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.


AA: More than 6 spots left

September 29, 2014

In other “groups run by SynCaine” news, I have officially started up a guild in ArcheAge. Inquisition is live on the Ollo server! You should join us, because despite Trion’s best efforts, the game is worth playing, especially in an active guild that does stuff together.

We are just cracking into stuff like trade runs, and I’m starting to look into world bosses and hidden group quests (yes, AA has those). Anyone is welcome to join, we are going to keep things pretty casual (AA is a bit like EVE here, in that the more you have, the better, but you don’t NEED X number of people to do stuff). As the guild is Inquisition, we will be using those forums and Vent, though neither is of course mandatory.


CoC: 6 spots left

September 29, 2014

Just a little reminder/warning for anyone on the fence about CoC, the clan has 6 spots remaining, as the cap is 50 people, so apply now/soon so you don’t get left out.

Mini-war update: The last clan we just finished a war with was beaten so badly by us that out of the 45 members that went in, only 27 came out (the rest left the clan during the war). One could say we… creamed them :rimshot:


AA: Trion does its best to ruin a good thing

September 29, 2014

ArcheAge makes for some rather interesting blogging fodder, and hopefully I can get through the major points and get my point across in a way that makes sense, but no promises, as this might get rambly.

Let’s start with the business model. Flat out, AA has one of the worst versions of F2P in the genre. For starters playing for free is basically a non-option due to the limits of labor point generation, among other crippling restrictions. What’s really awesome about this is that it encourages free players to stay logged in even when not playing to generate labor points. Such brilliant design was no doubt a major factor in the terrible queue situation that AA had (has?) at launch.

Then there is the pay-to-win (P2W) factor, which really should be renamed pay-for-power (P4P) overall, because that’s really what it is. In almost no game can you outright buy wins, but in many you certainly can buy power so that if all other factors are equal, the guy who spent more wins (or gets ahead, has an advantage, etc, as you can’t always ‘win’ in an MMO).

I don’t mind the P4P model if its honest and upfront (gold ammo in WoT before it was removed, for instance), because then I can decide if I want to get involved in something like that. What I hate is the “oh no we don’t sell power in the shop, just convenience” bullshit developers try to shill you, and Trion has plenty of this in AA. From labor points (buy a potion to get more!), to pet/mount levels (buy a potion to level them up!), to lottery item chests; if there is a scummy F2P itemization strategy for the cash shop, Trion has included it in AA.

The multiple currencies situation really brings this home, as AA has three. The first is in-game gold like all MMOs have. Then you have ‘loyalty’ points, which you earn 5 of each day if you sub and log in. This buys you a few things in the item shop, but not much, which leaves it as little more than an insult from Trion. “Thanks for your $15 a month, feel free to buy some table crumbs from our store”. The third is the cash-only currency, which buys everything else.

The double dipping ($15 for the basically required sub, plus a fully stocked, P4P item shop) is bad. Really bad. The fact that you have to run the game through Trion’s feeble little Steam-clone Glyph sucks as well. Trion has 2.5 games released (Rift, AA, Trove/Defiance), and the Glyph shop has an embarrassingly small selection of other titles to purchase (Not that you would want to anyway, though I would LOVE to meet someone who has, must be a fascinating creature). Glyph is just bloat garbage that delays getting into AA, so thanks for that Trion. Also thank you for your anti-hack program that installs itself without asking. I’m sure there will never be an issue with that, plus who doesn’t love random stuff installing itself on your PC, right? Also that program delaying getting into AA is another plus of you being the publisher!

The MMO that XL Games (the developer) made seems pretty great so far. It really does, and I’ll cover that in future posts. The trash Trion stacked on top of said game brings the experience down sadly. The translation that took Trion so, so long to do is at Google translate-level, and even some of the voice work in the game isn’t in English. The whole “Join us in beta” email campaign that was really a “buy into beta” message was insulting. The launch was a borderline disaster thanks to multiple Trion missteps. Plus given Trion’s history with Rift, I’m not exactly confident that they won’t find a way to (further) screw with AA.

AA the game is great. What Trion the publisher has done with it is terrible. Seems that even when we get nice things in this genre, they come with something that reminds us we aren’t allowed to just fully enjoy ourselves. So a big ‘Thank you’ to Trion, for going above and beyond in attempting to take a fun MMO and trying to ruin it, what you have done really is next-level incompetence and scumbaggery.

PS: While its possible XL Games forced Trion into all of the F2P-based crap (there is no doubt who caused the Glyph garbage), and they are just a helpless unthinking drone in all of this, until this is made clear, they get full blame.


CoC: Supreme Cream! vs Killswitch 9/25/2014

September 28, 2014

Supreme Cream! Vs Killswitch

Final score: 130 to 104

Supreme Cream

Enemy

Total Attacks Used

79

64

Total 3 Star Attacks

40

22

Total 3 Star %

50.63

34.4

3 Stars Against Same Level

28

12

3 Star % Against Same Level

57.1

36.4

3 Stars Against Lower Level

10

7

3 Star % Against Lower Level

52.6

28.0

TH4,5&6 3 Stars

5

1

TH4,5&6 3 Star %

25.0

10.0

TH7 3 Stars

23

14

TH7 3 Stars %

74.2

48.3

TH7 3 Stars (same level)

16

7

TH7 3 Stars % (same level)

80.0

53.8

TH8 3 Stars

7

3

TH8 3 Star %

41.2

16.7

TH8 3 Stars (same level)

4

3

TH8 3 Star % (same level)

36.4

42.9

TH9&10 3 Stars

5

4

TH9&10 2 Star %

45.5

57.1

TH9&10 3 Stars (same level)

3

1

TH9&10 2 Star % (same level)

75.0

33.3

Pretty impressive win – we only missed five stars for a full house! It actually appeared quite close for a while; the scores were something like 95-94 with equal numbers of attacks at one point. However, our higher 3-star percentage just wore them down; they stayed close with lots of 2 stars, but eventually ran out of profitable bases to attack. For example, with the scores close we still had a number of potential 3-star bases to hit, while almost all our bases already had one or two stars against them. This meant that our future attacks had a higher potential yield, while the enemy could only score 1 or 2 stars from their attacks, we could still get 3 stars from a number of bases. Bottom line, don’t just look at the score and number of attacks left during a war, but also count the number of bases without any stars against them to determine the potential value of future attacks.

On a TH level basis, our lower levels improved a lot, scoring a number of 3-stars and also some pretty good attacks for 2-stars. Keeping in mind that it is difficult for a TH6 to smash another TH6 base, those 3 stars were quite valuable. It meant that our TH7’s could focus more on other TH7 bases and less on TH6 bases.

Our TH7 performance was very impressive and our TH8’s also outscored them for 3-stars. At the top we got some important 3-stars from their best bases, while they didn’t even attack our top guys.


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