cities, and just from a pure PvE perspective we had a good time. Of course DF being DF PvE is only a part of the equation, and like almost all locations, the PvE also drives PvP, with the dungeon being no exception.

The first time we arrived at the dungeon we found one player just outside trying to recall. We quickly gave him an express ticket home, and found a decent amount of dungeon loot on his tombstone. Once inside, we found another player farming and he too was dropped quickly. After killing the boss once and farming for about 30 minutes, we left the dungeon to bank at our nearby hamlet.

Along the way back we came across a few players, killed a couple and had the rest run away. On our trip back to the dungeon, we caught a naked player on his mount, killed the mount, and chased him to the nearby village. He ran into a house he owned, and one of our members followed him inside. He killed him, looted a treasure map, and found himself stuck inside as the door had been closed. The owner came back, we asked him nicely to open it, he refused, and so out came the battle spikes to blow his door down.

On our third run in the dungeon, we had two geared warrior run into the boss chamber with us, and a short, cramped melee commenced. They did well, taking down two of us before one of them got very low and ran away. We made the mistake of not pursuing immediately, forgetting that in order to exit the dungeon he would have needed to charge at the portal, and that would have been easily interrupted. We left the dungeon shortly after and called it a night.

I think the dungeon is a great addition to the game. It brought new feats which you progress through at a good rate thanks to the quick spawns, the boss is something different, and your PvP tactics need to adjust thanks to the limited spacing. It’s very ideal for a group, adjusts well for small or large numbers, and creates a new PvP hotspot in the world. Hopefully AV doesn’t take too long to add more, and we get them ‘soon’.

Video of the dungeon from Ripper Exe. Enjoy!

DF:UW – Sieging Alden Enak

May 16, 2013

Last night OTG had a siege against The Empire for their hamlet of Alden Enak (AE), located just south of our city of Kvit.

The nice thing about this siege was that the numbers, gear, and player skill were about as even as you are likely to find in Darkfall, resulting in multiple battles in a few locations rather than one steamrolling.

The unfortunate part was that on our end, we had a lot of crashing, which we believe is tied to using Mumble instead of TS3 or Vent. In each battle a good 20-30% of our force would randomly crash, which not only reduced our overall fighting numbers, but caused havoc for communication and organization. It did not appear that The Empire clan members were crashing nearly as often, which is good once we correct the Mumble issue, but bad for trying to win that particular siege.

For me personally, a few crashes aside, performance was excellent. I kept my game maxed out at 1900×1200 and never had my FPS dip below 60 or my ping go over 70, even though at the peak of combat we had over 100 total players fighting it out.

On to the fighting itself!

Right as I got home and was preparing to log on, Empire was raiding Kvit and blew up our bank. After they cleared out, we formed up a group of about 20, got on a boat, and sailed around for a sneak attack on their hamlet. The idea was to kill who they had before the siege went live, and hopefully hold the hamlet itself so they could not use it as a rally point.

The boat ride itself was uneventful, and we snuck up on the hamlet without incident. They had around 20 players as well, some right at the bank and others spread around the hamlet grounds. Our initial charge took down a few, but they quickly rallied to some high ground and counter-pushed. One warrior in particular, sporting Dread Plate (second-best warrior armor), was incredible disruptive and took a few of us down. After a few back and forth pushes, we lost too many and had to retreat back to our city.

After both sides gained some more members, a scout reported Empire was heading into our city. We decided to retreat up the lift we have in Kvit (the city itself is inside a mountain with three large cave entrances. A lift runs to the top of the mountain through a hole in the ceiling. There is also a path up the side of the mountain that leads to the top area). Once at the top, we waited for the enemy to follow us up, and planned to AoE the lift as it came up.

The plan initially worked, but once we started AoE’ing those on the lift, they jumped off, and we made the tactical mistake of getting on the lift ourselves and taking it back down into the city. The enemy was able to AoE us as the lift reached the bottom, and our general disorganization lead to a rather quick defeat (I crashed right as the lift hit the ground, so missed the fighting, and once back inside had to sneak my way out of the city). Though we did take down a few, overall we got wiped and they were able to loot most of our graves and ride back out of our city.

The final major battle occurred again at our city. Empire again made a push, but this time we were more organized and held them at the southern cave entrance. The choke point where a city gate can be built (we have not built the walls yet) was AoE’ed heavily by both sides, and the first push from the Empire was turned back as they lost half a dozen fighters, with the rest falling back outside to regroup.

However the second pushed got them through the choke point, and while we held for a while further inside, ultimately we again were overwhelmed and defeated.

It was only after this battle that the siege officially went live with our siege stones becoming vulnerable. At this point however moral was pretty low, people were low on gear bags, and we never reformed to defend the stones. Empire took them down quickly, and the siege ended with them retaining their hamlet.

Crashing aside, it was a very fun night, and while initially OTG was a bit down, identifying the Mumble-based crashing and getting on TS3/Vent will mean next time we don’t have to deal with the technical issues getting in the way.

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.

UO Forever: More lessons

January 28, 2013

UO Forever has been a great time so far, both from just a pure gameplay perspective and as a refresher of sorts on how the MMO genre got started and the design decisions that worked.

I’ve covered combat already, as well as talking about the slower pace and why that’s important. Keen has a post about his enjoyment of crafting, which I think touches on some of these points as well.

Quick comment on the crafting aspect; as I said on vent, mining in UO ‘works’ because you are advancing towards something that matters to you, in a way you want to. You mine to get ore, to get ingots, to skill up smithing, to smith better items, to place those items on a vendor, and ultimately to make that vendor known and have people come to you to shop. This ultimately makes you good money, but also gives you a bit of fame, carves out your spot in the world, and opens other doors (shoppers become friends or guild members, the gold is used to fund bigger projects, the vendor traffic attracts other shopkeepers to your area of the world, etc).

In other MMOs, a ‘crafter’ is just a monster slayer that happens to dump gold into a side profession (usually at a huge loss), and the ‘fix’ that many have added is to get monster slaying experience from the art of crafting. “Level to the cap from crafting” should not be seen as a step forward, it should be seen as a slap in the face to crafters. Of course, when the result of crafting is being an anonymous listing on some global AH, who really cares?

Moving on, the skill gain rates on UOF are interesting. Combat skills go up very quickly. You can max out the basics in about 10 hours, and all but a few skills (magic resistance being the main one) shortly after that. Crafting skills on the other hand are very slow.

The fast skill gains, IMO, just shorten one area of the game and get you into another faster. Had they been slow, players would have spent more time fighting weaker creatures, all while farming less gold/items while they skill up. Eventually many would have reached the cap, and what is happening now would have happened then, but instead that early phase was basically non-existent. If UOF had a sub fee, that would be bad design from a business standpoint. Since it does not, it might just lead people to burn out quicker.

That said, just because you are able to get some skills to the cap does not mean you are ‘done’. Far from it. My current goal is to buy a house to place in our guild city. Originally this was going to be a basic house for about 65k, but the farming has gone well and along with a buddy, we have decided to go big and aim buy a two story for 150k. We are currently about 50k short of that goal.

And once we buy and place the house, it opens up some additional options for us. We will now have a base to PK out of. We will have a place to run a vendor from if we choose. And of course, we can’t leave it unfurnished, now can we?

By the time all of that’s done, who knows what other goals or options will pop up. Perhaps we will be in a guild war, or working to establish control of a particular dungeon. UO being a sandbox, the path is not pre-arranged and laid out for you to follow.

Finally, playing UOF reconfirms my belief that the reason UO retained subs for so long was because it’s a great game, not because it was the only MMO out (as if people didn’t have other gaming options back then…). It also confirms how massive of a mistake EA made when the trammeled it, and later butchered the IP with silly stuff like elves, ninjas, and whatever else is in the current paid version of the game. To think that UO could have been handled like EVE has been handled, expanded and enhanced while remaining true to its original design. Somehow I don’t think the genre would be quite as focuses on ‘personal stories’, instancing, or voice acting.



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