Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Initial Impressions: Salem

I've gotten about an hour to click around in the Salem beta.  There is something to be said for games that offer no hand holding and require their users to look up a guide just to create a character.  I'm not talking about a guide for figuring out what the best stats are; I'm talking about a guide that explains on what and where to click so the player can even get to the point where they get to make a decision.  Salem is more of an idea than a game currently, but hot damn, what a brilliant idea it is.

The first thought that hit me when starting off in Salem (aside from trying to figure out why someone would want to sell me crickets in Boston) was that Salem is Ultima Online (UO) set in Massachusetts. I was immediately brought back to my early days of UO: no idea what I'm doing, no idea where to go, random wandering in the countryside clicking on every object I can interact with, stumbling over other player's homes and settlements, and a constant fear the next person I see on screen is going to lead to my death at the hands of a murderer.  All of these elements are present in Salem.

The only problem is, unlike UO, there isn't really a clear "this does this and that does that".  UO was a fantasy game and it was easy to piece together that a sword slashed and a fireball was flung.  In Salem, the setting is colonial Boston (aka the New World) and the associated lore may as well be a foreign language.  Salem makes no attempt (that I could find) to explain anything.  A player that is unwilling to venture to the beta forums or a spoiler website is in for a rough experience.

To make matters worse the UI is terrible.  Nothing works as expected outside of the grid-based inventory and character portrait.  Skills aren't explained and accidental clicks result into investment into skills which may or may not be implemented yet.  The mini map does not seem to rotate with the player's positioning and direction making guided travel a lesson in frustration.  Fortunately, the UI is open to modders and there are already some decent UI mods out there (which I've yet to try out).

Add into the mix some bugs such as maple leaves not re-spawning and the inexperienced player is quickly lost on what they are expected to do.  Then Joe Blow shows up and murders them, permanantly killing the player's character.

This all should add up to a giant pile of rage-quit, but for some reason the more I clicked around the more I became intrigued. The overall puzzle of "what the fuck am I supposed to do!" wasn't unraveling, but I found myself setting goals for myself.  For example, I found I could harvest branches which I could then use to build piles of logs which I could then use my tinder box on to start a fire (though the whole build process is a mystery to me).

I'm very curious about Salem now.  With a better UI and some effort invested in explaining the game to players, it has potential.  I'd also add in that Salem is clearly in an alpha stage, not a beta stage.  Its very difficult to test something that doesn't seem to be anywhere near finished.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I am not dead and I am not playing Diablo 3

So quit asking unless you are going to buy me a copy of Diablo 3.

And seriously, as I've tweeted, my garden is taking up a lot of time this year.  Outside of my family, my interests are Green Bay Packers > Gaming > Gardening.  Spring is a busy time for the latter and I've up-scaled my gardening this year (pretend I have like maxed my farming skill in the MMO known as RL).

Saturday, May 05, 2012

DOTA2 vs League of Legends

For a bit of background, I have a few hundred League of Legends games under my level 27 summoner's belt on both the classic (DOTA-like) map and the new Dominion (capture the flag) map.  I have about 20 games under my belt in DOTA 2.  I do not play ranked matches in either game and mainly rely on public match-making via the solo queues.  As fair warning, I am not a DOTA 2 or LoL expert.  These are my observations from the view of a casual player. 


LoL offers stylized (aka cartoony) graphics which hold up over time.  DOTA 2 features more "realistic" fantasy visuals.  If I had subcategories, I would give DOTA 2 the nod for excellent attack/spell animations.  LoL would get a bonus for it's cleaner graphical play which makes spectating games easier.
Game Client:

DOTA 2's client is a glorious thing to behold.  It is a one stop shop for the digital DOTA 2 consumer featuring games to jump into and spectate, player profiles, news, hero information, and more.  LoL's game client is serviceable, but is split from the actual game.  It is based on Adobe Air which I've found to be less than reliable.  However, Riot Games has continued to improve the LoL client.
User Interface:

The UI of each game is almost the same.  Both work equally well.  I'm a bit disapointed that neither game has opened their UIs up to modders, but I suspect that is in an attempt to keep UI mods from giving unfair advantages.


While LoL's user interface is perfectly serviceable and almost identical to that of DOTA 2, there are far, far more customizations that can be made to DOTA 2.  DOTA 2 player's can save their configurations instead of having to set them by hand each game as is needed in LoL.
Map(s) and Game Types:

LoL offers three different maps with three game types to DOTA 2's single map and game type.  One of LoL's maps, The Crystal Scar, offers completely new game play mode with a capture point game type (the other two LoL maps are still Defense of the Ancient (DOTA) ).  Some may say DOTA-like games do not need any more maps, but I would strongly disagree with that after having played many games on The Crystal Scar in LoL.


While I like a lot of LoL's hero designs, I can't help but gawk at DOTA 2 for the sheer audacity with which some of the heroes are designed.  There is completely broken-in-normal-game heroes in DOTA 2 and it's all part of the design.  DOTA 2 features a lot more unique and definitive play mechanics and the attack animations are much better. 

At the same time, LoL has a much better grip on balance for the casual player.  It is much clearer why a player or team is dominating a match with a certain hero.  The hero designs are also much closer to one another making it easier to cross over and play something else.


I think LoL's items are a) simple to understand and b) in the same shop.  DOTA 2 may have great items, but its daunting for a casual player to keep track of some of the more intrinsic items.  DOTA 2 also has regular and secret shops, with recipes to make items and couriers to bring items from the shops to the players.  This all leads to making DOTA 2's items a very frustrating experience at times.
Overall Game Play:

LoL offers more variety than DOTA 2 in regards to game play experiences.  The multiple maps are the start, but Riot Games has also pushed to open up all aspects of the game for the majority of their heroes.  Jungling is a real possibility with almost any LoL hero these days.  LoL also stepped away from some things such as the secret shop and denying, both of which still don't make much sense to me in DOTA 2.

DOTA 2 is still a very, very solid game.  It's distinct enough to offer a separate play experience from that of LoL.  However, Valve is clearly leaning towards the hardcore players and sticking to the true DOTA experience for DOTA 2. 

From a casual perspective, LoL is the better option.  From a "complete package" perspective, DOTA 2 has the better shot and it's still in BETA!  Interestingly, LoL can fix its "not a complete package" problem where as Valve has all but stated that DOTA 2 isn't going to relent on the design aspects that make it less-than-ideal for casual players.

At the end of the day both games still offer a hell of an experience and both are Free 2 Play.  I recommend anyone interested check out both before making a decision on which one to commit to (well that is if you can get into the DOTA 2 beta).

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The 3 MMOs you ARE NOT paying attention to, but should be


Features: crafting/building focus, perma-death, open PvP, set in colonial New England (aka The New World), free 2 play, "generations"

The developers have been very clear that this game is about freedom.  They are removing the "grindy" parts of MMOs to get the players to the "end game".  Players logging in on day one are in the "end game" and participating in the community.

With freedom comes consequence.  A prime example is the idea that there will be forests in the game that players can clear.  Clear an entire forest and waste the wood on something, players are out of wood in that area.  This fits right in with the focus of the game's narrative: the New World.  Players will be focused on building and expanding in the new territory and that will open all kinds of avenues for teamwork and competitive play.

The discussion of freedom extends further when you start talking about open PvP and the fact the game will feature perma death.  A player's character can be murdered, never to be seen again, but only if the "murdering" player consciously makes that decision.  Incidental murder will not be possible and being flagged a murderer will  be a very troubling position to be in when you are caught.

This all sounds a bit out there, but the developers have experience in the perma-death, crafting/building MMO realm.  They already run Haven and Hearth, Salem's predecessor that has executed and learned from most of these ideas.

Lastly, Salem is going to be free 2 play (F2P) which should allow for anyone curious to get their feet wet.


UPDATE: Apparently I missed the fact that as of Monday, Dominus has shut down due to lack of funding.  This was completely out of the blue for a game that was charging ahead towards a beta and eventual release.

Features: three-faction "realm vs realm" (though legally they cannot call it that), SWG-style gathering

If Star Wars Galaxies and Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC) had a love child, it would be Dominus (formerly Prime Online: The Battle for Dominus).

Dominus, based in a SciFi setting, will feature three-faction warfare along with an in depth crafting and exploration system where resources will be unique to an area and be finite (in the fact they could be gathered into extinction).

The game is also being geared towards PvP combat with the three factions battling it out for control of zones and areas similar to DAoC frontiers.  There will also be a bounty system where players can hunt individual targets or live with one foot in the grave by carrying a large bounty on their head.

Dominus also marks the return of Sanya Thomas (now Sanya Weathers), of DAoC fame, back to the MMO community manager standpoint.  If you haven't followed MMOs for a long time, you may have missed the fact she pretty much invented how modern day community management is done for an MMO.


Features: based on Otherlands book series by Tad Williams, SciFi and Fantasy combined (or really any sort of world they want to add as Otherlands is really a metaverse capable of any idea that can be thought up), eDNA system, free 2 play

While Dominus and Salem have received a bit of press and a small mentioning in some notable blogs, Otherlands on the other hand has received almost no attention.  And that's a damn shame because the Otherlands books by Tad Williams are a superb read.  Not to mention the game is shaping up to be an excellent free 2 play MMO experience.

The Otherlands is a meta-verse in which users log in and have experiences in various worlds.  Everything from World War I to swords and sorcery fantasy is covered.  The areas in the game will be varied from the main meta-verse hub to a fantasy world that grew out of a chess board and features a giant floating game of chess happening in the sky (and that description doesn't even come close to doing the area in question justice.  Watch this video to learn more about the chess board zone.)

The important thing to understand is that the zones in the game are "simulations" and therefore are not meant to simulate a "real" world.  Things can be serious or exaggerated and it all fits into the game's lore. Rules in the simulations can be bent and broken, changed, or given context.  Its really a perfect fit for an MMO.

Another neat feature is non-static NPCs.  NPCs will be on life cycles where they actually travel and have things to do.  A fisherman will go to fish, a baker will go to buy flour, etc.

However, the coolest thing going for Otherlands is the idea of eDNA and the MyLand feature.  The basic premise is players will be able to find something in a simulation (aka zone) and take a  copy of it's eDNA which can then be brought back to their MyLand zone to transplant a copy.  Its MMO housing on steroids and this is one MMO where instanced housing zones make complete and logical sense.

If there is any MMO that I'm excited about these days it is Otherlands.

Friday, April 20, 2012

DOTA 2 will be Free 2 Play

Gabe Newell let slip that DOTA 2 will be free 2 play, but with a twist.
“It’s going to be free-to-play — it’ll have some twists, but that’s the easiest way for people to think about it,” he revealed.

“The issue that we’re struggling with quite a bit is something I’ve kind of talked about before, which is how do you properly value people’s contributions to a community?,” he mentioned when asked about what kind of “twist ” players can expect from the game.

“We’re trying to figure out ways so that people who are more valuable to everybody else [are] recognized and accommodated.

“We all know people where if they’re playing we want to play, and there are other people where if they’re playing we would be on the other side of the planet.

“It’s just a question of coming up with mechanisms that recognize and reward people who are doing things that are valuable to other groups of people,” he added.

He said that the free-to-play model Valve has in mind for DOTA 2 is completely unique and hasn’t been done before.

“When you start thinking about the different games that people play and you try to think about how people can create value or a service in one game and benefit somebody in a different game, you can start to see how the different games sort knit together,” Newell said.

“[You can see] how somebody who really likes Team Fortress 2 (TF2) can still be creating value for somebody who is playing DOTA 2 or Skyrim, or if somebody is a creator in one space how it can translate into another.

“In a sense, think of individual games as instance dungeons of a larger experience, if that makes sense as a concept.”

Thursday, March 29, 2012

DOTA 2 key available

Congrats to aruw3n on winning the prize.
Sorry I don't have one to give out to everyone because I would love to!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The problem with modern MMO PvP

Every ounce of my MMO playing body wants to return to the “golden era” (1998 to 2000) where no one was safe, impact was real, and some of the greatest MMO PvP in history took place in Ultima Online. However, my experience with today’s MMO PvP systems tells me there is no going back. The problem with modern MMO PvP isn’t one of design, but one of choice and era.

When Ultima Online launched in 1997, any player looking to play a graphical MMO had very few choices. UO stood alone for the most part until 1999 when Everquest and Asheron’s Call launched. The choice of game ultimately came down to one of two games: Everquest or Ultima Online. Everquest, offering 3D graphics, required specific hardware to run and it was also a very “game” MMO which focused on killing monsters and obtaining better loot. Ultima Online with a 2D isometric view ran on plenty of mid-range PCs of the day and offered a much more robust offering of features: player housing, crafting, and live events to name a few.

The “golden era” player base, as with today’s players, consisted of every Bartle player-type: killer, achiever, explorer, socializer. While every player is not defined by a single category -- primary killers are still achievers and explorers – those primarily inclined towards one type were going to wind up in a one of the two games. This meant that some of each type were going to mix together in their respective games.

Everquest’s design dictated that it attracted achievers and killers. While exploration was possible and there were chat channels, Everquest lacked the keys to providing an environment for great socialization. So, achievers and killers flocked to Everquest and for the most part anyone playing Everquest could be assumed to be primarily an achiever or killer. Yes, there were still socializers (mostly role players), but by far and large Everquest catered to the achiever or killer mindset.

Ultima Online on the other hand catered almost perfectly to the socializer at the same time offering achievers, killers, and explorers a fulfilling experience. Players in UO were never forced to pick up a weapon and fight. Many UO players made a life for themselves without ever slaying a single beast. I personally know a player that existed within UO without ever once leaving the town of Britain and having almost never picked up a weapon to fight, instead spending his days at the forge talking with players and plying his blacksmithing trade. He was the prime example of how UO allowed primary socializers to exist in an online game. At the time, socializers really had nowhere else to go to find game play that met their needs. UO provided the pen-ultimate socialization experience of it’s day.

Of course, UO also catered to what I like to call the achiever killers: the reds, the player killers, the murderers as some others would have called them. Achiever killers thrive on their destructive ways creating power over their enemies and there is no greater enemy to have than that of a human opponent. Mix this with a tangible feeling of ownership with player housing and eventual player-created cities and the achiever killers found a perfect storm in UO.

Again, players of the golden era had limited choices on what games to play. It is also important to note that these players wanted to play online games. While no one was holding a gun to their head and forcing them to play UO or EQ, there was still a feeling that players were forced to play one of the two most popular MMOs of the time. This lead to player types mixing and competing within game worlds for their own slice of the proverbial pie. Conflict resulted between player types and this was no more evident than what was pre-Trammel UO (aka UO before a safe mirror of the world was created).

The achiever killers in UO loved this. Instead of having to compete against other achiever killers, they could prey on the socializers, explorers, and regular old achievers who inhabited the unforgiving world. Outside of towns, anyone could kill anyone in UO. Upon death, everything the player was carrying at the time could be looted by another player (or sometimes an NPC would swipe an item). UO focused on being a virtual world instead of being a “game that was played online” and there was real risk and reward to the golden era PvP in UO.

While the socializers and non-killer achievers didn’t “love” the fact that they were the sheep that the killer wolf pack fed upon, they couldn’t deny that UO had all the features they wanted. Housing, live events, non-combat oriented game play that meant something to the world; all of these things separated UO from Everquest (and eventually Asheron’s Call). The socializers and achievers of UO were, in a word, stuck like sheep in a field surrounded by wolves. They had to suffer the achiever killers and many left the game because of it.

However, suffer is a bit of a strong word and there were plenty of other factors pushing players away from UO. Also the presence of the “sheep” lead to the rise of what I call the “shepherd”, or better known as the anti-playerkiller (APK). The APKs formed together to defend those that wished to avoid combat and seek justice on those that preyed upon the weak. There wasn’t an ounce of game design or coding put in to make this dynamic system a reality. Players were actually living in a virtual world that featured the full gambit of Bartle player archetypes. Consequence was the true feature of UO and is what made it’s early PvP so unforgettable.

Fast forward to today’s market and I cannot even begin to name all of the AAA titles on the market, let alone all of the underlying B-rate MMOs. However, what I can tell you is that there is a game for every type of player out there. Yet, there is not a single one that recaptures the experience of “golden era” UO.

And therein lays the problem: there is a game for every type of player. No longer are the socializers mixing with the achievers. No longer are the explorers chatting with the killers. The player base is fragmented. It is, so to say, Humpty Dumpty and once it fell down, there was no putting it back together.

Games such as Darkfall and Mortal Online, or server emulation projects such as UO WTF, that promise to bring back that “golden era” are doing nothing more than throwing the achiever killer wolves in a field without any sheep. The wolves turn on each other and quickly realize how boring it gets to fight on equal footing. The dynamic is lost and even the best virtual world fails to bring it back. Before long only the true killers remain and while it certainly can be an enjoyable experience, it is not the magical experience that was to be had in the golden era.

Thus no amount of game design or coding wizardry can bring the magic back. The problem is that the golden era is long gone, yet game developers keep trying to make games that will appeal to every type of player while trying to add a “PvP system” on top of it. This doesn’t work. It can’t work. The market is filled with choice and if a game doesn’t cater directly to the crowd it’s built for, it becomes a generic mess.

I’m still waiting for a true, next generation MMOG to come along; one that focuses on being a virtual world more than just a “game that is played online”. The rest should take care of itself.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Yuck, DCUO PvP

It took me all of about an hour to be bored with DCUO's PvP server.  Within the first few minutes of the journeying through the open world I was being repeatedly ganked by level 20+ characters, with no chance of survival or escape.  After finally getting to the first quest location, I was then repeatedly ganked again.


SOE, 1999 called, they want their PvP system back.

I will have to re-roll on the PvE server to see if the experience is better.  I like the mechanics of the game so far and being able to run at super speed from the moment I set foot into the open world is an amazing feeling.  However, I see myself becoming quickly bored with the "Kill 10 Rats" quest types.  Hopefully the "dungeons" are better.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fix: DCUO gets stuck at "FixTimestamps.exe" on Steam install

I just did battle with and slew the dreaded "FixTimestamps.exe" error when installing the recently crowned MMO of the year, DC Universe Online (DCUO), on Steam.  The steps are as follows:

Step 1:

Cancel the screen that is open in Steam trying to run the FixTimestamps.exe

Step 2:

Navigate to your steamapps folder in the main Steam folder and then open the "dc universe online" folder.
Example path on Windows 7 x64: C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\dc universe online

Step 3: 

Open the LaunchPad.exe file and sign into your Station account (register for a new one if you don't have one, it's FREE).

Once logged in, this will launch the DCUO launcher, download any missing updates, and get you ready to play. Once the updates are applied, simply click PLAY.  Launching from within Steam next time will work.

Cause of error:

I am not 100% sure on the cause of the error, but I suspect it has something to do with the recent updates not being applied to the Steam version.  Bypassing the Steam launch let's the client get the updates and finish the install.