Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What to do, what to do

So, I'm not playing World of Warcraft at the moment. Most of the people I know are playing Age of Conan or Vanguard. Both games I could care less for. Most of them are about bored of AoC already, so I am sure they will be back in Vanguard soon enough. Actually, I doubt they ever left.

Once again, I sit wondering what to do with the few hours a week I get to play games. Here are my options:

Mythos Beta - The developers are launching a new "over world" patch soon that will bring Mythos in line with a more standard MMO where players share a world instead of being separated into a bunch of instances. Oh, and its free of charge.

Team Fortress 2 and other FPS games - I still love to play TF2, but I don't think it is my solution. I need something else to play along with my action games.

Dark Ages of Camelot - I could go back, fight the old control scheme, and choke down some nostalgia. Maybe even get an account to borrow to cut out the leveling process. I am just worried about not having expansions available and getting bored before getting back into some RvR.

And thats about where my brain stops.

Bleh.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The WoW-Clone Syndrome

NOTE: If you don't want to read a bunch of feature lists, skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

I'm going to hunt down and flog every single little twit that continually calls Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) a WoW-clone, simply because they saw an early alpha screen shot of an Orc. These are the same people that believe Age of Conan to be the new "hotness".

First, WoW-clone needs to be defined. This is simple.

1. Level based advancement, primarily via solo PvE quests. Variation in quests is limited. Required group interaction minimal. Other activities do not contribute to leveling.
2. Classes based on archetypes: healer, tank, and DPS.
3. End game focuses on instanced PvE raiding and group-required content. Other end-game content a sideshow to main PvE aspects.
4. Gear centric approach to character advancement at max level, also known as meta-levels. Division of gear: one set for PvP, one set for PvE.

Other than that, everything else in WoW is really just good game design, applicable to all games in all genres. No need to list "responsive controls", etc. Those are items expected out of all games, but for some reason not seen in the MMO space until WoW.

Now that the WoW-clone is loosely defined, we can put the contenders up to the test to see which one is the true WoW-clone.

Age of Conan


PvE leveling via solo quests: yep.
Variation in quests limited: yep.
Required group interaction during leveling limited: yep.
Other activities do not significantly contribute to leveling: yep.

Classes based on archetypes: yep.

End-game focuses on PvE raiding and PvE group-required content: to a degree.
Other end-game activities: yes, cities, border kingdoms, but still to be determined level of importance.

Gear-centric advancement at max level: yep.
Differing sets of gear for differing aspects of game: unknown.

My WoW-clone'o'meter for Age of Conan: 90%

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

PvE leveling via solo quests: yep, but in the form of public quests which can involve interaction among many solo players.
Variation in quests limited: yep, but once again public quests break the stereotypical quest mold, offering a staged series of events to unfold for the players participating.
Required group interaction during leveling limited: unknown, but again shattered by public quests.
Other activities do not significantly contribute to leveling: false. WAR will offer three very distinct activities to contribute equally to leveling: PvE questing experience, Realm vs Realm experience, and Tome of Knowledge experience will all contribute in part or in whole to leveling. Most things a player does in WAR will contribute to leveling.

Classes based on archetypes: yep.

End-game focuses on PvE raiding and PvE group-required content: to a degree, but end game PvE raiding will be a result of the Realm vs Realm campaign.
Other end-game activities: yes, the campaign system, scenarios, sieging, and open-field RvR, all contribute equally as much as PvE raiding and PvE group play.

Gear-centric advancement at max level: yep.
Differing sets of gear for differing aspects of game: unknown, but unlikely.


My WoW-clone'o'meter for WAR: 50%

Conclusion

People are going to yell at me for comparing feature lists. Others will scream that AoC just launched and WAR is still in beta. Unfortunately for those yelling, the base of these "games like WoW" are not going to change. WoW hit the nail on the head in terms of online game play, and not just for MMOs, but for games in general.

That leads me to compare the features of each game, because honestly, there are not many features in WoW. WoW is a great base of a game, with a ton of potential being wasted. I hate to say it, but I was wrong for a very long time thinking that WoW could ever be anything more than a well done and simplistic PvE game.

Age of Conan is almost a direct WoW-clone, but saves face by adding some new end-game activities in the form of player-owned cities and border kingdom PvP. AoC's combat is pretty standard, with just a bit more clicking. AoC is taking the WoW base, copying it whole-sale, and fluffing the fringes to make it feel unique.

WAR is half a WoW-clone, which really isn't a clone at all. WAR will have a PvE end game, but the means of getting there will be drastically more dynamic than what is found in WoW. On top of this, WAR is shaping up to be a far deeper and more feature-rich game than WoW will ever be. WAR is taking the WoW base and piling on the goodness.

I fully embrace playing new games that "feel" a bit like WoW, because honestly, that is the way I want my games to play. I would kill for WoW's responsiveness and controls in a dozen other games I've played over the last few years. However, the time has come for a game to capitalize on WoW's success by adding a full feature set and in doing so, become the non-WoW Clone of the "next generation".

Friday, May 23, 2008

I Miss Ultima Online

Another "bleh" phase has hit me. The Age of Conan beta was mediocre for me, so I have passed on the launch. Sadly, many of my acquaintances seem to be fully enjoying it. I guess I missed the first "Miracle Patch" in MMO history.

World of Warcraft (WoW) has be bored again as well. It is somewhat fun to blaze through the levels on my Paladin by using a guide, but I just don't have the drive to do it for hours on end. I log in, knock out a quest, and log out. I completely understand that I could do "other things", but truthfully, WoW sucks when you are not level 70.

Other games hold my fancy: Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty 4, and of course Peggle. Yet, they are only time wasters when I have a few minutes.

That brings me to the point of this post. I miss Ultima Online.

I miss a completely non-instanced world that I can travel from one end to the other.
I miss having a world where most of what you see can be picked up, taken, or used in some fashion
I miss having a "backpack" that isn't just a set of inventory slots.
I miss massive dungeons that took forever to battle to the bottom of without a portal.
I miss random houses placed across the landscape wherever a free spot was open.
I miss my houses.
I miss Factions warfare, aside from the exploiters.
I miss possibly losing my horse, my gear, and my backpack full of items when I die.
I miss looting those that I have conquered.

This may sound like I want old-school UO back, but that is not the case. I want a new game, where the world is more than just combat. Where gear is something that is used, not obtained. A world, not just a game.

Guild Cafe Wants Your DNA

Guild Cafe, a website I was not registered for before today, but often used to browse for quality player-specific content, screen shots, and gaming stories, has been moving towards a redesign of GuildCafe.com and turning into GamerDNA.com.

Normally, I try to stick with a "I like this site" blurb and link in a post, but I think GamerDNA is worthy of a bit more than just that. Why? Because they are moving forward on a lot of fronts that really highlight their focus on gamers, games, and gamers sharing their stories about those games.

I've never been shy about stating that I would rather read a biased blog post from an actual gamer than a carefully crafted article from any of the major gaming news sites. I've never been shy about stating that I believe game reviews from real gamers are almost always more truthful than anything found on an official review website. However, I've also always felt that there was no common thread to connect these ideas together.

One of the problems is that some gaming websites, that build a gamer community, usually focus to heavily on a single game and therefore the entire site becomes a bit biased. It is fine when a single blogger, who plays a single game heavily, comments just about that game. That blogger's motivation is easy to see. However, when a bunch of those bloggers, playing the same game, get together on one site, it gets very frustrating for anyone outside of that circle because it feels as though the community is not on board.

This is a tough order for a new site to overcome, especially with World of Warcraft dominating most of the revenue streams for gaming websites. Plus, eight million online players ensures that the majority of conversations will be about World of Warcraft on an online site devoted to gamers. It just goes hand in hand.

So, hopefully GamerDNA can avoid this curse, and so far the features I've heard about are aimed squarely at hitting a wide spectrum of games and gamers. GamerDNA is entering beta and I hope to help give them some valuable feedback to make the site one of the premium gaming community sites out there.

Now to drum up a bit of support for GamerDNA's current website, Guild Cafe, I would like to link to their new contest.
You can be Horde, Alliance, radically geared or barely clad. A simple screenshot of your character in World of Warcraft is enough to be the lucky winner of a Frostmourne replica made by Epic Weapons.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

GIVE AWAY: Age of Conan Beta Tester Cloak Code

Funcom seems to have appreciated my beta testing and feedback for Age of Conan.
Greetings!

You have been a long and thrustworthy participant in our community, and as such we would like to thank you for helping us form Age of Conan into the marvelous product it is today. The last weeks has seen some serious enhancment to the game, and with the release we will be opening several new areas and neverbefore seen content in the launch version of the game. What and where it is? You have to find out for yourself!

As a sign of gratitude for your aid, we are pleased to offer you the in-game item used by those loyal to King Conan: The Drinking Cape. This item will allow your characters (one game account only) to free of charge demand the very sought after alcholic drink of "Ambrosia" - free and in unlimited supplies for life! After having claimed your cape, merely find one of the kegs in the finer Inns of Hyboria and click it whilst wearing your cape to receive your drink.
However, since I am not playing this game, this gift item is going to go to waste. That is where you come in. Leave a comment with your e-mail address explaining why you deserve to receive it and in a couple days I'll select a winner and e-mail them the code.

UPDATE: Congrats to Genda from The Grouchy Gamer on a fine win.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Linux is in Bed with Mom

Linux may not be steamrolling the desktop operating system market so far this year, but Linux is definitely making strides in other areas. Linux is quickly proving to be an adaptable platform, useful in many non-standard applications.

Since I started with Linux I have never felt it was ready for the average home user. Not because Linux is complicated or overbearing, but because Microsoft already dominates the home user and the way they think. The one thing Linux does not want to be, is Microsoft. Until that mentality fades, Microsoft will hold their market dominance. Even with bad review after bad review of Windows Vista, it is still a lot more likely to actually work for the average computer user than Linux.

Also, I am starting to believe that Linux doesn't fit the role of a Windows replacement, no matter how many Steve Ballmer jokes the Linux crowd can think up. Linux, due to it's open nature, will never be consistent enough across the board to please hardware and software vendors, along with the average user. Linux, as a day-to-day operating system works only under the careful watch of professional IT staff. Linux is a great business solution.

So, where does this leave Linux in the home? The answer: embedded. Linux is already dominating the wireless device market. Plus, it is creeping into living rooms via video game consoles and various entertainment devices. Most importantly, its invisible to the end user.

Linux is at its best when the user doesn't even know they are using it.

To illustrate the power of Linux as an embedded platform, I present: Splashtop. Soon to be pre-installed on all Asus motherboards. But what is Splashtop?

Simply put, Splashtop, is a highly customized version of Linux, embedded via flash memory on the motherboard and acts as a quasi-bootloader. Instead of booting directly into the BIOS setup or a desktop operating system, the computer boots into Splashtop, a miniature-sized operating system. Splashtop gives access to various programs, such as Firefox for Internet surfing, BIOS/CMOS setup tools, and e-mail.

The best part? Splashtop takes approximately five seconds to boot up. This means that users no longer need to leave their computers logged in, powered up, and in sleep mode if they just use it for basic access. Also of note, no hard drive access is required, pushing the energy efficiency of short, quick boot-ups even further.

Also, with no hard drives in use, there is nothing being accessed on the main system and nothing to be compromised while surfing or checking e-mail. Not to mention, hard drives are notoriously power hungry.

Plus, being built into the motherboard, it pretty much ensures that Splashtop will work with whatever hardware the computer uses.

Embedded Linux is not the only place Linux is starting to appear. Linux is also starting to show up in tandem of Windows, and in more forms than just virtualization through VMWare or Xen. Ulteo, a Linux-based desktop product, fits right on top of various Windows installs and allows Linux to be seamlessly used in conjunction with Windows. From Slashdot:
Ulteo today unveiled their Virtual Desktop which is a free, full Linux desktop that runs seamlessly on Windows. It's interesting because it's not running under Xen or VMWare, but instead uses the coLinux patch, which they claim allows the system to achieve 'great performance, close to a native installation on the PC.' No need to reboot the system anymore to switch from Windows to Linux."
Some might question the value of such a program. Why install one operating system to just install another on top of it? It is a valid point, and one I can't really answer. However, I can state that Windows is not going anywhere soon and it will remain a fact of life for the computer industry for some time. As stated, Linux just is not in a position to take over the market. The current open, Linux distribution system can not support the number of users that Microsoft currently has without some form of compensation outside of donations. At some point, Linux has to adjust.

That does not mean Linux won't remain a viable desktop and server operating system, but the focus may start to shift away from those two applications. I don't have numbers currently on the number of Linux installs worldwide, but if Splashtop starts shipping on one million+ motherboards a month, it is only a matter of time before embedded Linux, outside of the portable device market, far outweighs that of the full-featured Linux distributions.

Ten years from now we may all wonder how we got by without a Splashtop-type startup operating system and while Linux may not be sleeping with our mothers quite yet, Linux is everywhere. Users just may not know it and thats a good thing. The only question that remains; can it run World of Warcraft?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Age of Conan Miracle Patch?

I played the Age of Conan (AoC) technical beta tests. They sucked. I lost all faith in the game. I understand that technical beta tests are not for my enjoyment. I understand beta testing. I submitted the information they requested for feedback. I still lost all interest in the game. There wasn't even a sliver of hope that the game would be enjoyable in the long run and would most likely crash horribly at launch.

The game hasn't officially launched, but open beta ended successfully from all accounts, aside from obvious FFA PvP server rules. Now, the early access period is in full swing and going well. Supposedly a Miracle Patch occurred between the late stages of beta and the live version of AoC.

Of course, I'm not playing and didn't play in open beta, so I can't really confirm or deny it. However, over a decade of online gaming has taught me that Mircale Patches do not exist. If Funcom pulled something off that fixed the majority of crashes that plagued beta, all while adding the entirety of their high level content in a bug-free way, and without so much as a bleep as to why it took so long, then I will simply eat crow and silence myself.

But I'll wait for the "real" launch and subsequent launch reviews to occur before I make any official calls. Regardless, I'm not starting at level one again for the promise of end-game PvP anytime soon. Either a game gives me what I want from the start or I'm voting a big zero dollars down.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Failure To Understand DRM

Digital rights management (DRM) is an umbrella term that refers to access control technologies used by publishers and copyright holders to limit usage of digital media or devices.

A World of Warcraft account is NOT DRM. Tobold argues otherwise, but fails to use harsh language. An account to an online game is simply a means of accessing a service. When a player decides to play an MMO they do so fully understanding they are purchasing access to a service. If they don't, they should quickly learn.

An MMO, without DRM, can be pirated. Illegal servers can be brought up to provide the service portion "for free". Someone, who has stolen the game, could then easily log onto the illegal server and play. Requiring an account for the official service does not in any way stop piracy of an MMO and therefore the account CAN NOT be considered a form of DRM.

DRM, if it exists for an MMO, would be placed on top of the requirement to have an account to access the official service. For example: the game requires having the physical media in a drive while playing, or non-account-related authentication of the files installed on the computer. This is why I've commented before that online, subscription-based games somewhat defeat piracy in the first place by selling a SERVICE, not a "pile of code".

It is not a lack of understanding about DRM. It is an unwillingness to spend money, in essence voting, for a "pile of code" that is reliant upon a remote source for local authentication before it will run. It is complete bullshit and I will continue the harsh language and posture towards it until I see fit that it is not a detriment to LEGITIMATE purchasers.

In the case of Spore, where access to online content is a feature, the tried and true system of having an account to access the online service is the perfect solution. One purchase = one access key = money earned by EA/Maxis. I don't see how they would even think of using another system, especially with their plans to rank content and allow players to vote for their favorites. Mark my words: there will be some sort of control, outside of the DRM, to access online content. Therefore, the DRM is serving a POINTLESS role while accessing online content.

The accounts system is not perfect. Accounts can be shared, stolen, etc. etc. However, it ensures at some point that a copy was purchased and that players looking to play legitimately. Plus, with current technology, it is not difficult to sniff out and stomp out shared accounts. Sure, it takes effort, but so does maintaining an authentication server for years. Not to mention the ass whooping customer service will receive if that authentication server goes tits up on launch day.

This leaves only the initial installation DRM, which will be cracked within days of release. Personally, I have no problem with installation DRM that authenticates remotely or does some magic to ensure I have purchased a legitimate copy. Steam is a great example of properly implemented and friendly DRM, coupled with an account system to manage access to the digital distribution service.

DRM can exist peacefully, but it is obvious that is not the goal for EA. EA is trying very hard to present a show of force against the evil pirates. Unfortunately, it is resulting in further alienation of an already alienated PC gaming playerbase.

NOTES for Tobold: I do not play MMOs all the time. I play games all the time, MMOs some of that time. I just talk about MMOs more.

Spore can be installed three times total. Good luck having it installed on multiple machines for any length of time.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Fuck, Fuck, Fuck

I've talked up Spore around the Internet as possibly one of the most defining games of all time for the PC. My bravado for the game has taken a -50 DKP hit today with the following announcement:
All it’s taken is one little post and a landslide of others follow. At least that’s what’s happened when Bioware’s Derek French reveals that Mass Effect and Spore will be coming with a fairly hefty piece of DRM attached. It won’t just activate online when you first install the game - it’ll also have to check in to the server regularly to continue working. If ten days go by without a check-in working, the game stops working. In other words, major lengthy internet outage, no playage. Since RPS-comrade Rossignol is going to be having that kinda length of time offline shortly, this has to be frowned at.
DRM kills games for me. I have avoided weighty DRM, and promoted avoiding it, for a long time. I simply refuse to buy games tied down by DRM. What the fuck is EA thinking? DRM that checks in repeatedly, not just upon installation?

My stance on Spore, as a game, is taking a sudden back seat to this DRM issue. I will most likely NOT BUY the game if this DRM makes it through to the final release and there are no alternative ways, such as Steam, to purchase the game.

So, as my title states, fuck.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Making Assumptions Makes You an Ass

TG Daily has an article up detailing billions of dollars in lost revenue for Epic and Crytek due to the pirating of their games.
This statement confirms the attitude a lot of game developers discussed earlier this year at the 2008 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, CA. We spoke with Mark Rein, VP of Epic Games, and learned that the Unreal Tournament 3 servers received over 40 million attempts at illegitimate access using pirate keys. That number is huge, and the real magnitude comes when you calculate the retail price of $49.99 (59.99 for Collector's Edition).

If those 40 million players actually paid the full price, it would have been nearly $2 billion more in Epic’s pocket book. That is more than the quarterly sales results from Nvidia or AMD. To add another perspective, the government lost out as well, because no sales tax is earned on pirated copies.
This is almost as fun as saying World of Warcraft has 10 million subscribers, so 10 million x $15 a month = $150,000,000 a month in revenue! It is just simply wrong, just like saying that 40 million attempts to join an Unreal Tournament III server with a pirated key is equal to $2 billion dollars in lost revenue. Yippee for broad assumptions!

The fact of the matter is, that it has NEVER and WILL NEVER be shown that people who steal a copy of a game (referred to as pirating in the article) are willing to pay for it in the first place.

Unfortunately, the truth for both Epic and Crytek, is that they built games far above the power curve. The paying consumer base voted with their wallets and told Epic and Crytek that no, we don't like paying $1,000 for PC upgrades just to play your games. Sadly, they then assumed everyone that stole a copy (not pirated) would of been glad to pony up $60 and now we're here.

What's truly sad is that both games, Crysis and UT3, actually did end up selling above average for each company after slow starts, but since they jumped on the OMGZ pirateZ train early, they can't simply jump off now without looking the part of an ass.

I can't wait for Epic and Crytek to become console exclusive and suddenly realize that when they make a shitty game, no one buys it and no one steals it, which means no one plays it, no one talks about it, and it becomes another $10 wonder in the bargain bin of GameStop.
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