Monday, July 31, 2006

WoW Battleground Changes

I've been picking up on several WoW Battleground changes that seem to be working their way down the Blizzard pipeline. Since I'm going to have little time to blog this week I am planning on doing some small articles on how each one might effect the game. I should get the three bigones covered and who knows if I have time I might be able to write a rant or two.

One note of warning though is that some of these have only been vaguely hinted at by the Blizzard development team. Therefore their implementation could be different from what you or I picture. Expect the first article tomorrow.

1) Battlegrounds might soon only allow people to join as groups not raids. Most think this is an attempt to cut back on premade WSG and AB groups.

2) The 1.12 patch should effectively cut down the queue wait time for the Alliance. I am going to try to dig out some old queueing theory books and see how a battleground server group might help wait times.

3) A system is in the works for the battlegrounds that will match people together based on gear quality or current honor ranking. I keep spotting hints of this from the community managers on the forums. I'll look at several different ways this could be implemented and which one is most likely.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Does Onxyia Scale Down?

I think this is one of the first write-ups I have done based on a specific game experience instead of a just a general feeling or annoyance. It feels kinda of weird but I might blog more about the adventures of my characters. I have a ton but I usually only focus on one at a time now that I am working (browsing the internet) full time.

My guild recently just started taking down Onxyia and I am noticing a unusual pattern. It seems like she is easier the less people we have in our raid. Onxyia's deep breath has always been unpredictable from what I have read but she didn't even bother to do it at all when we came in with 28 people. Also her use of fear during the phase 3 part of the battle was very sparse. Our tank was able to stance dance out of it easily enough without the use of fear ward.

The other two times we have defeated her we came in with a full 40 people and we had numerous wipes even with fear ward. That deep breath is devasting when people don't know the exact positioning of the safe spots. I was wondering if anyone else has notice a direct ratio of Onxyia's use of fear and deep breath to people in the raid. It could just be another player's imagination run wild but hey most people swear making a campfire near Ragnaros guarantees a victory.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Making WoW Raids a Casual Affair

I believe the future of end game raiding will take a shift in the expansion to be more inclusive to casual players. Its been hinted in interviews and community manager posts that several new design features are being implemented to end game raiding. Yet any change they might make must still reward the time invested into a character. Simply giving people who just turned 70 epic items is not going to solve the casual vs hardcore problem. But first lets look at what prevents raiding from being content for everyone.

Issues that Exclude Everyone from Raiding
-Time Constraints: Most people can't devote more then three hours at a time

-Organization: Without a guild its hard to gather enough people to raid

-Required Gear: BWL/AQ40/Naxx require gear from other raid instances first

-Attunement/Keys: Long quests/grinds to gain entrance

Now its not a secret that Blizzard is planning on expanding upon the design of Scarlet Monastery and using wings in some expansion instances. So how does this design affect the issues I listed up above?

-Time Constraints:
The last wing in a lot of new instances will be the one that requires a full 20 or 40 man raid force to complete. Developers have admitted that these wings will be the shortest and probably contain a few bosses without a lot of clearing. Think of Onyxia's Lair with some more mobs added in. I am just guessing here but I have a feeling such wings will require only about an hour to complete.

The main problem with getting a 20 or 40 person pick-up-group is finding such a large number of players that have the same goal. That’s why guilds have the advantage since they set goals for their members and are more unified on what they wish to accomplish. By having 20-40 man raid wings right next to single group wings players are closer together and share goals. It should be easy for a pick-up-raid to form in dungeons with this layout. This might have worked in Blackrock Mountain and helped pick-up-groups form for Molten Core if not for the lack of good gear in the smaller instances.

-Required Gear:
The main reason pick-up-groups usually don't succeed in Molten Core is the gear disparity. Players that have run BRD and UBRS usually don't have gear that is good enough for Molten Core. The jump in items from the two instances compared to Molten core is ridiculous. Hopefully the new wing dungeons will have less of a jump in gear.

The single player wings should be able to gear up characters so they can survive encounters in the raid wing. If the dungeon boss is a Mage then have arcane resist on the items that drop in the single group wings. Blackrock Depths almost did this correctly except that the gear quality was very bad and most players sacrificed a lot of hit points and mana to get fire resistance. A patch in 1.9 made the gear better in BRD but funny enough a lot of the gear improved had no fire resistance on it.

Dungeon wings give the developers a lot of options in designing attunement quests. Attunement most likely will involve accomplishing an objective in each single group wing of the dungeon. This way it still requires some time investment to gain attunement but players don't have problems getting a raid together for it. The Onxyia attunement comes close to this with objectives in BRD and BRS. However, it failed in that initially both required a raid force to accomplish it. Attunement should only require a single group to complete since most guilds require attunement before joining. This basically forces a catch 22 on a lot applicants and increases guild hopping.

While the wing dungeons are a nice way of introducing casual raid content, most hardcore raiding guilds might not like the idea of having to travel to an instance for only an hour of content. This is why I believe raid instances like the Cavern of Time and The Black Temple will be old fashion 4 to 5 hour raids. Also some dungeons like Kharazhan will be designed for half raids of 10 people. With a mix of 1 hour and 5 hour raid content the big hardcore guilds will have a lot more choice. Casual players and guilds should get a lot more practice at raiding and who knows maybe they will like it. Of course a lot of what I covered today depends on Blizzard's implementation. But if anyone can make raiding a casual affair its Blizzard.

Burning Crusade Instances (speculative)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

New World of Warcraft Forums Test

Blizzard is testing out their new and improved forums for World of Warcraft by locking the old forums and redirecting all traffic to the new one. The test should be in effect for 24 hours and starts on July 26th, 3pm EST. Almost in an attempt to make up for the lack of warning a large number of Community Managers have gathered on the Beta forums. They seem to be encouraging spam in a attempt to stress test the new forum abilities.

In all seriousness I have seen a high amount of CM involvement so far and I suggest people visit the Beta Forums. If you have a question that you wish you could get a blue response on now is the time. Just please no more hitting on the newest CM, Nethaera.

New Forum Features:

Improved Avatars: Not just for the CMs anymore
Improved Search Feature: it actually works now
Improved Reporting Tool: Let the Bannings Begin

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

MMO Failures

Last month I discussed some games in development which might have a chance of taking a good share of the MMO market away from World of Warcraft. Today instead of focusing on future winners I would like to focus on past failures of the MMO genre. These games are still in existence and have over 5,000 subscribers but failed to make any sort of impact on the market. Some have been out for years and have yet to earn back their development cost. However, since the cost to maintain these games is only a small portion of the monthly fee they continue to exist in hopes they will become profitable by 2012. I hope that by going over these games I can highlight common reasons for their failure.

Auto Assault
The game was developed by NetDevil Studios and recently published by NCSoft. Its NetDevil’s 2nd attempt at a successful MMO game as their first, JumpGate, did not do well. Yet the news doesn't look good for Auto Assault since they just merged all their customers onto one server. The game itself is an annoying mix of RPG mechanics and Twisted Metal game play. Your skill levels in the game determine how often you hit even if your natural reflexes always keep your enemy in your firing range. Thus the game often becomes about driving in circles around an enemy until you finally hit them. This had to turn off any First Person Shooter fans who tried the game. As for the RPG elements of the game, they seem to suffer from a lackluster storyline and a trite equipment system.

Reasons for Failure:
Mixed and Matched the wrong game mechanics from several genres
A game studio tends to repeat its performance with games
RPG elements are harder to pull off without an epic storyline

The Sims Online
The online culmination of the Sims genre which was published by Electronic Arts and moderated by no one. The original creator, Will Wright, was pushed by EA to hurry up production which resulted in some lack of foresight on the basic design mechanics. The skill system was repetitive and money was directly tied to getting other characters to interact with you. No farming mobs here. Also just like in Second Life a booming virtual prostitution trade popped up around the realistic 3D models. Player ran mafias controlled the flow of virtual currency and real life currency through their special brand of "service". MMO players didn't recognize it as a game and Sims players knew the original ones were better. Plus everyone felt a bit dirty when a 3D model of a 12 year old propositioned you.

Reasons for Failure:
The game was not policed by Game Masters
Development seemed to stop upon release
The regular Sims games were much better then the online version

The Matrix Online
I believe originally publish by Ubisoft this game was quickly sold to Sony when its subscription numbers never got above 40k. The game was filled with bugs and seemed rushed to take advantage of the recent release of the movies. The game mechanics used a sci-fi spin to the standard classes of Dungeons and Dragons. Game issues such as a lot of combat abilities being useless weren't resolved quick enough to retain players.

Reasons for Failure:
The DnD class model cannot be directly applied to a sci-fi worlds
Debugging and Q/A cannot be cut short for event timing.

Asheron's Call 2
I am not as educated on this game as the others probably because news on it quickly died after Microsoft pulled the plug. I know the main reason it did not succeed was that the core game mechanics were not as good as the original. Players tried it out then quickly reverted back to Asheron's Call 1 or left for another game. Upgraded graphics are not more important then good game design, a fact which console gamers scream almost daily.

Reasons for Failure:
A direct sequel is a bad idea when its not as good as the original
An Graphics Upgrade does not excuse poor game design

I am only covering four games because frankly it gets depressing when you look at the long line of MMOs that have failed. You can see some common elements in all four failed games that I covered though. So what have we learned?

MMO games are not Static
A developer who thinks they are done or can rest after release needs to be smacked upside the head. These games are social in nature and complex in scope which makes them a real bitch to balance. In the first week of release a million issues can occur which were not caught in beta. Companies are too used to cutting down on development staff during beta. The Sims Online and the Matrix Online are both examples where there was not enough staff to fix all the issues that appeared after release.

Sequels need to be better then the Original
This is not the movie business. A MMO sequel cannot depend on the success of its previous incarnation. How good your game is will leak out in your Beta and if it's worse both your games will suffer. Customers who switch to the sequel become disassociated with the original. If the sequel sucks then they are more likely to check out another MMO then return to the first one. One of the few successful sequels I've seen in this genre has been City of Villains. The two major reasons for its success: it was better then the original and it allowed customers to pay one fee to access both games. For disasters in this area look at the Sims Online, Asheron's Call 2 and Everquest 2.

Fantasy is Still the King
Players still seem to become more easily attached to fantasy worlds. Perhaps its because science fiction and simulation based games are closer to the real world which voids some of the inherent escapism. Maybe its just that the fantasy genre is more adapted to games because of the history of Dungeons and Dragons. Whatever the reason if you are not making a fantasy based MMO you better have an epic story and an experienced game studio. A large number of the failed MMO games in existence today are non fantasy based.

The Matrix Online Review

The Sims Online Article

Poor Auto-Assault Numbers

Monday, July 24, 2006

New Vanguard Death Penalty

It seems as if the Vanguard development team is introducing a overly complex death system into its Beta in attempts to appease both its hardcore and casual audience. This new system is based on the concept of a mob having a threat level. A high threat level corresponds to a better loot table and a harsher death penalty. Thus a character in the game needs to be aware of both the level and threat of any mob they are considering to fight.

If you read the Vanguard boards you can see that the death penalty will range from a simple money sink like WoW to a corpse run harder then Everquest. The example given is that a big raid encounter boss might eat the bodies of those it slayed and no one could loot their corpse until said boss was defeated. Its a pretty scary example and I hope they only reserve it for the most challenging encounters.

While such a system is a refreshingly new idea it does seem a little impractical. Also as pointed out in a Cesspit article such a system will encourage players to grind experience on mobs with only the lowest threat level. When given a choice players will always examine the risk vs. reward of any encounter much like a senior economist. If the harsher death penalty is not worth the risk of fighting a mob then you can guarantee no one will fight it.

Thus the death system becomes yet another balancing act which developers must accomplish. The problem with systems like this is that it takes a lot of time to achieve a stable point where all the game variables are equal. If you look at how long it takes most MMORPGs to balance their respective classes you get a rough idea of the time involved. Even WoW with a very simple class structure is just now starting to get the classes balanced for the PvE side of their game. In PvP certain classes still have a huge advantage which can be exploited further with raid gear.

While I like the idea of a new death system I hope the Vanguard developers have the mechanics worked out in detail. I know it seems like a good way to still stay hardcore while opening up a bit to the casual audience. However, I can tell you that most casual gamers will only hear about the more extreme death penalties and avoid trying Vanguard. Now if high threat mobs were only encountered by raids then I think they system might attract more players.

Cesspit Article on Vanguard Death Penalty

Friday, July 21, 2006

Positive Blizzard changes

Blizzard has been trying hard lately to change the perception that they don't listen to their customers. I've noticed several decisions in World of Warcraft which seem to have a basis in customer opinion. Its nice to see that Blizzard is showing attention to its customers and that new changes to the game don't just reflect numerical analysis of abilities.

One of these changes was the reversal of the windfury totem nerf. The shaman boards were flaming so hard about the nerf that several CMs reported actual temperature increase when viewing the shaman forums. The crushing negativity to the nerf eventually made the developers look at several factors besides straight numbers to make the decision. Also another factor that might have influenced the developers was that most other classes were not in favor of nerfing windfury. A very unusually position in class rivalries.

Another change which has long been asked for by World of Warcraft players was the ability for both factions to make paladins and shamans. Its ironic that this change enjoys the general support of most players except for those who play shamans. Shamans feel that paladins will hurt their desirability to end-game raids with their ability to stack multiple blessings. However, more raid centric talents for shamans are being promised in the expansion.

Also coming out in the next patch are changes to the User Interface which mimics popular addons. Thus the following popular mods will see their basic functionality being added into WoW.
Scrolling Combat Text = simplified color coded combat text appearing over characters instead of in the combat window.

Self Cast = beneficial spells are automatically cast on yourself without losing your current hostile target.

Improved "V" Command = name plates can be customized to more easily heal people not in your group

Horde Paladins and Alliance Shamans

Thursday, July 20, 2006

RMT Debate on Lum the Mad's Blog

Lum the Mad recently blogged about a news article covering the thriving trade in real world currency for virtual property. This is a very old debate but it managed to pull many comments in a short amount of time. If you are at all interest I suggest checking out the blog entry and adding your 2 cents worth. A couple of well know names also commented.

Lum's Blog Entry on RMT

My Comment:
I can understand as the MMOG market starts to age and more players are now holding down 9-5 jobs why the support for RMT might be increasing. These games use time based systems to distribute wealth and equipment and it seems unfair to those who can only play for a few hours a day. Yet at the moment there is no other way to equate skill in a MMORPG besides time spent. Once you know your class abilities and which keys to press, you are as good as everyone else. This is not a first person shooter where quick reaction times give you the edge. As far as I have seen there has never been a MMO where skill was the factor instead of time spent.

Until such a game is introduced, players need to accept that "time played" is the core game mechanic. When you use real world currency to buy online equipment or gold you are bypassing the core game mechanic. Just because the game is not based on whatever ethereal idea of skill you may have is not a reason for cheating. The justifications I see for RMT often smack of teenagers being jealous because their parents control the allowance. The ironic thing is that most RMT supporters are probably parents while the well equipped players they are so jealous of are probably teenagers or college students.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Another Square-Enix MMORPG

Square-Enix recently issued a press release that confirmed that the company was in production of another MMORPG. This is of great interest to a number of Final Fantasy XI players since this might impact their game's future. Recently I've heard of delays in updates for FFXI such as the long expected upgrades to chocobo mounts. While the delays are supposed to be temporary I've already heard a couple bloggers start to make connections between the new game and a lack of development staff for FFXI.

Square Enix mostly followed in the footsteps of Everquest when designing Final Fantasy XI with the class/job system being the one exception. This explains why I often hear acclaim for the classes in the game and complaints about everything else. To my eyes it looks like Square-Enix is starting to listen to the complaints and might want to start over without using Everquest style game mechanics. I have no idea what style of game mechanics they might use in their new project. However, since development started about a year after World of Warcraft was released I can make a good guess. Then again they could surprise us and come up with new ideas.

Whatever decisions they make, this is not the end of Final Fantasy XI. As far as I know every MMO that hit over 200,000 subscriptions is still with us today. The worst thing that could happen to the game is content creation is slowed down as the company puts more effort into their new game. Look at Dark Age of Camelot whose parent company is in the middle of developing Warhammer Online. The game is still updated with changes and boasts around 100,000 subscriptions.

Plus its still not definite that Square-Enix is working on a MMORPG based on the Final Fantasy series. They might use another one of their popular licenses such as Dragon Quest or Kingdom Hearts. Hmmmm a Kingdom Hearts MMORPG, now that has potential.

Cesspit Article on Death of FFXI (exaggeration)

Square Enix Press Release

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

How to be a Real World of Warcraft Ninja

I decide to do a fun post today instead of anything too serious. Hope you enjoy.

A recent discussion on Mystic Worlds presented me with the problem of exploring on a pvp server without the constant risk of death. Its dangerous for anyone not 60 to go to contested territory and dodge gankers while trying to find some place new in the world. Therefore I decided to share some tricks I learned on how to avoid being ganked. Not every class has the same potential to be a good ninja and because of this I am sticking to the Holy Trinity of Ninjas.

Rogues, Druids, and Night Elf Hunters

They key to being a ninja is to be invisible thus you want to keep your name very short. Nothing shows your position better then a 20 character name with a 8 word guild tag underneath. Pick a short name with only 4 characters and go without a guild for awhile.

Again be invisible. Pick a small race like a gnome or dwarf. If your a druid, stick in your cat or travel form. Being on a mount may be faster but its going to draw attention to you. Don't mount up unless you have an epic mount. A 60% mount is nice but your not going to outrun anyone on it. Only use a normal mount when traveling over territory with no cover such as Desolace or Arathi Highlands.

Constantly be on the move and never stop while not hidden by either brush or stealth. The enemy will assume you are AFK if you are standing still and attack on sight. I've seen an entire raid dismount on their way to Zulgurub just because a level 40 character was standing still near a road. On the other hand if you are moving, enemies will assume they have to catch you to kill you. If they are in the middle of anything else most likely they will not bother.

Stick in the trees and move through the brush. There's very little object collision in WoW so you can move freely through areas that will shield you from sight. Don't use shiny or glowing weapons. Even zones that do not have trees and brush have some form of cover. The Barrens has a set of mountains that you can travel on top of to get through the zone while other zones often have rivers or oceans that are safe.

Escape Tactics
Despite all that you have done someone has tracked you down and jumped you. If this is the situation then you can assume your enemy is much higher level then you and probably has friends. But not to worry they're several things you can do.

NE Hunters: Feign Death and Ice/Frost Trap. Most trinkets don't allow escape from this. Throw on aspect of the cheetah then get some distance and cover. Then activate shadowmeld while you watch the person search for you. Remember even if the person is 20 levels higher then you they still need to get pretty close to see you. If your ice trap cools down drop shadowmeld, throw down another ice trap, then resume shadowmeld. Insurance always helps.

Rogues: Gouge, Vanish and Sap. You just bought yourself 20 seconds. Even if sprint is down you should be able to find cover and stealth else you failed ninja school. When multiple people attack you use your blinding powder first then use your other abilities. Always keep snare on your weapons and never run out of poison.

Druids: Root is good but don't depend on it too much since it seems to be the ability most affected by level difference. Be prepared to root twice as most gankers will have the rank 2 trinket. Use cat form and sprint to escape rather then travel form. If your a tauren then use that warstomp to allow a root to get off.

Ninjas have cool toys and to be a true ninja you are going to need the gear.

Bombs and Dynamite are your friend. Get the dynamite that disorients for the longest amount of time and use it to your advantage to either disappear or fight. Mechanical Dragons are useful and can usually help distract an opponent long enough for you to escape. Like the shruiken, engineering pets are used to distract the enemy not kill them. Later on go gnomish enginnering to get several useful toys which can net, turn your enemies in leaper gnomes, mind control, or stun them.

Not quite as useful for escape as engineering I recommend this ninja path for druids. The alchemy potions to sta, str, and rage all benefit our ninja friends who can go into bear form the most. Also keep a stock of swift potions in your inventory. Nothing makes a opponent more pissed off then a sprint followed by swift potion. Hunters can also use it to get out of melee range then aspect of the cheetah.

Parachute Cloak: Useful in very specific situations, make sure you have it on you in mountain areas.

Underwater Breathing: On several items and potions. Farm the hydrocane from Gnomeragan if you can't find any in the Auction House. Very useful to lure your opponents into deep underwater then range fight them.

Silent Fang: The thought of a rogue wielding Silent Fang keeps most casters up late at night

I you have read this far then your knowledge is slowly approaching ninja level. The only thing left is to know the rules of the Wow Ninja. These are not the only rules but are some of the most useful for young ninja trainees.

Ten Rules for a WoW Ninja

1) Experience with Treachery will always beat Newbs with Epics.
2) If you're on the beaten path expect to be beaten.
3) A Ninja is their weapon. Smack yourself if its five levels below your level.
4) Fight only when you can win. Suicide is for warriors with intimidating shout.
5) Staying near a recent kill is a sure way to join it.
6) The closest thing to being able to inspect an enemy is to know its rank.
7) Timing is everything. Learn to use your abilities in specific combos for fighting specific classes.
8) Every 1v1 fight is winnable, except against paladins.
9) Running in a straight line is the shortest path to death.
10) Ninjas know who is around them. You are not the only one with stealth.

Monday, July 17, 2006

WoW's Popularity = Slow New Content

While trolling the forums for World of Warcraft I recently came across multiple references to the Burning Crusade expansion containing many fixes to current problems in the game. However, these references were not being used by hopeful fans but by community mangers. It seems as if the CMs have been instructed to reply to most questions with a "it's in the Burning Crusade" response. Even a recent forum's post about class balancing was answered with "it won't resume until the expansion". I am not making this stuff up folks and I am including the blue tracker link below.

It always make me nervous when a company tells its customers that current problems can only be solved after they have more of your money. Everquest got this down to an art by always including vital functionality in their expansions but little content. Legacy of Ykesha comes to mind where they introduced more bank slots but only to owners of the expansion. Unlike Everquest though I really believe WoW is introducing a lot of content into their new expansion however I wonder at the slowness of its creation.

Most developers from Blizzard will tell you they were blindsided by the success of World of Warcraft and this has caused content development to suffer. Yet scalability has to be one of the first factors MMO developers look into when designing a game. I understand there is a big difference between 500k subscribers and 6 million subscribers but game servers are isolated machines. Account management and customer service will require fine tuning to adjust so many servers connecting to them but I am not so sure the rash of problems we've seen have been directly related to the large number of players.

I think Blizzard has become a bit jaded with its number base. I mean with 6 million people playing and their numbers only going up its obvious that not many people have followed through with threats to quit the game. I wonder if this has changed the design priorities of Blizzard? If World of Warcraft only had around half a million subscribers would they be quicker to release more casual content to keep their customers from leaving? In truth Blizzard could suffer subscription loss equal to Lineage 1 & 2 and still have more users. These kind of number have to go to a company's head and I think that is what we are seeing with the "its in the Burning Crusade" responses.

For these reasons I am eagerly awaiting the release of Warhammer Online. Not because I wish to play it over World of Warcraft but because I think Blizzard needs competition. Without anything new and big out there to steal their customers I think the developers are taking it to mean that everything they are doing is correct. The raiding game has exploded massively and smaller 20 man raids are being punished by putting rewards behind faction sinks. However, since the subscription numbers only climbed after Zulgurub the developers think that they need more dungeons like it, thus was born AQ20.

Until there is competition and subscription numbers start to reflect bad and good decisions the only place Blizzard can get feedback from is the forums. God help us all.

CM Response to Class Balance and the Expansion

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mythic Loses Key personnel

Matt Firor a key developer for Mythic Entertainment recently left the company to start out on his own. Matt was involved in much of the inner workings of the original Dark Ages of Camelot and the majority of its expansions. A producer leaving a company after five years is slightly unusual but not that rare in the gaming world. The timing of it though will cause some speculation in Mythic's ability to hold onto its talent.

As mentioned in an earlier article Electronic Arts has bought out Mythic Entertainment and is starting the final steps of the merger. Lead personal leaving at this moment will only reflect badly on the future of EA Mythic. Lum the Mad remarks that location played a part in Matt's decision to leave which might do some damage control. However, a recent interview done by the
president of the company unrealistically claimed that all employees were in support of the buy out. False claims like this make the gaming world deeply nervous about Mythic's future and its next project, Warhammer Online.

Warhammer Online has been getting very favorable reviews and it is hoped by many to provide some competition to World of Warcraft. For several reasons at this moment Mythic is in the spotlight. I have already seen many reviews and game critics lower their expectations of Warhammer once they found out EA was going to be involved in the project. Several corporate decisions from EA are often blamed for ruining their games The Sims Online and Ultima Online. Until this new game finally goes live any personnel leaving Mythic is going to be a mark against Warhammer.

Lums Take on It

Mark Jacobs hype Interview

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Progression Servers have Time Requirements

It seems as if the Everquest Progression server developers were well aware how some of their players have no lives. The original expansion was locked so that it would take a full month before Kunark could be unlocked. I can only assume the power guilds are a bit mad at this but common opinion from most other players is that its a good thing. Players might be able to experience the classic Everquest at a slower pace then originally thought. It has also been pointed out that that Kunark Expansion requires significantly more time to complete then the original and most people doubt the time requirement will be used again.

Casual Player's Complaints getting Louder

The World of Warcraft forums are full of complaints from players on the lack of new content that can be done without raiding. These threads are mostly ignored by the community managers and are filled with raiders vigorously defending their hard earned DKP. Recently the long standing complaints spilled over into the Weekly Warcraft column published by the Video Game Generation website. The article mainly focuses on the very poor implementation of the dungeon 2 armor set which was intended as content for casual gamers.

It pains me to even say "intended for casual gamers" since this quest line is obviously not for anyone who plays casually. The quest requires an insane amount of practice to get the Stratholm run down within 45 minutes. This sort of speed running and practice seem more like something a hardcore Everquest guild would enjoy. Also the cost is much higher then most casual players can afford. Tobold recently calculated the average cost of a tier 1 epic piece at about 100gp from running Molten Core. Estimates for completing the entire dungeon 2 armor set complete with repair bills are easily twice as high as their tier 1 counterpart.

With such higher costs in money and time on the dungeon 2 armor set its no wonder that it feels like a slap in the face. Yet for some reason requests for the timer being moved up have been ignored and most questions about new casual content are met with URLs to the burning crusade website. While some theorize that the 1.12 PvP overhaul will be exciting for casual players, it still isn't new content. It seems as if Blizzard will be saving that for the expansion and your open wallets.

Weekly WoW Article

Tobold's Response

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Progression Servers Progressed

I am getting reports from several forums that the EQ Progression Servers have already had Cazic Thule and Innourauk defeated. These two goals were thought to be the keys to unlocking Kunark but I have not heard any official word. The guilds responsible for pissing off every other player on the progression servers are Realms of Insanity and the old Fires of Heaven crew. Both guilds have a reputation of being hardcore and I must say make me embarrassed to call myself a gamer. The progression server opened up on June 28th and by July 11th the old world content has already been defeated. Talk about catassing it!!!

While Everquest does not have a PVP system that makes casual gamers fight against raiders, its still annoying as hell to watch people speed running your virtual world. It also damages the market as raiders sell off old equipment which start to show up on very low level characters. This is what destroys old world content since it just allows players to purchase equipment from raiders instead of running it themselves. WoW managed to avoid a lot of this by doing required levels on all equipment and having most items soul bound once equipped.

Its being speculated that the reason Kunark hasn't opened yet is that the developers hard locked it with a non-content requirement. Many think this lock is either a specific time requirement of a server population requirement. Either way if this speculation turns how to a have a shred of truth then it might save the progression servers from the hardcore raiders. I also have to give Tobold props for calling the progression server a bad idea. I haven't felt like logging in since my first try at playing. Despite the special ruleset Everquest is still the same game with the same problems that caused me to leave it in the first place.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Potential WoW Killers

Its a slow day in the MMO world and nothing new seems to be happening. Probably all the developers are still hung over from that company 4th of July picnic and we're just lucky that the servers are still up. Anyways I decided to take a cue from the professional media outlets and do what they do on a slow news day. Make stuff up! Ummmm ... I mean explore a small news story and then pump it up with exaggeration and personal opinions until its almost interesting.

Thus the topic of my exaggeration today shall be the rare and much talked about MMO that doesn't really exist. This MMO game seamlessly blends Player versus Player combat with Player versus Environment combat. All abilities for classes and races are balanced so that anyone with skill and a bit of intelligence can be successful in the game. A player can play as little or as long as they want in a time span and still see upgrades to their character. Also healing classes are fun to play and are among the most popular classes. If you haven't caught on yet I am describing the mythical WoW-killer.

A small but vocal group of players have been predicting this game since World of Warcraft became the giant of the MMOG industry. Their many gripes with WoW have been listed and they eagerly await the chosen one to disperse the numbers from this horrible game which has around seven million people. Obviously the game must be destroyed because it is detracting from the amount of people they can show up in their game of choice. Ignoring the complete arrogance or such thinking I decided to search the internet and many a review of E3 to list the potential WoW-Killers that will be coming out in the near future.

The Most Likely Contenders

Warhammer: Online
The macdaddy of the potential WoW-Killers. This game has been developed by Mythic Entertainment for the last 10 months and is already showing good game mechanics and graphics. The style of art is very similar to World of warcraft and most of the same races are also present. The real difference between the two will be decided by Mythic's experience in massive PvP battles. The Warhammer world seems to be able to deliver a fuller war environment between players. Something which WoW has been unable to fully realize. On a sad note Mythic did just get bought out by Electronic Arts but hey its not like they have a reputation for gutting game studios.

WoW-Killer Attributes
*Promises fair and epic PvP
*Delivers the same style of graphics and environment as WoW
*Being developed by MMOG pros

Age of Conan
This game has promising graphics which are not a direct legacy of the WoW style of animation. Promises have been made that player housing and towns will be included which have been lacking in WoW and often earn a banning when mentioned in the forums. More exact information on play mechanics and combat it still up in the air but the one thing people agree with is "thank god it ain't all cartoony."

WoW-Killer Attributes
*Promises fair and epic PvP
*Player Towns/Houses
*More Realistic Graphics

Tabula Rasa
The brain child of one of the original UO developers, no not Ralp Koster he just writes poetry now. This MMOG is being published under NCSoft with Richard Garriot being the head honcho of development. The game seems to be an unholy combination of a First Person Shooter with a RPG. The Sci-Fi setting will alienate some players but a lot of twitch gamers should pick up the slack. The only problem I see with this game is that Planetside proved mixing First Person Shooters with a persistent MMO world is probably not a good idea. However Richard is a genius slash madman who lives in a real castle. Perhaps he might be able to pull it off so that its persistent enough to entertain RPG fans without being boring to the FPS crowd.

WoW-Killer Attributes
*FPS/RPG Action - Check out Planetside to see how well it works
*Promises short game play with most missions/quests taking only an hour
*Sci-Fi environment which EVE Online proves can work

Lord of the Rings Online
The hobbits are here and they brought all of their friends from the movies to help claim a share of the MMOG market. The graphics should be on par with the console games and the use of the actor's likeness will probably bring in some fans. Yet I can't help but think that this is just a merchandising license hiding behind a game. I am sure it won't be as bad as the Matrix Online or Star Wars Galaxy but people need to learn that licenses do not create good games. Good games have to exist first then they can wear a license like a dress suit.

WoW-Killer Attribute
*Major Fantasy license - the forefather of all medieval fantasy
*Hobbits - gnomes mysteriously absent, genocide suspected
*Series of surprisingly good console games to build on

Not a standard MMO game but I thought to include because it seems to be gaining a lot of fans. Spore is the brainchild of Will Wright the original creator of Sim City and the The Sims. The game basically allows you to evolve a species and design every aspect of its intelligence, body, and society. The game qualifies as massive multiplayer since everyone's species and their home planet is distributed to other players through a internet conenction. Thus if your species is advanced enough to have space flight they will be competing with other player's creations.

WoW-Killer Attribute
*Forget choose your race, try make your own race
*Specilization and Customization to a degree unheard of
*PVP by interspecies warfare - good god it sounds cool as hell

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Why Copy WoW?

If you played more then one MMOG within the last couple of years you have most likely noticed a trend among the genre. Once a change or feature is released in World of Warcraft it somehow magically starts showing up in all the MMO games. It's like every other developer out there reads the WoW patch notes and uses it as a design document. The one notable exception is the Vanguard beta which seems to exclude features based off the WoW patch notes.

While its nice to see useful features like in-game maps and the ability to link items become common among online games, we do not need the majority of WoW features to be copied. Some features are uniquely tailored to the rules in World of Warcraft and do not work as well in other games. Still other features are bad ideas but are copied simply because they exist in the most popular MMOG.

One example of a bad feature being copied is the Auction House and how it encourages spam. A staple of MMO games at this day and age is to incorporate as many money sinks as possible. This cuts down on the eventual inflation of their online currency. The Blizzard developers in a moment of cluelessness decided to make the auction house take a percentage of every sale done through them. Thus on high level items sellers will lose anywhere from 25 to 75 gold per sale. These people are often the raiders who are strapped for cash the most. Raid instances don't drop very much money and often cause 5-20gp repair bills on a single night. Thus because of these reasons people will spam any channel they can get into looking to avoid the auction house cut.

Overall they're much better systems of allowing players to sell items but I am seeing more and more games adopting the auction house cut system. It even seems as if EVE Online is adopting the auction house though they already have a thriving player trade system. In fact EVE Online is going through several feature additions in the next few months which can be linked to World of Warcraft. Read the Cesspit article link if your interested in the specifics.

Blizzard's success is partly because they integrated and improved so many other game mechanics from previous games. Yet their success is more then the sum of their parts. When other games copy their UI or game mechanics all they are doing is limiting the uniqueness of their own game. It's a lot like what happened to television. We have hundreds of different channels with thousands of different shows, which all somehow manage to bore us with their similarity. The only really interesting shows are on the niche markets like Adult Swim, TLC, Discovery and G4TV.

Cesspit Article on Eve Online changes

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

EQ Progression Journal - Entry 1

After much thought and deliberation I decided to make a human bard. I choose a bard because I like the ability to solo but I also like being useful in a group. I started out in Freeport on Friday night and was amazed to see every zone nearby having over 100 people in them. It was easy to get to level 4 by using Chords of Dissonance to aoe beetles and rats. I only pulled the guards once by accident.

Saturday I managed to do some more leveling up in North Ro by hunting pumas and scarab hatchlings. I dinged 7 and got Jonathan's Whistling Warsong which proved to be very handy. Fighting even con mobs is a toss in the air but worth the experience. The number generator for EQ still seems wacky with mobs sometimes hitting for critical strikes 5-6 times in row. Luckily as a bard I can Selo's Accelandro outta there. Madman still force me to zone since Freeport guards won't take care of them.

On Monday I only played a little bit but I am starting to get annoyed. Even con mobs now own me and its getting hard to find blue mobs in East Commonlands or North Ro. I dinged 8 then died on the zoneline to West Commonlands. I couldn't get close enough to my body to /corpse or loot it. Ended up paying a lvl 12 necromancer to summon it. She thought it was hilarious but I just thought how much the WoW system of death is better in a PvE environment.

North Ro is now crowded with Sand Giants because no one can kill them. As people kill the common spawn placeholders for the giants over and over again the chance another one will spawn rises. Its gotten so bad that they are now more Sand Giants then rattlesnakes in North Ro. I am hoping to log in for a bit today and see at least one group taking them down.