Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nevah Evah?

In light of my post from a few days ago I think it necessary to expound of my viewpoint a little more. I think it's a valid point that someone reading that and nothing else I've written about SWTOR might assume that I believe it's going to be a terrible game. Let me be clear--I do not. Bioware is a very mature and well respected company with a long track record of award winning games under their belt. They're renowned for the quality of their games, like another certain game developer called Blizzard. Like Blizzard, Bioware had no previous MMO experience when they announced their MMO, and as we know, Blizzard went on to dominate the MMO landscape. I believe a good part of how an MMO prospers is rooted in its lore, which is something The Old Republic obviously has troves of. It's also an intellectual property that people can easily invest themselves in.

So the door is there, and quite inviting. But as Mythic, Funcom and Turbine found, lore simply isn't enough to keep you once you enter. They also have to build an engrossing and entertaining game that delivers well enough on the tenants of player desire. Deliver on those to one degree or another and your MMO will become just one among many others in the market. Deliver well on them all and you become the market leader. It would be foolish to assume that timing doesn't have it's place in this discussion, because very clearly it does. It's no longer 2003 when Blizzard had just a handful of competition from which it needed to differentiate itself. It's now 2009 when the market is flooded with competition, and to make it worse, you have to compete against other games that have had years of polish and content added. In other words, any game that comes out now has a higher hurdle to overcome if they wish to grow beyond the glut into a truly upper tier game.

The devil is in the details, and that is entirely what we're all waiting for with baited breath. It's not enough to simply know that PVP, or crafting, or an economy will be present. But it is hopeful when we see statements from Bioware that they understand what has been released thus far looks surprisingly like a first person game, instead of an MMO. It means they are fully aware of the criticism, the expectations, and the desires of their community members (and the market) and should be working diligently to ensure a truly entertaining and original game is developed.

That is fully my expectation, and I have no reason as of yet to believe that won't carry it out. I have my concerns, and we have only to wait to see them addressed.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Jedi and Sith and Smugglers, oh my

Friday's are something of a thing in Bioware's "the Old Rebublic" community.  Every Friday they post a new reveal, whether that be additional time-line information, sketches, or class information.  Today Bioware treated us to the Jedi.  Surprisingly they hadn't revealed information about it until now, thought they long ago revealed information about the Sith.  Not a whole lot in the way of details, but a few screenshots and tidbits to salivate over.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Will SWTOR be the best MMO Evah?

Out of a desire to preserve my sanity I do not often get involved in MMO communities until after the beta process has been concluded, as I think they are counter-productive until the developmental process is more mature. Such is not the case with SWTOR, however in my defense I usually visit and participate on the boards only a couple times each week. The reason for my general rule is simple--early in the development process there is usually nothing but vague information about the game, and any of that is subject to change. It's simply not a part of the process that I enjoy overly much, because beyond stating your own personal desires about the game, or perhaps discussing with others the give and take of theirs, there really isn't a great deal to talk about, unless the development staff is very active in soliciting feedback and interacting with the community on a personal level on the issues. Not unheard of, but certainly not the norm. That and the type of people that are often attracted to the community at this point in the process are often of the "fanbois" variety. Not all, of course. But many. It's perhaps a product of my own unreasonable expectations, but I much prefer a community where meaningful dialogue is the norm, instead of the exception. And so this post is dedicated to a thread that was started by a fan yesterday on the SWTOR forum requesting people indicate whether they thought SWTOR would be the best MMO ever made.

At this point in development we've actually seen quite little in the way of real detail. But that didn't stop dozens of replies in the affirmative yesterday, because apparently anything with the words "Stars" and "Wars" in its title would obviously be the best game "evah". I won't bore you with the details of those types of responses, but out of my own desire to help people think a little more critically, let me describe why no one should be at a mental point, yet, where they are decided upon purchasing, let alone playing SWTOR.

First and foremost we really have no idea what the overall design of the game will be, and how players will interact on a large scale. All we know is that Bioware has marketed this game as being the first to embrace the "fourth leg" of the MMO triangle-in their words-"Story-driven". Story-driven is just a euphemism for "questing". It's PVE and is a staple of almost every MMO out there. Even deeply entrenched "sand-box" MMOs have some level of it, but games like WoW or WAR that are more PVE oriented implement it to a much greater degree and with greater complexity. By appearances, it looks like Bioware is going to make the "story-driven" aspect of SWTOR the core element of the game. So expect the central activity to be completion of quests and participation in story-lines. In true Bioware style we've seen they've added a couple of twists to this equation, such as the full voice-overs (I am still not sold on this, and need to see more of how it will work on the larger scale before I decide if it's more an annoyance than anything else), and an ability for party members to interact in the dialogue process-even on quests that are yours alone. Outside of that, we know very little. This far that sounds remarkably KOTOR/KOTOR2ish? What sets SWTOR apart from KOTOR/KOTOR2? What makes SWTOR a real MMO?

Along the core PVE element, Bioware has said there will be raids. That hints at what their philosophy will be in implementing a typical "end-game". After all, players will eventually get to the level cap and then what? You can infer from questions like (gear thread v.2), posted by Bioware soliciting responses, that this is something that are still thinking through, and I think it most likely that a progression end-game will ultimately be implemented. A time-sink needs to be present in order to gate players, other wise many people will rush through all available content and grow restless. Restless players are often vocal in their frustration and that type of publicity isn't necessarily the best to attract new players. There will be raiding of some sort, though details as to what that raiding will ultimately mean to players, and whether rewards will even be a part of that or whether there will be an alternative form of progression are still open topics. So far I'm not hearing anything out of the norm for most MMOs here. Quest to level cap, then participate in a form of gated progression ladder as an "end-game". Have players on the SWTOR forum thought this through? Because I've seen hundreds of posts over the past many weeks regarding those players desires for Bioware to "think outside the WoW box". First of all, the typical MMO formula wasn't designed by WoW, so this isn't a "WoW box", but either way I can see many players realizing what we're probably looking at and saying this is a "WoW clone". Some people will probably like that, and others won't. How you thinking along the lines of this being the best MMO evah so far?

Elements such as the economy, crafting, and gathering have not even been mentioned by Bioware as far as I can tell. How these game elements are implemented differ from MMO to MMO, and as one can imagine how they are implemented has an impact on the overall PVE implementation. It goes back to the question Bioware is currently looking at regarding progression. Games such as WoW have a strong, gated-progression focus and crafting is a second tier mechanic in the game, meaning you can happily participate in WoW without ever purchasing craftable gear. It supplements, rather than replaces, gear obtained through questing and instances/raids. On the opposite side of things, I still look to SWG as the premiere crafting system-at least pre-CU when I was heavily involved in it. And in that type of implementation crafting is the central element of the economy and is a core mechanic of the game. Players created all consumables, gear, and accessories and it relied absolutely on an in-depth gathering system to supply it with the raw materials to produce. Until Bioware determines how they will handle progression they can't make final determinations on how crafting and gathering will be implemented, and by extension what level of economy SWTOR will have. Many of the players I am seeing on the SWTOR forum either currently play SWG, or did in the past. Which would probably mean that expectations of what they want to see in SWTOR will be colored by their previous experiences in SWG.

But the question is really one that leads deeper. It opens up questions as to how players will earn currency; what they will typically need to spend that currency on (money sinks); how important consumables will be, and what type of consumables there will be. There are other tangents one can wander along from here like missioning systems. Will there be any? And that begs the larger question of sand-box issues, as to will a greater in-game community be created through player created content, or will the core game element be the only element? Mini-games can probably flourish in either case, but I would more typically expect to see mini-games in a more open sand-box implementation than in a strictly linear PVE implementation. Any way of telling how SWTOR will differ from KOTOR/KOTOR2 yet? Nope.

Then we get to the issue of PVP. Bioware has said there will be PVP, and that's about it. On the face of it the fact there will be PVP would tend to indicate some type of sand-box element to SWTOR, but that really depends on a great many of the details. Open world PVP would lend itself to a much greater sand-box implementation as it would probably indicate world objectives and large scale engagements between factions. Details like how that would affect over-all game play are completely in the open and aren't likely to be answered for some time. If Bioware opts for a much smaller, more closeted PVP implementation that focuses on battlegrounds, instances, and to a lesser degree flagging and no world objectives, how would that effect player opinion? Beyond PVP we know very little about combat in general thus far, outside of short glimpses of combat between single players and NPCs. We've seen the Sith Warrior and the Smuggler using various abilities, but as they relate to the larger PVP question, how those classes are balanced-not only against each other, but all the other classes as well remain to be seen. The balance issue will have a very decided impact on PVP, and how Bioware expects to implement PVP will be telling against that backdrop. Even if Bioware opts for larger scale PVP, how would combat mechanics such as cover affect it? I'm not convinced yet that what I've seen thus far would be overly clunky in a PVP setting. I know one thing, I am in no way interested in a PVP setting where combat mechanics are reminiscent of those implanted in SWG CU. That was precisely why I left SWG and would be a red card toward me playing SWTOR as well. I love PVP, but abilities need to make sense, and what works against NPCs don't always make sense and work well against other breathing, thinking, players. If combat is too cumbersome, I personally think it destroys a cornerstone of a good MMO.

There are a litany of additional questions pertaining to a host of other issues I could run through, but what i've covered already is enough to illustrate what so many on the official SWTOR forum have evidently missed.

It is my most fervent desire that Bioware and Lucas Arts create a fantastically entertaining game, and that a year from now I find myself playing it. But the devil is always in the details and until I know much more than we know now it's impossible for me to say whether will pay the likely price of $49.99 to purchase SWTOR, and the $14.99 month recurring to play it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Massively on Aion

Massively posted a critique of Aion after one month. Most of which I agree with, though I of course didn't get nearly as far along as author Brooke Pilley. I had exactly the same feeling in regard to the PVE content I had access to, which is to say it was utterly boring and senseless. The type of thing - kill 10 bugs and carry their entrails to Juan over there - that one wants to do if they suffer from insomnia. It certainly doesn't rise to the level of content available from most MMOs in 2009. As I said, it's utterly boring and I was completely unmotivated to do it, yet as Brooke's critique notes, even doing those missions, you still won't get very far level wise. Also know as the "grind", you are forced to mindlessly grind (kill creatures you come across) for longer and longer periods of time as you advance through the levels, and that kind of game design is nothing short of retarded in today's market. I wasn't taken enough by the game to get truly excited about it, but game design that requires me to wander the lands doing nothing with my time but whacking bugs for hours simply isn't for me.

The other big aspect, that I found out about only after I started playing, was that around level 25 you are more or less forced into aspects of the MMO that you don't want to participate in. I've said it often enough about WoW--that they were able to dominate in the market because they successfully catered to multiple playing styles. There are PVP and PVE servers, and on PVP servers you are obvious gank bait. But on PVE servers you aren't forced into PVP unless you want to participate. That isn't the case with MMOs like Darkfall, which pride themselves with being hardcore, all the time (how's that working out for ya btw?) and MMOs like Aion, which have very linear game play and play style assumptions. You're a round ball, and they're going to fit you in a square hole. I love to PVP in the MMOs I've played, but I generally like to PVP when skills and abilities make sense and work well. I don't necessarily think that is entirely the case in AION. I believe I've mentioned my inability to make sense of the movement based buff system.

In any event, I'm happy that some are finding enjoyment in AION. I'm simply not one of them and won't bad mouth it as an MMO. I just don't think the type of game-play that seems to be the rage in Asia translates to the American market all that well.

Too many options

I have been thinking more and more lately that part of the problem with some MMO's flopping is that we have too many options to choose from. The market is flooded with MMOs, and there are many more currently on the way. Back in 2003, when WoW was released there were only a small number of MMOs on the market to choose from. None of them, singularly, might have been the end all and be all of an MMO to any one individual. But because options were limited, people played MMOs that were entertaining, and stayed longer generally than I think is the case today.

One big difference, that I think WoW showed us, is that the market is quite a bit larger than it was assumed to be in 2003. WoW, with it's behemoth 11.5 mil plus accounts has certainly stretched the market. But in real terms, has it? No other MMO even comes remotely close to that level. Most games still fall in the 300,000 or less account range, which was considered quite good in 2003. Would some of those in the 300,000 range today be in the 500,000 or million account range if there were less options to choose from? Would more money availabililty to fewer developers lead to more highly polished MMOs?

Many problems with a slate of the current MMOs (WAR, AOC, AION, LotR, etc) is that core mechanics, or game play require a high population in order to keep things rolling along. Once a population falls below a certain level there simply aren't enough players there to keep the play afloat. That is especially true of games that feature strong sand-box and PVP components. But it's largely the same with other MMOs that are more PVE oriented. MMOs are by definition "multi-player" and it is intended that players will group play to some degree. If the population level is at such a level where content becomes inaccessible because other players can't be found to assist, it becomes a grave problem. Typically players will hang on for a time, but there remains a tipping point where they will eventually move on to other games.

Every developer believes they are going to make a better mouse-trap, and that is itself part of the problem. For all the grandiose claims pre-beta, every one knows that a great many of them will simply never pan out. I think it would be far better if grizzled old developers were left in charge of things to slap some of the more idealistic and bombastic claims out of the park, instead of allowing them to mold community expectations like they currently are. Much is the case with SWTOR right now. Player expectations are extremely high, and I'm having trouble accepting that some of the ideals expressed by Bioware will work well on a grand scale. Those same old Grizzled developers should shut down efforts that clearly won't be worth the effort. like about half of the MMOs listed at Playboy Manager much?

Why would I, as an interested player, want to invest myself in a game that might not be around in two years? Why put myself through a year of hell and boredom looking for people to complete some quest or dungeon with if it's going to limp off into oblivion anyway? I've already skipped several other MMOs for exactly that reason, and likely to do so for many more in the coming years.

The question isn't whether I'm willing or able to play other MMOs. Rather, the question is if developers will see the forest for the trees. They're collectivly causing the problems they are experiencing individually. Competition is one thing, and understanding how you would (or should) be able to compete is another.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

How is it doing?

Tobold asks a good question. One in which I think I would normally be saying "just fine" about this time of year, considering the Summer is over. Yet it's not. At least not that I can see. My guild is still limping along and I have all but given up on ever getting into hard modes, let alone finishing content that is actually somewhat difficult. Perhaps that has to do more with the typical player in my guild, but there are still a handful of people that left back in May and haven't come back yet.

You might have noticed from my recent blogging that I've dipped back into EVE. I don't typically play more than one MMO at a time, and for years now that has been WoW. Doing so now has entirely to do with the lack of raid progress we've been able to attain and the fact that questing/achievement attainment and endless pvp gets kind of boring after a while. You simply need something else to do. And I'm not the only one in my guild that I know are playing other games. One friend is playing EVE, two more are playing Champions Online, and a few more are still playing AION. In years past people would be back from their Summer fun and would be raring to go.

I still like WoW, but I know I am personally looking for a little more than raiding one or two nights a week. Particularly when you can't even get past the first boss on Heroic mode. Makes for rather long nights of wiping. Makes baby Jesus cry. EVE is fun, but I've already been around that block a couple times now and I know over the long term I most likely won't stick to it. It's a game that almost requires large group participation, and if you either can't find that or can't handle the costs associated with the real content in EVE, then you aren't going to be able to do anything really.

The games I am really waiting for -- The Old Republic, and Star Trek Online -- are still many moons away from final release. Star Trek Online just announced the official beginning of their beta program, but since I didn't get an invite (yet) it's not something I have a great deal to either talk about, or learn about as of yet. Still so many questions unanswered about STO in any regard. Largely the same with TOR, which has either started early closed beta, or will soon. TOR is probably the game I am most looking forward to, but as with STO, there are still so many unanswered questions.

In the mean time I will probably bounce back and forth between WoW and EVE. Something I've never done before and probably says everything that needs to be said all by itself.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Star Trek Online Beta has begun

A little earlier than I think I had anticipated, but good news none-the-less. Nope, no email yet!

We're happy to announce that we've entered Close Beta as of today, October 22!

If you've signed up, keep an eye on your email, as we'll periodically be inviting people to join in and share their feedback. Additionally, if you look to the right of the page, the "Closed Beta" application graphic will change to indicate you've been accepted, if you've in fact been accepted. (It'll read "ACCEPTED" in big, bold letters.)

If you haven't signed up yet, head on over to the preview application, create an account if you haven't and sign up!

Who's the god here?

Let me get this strait... for two years I actively tried to get the Hallowed Helm, and the Sinister Squashling on a couple of my toons, and didn't get it on either of them. But I did get the Squashling on a toon last year that wasn't actually trying for it. This year, I get it on three different toons, along with the helm on three different toons. What the heck Batman?

Hulk smash!

One thing that playing another MMO, while skill training in EVE continues, gives me is the patience that was needed to complete the training required to fly the Hulk I had wanted back when I was heavily playing EVE in the Spring. Two weeks and I have my Hulk. It is good, and it smashes those roids. 8 hours from now I'll actually be able to use Modulated Strip Miner II's, and Mining Laser Upgrades, so I'll really be able to see my efficiency sky-rocket. Can't wait to see what it's like when my second account finishes the training for the Orca in a couple weeks. I guess I have the next two weeks to be able to afford it.

In any event, I'm tooling along in Eve, but this time I'm not dithering. I'm going to play casually and just let training happen. When I finish all the industrial training I want to complete, I'll then start looking at the combat/pvp stuff again.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MMORPG agrees

Garrett Fuller, at MMORPG recently wrote about a topic I had touched on September 1st, saying

Why MMO companies start setting their fans' expectations three or four years before they are ready is baffling.

I completely agree. He goes even further, referencing the current model of MMO developers regarding beta testing--calling it the "Beta Effect". You can see it unfolding in many MMO's right this very instant, but in my case, the one I have been following so closely, The Old Republic (SWTOR). Once it was announced that beta testing was soon to begin the butt kissing went into over drive on the official forum. People are crawling all over each other to gain access, but many of them are after one thing, and one thing only. Information.

More and more often users are entering beta testing in test to see if they are interested in playing the game at release, and to gain an advantage over those who do not have access. It's no longer about testing and polishing the game for most, and hasn't been for several years.

Together it points out that developers need to adjust their MO. I believe they need to dial down the hype, and start the community building when there is actually information for potential players to learn.

The RNG gods have been good to me

I just mentioned this a couple days ago, that all I needed was the Sinister Squashling, and the Hallowed Helm to complete my Hallow's End meta achievement, and by extension the "What a long strange trip it's been" achievement, with the Violet Proto-Drake reward.

Not only did the Hallowed Helm drop yesterday afternoon, but I actually won the roll! Got the Squashling pet the evening before Trick-or-Treating in Dalaran. Gotta say... loving the new mount. Now to continue the year long process on my two other main characters.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Star trek Online Q1 2010

This is good news because it should mean a LOT of information should be pouring out onto the net very soon. Cryptic has been very forthcoming with information related to space, and to a lesser extent, land combat. But what about the larger questions about the MMO like "end-game", economy, sand box elements, and all the rest? That is the sort of information that really tips the scales as to whether someone ultimately is interested in an MMO and I think, we are all waiting for at this point.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hallows End

I've commented on WoW's world events on various occasion, but when I last posted about them was during the mid-summer event when I wondered if Blizzard wasn't stretched just a bit too thin. Previous world events had been noticeably incomplete, but the Brewfest event which finished a few weeks ago had no updates other than increase Direbrew's level to 80 and adding new loot to him. At least Blizzard updated that, but because the world event was mostly self contained and well designed from the start, it masked previous world event problems.

Fast forward to Hollows End though and the problems with incompleteness resurfaces. Blizzard updated the Headless Horseman, and his loot, but they failed to add achievements for the candy pails in Northrend, though they are there and you can visit them all. It's exactly the same issue we saw during children's week, which Blizzard addressed by having a second children's week just for Northrend. Really inexcusable and only brings additional questions to mind regarding how thin the development staff is or isn't.

Still, Hallow's End is my favorite world event. And other than the minor achievement silliness, it's still an enjoyable event. Unfortunately for me, Hollows End is the final meta achievement I need for my Death Knight to finish up the "What a long strange trip its been" achievement. Back in December I was commenting that events like this suffer too much from the RNG monster as I prepare myself for trick or treating around the clock for the next two weeks (on three toons no less) as I strive to loot not only the Sinister Squishling, but also the Hallowed Helm. Imagine that--one single achievement during this event between me and a year long effort to get a special mount. Seems fair!

It simply isn't enough to put myself through this on one character, but I endeavor to do it all over again on two other characters as well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Star Trek Online Time Line

If you haven't seen this video yet, check it out now. I am really enjoying the additional fleet engagement tidbits that have been trickling out lately, and this video has plenty of game footage that shows the iconic space battles that we've seen in the movies and shows, and which I think most of us are wanting to participate in the most in STO. Between this video and the preview information here, it sounds like Cryptic has indeed put a lot of thought in the mechanics that manage it all.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

China -- keeping people oppressed one happy citizen at a time

China is cracking down again. If you simply read the story and have no greater understanding of the oppressive nature of the country, then you might just take this at face value. However, coupled with GAPPS new rules you can read between the lines and see what this was really all about. China is an oppressive nation, and like all other Communist nations, has walls to keep it’s citizens in rather than keep people out.

Access to the Internet, while relatively prevalent in China, is tightly regulated. The Great Firewall of China is ubiqutous and all powerful, though aspiring young technology savvy users have learned ways around it. And that is really what these new rules are about. Cutting off avenues for Chinese to attain knowledge and ideals that are not approved by the government. The Chinese government does not want cracks in the walls that surround their nation that business relationships can cause to happen. Afterall, the Chinese, more than perhaps any other culture, takes a long term view of things. They want to ensure that over time foreign businesses and interests do not supplant that of the government, and so they tighten their grip and leave foreign investors in an unsavory grey area.

At this point, why would any foreign business invest in China when they can not enforce agreements and protect their intellectual property? The articles both mention the World of Warcraft (WoW). I wonder what Blizzard is thinking at this point considering the articles both allude to the fact that they seemingly will no longer be able to enforce contracts they must have penned with NetEase. I wonder how worried Blizzard is at this juncture regarding what might happen to their game over the next year or two there.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Free to Play -- when will this take hold on the major MMO market?

Free to play "MMOs" have been around for quite a while, but Dungeon and Dragon's is the first of what I would consider to be a major MMO to adopt that model. It was apparently a good business decision for them--at least player wise, though I would be interested to see how profitable this is for Turbine. Especially with the current legal machinations between Turbine and Atari.

Do you invest yourself in your characters?

I saw an interesting article last week that tickled the synapses and had to do with personal investment in our characters and how that relates to the games we play. I have related many times that Sony’s Star Wars Galaxy (SWG) was my first MMO, and that I played it from July 2002 to March 2005. With many years of MMO play under my belt now I can look back and realize what a terribly developed game SWG was. It was a near complete sand-box, which relied almost exclusively on player created content to entertain. PVP was the corner stone of the game, yet the technology of the time would not support the “massive” battles that the game advertised, and players clearly wanted. Battles over bases were like slide shows—frustratingly so.

Prior to March 2005—before the “Combat Upgrade (CU)” was released SWG had 32 different classes; had no levels, as each character was allotted a set number of skill points to spend in any tree of any class they wished; and there was absolutely no PVE content beyond a number of horrifically boring missions that you could run repetitively for money. Class balance? Let us just say that class balance was something aspired to, but never achieved.

All of which begs the question “then why did you stay and play”? First, it was my first MMO so I really didn’t know better. But more importantly I loved my characters. In fact this blog and my tech website are named for my first character (Iggep) and I continue to use that name in WoW today. I’ve come to a curious conclusion about how people generally grow attached to a game, and then stay over the long term. For many, I believe the back story, or lore, is very important. It’s what turns a 2-d experience into a 3-d experience; creates the depth into which immersion happens. It’s what sets apart MMOs like WoW from other MMOs like AION, though obviously that is just the beginning. Afterall, Mythic’s WAR has as rich a lore as Blizzard’s WoW does yet the outcome of those games is very different. And if we want an even better example, Funcom’s Age of Conan should have been the blow out MMO if the decade if Lore was the only factor that mattered. Clearly it isn’t.

Lore is the beginning and sets the tone—draws us in and creates that rich keenness of anticipation for many, but not for all. If that is the beginning then what keeps us is the tone and activity of the game and allows the player to reach that attachment to their characters. MMOs that achieve the basic tenants of player desire do well, but don’t necessarily rise to the top. Not only do those MMOs have to deliver on those core principles, but they also need a level of level polish that impresses. Games like SWG pre-CU had the lore and the immersive qualities and polish that enabled players to create those character attachments, but it also ultimately failed because it didn’t deliver on those core player desires. If it had delivered that crucial element players like me would still be playing it. Yet I believe the only people playing it now are those that started playing it after NGE. It essentially became a completely new game yet I had already let go. I’d passed onto another MMO and eventually grew immersed in it.

WoW became what it is—something that was by no means expected back in 2002 and 2003—because it had a rich back story, and enough of the immersive qualities to keep its players beyond the free month of play. And enough of those players formed strong attachments to their characters, on which the rest of the community that we see today was built. Though I have grown somewhat weary of WoW lately I continue to play because of my “oldest” character -- My Druid. If I didn’t have a character that I was that attached to I am absolutely certain I would not be playing WoW right now. I probably wouldn’t be playing any current MMO because none of them seem to deliver on what I want, other than WoW.

Even Aion doesn’t attract me. I don’t know enough about the lore of the game to get that interested, and it doesn’t deliver on enough of the core player desires. And even more importantly it doesn’t learn from previous MMO mistakes in that it more or less forces players to PVP in order to advance beyond a certain point and doesn’t cater to a varied type of content. In short it’s just another in a long list of PVP centric MMOs that ultimately relies—absolutely relies—on a high population to keep that type of content active. Once the population starts to drop there won’t be enough “content” to keep a majority of players active and happy and the population will start to drop even more dramatically. Sorry Aion, but I’ve been there and done that already and have no desire to do it again. Little known lore; few of the core desires delivered upon; content contrary to my playing tastes—means I just wasn’t all that attached to my character and didn’t see the point of continuing with the game. I gave it a shot, but I’m one of many that already cancelled within the free month of play and a lesson to NCSoft.

Developers, if you want to create truly engrossing games then select an IP that has roots. Then create a bridge that enables players to attach to their characters.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Does one person tip the balance?

In regards to PVP, I used to think that no, one person did not tip the balance. However my experience grinding Warsong Gulch rep has changed my opinion because I have what could be called anecdotal evidence that suggests otherwise. I recently started grinding Warsong Gulch rep, and when I started it I found I had participated in 64 previous matches, amounting a 28-36 record (43.75% winning percentage) and earning 2590 rep for those matches. As I never cared for Warsong Gulch much because of the lack of a time limit allowing matches to grind to an hour or more, I was there under protest, and for the emblem only. Basically I counted on one match, one emblem, so I certainly never tried very hard to win.

That all changed when I decided I really wanted Justicar. From that point on I was in there, and in there to win. I've now participated in 105 Warsong Gulch matches, and raised my winning percentage to 48.5% (51-54) and earning a total of 4935 rep (2345 rep increase). In short, I was trying to win, doubled my winning matches and nearly doubled my total rep in less than half the time.

As I said, that is only anecdotal evidence. And gets murkier as we discuss other Battlegrounds. But I think certainly it makes sense. Especially in smaller groups like Warsong Gulch where it's 10 v 10. In Arathi Basin, where it's 15 v 15, I still think just one person makes a difference but in Alterac Valley, does it? I'm not so sure. It certainly could though.

I've always disliked the mobs of people that AFK in AV, and to a lesser extent those who do it in AB or WSG, but everything I've witnessed in the past couple weeks shows me that its even more important then ever to get rid of the AFK'ers. Unfortunately there are still plenty of apathetic players that just don't care. I imagine it's because they were as ignorant as I was on how much each individual counts. Case in point there was one player in WSG the other day that was afking along the eastern border behind a tree. I reported him afk but couldn't get anyone else to do it, so he got to sit there the entire match, and gain the rep and honor we all worked for. For some reason that really bothers me. Perhaps because some of the matches I've played have been close. Close enough for one person to make a difference in individual battles? Perhaps.

Naturally it gets me thinking about the new idle system that Blizzard recently implemented. It's definitely got some problems that need to be worked out, but I can't think of a better system myself. Perhaps if it added in some additional intelligence that looks at the amount of healing or damage, or objectives taken by the individual before it marks someone idle it might be more workable. Or perhaps instead of requiring players to mark it could simply do it itself using the same criteria.

All this really makes me wonder what to expect in the rated battlegrounds where people will also be earning arena points. I wonder if anyone will turn the other cheek to people afking there too?

Friday, October 9, 2009

It just doesn't pay to be a red shirt

a few new details have been trickling out regarding the "crew" in Star Trek Online, and the Bridge Officers. I like how the basic mechanics are sounding, so I'm looking forward to more information in the coming weeks and months.

This week's Dev Chat is also very interesting and worth a quick read.

will we be able to visit Quarks at DS9 ?

Yes, You will be able to visit Quarks on DS9. Our environment team is working very hard to replicate certain areas of the series that translate well into our game.

Can we get a hell yeah?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Battleground rep gain

There are so few things that I actually have to do in WoW these days. Chasing achievements, for the most part, has grown stale for me and even daily quests are something I do only once or twice a week now. While I continue to raid, my guild has never gotten very far with hard modes--either in Ulduar, or in ToC. To be honest I'm not all that interested in pursueing hard mode achievements, though I will participate on attempts. And that's pretty much how the guild raiding has been going lately. We clear 25-man ToC Tuesday night, then go do Onyxia and VoA and wrap it up for the night. Thursday is normally reserved for Heroic ToC-25 but we haven't gotten very far.

So what do I do with the rest of my time? PVP for the most part, and it is the PVP achievements that I'm slowly but surely working my way through at this point. One of which -- Justicar -- is my current goal. What is Justicar you ask? Quite simply, it's achieving exalted rep status in Alterac Valley, Arathi Basin, and Warsong Gulch. Anyone that Battlegrounds knows that this achievement is a royal pain to get because getting to exalted in Warsong Gulch is a test of any person's patience.

By comparison, getting to exalted in Alterac Valley takes all of a week or two and is so easy that its achievement is almost universally ignored. You get rep for taking objectives in the game, and by killing NPCs around the map. Rep comes very quickly. On the opposite side of that scale is Warsong Gulch, where you get rep by capping flags only. 35 rep per flag cap on no-holiday weekends, and 45 rep per flag cap on holiday weekends to be exact. Meaning on non-holiday matches you can earn a maximum of 105 rep, and 135 rep in holiday matches.

I almost never participated in Warsong Gulch before patch 3.1 because there was no time limit on the match. And hour long grind fests were the norm, where the opposing side more often than not, simply farmed you for honor rather than capping flags and ending the match. It made for no rep, and very little honor for the side that was getting rolled. In patch 3.1 that changed with the imposition of a 25-minute time limit. It also meant that a side could win with capping a single flag. Or two, for that matter.

You begin to see why getting to Justicar is such a rarity. Just look at the math. You have to win a minimum of 400 matches by 3-capping to get to exalted. If you look through BG-Heroes you'll see that most people win 45-55% of their matches, which means that to achieve that perfect 400 required 3-cap wins you'll most likely have to participate in approximately 800 matches. That figure starts to go up dramatically as you factor in 1 and 2 cap wins. And of course if relies on you winning close to 50% of the matches you play in.

My winning percentage is 47% as of last night, and yes I keep track. And not every win has been a 3-cap, so over the course of the last 20 matches I earned 1190 rep, which means I will to participate in around 640 more matches if the average holds true. I try to run a minimum of 5 WSG matches a night, so I'm staring at about 4 months (or longer) until I get the requsite rep I need before I can begin to concentrate on Arathi Basin rep.

Unfortunately Arathi Basin is about as bad, as it grants rep with each "tick", with the ticks coming faster as you accumulate more bases. As WoWWiki indicates, you earn 10 rep every 160 resources your team gains. Which means you can earn a maximum of 100 rep per match, compared to the 105 you can earn in Warsong Gulch for three flag caps.

Now tell me that isn't worth more than 20 achievement points. Incidentally, only 4.5% of alliance players have this.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Once again into the breach

I mentioned yesterday that a friend of mine had started to play EVE Online on off-raid nights in WoW. He knew I used to play EVE, so he's been peppering me with questions. I know how confusing it can be to start, becayse unlike any other MMO I know of, EVE is the most new-user unfriendly game there is. Nothing CCP has done to date, that I know of, has taken the edge off that learning curve. Not that I neceasarily think that all of the learning curve is bad, but it certainly is very confusing to new players. EVE is so open, with so many mechanics to learn you literally don't even know where to begin.

As I said, he's been peppering me with questions, and while I could answer a lot of them, I was sort of surprised at how many of the details I had really forgotten, or that had grown fuzzy. I ended up reactiviating my two accounts and been spending a little time in the EVE universe the past few days. Certainly makes for an entertaining day on those Tuesdays when WoW is offline.

While EVE is EVE, and will always be EVE, one thing I did noticed had changed immediately was the price of Tritanium. It was hovering around the 4.05 price point when I last played in the Spring, but it's now down into the 2's and 3's in a lot of the zones. I'm very curious as to what could have made it drop that precipitously because it was my main money maker before I left. I'm still 13 days away from being able to fly a Hulk, but luckily I already have the money to buy and outfit it. But with Tritanium as low as 2-3 ISK per, it sort of makes sense for me to mine something else once I get into that Hulk. Means having to venture into less secure zones. Definately need to get back into my research and reading the EVE forums daily, so it seems I have something to do other than WoW again.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Upcoming MMOs that I'm finding quite interesting

My mind has been turning more and more often to upcoming MMOs these days. I’m getting restless with WoW again, and frankly Cataclysm doesn’t impress me as much as BC and WotLK did. I just don’t have that feeling of anticipation for it like I had with the previous expansions. Don’t get me wrong, I still like WoW very much, but outside of raiding (2-3 times a week on the main, and what I can get into on an alt) and constant PVP there just isn’t much to do. And frankly I’m getting a bit bored.

A friend of mine is largely in the same frame of mind and has started playing EVE Online, while only logging back into WoW for raids. And I have a few other friends who are playing AION on non-raid nights as well. I’m not at all excited by AION and have already cancelled my account, and I’m only somewhat interested in EVE any more. Which leaves me longing for greener pastures. My problem is that the games I’m most interested in right now aren’t set to release until sometime next year.

Star Trek Online looks interesting, not only because I’m a Star Trek fan, but also because it offers huge iconic fleet battles with familiar ship classes. I’ve read reports of hands-on testing from PAX in September which mention being able to manage energy utilization during battles (transfer all available power to forward deflectors!) which should make any Star Trek fan happy. Especially because tactical considerations in battle matter. Larger ships will have a harder time with smaller attackers, meaning not only will you have to pay attention to how, and where you pilot but will also have to closely monitor and manage your tactical systems to ward off smaller, more agile attackers. It’s something I wished was in EVE Online. Take too much damage to dorsal shields, roll and keep your attacker on the opposite side while they regenerate or are strengthened.

Cryptic is giving each “Captain” a crew to manage as well. The crew are NPCs that you manage and can utilize semi-autonomously and who from what I’m reading, have a relatively high level of AI. That’s interesting because it’s a mechanic that isn’t often utilized in MMOs -- Guild Wars, The Old Republic (reportedly) for examples – and seemingly would allow a greater ability to solo play in a cooperative world. It’ll be interesting to see how Cryptic flushes this out as the release date comes closer.

I’m definitely interested in Star Trek Online, but ultimately whether I play this MMO or not will revolve around details that haven’t been discussed to any great degree as of yet. Star Trek Online will reportedly have PVP and PVE aspects, but I’m primarily interested in the PVP content. Unfortunately I know from experience that games that focus too much on one aspect, to the detriment of another do not fare well in the market. And once a population level falls below a certain level the game quickly grows stale and boring as you spend more and more time looking for something to do. Fighting NPCs often becomes tedious and offer little in the way of competition.

How will PVP affect the universe? Will PVE content be varied and difficult enough to offer true entertainment?

Star Wars: The Old Republic is another game that I am closely watching. And quite frankly, most interested in at this point. I’m finding more of my previous concerns have either been vaguely answered by Bioware, or are still being looked at. So I have great hope that SWToR will be a true MMO and will be immersive enough, with varied content and sandbox elements that it’ll have strong legs and staying power. Most frustrating for me is that I’m not really expecting this to be released until sometime late next year, so it could be a year from now before I can even play this.

Since no other current MMO really interests me, that leaves me still playing WoW with PVP as my primary daily activity. Unfortunately, as anyone who PVPs in WoW will know, it’s no where near balanced. I have 800 resilience, 31k health in Bear form, and can (and often do) get killed inside a single stun by Ret Pallies. Hunters and Ice Mages are a pain the butt, and many others depend on whether I get the jump first or have cool downs available. Would that I could just got to sleep tonight and wake up a year from now!

Friday, October 2, 2009

WoW's new BG deserter system needs more thought

I have to give Blizzard points for trying. After all, afking in battlegrounds had hit an entirely new crescendo with the addition of XP by PVP. People quickly found out that the very best XP was to be had in AV, where the bracket ran from 71 to 80, instead of like the other battlegrounds, where the brackets ran x9. The AV battles were 2/3 full of low level alts that could most typically be found in the cave, or camped behind trees, or somewhere out of the way. And it caused a tremendous outpouring of frustration and displeasure on the official forum until Blizzard made a change recently that matched the AV queueing system to the other battlegrounds. Now level 80's find themselves in their own queue again, and the afk'ers are down to the much lower level they were before XP from pvp was instituted. Along with that change came something new as well.

Blizzard also changed the long standing, and mostly useless, afk reporting system. Before if you found someone "idle" in a BG you had to right click on them and "report afk". If enough people did that you would get an idle debuff that halted an honor gain from that point on. I don't know how many reports it took, but it was a considerable amount. Now however, it takes much fewer reports and after 60 seconds of with an idle debuff you get a second debuff that will kick you from the battleground.

The problem with that is that it's buggy as hell. I battleground all the time, and ran into the bugs head first the other day. The first instance was in AB while healing on my Holy Pally. I got killed and got spawned up at the entrance, and apparently got reported AFK while I was a ghost. When I came alive I had to immediately scramble down to Stables looking for something to hit and luckily saw a Horde in the water, who I gave chase to and finally caught in time to stop my presumptive removal from the Battleground. Apparently not in enough time to catch the deserter buff with 12 seconds left on the AFK though. I was in AB with deserter buff.

The second instance happened the same day in EotS. I was killed and spawned at Mage Tower graveyard. Apparently got reported while ghost again and while I was typing in chat (it was a losing match anyway) I suddenly find myself back in Dal with deserter buff even though I was number one on the healing meter that match.

Instead of the deserter/idle system being used as intended it's also being used to remove people from the battleground that are critical to other bad players, and is buggy. It's just the latest example of Blizzard's inexplicable logic that I have found to be incredibly frustrating over the years.

Great idea, but flawed follow through.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Worry? Who's worried?

I believe I've mentioned this previously, but many people are worried about what is in store for SWTOR. Here is an excellent post on the official forums right now that expresses more of the angst that I had discussed on my own, and originally posted HERE.

Ok right ahead: I am very serious with this, and I dont intend to provoke you, but this is the result of weeks and months of thinking and following news and info, and I would really be interested in your (thoughtful) critique.

Here comes the thesis first: Bioware is either deceiting themselves about what a success SWTOR can be, OR they are deceiving us about the nature of the game.

Now to the analysis. I will try to keep it a brief as possible. I hope I dont create loopholes by shortage, but I may add to it, if some parts are unclear.

I.) Bioware, EA and LucasArts always emphasize "story". In fact we have not heard of a single gameplay sphere any detail other than that. There is that suspicious fact we hear NO other "usually expected" detail whatsoever, now for a long time. Which is no argument in itself, yes, just a hint. The central point here is: they always emphasized, that ALL of SWTOR is story driven. ALL is heroic and there is NO usual grind, no "un-heroic" battle like "kill 20 rats". Point 1.

II.) They have hinted every class has its planet. With the map circling around we have 16 planets, that makes 8 class bound planet. So 50% granted solo game. Or at best intra-class co-op. Tho why should you when its "your class story". Not waterproof, but a measure of balance.

III.) We know we have combat companions, and we know Bioware said, the game can be entirely soloed. Fact! Now what is crystal clear to me: the easier quests are, the more soloable, the less grouping happens. Grouping is what happens when people need to group. Now sure the rise of soloing can be seen. But the fact is, most people who can solo will solo. With NPC companion. Now the life-force of any MMO is it's community. Communites form through grouping for a large part. By shared experiences. But from my POV, when everything CAN be soloed, most WILL solo it. Now if you are busy, busy with your story, why share it, when a NPC does it? Communities are formed by and large through the "hunting party experience", when a team overcomes an obstacle a single person could not. The rise of solo-friendlyness has so far seriously damaged the community spirit in MMOs.

IV.) Now no matter how good your stories are, I just dont see it that a decend number of players stays in a MMO for more than 3-4 months. I just do not see it. Taking the not small playtime per day of the average MMO gamer, I am sure most will be through the story 2 times by then at LEAST. I am sorry if I have to burst your bubble, but a game merely driven by story wont hold people alone a long time. 6 months is the max. time.

V.) The ONLY thing proven to keep gamers a longer time, is repetitive tasks, like it or not. Just going out hunting stuff. (Not to speak of the fact that many feel "mindless grinding" as something relaxing, actually!) You just would have to create 100+ planets with story to equal the play-time amount a MMO like WOW or EQ2 or GW can muster by grind. Grind, meaning "not heroic, simple, repetitive task", which is not fitting into the category of "heroic story". You know, the usual type of MMO quests.

Now the bottom line and conclusion is: when EA paid a hefty sum for Bioware, they sure expected a MMO with a monthly fee keeping gamers a LONG time, for in no other realistic way Bioware would be worth so much money. That would suggest SWTOR DOES HAVE some long lasting game qualities, which would clearly say, that story is just "one part among many others", which also would mean we have been deceived about SWTOR being "all heroic". There WOULD be the proverbial "20 rats" to kill. The trash mobs, the fedex quests, the faction grind - you name it - everything any normal MMO has. Truth be told, I personally am HOPING this is so. The other way would be, Bioware deceives itself, when they think a game with story alone has the weight to keep gamers for a longer period of time, no matter how interesting you can make a story. it would NEVER ever work. MMO gamers are used to some things, and only some things are known to create communities. And only MMOs with communities can survive a longer time.

So my worst fear ironically is Bioware would be honest. What I fear is, that everything is heroic story, people play it with one or two classes through and then be done. What that LucasArts guy hinted, that there would be a vast untapped potential of single player gamers who never played a MMO so far, hints this may indeed be their hope, and I just implore them to NOT believe that! The MMO market is not expanded into single player gamers anymore! Period. I have no proof for this last assumption, but my strongest feeling of truth. A MMo gamer is a kind of person, a lifestyle, and the WOW model tapped what was left by mechanics we dont need to discuss, but which worked, apparently.

I am sorry for the long text and complex thought. I know, it may be difficult to follow, and I hope you answer civil and fair. It is a theory, nothing more, but I fear when they are serious with their idea that EVERYTHING is heroic, and can be soloed, it would no bode well. I mean it could still be a very good game. Thats not the point. But in no way in hell it will bring back that sort of money EA paid nor would that form a years lasting community in the game.

So, challange my analysis.

Some of his points are challenged (strenuously) by others in the thread, while some are also challenged by one of the stickies in the forum. Among them is:


* PvP is in TOR - Multiple Interviews
* Confirmed that you do NOT have to PvP in TOR, its an option if you want too - IGN Q & A
* Richard Vogal during an interview said that Battlegrounds were available - Games Reactor
* Loot sets also seem to be in game, possible mutliple PvP sets mentioned - Gamespot Smuggler


* There will be raiding but no details have been released - Multiple Reviews
* End Game Content like Raiding is available if players do not want to re roll- MMOGamer

It's been my view that Bioware has not done itself best by creating the community and strangling the information available. They would be wise to recognize the angst and to make information officially available on the SWTOR website. Tap into the evident desire for the game and mold it.