Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yawn

Its Diablo III. I feel sorry for anyone that believed different. After the Starcraft 2 announcement in Korea, I gave up all faith that Blizzard was out to shock anyone with their future games. Blizzard will stick to their IPs and make really good games with them.

Diablo III is hack and slash. Really good looking hack and slash. The classes look fun and insanely overpowered, which goes a long way towards making hack and slash something players can enjoy for more than a couple hours.

I'm really on the fence with Diablo III. I know it will be a good game and fun, but is it worth my time? I've tried enough mediocre hack and slash games over the years, avoided Diablo II due to Diablo I burnout, and with little time to play, I don't know what to think of Diablo III.

The one thing that I am curious about is what everyone else thinks. How long can Blizzard live off of these franchises if all we're going to get is well done updates? The last big move, going from RTS to MMO with World of Warcraft, by Blizzard came at the hands of the old-school designers which have long ago left the company.

Don't get me wrong. Blizzard makes great games and I enjoy most of them, but I just wish they could take that great development process and put into something new and a bit more exciting than another Diablo.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bartle Is Right

The Internet at large is going blah, blah, blah as of late due to a wonderful quote from a man that a lot of MMO veterans have long argued is our "intellectual elite". That man is none other than Dr. Bartle, and here is the bomb he tossed:
Massively: "Are you planning on playing games like Age of Conan and Warhammer when they come out?"
Bartle: "I’ve already played Warhammer. It was called World of Warcraft."
I've railed against the WoW vs WAR comparisons before and completely blistered idiots trying to compare the two based on visuals, but Bartle's comment is not comparing the two. I think Dr. Bartle is 100% correct in what he said. He HAS played WAR already and it WAS called World of Warcraft.

Now, why would I go and say this after arguing until blue in the face that WAR is not WoW? Because of something I've said a hundred times before: players looking for the WoW experience will find it in WAR. All that is WoW can be found in WAR. The defining difference is that there will be a hell of a lot more to WAR than there is currently or will ever be to WoW.

That is not a slight against WoW, it is a statement of fact that Blizzard is the kind of developer that sticks strictly to what they can do right. PvE and all this dabbling in e-sports is right up Blizzard's ally and that is what WoW will always be. The question for WoW has been whether e-sport and PvE can coexist in the same game.

So, Bartle is right. He has played WAR already, because he is an Achiever by his own test. He has three level 70 characters in WoW. I have no doubt he could do the same when WAR launches, but I do not see Bartle ever hitting Realm Rank 80 (the true "end" level in WAR). Just as I doubt Bartle would ever achieve a 2000+ personal Arena rating on his level 70 WoW characters.

Even if Bartle talks better with a backspace key, I doubt he would remove his quote. For him, the experience to be gained in WAR for HIM is the exact same experience he got out of WoW.

To me that is more evidence that WAR is going to be a great game. The complete WoW experience is there, and everyone looking for it will find it. Funny thing is, a lot of these same people will also find out that WAR is fleshed out, full-featured, and actually encourages players to socialize at every turn.

And Cuppy, Bartle's statement was foolish, because as the industry veteran he is, he knew damn well how it would be taken and I think to a certain degree he wanted it to be taken that way. Foolish, his statement was, but wrong it was not. He has already stated he would shut down WoW, so it is of no surprise that a game that will deliver the same quality experience of WoW would be on his hit list as well. Smart people do say stupid things.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Epic Fail 2: Second Age of Conan Siege

Openedge was kind enough to point out that a second siege occurred in Age of Conan. According to him it went "much better", but I'm not quite sure our idea of "better" are exactly the same. For example: to me filet mignon is a much better cut of beef than sirloin. To Openedge, cube steak is better than ground beef, because its not ground as much. See what I did there?

From all reports on the second siege, the only aspect to improve, was that it was semi-playable this time around with top-end gaming rigs reaching an astonishing 15 FPS. Everything else STILL did not work. Walls were still exploited, and when the legitimate way to get through a wall, by smashing it to bits occurred, the attackers could not get past the now demolished structure. Siege weapons sat idle.

Really, I could go on and on with the list of problems that AoC's siege warfare has currently, but it isn't worth the typing. The fact is: AoC's end-game siege warfare was not ready at launch. This is fine for the hardcore guilds currently battling each other. They expected as much, are used to such failures, and will battle on into the future.

Problem is, the hardcore guilds are going to quit, regardless of whether sieges get fixed or not. I've played with every single hardcore guild listed, both against and alongside them, and none of them has stuck in any MMO for any length of time. Sure, their name lives on, but rarely do the mainstay players and leaders of the guild last long. There is always a greener pasture to look forward to.

What happens when these early adopter guilds decline? Does Funcom have the system fixed by then or will the majority of AoC players walk into a disaster? I'm not going to sit around and say Funcom can't get it fixed, but I will chastise them for leaving it in-game in such disrepair. It definitely nailed the coffin shut in my mind. I will never play Age of Conan.

I spent a lot of energy arguing that AoC was a direct WoW knock-off and that the only defining features of AoC were not complete, would not work, and are exactly in the state that beta testers predicted them to be.

AoC has proven beyond a doubt that it is a WoW clone, a barely-capable WoW-clone at that. The PvE game is almost an exact copy, which is fine, but the features meant to define AoC as a non-WoW-clone, just are not ready. Will Funcom fix them and develop AoC into a long-standing MMO for their core audience? Probably, but don't expect any more massive interest in the title. Launch was as good as it will get for AoC.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Epic Fail: World First Age of Conan Siege

The news couldn't get worse for Age of Conan (AoC). World first siege, between PFB and LOTD, turns out to be unplayable.
"PFB did the server's first siege (world first?) this morning at 6am EST on LOTD, a few Sinister who were online decided to take the opportunity to see how "polished" siege warfare was. The naysayers were pretty much deadon. It took little time to break down the main gate (max of 4-5 mins), buildings in general go down really fast with the full raid on them. Siege weapons don't work yet, and the mercenary system isn't in (we had to drop our guild for the siege in order to not kill each other even in the same raid). Keeps still have vunerable areas where you can just run past the walls (on the LOTD keep it was on the right side of the outer wall). After breaching the outer wall we ran into the major problem (I guess?) of sieging. LAG. I run a quad core 2.4ghz 2 gig ram and a 8800GT, and I had a solid 2-3fps once we engaged (btw i spent 500 dollars upgrading my pc for this game). Trying to actually fire combos and kill anyone was virtually impossible unless they were rooted."
This wasn't even that many players and AoC is planning to somehow have 150 vs 150 battles? World of Warcraft (WoW) managed 40 vs 40. Most good FPS games max out around 32 vs 32. There was a lot of prior history for Funcom to learn from and set attainable goals. They seem to have disregarded all of it in favor of putting big numbers in their press releases.

I am sick of posting these followups to AoC, highlighting the same problems beta testers were talking about in beta. I'm sick of people telling me I was wrong about AoC. I am sick of people telling me how "fun" AoC is. Games that are not complete, are not fun.

The fact is: Funcom tested NONE of AoC's features outside of leveling, and tested leveling only to the point that it was possible to reach level 80, not whether it was fluid or consistent.

Guild cities? No testing.
PvP sieges? No testing.

I quote a beta tester that participated in the siege:
I'm pretty sick of beta testing the game honestly. I pushed for the last 2 months of beta to get level 80 pvp implemented. I asked for the final month of the beta to have a /80 command so that we could test their endgame/pvp content. Nothing...they didnt do ****. It was a smooth release, but they knew from beta that people would be at endgame content within the first couple of weeks due to their fast leveling curve....yet they continue to push level 30-50 content. ****ing stupid.
A few days of stress testing would have easily shown that neither worked! Something that doesn't work should not be launched for the public to suffer through. That is the old MMO market, not the post-WoW market.

I understand the need for games to launch early. I don't agree with it and I think there is a lot of evidence to show that delaying until finished is very financially viable. However, I must admit that is not how some development houses are run and the need to launch happens. It is just mind-boggling to me that developers don't at least hold major features back that just don't work. Stick with what works, make it really good, and worry about the other stuff later. Most importantly, don't list features on the box that will not make it into the final game or that are unlikely to actually work.

I will compare this situation directly to Pirates of Burning Seas (PotBS). PotBS took a huge delay to put in Avatar Combat. Avatar Combat failed miserably and painfully took away development time from polishing what did work: ship combat and the economy. PotBS could easily be enjoying life as a niche success, but instead the developers are patching in the polish that could of easily been added had Avatar Combat just been ignored until later.

PotBS had huge player numbers at launch, but a few server merges and months later, and it is evident no one stuck around. That is EXACTLY what will happen to AoC. Anyone that doesn't believe me, doesn't understand the power of history to teach the human race.

AoC players better prepare for a long wait, because the siege system is going to require an entire rewrite to become playable. Maybe the rest of the game will hold up and entertain those looking for sieges and epic guild conflict. Maybe, just maybe, Funcom will pull another "Miracle Patch" out of their ass. I doubt it, but I'm going to leave the possibility door open.

We sit here, again, with the long-standing MMO tradition of forcing the player base to test in-game systems after launch. The laundry list of mistakes that AoC has made, is making, and will continue to make is immense. I firmly stand by my position to not play AoC.
Update: 25 June 08 - More commentary here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mass Effect DRM Problems

Here we are, discussing Mass Effect's DRM, but this time, the predictions about the DRM fucking over legitimate customers have actually come true.

Fuck anyone that believed the announced DRM for Mass Effect and Spore would not cause problems.

Whats truly sad is that once again the CRACKED version of the game has NO PROBLEMS, but the LEGITIMATE copies, bought and paid for, have a plethora of issues locking gamers out of their games.

I am seriously backed into a corner now regarding Spore. I absolutely want to play the game, but I do not want to "vote" for the DRM that will be attached by buying the game.

I'm tech savvy, deal with software licensing issues for a living as an IT guy, and probably could solve or avoid most of the problems. That isn't my concern. My concern is the majority of gamers that are not educated on this sort of DRM and who may get pushed out of the market by stupid, unfounded anti-piracy efforts.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Better With Age

After 15 years in the cellar, WINE 1.0 is here.

For those unfamiliar with WINE, it is a program that allows some Windows-based programs to run on Linux/UNIX. Of importance to me has been gaming, which is a bit rough around the edges with Linux. WINE has shown great support for the gaming community and many AAA titles are easily played on Linux via WINE.

It is nice to see WINE hit this milestone. Not only for gaming, but for the hopeful future where the choice of which operating system to run on a computer doesn't come down to what software runs on that choice, but rather what the operating system does to benefit the user. Since people tend to be quite unique, it is only fitting that operating systems be as well, and that is only possible through open source movements.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Half Life 2 Mod: Age of Chivalry

When not playing an MMO, I tend to scour the Internet and my game collection for a project to scavenge. This past week I found the Age of Chivalry (AoC) mod for Half-Life 2 (HL2). I know, I'm playing AoC, heh.

I've played a lot of HL2 mods over the past couple of years, but I haven't talked about many of them. Why? Because most of them are terrible and take years to develop into an enjoyable state.

AoC has gotten some coverage lately that spurred me to try it. Supposedly it was a fun mod, but after playing it for several hours I am not quite sure what game those reporters were playing.

AoC, to me, was about as much fun as watching paint dry. Well, maybe a bit more fun. After all, AoC aims to be a recreation of medieval warfare, complete with knights, castles, and siege warfare. That should count for something.

The models and maps look nice, but the gameplay, controls, and weaponry suck. Every class available to play moves about as fast as a Heavy from Team Fortress 2 (TF2). For those that have not played TF2, just imagine playing a game where your avatar is trying to run through knee-deep mud the entire time. This wouldn't be that big of a deal if the maps weren't HUGE and players didn't start on opposite ends of the map. It honestly took minutes to reach action, only to get creamed by a long range siege weapon.

Then there is the combat, slow as well. Even bows, which one would think could give a feeling of FPS normalcy, are so horribly inaccurate that it literally took me twenty arrows to hit my first stationary target. On top of the inaccuracy, it always felt as though the arrow traveled far too slow. So slow, that I never hit anything other than other stationary archers.

When playing an up-in-your-face Knight or Footman, I found the best tactic was just to chase down archers. Archers die in a single hit, have crap for defense, and rarely would their ranged damage be enough to break through a Knight's armor. Archers are free kills for the competent Knight.

I will admit that I did find some fun in the mod. Playing as an Archer, perched upon a castle wall was cool, even if I couldn't hit the incoming enemy. I did get to see one archer land a lucky, long-range shot, fired into a mass of enemies, halfway across the map.

The objective based gameplay was also refreshing. I am a sucker for games that shake-up the standard deathmatch/team deathmatch model. Every map has a different set of objectives, from capture the point to kill the horse. Yes, a noble Knight was required to lay down his life for a horse!

Unfortunately, due to server version mismatches, I was unable to play some of the maps. Hopefully this will be resolved, as a new patch has recently hit, and I'll get a chance to play some other maps.

If anything is to be gained from this mini-review, it would be this: AoC is a typical mod. It is cumbersome, buggy, and in an ongoing state of development. However, there is potential and it is a cut above the bulk of mods available. Given time, this could become a bearable time waster for anyone with a copy of HL2.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Age of Conan Troubles Continue to Surface

The Age of Conan (AoC) launch seemed to have gone off without a hitch, but the truth beneath the surface is starting to rear its ugly head. Which is fine with me, since it fulfills my interest in not eating crow.

AoC launched too early. The "Miracle Patch" that did fix some hardware and crashing issues, did not house any miracle fixes to the late-to-end-game content that many believed it did. Lack of quests, bugs, and malfunctioning game systems are plaguing players as they approach level 80 and begin to settle in for the long haul. That is, if they haven't quit already.

I don't even need to go farther than AoC's own developers to prove this point. They have fully admitted the game wasn't finished or tested enough in this Letter from the Game Director. They launched because the game was playable and could be patched into fruition, as evidenced in their aforelinked Letter and quoted below.
1. We will add content, specifically in mid-late thirties and mid-late fifties and make the leveling speed smoother in those areas, reducing the need to grind.
2. We will have an overhaul of the PvP system – adding consequence and a host of small things.
3. We are fixing bugs you reported through all channels we can get information from.
4. We will add a new large outdoor region in the 55-60 range this summer!
5. This is only a small taster! More information about the exciting summer and fall Roadmap will come the end of the next week!
6. We are staffing up Customer Service, Quality Assurance and Community departments!
Here we sit again, another MMORPG launch goes off technically smooth, but it does not take long for the lack of polish to set in. Most of us hate to use the word polish, but honestly it fits the problem perfectly. Blizzard polished World of Warcraft to a squeaky-clean shine. They didn't innovate; they simply executed the same ideas that have been around for years and polished, polished, polished.

I could go on, but I won't. Funcom simply did not heed the warning set down by Vanguard, Lord of the Rings Online, Tabula Rasa, and Pirates of the Burning Seas. Don't launch until the game is ready. Finish the game first, polish while finishing the game, and then launch.

I know it is easy for me to say that. After all, I'm not putting millions of dollars on the line and could really care less about running out of money. I've always stated that MMO developers need to be a business first and a game developer second. Good business practices will assist greatly in ensuring extra time is available if needed.

No, I'm not a game developer. I'm their customer (loyal btw) and I try to stay out of commenting on the business practices of developers. However, it is painfully obvious, especially with MMOs taking off due to WoW's success, that some developers just do not get it.

AoC, like LotRO, may enjoy financial positivity for a time, but I can't help but point out that these two games could of easily wound up in the state of Vanguard. Fortunately, both AoC and LotRO were able to polish enough of their early game to ensure a bleak existence and give hope to the MMO community that they may just be able to get it done.

I am jaded. I understand a lot of people do not like my constant negativity, but I'm not going to lie to myself. I can't be positive for these unpolished games. The MMO industry is very depressing right now, but has grown to immense proportions. There are players looking for games and AoC picked a great time to launch. I just can't excuse an unfinished game simply on the grounds of launching during a sweet spot. I know, I would probably be a horrible failure as a CEO.

To me, it is summed up in the first comment to this post over at Massively.
So... answer this: Why is it that they can do all of this now, instead of delaying release for 30 days and provide the public with a much more playable product?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Updated Thoughts on Mythos

I recently journeyed back into Mythos to experience the recent "Overworld" patch. The Overworld is simply a shared world for all the players of Mythos, where as before the Overworld, cities were instanced ala Guild Wars and then players simply traveled, instantly via maps, to another instance that they (and their group) would share. Now there is just a single, big world instance for all players to run around in. Within that world are entrances to dungeons, which operate as instances for the player or their group.

I'm not really sure I like the Overworld approach. For starters it seems to have completely reset the development of the game. There is an Overworld now, but not much else. Most quests are gone, crafting is being rebuilt, the map system is gone in favor of a similar rune system, and I'm not quite sure if there is a Shadowlands version of the Overworld. Shadowlands being the PvP mirror of the PvE areas.

Starting out definitely felt different in the Overworld. At first, I completely missed the first quest giver as a player ran past my screen, an impossibility in the original Mythos. Secondly, I was sort of lost as there was dots on my mini-map, but little explanation what the point of them were. After getting acquainted with the new Overworld, and finding my first quest giver, I was on my way to adventure.

There are NPCs that spawn in the Overworld to fight, but they are easily bypassed. They also don't seem to spawn fast enough to provide a proper means to level and most did not drop loot. I saw almost no purpose in them, but then again as I mentioned not much is in the game aside from the Overworld.

Once in a dungeon, I found the Mythos I was familiar with. Click, kill, loot, and repeat. Standard hack and slash. The first few dungeons I entered felt much smaller than before, which makes me wonder if the Overworld is supposed to provide some sort of filler content, while dungeons serve as quick in and outs.

There is also a new race, the Cyclops. In reality, it is just another, larger character model option. I noticed no difference playing a Cyclops than any of the other races. There were no new classes this beta phase.

Other than that, I was hard pressed to find something enjoyable. Standard hack and slash works because it is fast and fun. While parts of Mythos are fast and fun, the Overworld is not part of it.

Honestly, the Overworld feels like a neutered version of any other Diku-inspired MMO out there, from WoW to Everquest 2. Part of it is the unfinished nature as a lot of what I remember from the original Mythos is missing.

I guess the most depressing part of the Overworld is that it in no way inspired me to work together with players I might encounter. There was still no noticeable effort to get me to interact with other players, and with the Overworld, there are far less meeting places for players. The first city was relatively empty and the random wanderer I encountered in the Overworld could of been an NPC for all I knew. In the end, the only interaction was via chat.

I have uninstalled Mythos, again. It has a long way to go with the shift in development. Prior to the Overworld, I felt Mythos was a few tweaks and content additions away from being a free and fun time waster. Now I'm not so sure. In an attempt to become more like an MMO, I think Mythos has lost a lot of reason to play it. When Mythos is just like that "other game", but not nearly as good, who cares if it is free? Oh and only free until Flagship Studios can not support it on micro-transactions alone.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Official Age of Conan Forums Open to Public

Funcom has opened the Age of Conan forums to the public. A game account is no longer needed to access the forums.

Visit them here.
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