My 15

March 24, 2014

Via TAGN, my top 15 influential games.

1: Ultima Online

This is an MMO blog, and UO was the first major MMO as we know them today. It’s also had the Ultima IP, which was huge for me. And as time goes on, and the genre tries to figure itself out, we realize (or are proven ‘right’, depending on your starting point) UO got a lot of things correct compared to future titles. It wasn’t just the first MMO, it was a very well-designed sandbox MMO that had a brilliant virtual world. We need more UOs, but making them has proven to be very difficult.

2: Ultima V

Way back when I played games on a Commodore 64, and Ultima V was my favorite game by a mile. MMOs are a big deal to me today because prior to 1997 and UO, I was (and still am) huge into RPGs, and for me Ultima V remains not only the first, but one of the best games in that genre. Non-linear, party based, great lore, great stories, epic scope, ;living world’, difficult; Ultima V got a lot right IMO.

3: Myth 1 and Myth 2

Cheating a bit going with both of these, but allow me to explain. Myth 1 was an RTS game far ahead of its time (something Bungie has a habit of doing), and I played it relentlessly. Sadly at the time the computer I had couldn’t really run it, so at a certain point online I couldn’t win games playing at 5-10 FPS (no joke). Myth 2 improved most aspects from the first game, and I had a better machine when it came out. I ended up holding the world #1 spot in the game until the first rank reset, which totally should be on my resume if gaming was as cool as sports. Either way being able to say you were the undisputed best at something out of 50k+ people is fun. Me > you.

4: EVE

UO was the first and laid the groundwork, but EVE is that groundwork perfected, and is the shining example that an MMO doesn’t die ‘eventually’ if it’s built correctly. The list of things EVE does better than anyone else in the genre is almost endless, but for me personally it drove home the fact that if you set a goal and execute, EVE is your oyster. I wanted to start a corp, I wanted it to grow into something, and I wanted to take us out of high-sec and do ‘something’. All accomplished, and it was a very rewarding experience.

5: Shining in the Darkness

I got this game along with my Sega Genesis, and it was my first introduction to console gaming and that style of RPG games. I still have a notebook of the maps my father and I drew as we played it, and whenever I watch a Youtube video of the game the music takes me back. The game being the first entry in the pretty great Shining series is significant IMO, even if the games don’t share a central story or world.

6: Final Fantasy 7

I loved FF7, racking up a saved game of over 100hrs (this was back when 100hrs with a title was something. Now we call that a 3-monther MMO). The graphics were amazing, the story was solid, the videos looked straight out of the future; the game itself is a masterpiece. It holds a special place for me because this title alone is responsible for turning the RPG genre from a niche to a mainstream thing. Suddenly we had tons of options rather than a handful of titles per year, all thanks to FF7.

7: Final Fantasy Tactic

When it comes to turn-based strategy titles, FFT is still my top-rated title. It’s not without flaws, but the strength of this title so far outweigh the flaws that it’s silly. Incredible depth, a serious challenge, a twisting storyline even despite the hit/miss translation, FFT had it all. It’s re-release on the iPhone recently reconfirmed for me how great it is, it’s held up wonderfully.

8: Heroes of Might and Magic 3

Considered the best entry in the series, HoMM3 is a title my friend and I pour a silly amount of time into. A solid single-player experience with amazing multiplayer depth, whether it was co-op vs the AI or going 1v1, featuring great balance amongst the factions and maps. The series has been trying to recreate the HoMM3 experience since, and while HoMM6 was solid, it still wasn’t it.

9: Civilization V

I’ve played every entry in the Civ series since the first, but it wasn’t until Civ V that I become obsessed with mastering the game. A great combination of deep turn based gameplay, historical accuracy, and refined game systems place Civ V high on my list.

10: Streets of Rage

The beat-em-up genre is mostly (completely?) dead now, but back in the day it was huge, and Streets of Rage was my jam. A really fun game whether you played solo or with a buddy, and one of the first games I played to master every boss encounter long past the time when I had initially beat it. The birth of my min-maxing, you might say.

11: World of Warcraft

After UO and EVE, WoW is the most significant MMO for me personally. A lot of this has to do with making friendships with people I still talk to today, raiding buddies who I spent hundreds if not thousands of hours with, carrying god knows how many derps through MC, BWL, AQ40, and beyond. Outside of raiding WoW in the early days had a lot going for it, whether it was leading the masses to victory in AV or raiding alliance towns with the guild and others.

12: Marathon

Another example of a Bungie title being way ahead of its time. As a FPS Marathon was excellent, and many of its mechanics went on to become genre standards. If the title wasn’t Mac-only, I wonder if it would have given Doom a run for its money. IMO it was the better game.

13: League of Legends

I played a lot of DoTA for Warcraft 3, so went into LoL knowing what to expect. But seeing how Riot handled the game, especially in the early years, and reading their forum posts about design hammered home that LoL is DoTA without all its flaws. Furthermore, a lot of the basic concept they explained still apply today, and not just to LoL but to gaming overall. I’m still actively playing the game after all these years, my wife is still addicted to it as well, and it’s the biggest game in the world overall. On top of all that, LoL is the best example of how well the F2P model can work outside of the MMO genre.

14: Syndicate

I played this game only when I was over a friend’s house, but we both loved it. Great atmosphere, great sandboxish design, solid graphics for the time, and the first game I played where you could do interesting stuff like convert a dozen civilians to become a small army, get them into cars, and have them run over other people by accident all until the cars exploded. The AI was good for the time, but because it gave you options, it created a lot of “oh wow that was cool” unscripted moment.

15: Skyrim

I played Morrowind a bit, played a lot of Oblivion, but it wasn’t until Skyrim that I was really looking forward to an ES game, and Skyrim delivered on all fronts. This is the model I want followed when it comes to future single-player sandbox RPGs. I’ve played almost all of its content now, and just the depth and consistence of it all is amazing.


The three flavors of F2P

March 5, 2014

Another post about the F2P business model, yay! (I blame TAGN for this one)

One development that has happened somewhat recently is the split definitions of what ‘F2P’ really is. It’s a different take on the “what is an MMO” question, only I don’t think the lines are as blurred here. Below is an attempt to identify the different models, and pass some thoughts on each.

The most basic IMO is the demo model. The MMO in question is free until a certain point, and in order to pass that point (be it a level cap, content cap, or power cap) you have to pay. If paying means buying a box or subbing and getting basically everything, the demo aspect is even more clear. If paying means getting pushed into a cash shop, that’s a bit murky and likely falls into the third model described below.

The next category is one that so far has only workout OUTSIDE of the MMO genre, and I think is the best F2P model; the fluff and extra convenience model. The base game is free, and spending money gets you fluff like champion skins or extra convenience like character slots. The base game, that is free, isn’t affected negatively by the shop, nor are game systems designed around reminding you of the shop or pointing out what you don’t have access to because you haven’t bought it yet.

The third is the ‘classic’ F2P model, where the free part is basically an infomercial to get you into the shop, and only through spending money in the shop do you get the ‘real’ game, be that full access to content or the removal of barriers put up by the devs.

The first model I don’t have issue with if the after-demo part is a box or a sub. In those cases using the term “F2P” is more about using the current buzz word (instead of saying demo) for PR than really using that model.

The second model is the hardest to pull off, because you’re game has to be so good that people WANT to give you money for it. Riot is able to do this with LoL because the base, free game is amazing, so spending money on skins, which are also usually of amazing quality, feels more like supporting something you like rather than being pushed to hand out some cash. Path of Exile also uses this model successfully, again because PoE the base game is pretty great at what it is (a better version of Diablo than current Diablo), and the stuff in the shop is fun/cute for the price.

WoW also somewhat falls into this category because of stuff like the sparkle pony, though of course the sub fee muddles the waters. I do think WoW would still be profitable if it was fully free and Blizzard emulated LoL and sold lots of different skins for mounts, weapons, armor, etc, but I suspect they make more money double-dipping, at least for now.

The third, ‘classic’ F2P model has been discussed to death. It’s the minor leagues, the math-tax scam show from developers who can’t make a good-enough product to stand on its own merits. As I’ve said many times before, this is the model that is the ticking time bomb, and eventually (already?) most people will smarten up and the money will stop trickling in.


Fail and try again, succeed and move on

February 27, 2014

“Few people go back to content that was trivially easy; most people repeat content they failed the first time.” – Zubon

I believe the above is true on average. Yes, some people rage-quit instantly, while others love nothing more than facerolling something over and over, but I believe the majority of gamers follow the above, be they MMO players or not.

I think this is a major reason why so many themepark MMOs fall into the 3-monther category; players speed through content because they can beat it the first time, and aren’t interested in beating something trivial again so they aren’t as motivated to roll an alt.

WoW somewhat gets away with this because they have so much content, both during the leveling game and then at the level cap. The problem for other game’s isn’t so much that they can’t compete with that, it’s more that the players they do get just hit that wall and leave.

 


So is $60 the price point for skipping 9 years of content now? What tremendous value they place on their product.

February 26, 2014

Title stole from TAGN commenter Asmiroth, because it sums up my feelings on this whole thing.

Congrats, you are paying more to have less content. Or, in the situation where you want to play with all your lvl 90 friends RIGHT NOW, you are paying $60 for RIGHT NOW. /shrug


Themeparks: PvP is the filler between the cracks

February 25, 2014

Wilhelm is asking if an MMO must contain PvP. It’s actually a more interesting question when you really thing about it, especially if you limit the discussion to themeparks (the answer for sandboxes has its own tab on this blog).

Instinctively you might want to say ‘no’ for themeparks, because they are PvE focused and you would want that to remain the focus. Makes sense, on paper. But in reality, themepark PvE content is often one-and-done, and what is repeatable (daily quests, raiding) is often tied to some long term, but still one-and-done reward (rep grind, raid gear).

PvP shouldn’t be the focus, but rather play the role of filler between content updates. From my experience I think vanilla WoW did this best. Whether you were waiting for a raid to reset or had a night off, battlegrounds provided a nice side activity, made more rewarding as you could use your raid gear to get an edge (though not a brutally overpowered one from MC/BWL gear).

As time went on PvP in WoW got a bit silly, first with PvP-specific gear and later with rankings and all that stuff. It went from being a fun side activity to a game-within-a-game. It also didn’t help that all of the talent on the WoW team left and the interns ran the place, but we know that story.

I like, on paper, what ESO has planned. Once you reach the level cap, you can still PvE to gain more skill points for horizontal progression (you can only use a small number of skills at one time, so getting more skill points to open more skills doesn’t increase your power, just gives you options), but you can also get into the 3-way RvR battle areas. I think the limit to horizontal progression will help the PvP balance a great deal, as will the fact that (as of now) the best gear comes from crafting, not PvE, raiding, or PvP. Assuming that stays mostly true (a few items being BiS from non-crafting is fine IMO, so long as most stuff comes from crafting and the gap isn’t too great), I can see the model working.

I can further see it working because as players spend time on the repeatable content that is RvR, Bethesda will be given time to expand the PvE offerings. I don’t think ESO players will experience running into a ‘content wall’ like in SW:TOR.

So my answer to the question is yes, you do need PvP, but at the same time you need to ensure that the PvP remains a low dev time, high repeat, limited impact aspect. Not easy to get right, but certainly pays off if you do.

 


Smed talks sandbox

February 12, 2014

Smed has a new blog that yells at you with giant text. I wish he had named it “MMOs are still a niche market”, but no dice on that. His first post is about sandbox design.

“When we first began making these kinds of games 18 years ago (I mean no disrespect to the Muds and other games out before Everquest)”

In the Smed history of MMOs, the first one was EQ, a themepark before the word themepark was a thing. This is funny because the first commercially successful MMO was Ultimate Online (sorry M59), a sandbox. What’s also interesting here is that while UO was indeed a virtual world, a game experiment in what would happen if Britannia was populated by more than one Avatar, EQ was a 3D graphic skin over existing MUD design, rather than the brave adventure into unknown lands that Smed views it as.

Fast forward to 2004, and we all know WoW was just a better EQ1, thus beginning the long chain of SOE attempting to copy something, and Blizzard coming along and simply doing the copy/paste job better. EQ1 is also the first and last time one could say SOE did something more right than wrong. The SOE MMO graveyard can attest to that.

No event is more memorable in sandbox history than the NGE for SWG, taking that sandbox and (spot the pattern) trying to make it more of a WoW-like themepark, without success. Smed being the man behind that blunder is something he has admitted and apologies for countless times, but for SWG fans that wound hasn’t quite healed yet, as evident in the comments section of his blog. That he has decided to target that group to hype his next (not EQN) MMO is an… interesting decision.

“A great example of this happened with SWTOR. I happen to think it’s a very well done game and the team at Bioware should be proud.”

That Smed considers it a very well done game should be alarming. From the first reveal of SW:TOR in 2010, some of us could easily see the critical flaw in basing your game on the 4th pillar (one-off content). Now granted, back then we couldn’t predict that the most expensive MMO ever would also come with a terrible engine, plenty of bugs, and all the other problems SW:TOR had; but even if none of those other things happened, the game would still have failed because at its very core, it’s a horribly flawed way to make an MMO. If the leader of my company looked at something like SW:TOR as a ‘very well done game’, I’d be jumping ship.

Now, Smed does finally mention EVE in the second to last paragraph, calling it a shining example, so that’s certainly a positive if you have hopes for the next SOE product.

“Our belief at SOE is that it’s smarter to head in this direction now rather than waiting.”

The above can easily be taken out of context, given that EVE has been the blueprint for a sandbox for over ten years now, and SOE has been around longer than that, but I take the above as Smed saying that rather than making EQ3 yet another themepark that can’t succeed (forget competing with WoW), he would rather try to tap into the magic CCP formula. And while I’m all for that, at the end of the day this is SOE we are talking about. They will find a way to screw it up. And then they will try to fix that screw-up and odds are decent they will make it worse. Because SOE.

Welcome to blogging Smed, hopefully you stick around for a bit.


EVE: CCP you are the worst, besides everyone else

February 7, 2014

Jester has, as always, a great post up about the reaction to the real life EVE monument CCP recently unveiled, which as his post shows, has largely been negative. EVE is famous for having lots of bitter vets, and as the only MMO to still be growing after more than a decade, many of those players truly are vets, and truly are bitter.

His post however reminded me how good EVE players have it compared to everyone else. For example take this complaint:

I think this boring and featureless statue symbolize EVE expansions.

EVE receives two free expansions every year, plus point releases between those expansions that do more for the game than what some MMOs call expansions they charge you for. Oh how I wish DF:UW got such ‘boring and featureless’ expansions. Hell, I’d take just one, or even half.

Doom and gloom fills every MMO forum. It’s what players do. The happy ones are playing, the unhappy are posting, regardless if your game is a dumpster like SW:TOR or the blueprint like EVE. That said, EVE players should take a step back once in a while and look around the genre. You really wouldn’t trade CCP for anyone else. Not the interns who gave us space goats and pandas. Not the wing factory of monthly embarrassments and flip-flopping. Not someone who burns $300m on a pillar of trash and sells you hotbars. Not the authors of the manifesto of lies. Not the ad-spam One-Ring sellers. Not the fools in white shades, or the ones to put a bullet in the head of an MMO shortly after release.

Be glad CCP runs EVE. It could be a lot, lot worse.


WoW is just trolling itself now

January 16, 2014

Glad to see the A-team is back and hard at work on WoW.


The Day LoL Died

January 14, 2014

Whelp, it’s been fun.

The picture of him is perfect too. That “would you like more welfare epics?” smile, those eyes that reassure you death is impossible, that hair that represents all his good ideas. Bastard.

(This is the welfare epics guy right? Wanted to get this rant out before getting the facts, even if said facts ruin said rant. That’s how you blog kids!)

PS: My bet is he is working on the next Riot title, not LoL. But again, rant>facts.


ESO: Our driving game may or may not feature driving cars

January 3, 2014

To continue the recent nefarious trend of ‘crosslink to win’, here is a post from TAGN about his interest in upcoming games for 2014. Elder Scrolls Online is on there, and what Wilhelm wrote helped me realize why, despite knowing better, I’m also looking forward to the game.

The quote in question:

I guess that the key here is that I cannot imagine that the developers of this MMO could be so daft as to create a game based on the Elder Scrolls franchise without looking deep within themselves to ask the most important question: Does it capture even a bit of the essence of the series? Because that is the vital ingredient here, the winning proposition, the thing that would make people knock over their grandmother to grab a copy of the game. If they can come up with something that feels just enough like Skyrim, but lets me play with my friends, then they will prevail, as the only issue I have with Skyrim is that I cannot play with my friends.

First, how incredibly sad is it that a game with the Elder Scrolls IP has people hoping beyond hope that it will play something like an Elder Scrolls game? Think about that. It would be like EA releasing the next Need for Speed title, and the main concern on every blog is “gee I hope I’m able to drive a car”. Yet that is basically what is going on here (and already the graphic style is not Skyrim, so -1).

MMOs might be hard to make, but love of god are the current crop of developers going overboard on proving that.

“So Syn, why the hell are you still interested in this game, idiot”.

Because I’m an addict.

If I’m not playing an MMO I’m not happy in my gaming life, and much like an addict, I’ll eventually reach near rock-bottom and start shooting heroin into my veins because hey, maybe I won’t die this time. That’s basically ESO for me. (Rock bottom is playing WoW, and I have a feeling that might happen should ESO suck as expected and Warlords not completely panda itself. This however is heavily reliant on being able to con… convince a few fool… friends to come along.)


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