AA: Today in Trion being Trion

October 7, 2014

If you have been keeping up with all of the issues AA is facing thanks to Trion (queues, bots and hackers going unpunished, spammers destroying public channels for hours at a time), my guess is you have also picked up on this theme: Trion laying blame for the issues with XLGames, or at least deferring to them to take some heat off.

Now granted, Trion isn’t the developer of AA (thank god, or this would be a Trove-level game), so they don’t have control over things like skill power, general bugs, or when new content is coming. That’s all fine and understood. But Trion DOES have control over server numbers, how queues are handled, and what actions they allow their GM’s to take. XLGames can develop better tools to track and catch hackers, but if Trion has an insufficient or incompetent GM staff, that’s on them.

For example, in a reply to hackers picking up housing spots as buildings decay:

We’ve been closely following the accusations of unfair land claiming methods. The team is actively investigating accounts that appear to some players as outliers in terms of number of properties owned. This data point alone isn’t sufficient evidence of foul play as some players are focusing all of their gameplay on real estate and flipping properties.

We agree that one player claiming multiple properties that many other players are simultaneously trying to claim is suspect, which is why we’re taking a close look to determine the cause, prevent it, and remove the players using it. Additionally, we’re proposing new methods for land claiming to XLGAMES that will remove the benefit of fastest ping or most clicks per second.

So Trion is aware that certain players own silly amounts of housing, yet currently haven’t done something about it like, oh I don’t know, have a GM look into how that player got all that property? Maybe flag that account to see what they do? Look into who owns that account? See what happens to the houses they claim (wonder what’s happening if they are being traded for next to nothing in-game…)? We don’t need weeks worth of investigating here, not when housing spots are being picked up daily.

It’s 2014. This isn’t 1997 where all of these basic MMO issues are something new. Hell, this isn’t even Trion’s first big MMO, not to mention the fact that Trion was founded by ‘MMO vets’. If AA’s design is an example of learning from MMO history to make a better game, Trion’s handling of AA as the EU/US publisher is currently a textbook example of how to royally screw a successful launch in every possible way.AA is a fun game DESPITE Trion. All they had to do was be decent. That’s it. The bar is so freaking low here, and yet Trion continues to knock it down day after day.

I mean, how is gold-seller spam in your global public chat channels something that caught you by surprise and the added tweak (need to be level 15 to type) not something you had in on day one of a massively popular, free-to-make-accounts MMO? Did you really thing “gee, surely no one will attempt to spam our global chat channels with throwaway characters, better just focus on copy/pasting text into Google translate”?

Are Trion and SOE in some sort of hidden bet for who can be the king of incompetence, with MMO players as the unaware test subjects? That has to be it. Entire companies with prior MMO experience can’t be unintentionally this terrible… right?


AA: Surprisingly good questing

October 6, 2014

One bad ArcheAge post (because Trion) needs to be balanced with a positive one, so let’s talk about the great questing!

The above line actually isn’t sarcasm.

AA has surprisingly entertaining questing for an MMO. Now I’m not talking about the quest text, because I’ve been skimming and mostly skipping that due to the fairly terrible translation; I’m talking about the mechanics. AA has all of them. Probably literally. If there is a quest mechanic out there, I’m guessing AA uses it. And that is a huge plus when talking about a sandbox that, more than most other games, really does let you gain XP in viable ways without touching a quest.

AA will allow you to quest as if the game was WoW. You can go from one standard quest hub to the next, never branch out, and most likely hit the level cap. I think you’d have a terribly boring time, but a sandbox is about choice, and if you choose to bore yourself, that’s on you.

AA also has some ‘out of the way’ quests. Sometimes these are one or two simple steps and act as an XP bonus, while other times they are cross-zone multi-step epics with suitable rewards. These reward moving off the standard ‘quest path’ and digging into the side bits of a zone, or killing a named mob (or bunch of random mobs) to see what happens. The nice thing is that sometimes nothing happens, so you don’t always expect every action to be rewarded. When you are, it feels like you actually found something.

Then there are a slew of hidden quests. Some are only ‘hidden’ until you click an item to start them, while others require quite a bit more legwork.

My favorite so far featured a set of five tombs, and the normal quest progression only takes you to one of those. When you kill a mob inside that tomb, you get a drop that seems to have no purpose. If you read a book at the bottom of that tomb, it hints at something behind a locked door, and that in order to open it you must collect the four broken pieces. However the pieces aren’t called “key piece 1”, but rather broken armor piece.

Still without anything showing in your quest log, you can opt to head into the other four tombs and kill the named mob for the broken armor pieces. Once you have all four, you head to the fifth to craft the key on an anvil at the bottom. With that key you can finally open the sealed door in the first tomb, which then takes you to a bit of a boss fight and finally, only after that mob is dead, do you have something show up on your quest log, which directs you to the NPC to claim your reward. Totally optional, not exactly mickey mouse to complete, and actually fun questing content. A nice piece of advanced ‘themepark’ in a sandbox.

AA has a pretty short level 1-to-cap game (I’m currently 41 and haven’t really been trying to gain XP all that much. If I had to guess, I’d say you could hit 50 in a week with some semi-serious grinding.), but that short leveling game does have some nice PvE content. Why it really works great in AA is that you don’t have to just quest until the cap and then do other stuff.

The way I’m currently playing, I’m doing that ‘other stuff’ 80% of the time, and when I need a break or playing for 30 minutes at off hours, I’ll do some questing and I’ll enjoy it. Hell sometimes I’ll even be amused by a quest. That’s more than enough in my book here; given how good the ‘other stuff’ is in AA.

 

 


AA: Trion is really doing a great job, example 1 billion

October 6, 2014

Take your time Trion, no rush. It’s not like the economy in a sandbox is important or anything.


AA: Inquisition guild forum info

October 2, 2014

As ArcheAge has rather weak guild functionality in-game, guild forums will be more important than in most games for keeping us organized and letting people know what is going on.

Our forums can be found here.

Create an account and post an application in the correct forum. The forum mods are usually pretty quick on approval. Once that is done look up the Vent info and head on over to the ArcheAge sub-forum to get caught up. Also let anyone who you spot online know, because I believe we have a few non-readers in the guild (the scum).

Once people are signed up, I’ll be posting trade run nights, dungeon runs, and whatever else benefits from an organized group in AA. As we get more people to higher levels, we will be hitting the PvP zones as well, plus maybe some piracy!

Final note: Everyone currently in the guild has invite access, so if someone who wants to join is online, feel free to invite them into the guild, assuming they aren’t a mutant.

Edit: To see the ArcheAge sub-forum, you will need to post in the “Member Access” thread once you have your account created.


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.

 


CoC: Clarification for joining

September 30, 2014

Sorry this wasn’t mentioned in the previous post, if you are joining Supreme Cream!, in your application please mention this blog so I know you aren’t some random. If I’ve rejected your app, post your in-game name here and I’ll send you an invite. My mistake on that.


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