First, I want to highlight the format to this archetype preview was better than it's predecessors. There was structure and thought behind what was shown and why it was shown. Details of abilities accompanied the on screen display. Abilities were showcased before jumping into content. I walked away understanding the direction they are headed with the mage. In past archetype previews I didn't walk away with an understanding of the class.
Second; USER INTERFACE! We saw USER INTERFACE! Finally. The UI is critical to understanding the game. We saw two stacked hot bars, some indication of equipped weapon, cool downs, and a little bit of the inventory. UI needs to be featured more. It is the biggest missing piece to help drive confidence the game is making more progress than just being able to show off animations and basic combat.
We also got to see a few other things. Most notably was the gliding (flying?) mount (23:12 in the video). The animation from take off, gliding, to landing were awesome. Enemies also aggro'd as the mount glided or walked past and there was quite the train of enemies gathered up. I am not sure if this is how aggro is intended in long run, but definitely some early-days MMORPGs vibes there!
Also numerous times in the video we got to see the character traverse various world obstacles. The traversal looked smooth and gave me confidence that they are headed in the right direction for movement and how it feels to the player (i.e. I can climb that rock in front of me vs it being an invisible wall).
This is the first class preview where I can give a solid "thumbs up". The more of the various game aspects that are mixed into these previews the more confident I will be that the game is heading towards a test!
Ashes of Creation's monthly update focused on the user interface (UI) and it featured screenshots! I used an exclamation point so I must be excited. Right? You may want to read on.
I know, I know! Ashes of Creation is a work in progress so if I don't want to follow a game in development then I shouldn't follow it. I shouldn't be here complaining about it either but if you know me then you know I can't help myself.
The reason I choose to dig into Ashes of Creation is twofold. One: it is the promised one; the savior of this MMORPG genre that I love so dearly. Two: it has no issue taking money from people all while saying it doesn't need our money. If a game developer can take the time to sell calendars for an unreleased game then it can stand up to some criticism about taking its damn sweet time to release a game.
Ashes is under a glacially slow pace of development. Years (yes, years) ago you could buy the "indie studio" but Interpid Studios is way past being a small indie game developer. Ashes makes a lot of promises and yet shows very, very little in their updates which is concerning for a game this long in the pipeline.
Which brings me to my main gripe: Ashes should be showing us more at this point. If they can't then this game is so far out in the future we shouldn't be talking about it and the team definitely shouldn't be wasting cycles on calendars or monthly live streams.
Look at Pax Dei coming out of left field and generating buzz and showing more in a short intro video than the entirety of six years of Ashes updates. Pax Dei seems much closer to an alpha than Ashes. This may seem a poor comparison. How long has Pax Dei been in development? This is a fair criticism, but Pax Dei isn't asking for my money and isn't clogging up my feeds with lackluster updates. If Pax Dei hits the 6 year mark of monthly updates without showing anything close to a finished game then we can revisit it.
Back to Ashes.
As with the recent class updates the UI update this month was a typical lackluster update. A developer was brought on and talked about their team and their approach. Then some screenshots were shown of different UI components which were followed by yet more screenshots of sample user interface windows which were followed by... more screenshots.
I don't think once during the UI update we saw an actual functioning UI overlaying a game being played. That is concerning. There is a place for showing the static components of a UI, but the magic of a UI is seeing it and how it interlaces with the underlying game. How a UI functions is as critical as how it looks. All we got from this update was how it may look because we didn't actually see it in the game.
There has been a lot of praise in the Ashes community around this update and how "good" the UI looks. I am not sure if these folks are playing ancient games or are that detached from current offerings, but the UI screenshots shown were as generic of a UI as I could imagine. There was nothing to write home about. If anything I'd of said the UI is a little too artsy; I prefer a utilitarian approach. The game can be beautiful and awe inspiring, but the UI needs to be functional.
If it's not clear; I was not impressed. This adds to the mounting concern I have about Ashes. Each update is lacking in substance on the promised topic. We had an entire UI update and didn't see the UI being used. We heard more about promises of the UI: customization, sizing, and accordions. Did we see these in action? No. It is like anything else with Ashes: promises. Promises that may or may not be delivered. This was not an update that screams to me that the game is approaching any state of release.
Pax Dei is generating a lot of buzz, and in my opinion, it should serve
as a warning to games like Ashes of Creation. The first trailer offers a
glimpse of combat and the user interface, all from the perspective of
the in-game engine. If games like Ashes don't launch soon, titles like
Pax Dei may swoop in and steal their audience. The first look of Pax Dei
is pretty impressive, and it has convinced me to join the queue for
Not only were the visuals striking, which is to be expected with the Unreal Engine, but I felt like shots were taken at games like Ashes that have been hesitant to show combat and user interface as both were featured in the Pax Dei release trailer. Granted it is not in depth but it gives me hope the game is further along than just being a set of ideas.
Also impressive in the video was the support for cross platform. They showed the game on a tablet which is exciting. I don't do much gaming on mobile platforms but that is because most games don't offer it as a supported option; the more I see games like this support it the closer I get to jumping into gaming on something other than my big rig.
I didn't know this game was out there working its way towards an alpha, but after the trailer and some of the interview videos I am firmly in the camp of "excited to see what comes next". Again, I got the sense Pax Dei is closer to reality than games that suck up a lot of community buzz currently and the MMO market is ripe for some disruption.
The Ashes of Creationupdate for December is out and featured a look at the day/night cycle in the game and some group combat focused on the supporting cleric class. Watch the update below and read on for my thoughts.
The first thing I want to say is: combat didn't look great. Janky movement, attacks that seem to take player characters all over the place, and way-over-the-top sound (he did mess with his sound settings in the video so not sure if that was part of it or not). Effects do not fit the visual style of the rest of the world or what enemies are doing. I had more hope after the combat update but many this was a step back from that point.
The second thing I want to say is: everything not combat looked amazing. The world. The constellation system. The transition from day to night. Everything else is so damn amazing. It is so crazy to me how combat is where it is at but the rest of the game is where it is at.
Specific to what was shown off about the cleric it was a bit hard to follow as I think UI elements were missing to help understand the concept of "convictions". From the discussion it sounds like you build up convictions and that improves
There was also discussion of synergy between party members with a stagger mechanic that unlocked another player to be able to stun the targets. I replayed it a few times and not sure I could tell what stagger looked like or how you'd know they were staggered. Hopefully they improve this aspect as combat systems with poor feedback to the player, or overly expect a player to know a bunch of nuances, never work.
Another concern I had was that the group had to take a dedicated break to rest to regain mana. It sounds like with different set ups and higher levels there is regen but the fact there is resting needed is a bit worrying. In today's game market most games are moving as far away from downtime as possible. I like that the team talked about items like campfires that could improve the rest experience.
One really cool thing was how sometimes enemies pop up out of the ground. There really was a sense of an ambush at one point. This was very similar to the combat update where the rock monsters popped out of the environment.
The only worry I have with the spawn system is they may be overusing the "pop out of the ground" spawning system. I know Steven has said he wants to avoid the "enemies just standing around" model but if its just "enemies always pop out of the ground" model then is anything really different other than increased player frustration of not being able to trust the world around you? For the record the only two spawn types we've seen in updates is pop out of the ground and standing around.
One other thing I want to comment around combat is that I felt there was a lack of weight to the feeling of combat. When the party was fighting larger enemies I did not get a sense that the enemy was, in this case, a large rock enemy. It sort of stopped whenever a player was reached. I expected more chaos similar to the cave troll scene from Lord of the Rings movies, but got more of a Steven Seagal karate demonstration.
There were some UI elements; mainly health bars and a skills bar. They looked clean and hit the MMO standard, so not much to say about them.
Something I also caught during the video was the player mount staying around after dismounting. I really like the idea of mounts persisting after dismount. I hope this is something they are keeping.
Steven talked about diminishing returns regarding status conditions (slow, root, silence, etc). Glad to hear this as its an area that games miss on. No player likes to repeatedly lose agency (i.e. control) and diminishing returns are a great way to ensure someone doesn't end up in the dreaded stunlock. This is something New World has struggled with for example. Again, good to know its being tackled out of the gate.
Steven asked for feedback on if players wanted night to be complete darkness or whether they should reserve true dark for specific areas (like a cave encounter). I have fond memories of true dark nights before I knew about screen brightness, but in the modern gaming era it is too easy to cheat real dark out of it's effect. Thus my feedback is: no true dark, anywhere.
Also Steven asked about luminosity during open world gameplay. My feedback here is that the clearer it is the better. I dislike dreary area after dreary area. Let all areas be mostly clear during the daytime hours and minimize how often we have to deal with dreariness. Basically let me have Hobbiton as much as possible!
And I'll leave you with this last comment: boob armor.
Did you catch the boob armor? Either way go ahead and leave a comment.
Something has been nagging at me since the last Ashes of Creation developer update. On one hand it was awesome to see Ashes change to a gathering model of "every tree can be chopped down", yet on the other hand I worry Ashes is planning to layer too much complexity on top of the system. This came to the forefront of my mind this past weekend as I "chopped and chilled" in New World. Sometimes simple is the best answer.
Before I jump into where I see issues I want to say I am optimistic that
the approach Ashes is taking will combat the problem of bots. Simple
systems are easier for bots and complex systems are harder for bots. If
any change Ashes makes helps drive down bot activity then it may be
worth keeping. Note: "we'll just ban the bots" is not a plan and has not worked to solve the bot problems for any MMORPG or other type of game... ever.
The main changes that Ashes is layering on top of their gathering system are surveying and variability based on world conditions (time of year, node status, etc). Surveying will be a skill players improve that helps them survey the landscape and identify resource nodes and details about those nodes. This combines with the nodes being variable based on world conditions; complimentary systems to drive engagement for gatherers.
My first concern with complexity comes from surveying. Instead of going off what a player sees it seems like players will be encouraged to "stop and smell the roses" so-to-speak (i.e. survey first to find the good nodes to then harvest). I like but don't like this concept. Sometimes (actually most times for me) players just want to smash rocks, chop trees, and not have to think about it all too much. Adding in a pre-system to gathering feels like it takes away from that feeling that drives a player to want to chop down a tree in the first place.
Surveying also has me worrying more and more about bots. Is surveying go to be fun enough in itself for a player to want to do over and over (and over and over and over and over - as is the tradition with MMOs)? I think there is real risk it just becomes something either a player "sets and forgets" while they get a coffee refill or worse it becomes a reason to encourage botting even more as in theory it will highlight to a bot the nodes to go harvest. I need to see more from the system to tell me this will be fun and engaging for players otherwise it will fall into bot-category in my opinion.
The variability based on world conditions does have some promise to combat bots as resources will not always be in the same spot in the same area in perpetuity like they are in games like New World. It will also reward players that stay knowledgeable on the state of the world and what is going on. Combined with the "open world PvP" (which I honestly don't think will stick, but for argument we'll assume they do) this could really set gathering as a job players can be known for.
However, I question how this complexity may discourage players from just sitting back and enjoying the actual activity. There is something to be said for the simplicty of New Worlds gathering; see a rock - hit a rock - get smaller rocks and maybe a gem. See a tree - hit a tree - get logs and maybe some sap. Maybe the blue glowing tree requires a higher skill level to chop and it tells you that when you approach. No pre-scanning an area, no needing to break through a top layer to see whats underneath, and really no wasted time or movements. Players just chop one tree to the next and it is ever so satisfying!
Sometimes simple is just better. What do you think?
In this update the Ashes team shows off the gathering system they are lifting directly from New World. Every tree is now able to be chopped down (previously in earlier alpha tests it was sparse nodes across the world) and that will expand from there to other node types such as rocks, plants, and more. Asmongold's quote to kick off the video was "New World is the gold standard of harvesting/gathering" which I'll agree with, but also as my comments will show there is room for enhancement.
For anyone that has played New World this is very familiar. New World brought this type of mechanic out of the realm of survival games and into an MMORPG. Chopping down a tree is one of the most satisfying feelings in all of New World. I can't imagine playing a future MMORPG that doesn't let me cut down every tree, break up every rock, and gather almost anything I can see. I am all for games like Ashes lifting ideas from other games and this was the right idea to grab from New World.
What can, or what will, Ashes do to improve on the system?
First, they can add more variables to the system. If there is a knock against New World's system it is that the node spawns are static and do not vary at all which means farmers and bots can camp them. A great change for New World and where Ashes could improve this type of system is to randomize the spawn locations of the nodes. Certain areas could still limit what type of node spawns so players know where to go to gather but the actual placement in that area could be changed up. This would reward the often overlooked explorer play type.
The good news is it sounds like Ashes is solving for this with their surveying skill which will allow players to find and learn about node spawns and if I understood it correctly it will allow players with higher surveying skill to find randomly placed nodes. This brought back memories of surveying in Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) which allowed for players to locate and find unique resources and cash in on them before others showed up. The key to the SWG system was randomization and time limited nature of where you could get the resources.
Next the Ashes developers talked a good bit about how the materials you can gather will vary based on seasons, "node" (referring to their land parcel system), and other player actions. It definitely sounds like to be a successful gatherer you will need to know the systems and the world as well as have leveled up skills. The question is whether they can make the system where it rewards the average player and doesn't just become a system where the elite players lock everyone else out.
In the Ashes stream Steven (the guy at the head of Ashes design/funding/everything) asked us to think about two areas when giving feedback and talking about this update so I wanted to oblige him.
Feedback Focus 1: Steven asked the community how we feel about the change to have far more resources available for gathering in the game? A caveat was most of the increase in gatherable materials it would be focused on general construction and trade; not necessarily for making gear.
Answer 1: As I mentioned earlier in the post I can't see myself playing an MMORPG that doesn't have this sort of harvesting/gathering system. Chopping down trees may just be a "minimum requirement" going forward for me to consider a game. I think this was the right choice and with the surveying system it looks to improve on the system from New World. The only concern I have is it may get too complicated. There is a benefit to the simplicity of New Worlds system: see tree, chop tree, get stuff. Adding too much more to that loop may make it less fun.
Feedback Focus 2: Thoughts on the visual fidelity of the gathering actions.
Answer 2: I tend to not get deep into visuals in games these days. They play a role, but not as they did in the past. As long as it feels like it fits and doesn't take away from performance then I am fine with what I saw in the video. Not necessarily visual, but the audio in the demo was not that great. New World nails the sound of chopping and mining so feel like Ashes has some room on the audio end to improve.
The Ashes devs also commented on group gathering. This is a great idea and something that Crowfall had (probably one of the only things that game did well). I love the idea of having to team up to gather. I love the idea of needing a second player to take the other end of a giant saw to go at a massive tree.
Steven also asked about what players felt about the system where what is inside a node is only revealed when you take the harvesting action. The example given was a rock that once broken revealed there was a crystal inside and a second harvesting action was required to gather the crystal. I am fine with this but over time it may become irritating having to harvest nodes twice instead of just getting the internal materials on the first pass. Will have to see how it feels when playing.
For those that need it here is the Ashes update embedded below.
Speaking of gathering; let me harvest your thoughts by leaving a comment. Thanks!
Listening to various podcasts about Ashes of Creation and listening to folks overlay their hearts and dreams on the game has made me think about what I'd want out of an MMORPG. Combined with my recent "a post a day" commitment to get back into blogging I figured it was time to start my long awaited series on "My MMORPG" and the game I'd make if I was Steven-rich.
The question is where do you start this quest? Do you come up with a long list of things to do? An outline of the entire thing? Define the business model; is it free to play or a subscription? Write the story first?
Personally I have a saying I like to use in my career "If something is worth doing it is worth doing WRONG." What does that have to do with where to start? Fair question. I bring this up here because I want this to be a start but not the only start. We may be back here again in the near future. Maybe feedback makes me change course. Maybe a brilliant idea later down the road requires something earlier on changes. Regardless I have a couple goals to get started here.
This first post has to set the framework
Keep it simple
So where do we start? Simple: the world and setting for the game and to keep it simple and set the framework for future conversations this post would be better titled as "The Not-Star-Wars MMORPG". Follow along to find out why.
When I look back on any MMORPG I've played (or wish I could play) the first thing that always catches my attention is the world and setting. Ultima Online? Basically took every medieval text MUD I had ever played and put it on screen. World of Warcraft? Warcraft where I get to play that orc on the battlfield!? Count me in! Warhammer Online Age of Reckoning? Duh (and sigh). Star Wars Galaxies? Ummm; duh x2! New World? A cool setting that hooked me before I ever hit log in.
So why "Not-Star-Wars"? Simple: Star Wars has everything in a setting that I'd want in my dream MMORPG, but I would never want to put my chips into a game that can be ended on the whim of an intellectual property owner.
Let's work through what "Not-Star-Wars" brings to us:
Vehicles (aka multiplayer mounts)
Spaceships (aka space houses)
Varied planets (i.e. zones and instanced content)
Probably the biggest benefit of this setting that pays off the most is the "varied planets". Planets and space travel between them is the ideal contextual reason for zones and instanced content to exist without turning the game into hub and spoke and thus losing the M for Massive. While the world setting doesn't need to explain everything the more it is able to justify for mechanics to exist the better the game will feel. It would make immediate sense to a player that they are jumping in a space ship, zooming through space, and ending up on a unique alien planet that only they and their group are present on.
This also allows this MMORPG to target the "mega server" model instead of "single server" and have it all make sense with the way the universe is set up. All players need to be in one single universe with the chance at any time to interact with any other player. This eliminates problems such as scaling up single servers to deal with population growths and eliminates the follow on problems of having to merge servers down. The universe just exists and it makes sense when you jump in a space ship and fly off to a planet that you are off by yourself and then joining back on a busy core planet with thousands of other players.
Another benefit that some old school MMORPG players will welcome is that space travel, inside a fully customized player ship, can bring back the social aspect that has been missing due to the "get you directly into a group and into content" model of "group finders" in most MMORPGs. Don't get me wrong; I want games to connect players via in game tools but what I also want to ensure it drops players into the opportunity to socialize and not just at the starting point a sprint. Sitting around in a space ship, making preparations for the content, and socializing with your fellow players is huge. Scale this concept up to core planets and ideas like space stations: the core of setting should be places for players to interact socially.
As my bulleted list shows there is a lot of pieces that fit with Not-Star-Wars and give context to game systems and mechanics MMORPG players are familiar with. Again the most important aspect is that the setting gives context to many MMORPG staple systems such as zones, instanced content, socializing and more.
More to come on MyMMORPG! Have thoughts? Think I am starting in the wrong place or heading in the wrong direction? Leave a comment. I love to argue socialize.
I am a long time online game player (20+ years). My prime gaming years were marked by the golden era of MMOs with Ultima Online and Everquest. I've played almost every major MMO since that time with New World as my current jam. I'd be negligent as an MMO enthusiast if I didn't get some thoughts out on Ashes of Creation (AoC or Ashes for short) which is shaping up to be the great MMO savior we've all been waiting for.
First, I will admit that my knowledge of the history of Ashes is limited. It was a Kickstarter backed effort that also is funded (or secured in funding) by it's founder. I will be honest I just know him as Steven and from all accounts Steven is just like me: 20+ years of gaming and a passion for MMOs. Steven is super rich though...
I will further admit that I haven't spent a lot of time looking up details. So what I am going off of is some podcasts I've listened to (Ashes To Go by Studio Loot which is no longer producing new episodes and Ashes Pathfinders) and some reaction videos on YouTube like this one where Asmongold begs "please be good" before hitting play.
So far the things I've heard that I like
The game will feature PvP and PvE
The game will feature unique world progression where each server levels up differently
The world will be huge (even huger apparently based on recent updates)
The game will run on Unreal Engine 5 enabling top end visuals
Some things I am worried about
There will be forced PvP that will be kept in check, supposedly, by a reputation/bounty system
There will be individual servers instead of a megaserver approach
They really like selling the promise of access to alpha/beta testing and saying "but we don't need your money" and taking years to produce said alpha/betas
Long development cycles don't really concern me; MMOs are complex. I am fine if people want to give developers money during the development of a game. I'd rather have that model than not having any way to concretely vote for the types of games I want to see made. Note: I am not an AoC backer at this time but I have backed other Kickstarter MMOs.
The more concerning items are the PvP and server bullet points above.
First, forced PvP is just a bad choice. It pains me to say that as my PvP blood goes back as far as I can remember typing that /kill command in my first MUD. The reality of the current market is that forced PvP is just an excuse for toxic behavior. Skilled players are not out in the open world of MMOs looking for fair fights to test their skill; they are playing ranked arena modes or avoiding MMOs altogether in favor of competitive games without the 1,000 hour /played requirement to gear up. What is left in open world PvP in MMOs is most often wolves looking for sheep. No amount of reputation or bounty system can change that fact.
Ashes does seem to have creative ideas with their reputation and bounty system, but I hate to admit that all of them are circumvented by the log out button. The game is not real life and no version of digital prison will stop the player that has become bored from screwing over every other player they can on their way out. I'll hold outside hope that I am wrong on this point but I expect a rapid reversal of open forced PvP shortly after the game launches (and will be surprised if it makes it out of beta with open PvP).
Note: I will agree with the AoC pundits that there are games out there that do mange to feature open forced PvP, but I'd argue most of those games are with captive audiences mostly in asian markets where there is often not much choice in game to play (i.e. like the golden era of MMOs for me). In western markets these days; the sheep simply leave your game for greener pastures and wolves hate when they have to fight other wolves.
In regards to Ashes plans for individual servers I will simply point to the challenges New World has had with the concept since it's launch or the struggles of World of Warcraft Classic. The gaming market is boom and bust; there will be significantly more players at launch than there will be a month later. No matter how good AoC turns out to be there will be a precipitous drop in concurrent players within the first few months. There is just too many other games for your average gamer to play.
Modern MMOs should not be launching with the concept that a player picks a server and that is their home. Single server technology, even with the might of cloud services like AWS, has a capacity of players it can handle. In today's streamer world individual streamers bring massive armies with them that will instantly cap out any server. That army will be gone tomorrow but then back on Friday when the streamer starts up again.
Take the streamer aspect out and you will still have the boom and bust population to deal with. And AoC is doubling down with their concepts that worlds and the nodes within level up uniquely based on what the server population does. It all sounds amazing but what happens when there is only ten people logging onto that server each day (a very real scenario New World faced going from 900,000 concurrent players down to just 15,000 at its low). The answer is server merges, but if the world is built so unique per server the idea of a server merge or transfer is painful to think about.
AoC will have to have some really detailed plans on how its going to handle new servers being spun up to meet demand and then be merged back together or it will be a nightmare of player frustration. Either they will limit total servers and we'll be stuck in login queue hell or they will have too many servers with too few players and the experience will suck (a massive multiplayer game without the massive or multi).
AoC may have some of the coolest ideas, systems, and gameplay we've seen in decades as far as an MMO goes, but I see real risk in the PvP and server question I pose above. Intrepid Studios seems to be taking it's time with the game so likely a while before we find out whether their plans for these items will work out. If somehow any of the team behind the game ends up reading this I hope it sparks some thought to these topics.