Thoughts through the quiet time

Now that it’s gone a bit quiet around my house, and I’ve been out of game for a while I feel like sharing some short thoughts on gaming, which touch on MMORPGS and WoW.

Gaming wise, a few odd sessions of D3 and Sir, You are Being Hunted is all I’m fitting in, and that was/is mostly months ago. I finally finished the basic story of D3 and watched the lovely cut-scene/movie. Those Blizzard folks still know how to make a reasonable ending. Playing on with D3 without the expansion feels like running on a hamster wheel because the story is over. So now I either pay for the next story segment or do something else. Fair choice too, the game had enough content to make the initial purchase worth while, and its not like I finished it early.

Even if I had more time I’m not sure I would be installing a new MMO either. The banter about WildStar seems to say its pretty and interesting, but is very much the same as what has come before. That is not a bad idea for games as a moderate subscriber base can keep a company profitable for years; but after the zest and spin of the announcements – its kind of a dull outcome. I ran-up an Eve trail account and almost logged in. Almost, but then remembered that the game is slow and takes more time than I’ve got at the moment, and the account has lapsed. I thought about StarWars too as it’s free, and I could play the each of the class quests through to max level and then delete the character/account. Hmm, perhaps.

I miss logging in to something to play. I’d like to run WoW’s UP for the mount once a week, and perhaps a few other mindless farming tasks, but only to be able to say I’ve collected those pixels. Knowing that I’ll likely play WoW in the future means that the heat is drained from the desire to login to farm. I can farm later between other activities.

So now its books, pen and paper games, and catching up on TV shows.

Is being watched in an MMO by Spooks OK?

By now most gamers have head about the NSA watching games like WoW and SecondLife for dangerous individuals. If you’re also watching out for potential impacts from the NSA’s activities exposed recently, you’re probably now saturated with odd and scary stories.

A meandering thought or two is below.

Frankly the entire concept reads like fiction to me, and is scary enough that I’m seriously considering changing a huge amount of what tools I use and what I do online.

By way of really dreadful example – please consider these revelations about what is plausible for surveillance. It is an video explanation of the methods recently exposed. Actual hardware hacks, device exploits, and all other manner of “hacks and hijacks”.

Continue reading

Can the Trinity be damned?

Can the trinity of tank, heal, damage roles in online rpg games be removed? Really?

An old question, and perhaps one which is both too subjective for each game style in question, and also blisteringly obvious for MMOs. Blessing of Kings has a great post where the discussion thread is the perfect primer for the issues and the potential degrees of how effective the solutions will be. A darn good read.

trinity-dangerousTo me it is all about degrees of effectiveness vs the suspension of disbelief. No solution I’ve ever read provided a summary for an MMORPG that has no role based system, without a set of quasi-magical powers to manipulate the monster’s behaviour. And that is not what might really happen.

If nine of my friends and I decided to attack a giant, I don’t think the giant would understand taunts enough to only swing at one person, or that two of us were good at recovering from wounds so might be better to kill early. The giant is going to kill easy targets, targets that hurt it a lot, and then the rest of us.

Similarly a grizzly bear will attack one of us until it can get a good meal, unless we keep poking it with spears in which case it will hurt the spear carrier and probably ignore any others just standing to the side waving their hands (healing, caster dps).

In MMORPGs I don’t think it can be totally removed. I don’t think I’d want it removed either. We have a method which is essentially in support of the fun, and while the mechanics of that illusion might be tweaked, the illusion is useful.

Wildstar actually sounds interesting

warrior_logo_mbThe more tangential information I read on Wildstar the more I think it might be trying to approach a different audience and supply a different game.

A few things sound interesting, like having playstyle pathways where you pick the style of challenge you want, and the game as aspects built especially for that style. If you like combat, you kill monsters. Prefer discovery, then be challenged to find nooks and special areas.

I also like the art style of the game. Having an overtly cartoon world means the rendering could be sympathetic to longevity in graphics, and also potentially avoids the problems of the uncanny valley which most “real-looking” games face. The tech and resources needed to render out a human face which looks “right” are crazy complex and high. A styled cartoon looks right as we fill in the detail mentally. Our minds are the sketchpad and resources which gives the game appeal.

A non-real style also means that emotional, special, and blood/damage effects can also be skewed toward imparting the meaning without a special particle engine. Take the presentation of a spaceship for example. I have no idea what a Devastator class warship might look like in a space game, but I can tell you without a second of thinking that rendering of water in Farcry was incredible and still looked like cgi. I accept the spaceship as real, but I call bullshit on the water’s repeating pattern at max camera distance.

I have no intention of playing Wildstar, especially as my old pc will not be up to the challenge; but I am interested. That is more that I can say about many of the other games being published and in Beta at the moment.

Interesting times. I’m going to keep watching it. TyphoonAndrew

SW Free to Play to 50, hmm nope.

emailheader_freetoplay

These two lovely NPCs would like to see you soon, alas I’ll use ToR as a boredom relief mechanism, and not any time soon.

I got a promo email (again) for Star Wars TOR’s free to play re-launch. The all new payment model based upon getting cash for extra raids and novelty items, rather than monthly subscription.

Sorry SW, this ship has sailed. I am too far into WoW’s Mists of Pandaria to switch to a game even though it will save some dollars per month. Perhaps when WoW’s Tier 14 is old and cleared, and the Diablo shine has gone I’ll try SW ToR again – but all that tells me is that I will try Star Wards when I’m bored, and that it has no true draw on my aspirations beyond being better than playing a facebook or iphone game. And yes, that is meant as an insult when you consider it was a huge MMO with very large aspirations and a darn healthy budget.

WoW’s draw is still stronger despite the shitty grinding of Valor on dailies.

The game had potential, but what I saw on login was a very similar experience to the re-grind of every MMO (including Warcraft) and therefore I choose the devil I have invested in, rather than starting out as a newbie. I can see why players do like it too, as it has a a very reasonable level of detail in the leveling stories, and feels very Star Wards in nature.

What did it for me (or didn’t do it) was the lack of breadth in choices (like not being able to alter class specialisation) and the vast gap between the promise of “no grinds” which was made very early on in the dev hype cycle and what I saw in the end. It did some great things (like crafting/gathering by npcs, nice logical professions, reasonable level rate, and some of the quest mechanics were good).

So close, but not now. Happy Killing.

GoT 7 Kingdoms screenie

A GoT – Seven Kingdoms teaser video via Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Well the still screens look good, the video look average, and I’m very worried that this is a flash in the pan.

As soon as my plans come to fruition, I'll finally /sit on the Iron Throne.

“… to Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms – which promised an MMO in which “players form alliances through Player vs. Player (PvP), Siege combat, and politics to control Westeros” – Bigpoint vanished into the seat-and-BO-flavored mists of Comic-Con. And from that primordial ooze of glorious geekery, it’s now produced one trailer. It features betrayal, war, power, and GIANT WORDS introducing each.”

Old Republic to Refer Friends and/or Play Free to 15

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Two very interesting new options in the Star Wars The Old Republic game which were previously hinted at are to be live:

Both “features” are items which a few MMOs have in play, and in all likelihood these measure help add new players to the player base. It is a pretty exciting change for SW ToR and one that may increase the server pops a little. I think the recruitment drive could have happened a lot earlier, but conversely the free to play change (to level15) is something that owners may not wanted from day one, as it removes the initial splash of revenue from box purchases.

I’m interested in what effect this has, and how the current player base feel about the move?

The key free trial blurb:

Free Trial participants will experience the opening adventures of each of the eight character classes in the game. Players will explore their classes’ Origin World, and may even have the opportunity to visit their faction’s Capital World! Additionally, Free Trial players will have the chance to face off against other players in Player-vs.-Player Warzones, or join up with friends and play through a Flashpoint.

Players who have previously participated in one of the Weekend Pass Free Trials or the Friends of Star Wars: The Old Republic Trial are also eligible to join this new free trial!

For the Recruit a Friend rewards:

Active players that have passed one billing cycle can invite up to twenty five (25) of their friends to take part in a Friends of Star Wars: The Old Republic trial. During this free trial period, invited friends can play levels 1-15 with no time limit, explore each of the four Origin Worlds, and experience the opening adventures for each class as they start along their epic journey.

You can earn the exclusive Kurtob Alliance Speederby meeting the following requirements:

  • Referred one or more of your friends through the Friends Trial Referral Form.
  • At least one of your friends purchased the game and paid for a recurring monthly subscription or redeemed a Game Time Code.
  • You must be opted-in to receive emails from The Old Republic.
  • You and your friend’s account must not be banned.

All players who have already referred a friend through the Friends Trial and meet the requirements listed above will be retroactively granted a Kurtob Alliance Speeder via in-game mail.

  • Level: 25
  • Quality: Artifact
  • Requires Speeder Piloting: Rank 1
  • Speed: 110%
  • Excellent protection against being knocked off

All in all interesting. Continue reading

Has SWToR Tanked? Is that even a balanced question?

Star Wars: The Old Republic

MMO Melting Pot article took a somewhat imprudent view on SWToR’s longevity since the recent server merges – and asked “how’s the SWTOR server transfer experience treating you and your friends?

Responses from comments and community are mixed, although while the fan base is obviously diminished, there is certainly hope.

A view on longevity really depends on how far the owning company wants to stretch, and what is considered a profitable player base. As a market commodity there is probably value in keeping The Old Republic going for as long as possible, as an extension of the franchise. Much of the Star Wars brand strength comes from the many sources of direct connection it has from the fans, and there is a value to having an active MMO, especially if the costs can be curtailed to a moderate profit.

The server merges come along with some seriously large redundancies in the dev staff too. Large sections of the team have been let go, and while that too is initially a worry it actually is to be expected. The dev team size needed for a game once it a few months post-launch are far less than when it is being built. Devs, testers, managers, and all others should expect to either move to new projects, or move on. That is the reality in software development.

It depends on what you consider a failure too. It is fair to say that Conan did not survive, but Rift continues regardless of the fact that a very large number of people have “tanked” the game. Perhaps a few hundred thousand people paying the equivalent of five coffee breaks a month is enough to continue a game franchise. In Jan 2012 the Rift publishers declared that they’d made over $100 Million from the game. Tanked? Not really, and they’re now letting folks play to level 20 for free. That’s the best demo around, and other game creators should take note.

I have friends who were fanatics about the Star Wars game, quit all other gaming aspects, and then have now relinquished their fanaticism. Others still play regularly, and some never even started but still love the brand.

I played while the free weekends were in session, but didn’t subscribe as Blizzard has locked me into the annual pass for a while longer. Nice strategy there by Blizzard, although many forum posts now tell me that their time in the sun has faded too. If they fade like Rift tanked then World of Warcraft will be around for a long time to come.

What is a tanked game anyway? Eve is another game that plays well still, after so many years and expansions; and so many declarations of death by corners of the gaming community. A player-base far smaller that the megalithic World of Warcraft, but still  successful.

The Star Wars dev have started talking about SW-ToR going free to play upto level 15, akin to the free pass for WoW/Rift. I like this idea a lot as I’ll get to play more of the story lore, but it may not be enough to get me to subscribe every month. More likely is that I’ll play each class till level 15 and then stop. Is that really a good idea – well it is if you consider playing the game is the best ad a game can have.

So we won’t know really the game has tanked until the servers shut-off and the podcasts fade. The Old Republic might slowly fade from the MMO market over time. I hope it stays around long enough to add a few more features which get absorbed into the “standard” mmo feature set. It’s focus on story was certainly controversial, and bloody enjoyable.

I’ll leave you with this cartoon by Scott Johnson, on ExtraLife. No Comment. Kek.

Trial games and distractions

Recently the temptation to play Star Wars ToR for 7 days came up, and I happily took it. A free trial period is exactly what I need from a publisher so I can determine if their box is worth the money, or if the game is worth the subscription (see the later part of this post for the Star Wars thoughts). With no trial period I’m very unlikely to even try a game.

Overall my gaming philosophy at the moment is:

“I’m planning a short return plunge into WoW briefly before playing Diablo 3, and possibly SWToR. I’ll wait till Panda-randa is released, then decide if I pick it up.”

This is odd for me as I’m an avid fan of Warcraft and the games. I still enjoy WoW when I get to play it, but that is not often enough now. I have mixed feelings about Pandaria. I asked a long time ago to play a Monk in WOW, but the entire Panda expansion leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t think it was time to introduce “cute” into the game setting, and without much more information it still feels like a cute game trying to be Warcraft instead of just being Warcraft.

That said, the idea of killing Garrosh is appealing, and having a number of options on how to level in terms of zones is a flavour from Wrath that I liked. In fact if WoW wanted to get an easy $80+ from me they’d release an expansion very similar to Wrath. It has been my favourite so far. Some folks felt like the Death Knight was catering to the kiddies or was illogical, and I respect that view – but disagree. Death Knights are the coolest class in wow. Perhaps I’ll think Monks are that too eventually.

Given I’m an annual pass holder I am expecting to be able to make my assessment of the next expansion as a late Beat test. get in, decide or not if I buy it, and get out.

Diablo 3 is out in a month or so, and that means I’ll have a game to distract me for a fair while. I expect a very large amount of the WoW population (well 1,000,000 annual pass holders at least) to be playing, so the population should be good initially. From what I’ve seen and read it will be D3 in a way I like.

Looking forward to it. How many folks leave WoW for D3 and never return will be interesting.

Now onto Star Wars – The Old Republic.

Star Wars - The Old RepublicPlaying a game on trial account in SW-ToR was a blast. It was enough time to see that the story-telling basis of the leveling experience really is a great experience, and one that is well worth spending money on. Honestly it is that good.

I played a Trooper to level 10, a Sith Inquisitor to level 10, an Imperial Agent to level 7, and tortured a Jedi Warrior to level 3. Its a darn healthy game, which is in the most part exactly like Warcraft, except the Star Wars Universe. So honestly well done Bioware, excellent job.

Out of those four classes I think the Sith Inquisitor was the best to my taste, a bit of range damage, a solid melee call, and some nice knock-backs and buffs. The bloody Jedi felt like he was resource capped, and the “built your energy” approach felt just like why I hate Rogues in WoW – I’m not patent enough to build energy.

Conversely, you need a killer PC to run Star Wars as intended. I played with a lot of the settings on low and sometimes it looked like my character was cell animated on top of a moving backdrop. Almost a green screen add-on the the environment, rather than actually being “in” the environment. That is not the game’s fault at all – my cheap ass can’t afford a dedicated gaming PC and I’ve no room in the house to put it it. Laptops just don’t go fast enough.

I wish I had more time to play games.

More creative and consistent names

Aside

Update: As this was published I noticed that the patch 4.3 name rules have changed too:

North American realms (excluding Brazilian, Latin American, and Oceanic realms) no longer permit letters with accents in character or guild names. Existing character and guild names with special characters will be unaffected by this change.

How many times have you seen these type of names?

Ãrthás, Ægigbird, ìcemage, lololas, undeaddeath, or ikillsunow. Iamatank (who is dps), pvpggodd, or any darn name which uses a keyboard crushing special character. It is a short step to bigtool7 as a character name, and most of the examples above are from actual toons.

Moons ago I wrote a small blogpost about naming a Death Knight, as at the time the Wrath expansion was announced but not released, and players were creating and reserving names left and right. It was done as a PSA type post so that (I hoped) the wow population would have less silly and unpronounceable names.

How’d that go? I saw no direct affect; but then didn’t really expect to see a major shift. I was more just standing on my soapbox yelling at the world (now we have twitter for that, and bloggers have multiple avenues to shout about the things that frustrate them)…and shitty names still frustrate me.

The characters like “Bloodelfdk” are still happily jumping around in WoW, and it seems that players are keen to use every special keyboard character they can when re-using names. I guess that won’t change much either.

It would be interesting to see an MMO which prohibited these type of names more, and if that rule had a significant affect on the player base. Would a restriction such as that hinder the growth of the game?

Take the SW-ToR game coming in December – can I create a character called DarthVedar? Hanssolo? Chewiebacka? Aaanakin?

These names are just as silly as Arthaaas and all the rest based on the Warcraft lore, and as ToR is based on story arcs and events, it seems something they might wish to consider – especially if the NPCs will be using the character names in some way:

Npc: The elderly noble rises from his ornate throne and says “We hail PrincisLayher, you efforts to force back the Imperial troops were a boon to my people. What would you ask of me as reward?”

Player: “dude epix, lol”

Npc: …{shakes head}

It breaks the story, and makes me a little sick just thinking of it.

OK what to do:

  1. Valid Random Names – The random name generator in the character creation screen should not show you names that are in use. It frustrates me that a name is shown, might actually be useful, but is not available. As an armchair programmer this does not seem to be a huge issue, the list could be updated on batch, and then re-checked every day to ensure the error rate would be low.
  2. Prohibit special characters – I know this affects some legit European names, but then you’re not playing yourself in Second Life, you’re playing Warcraft. Names like Redhand are far more lore worthy than Phîlll. And yup, it would wreck a huge amount of current character names, but hey – I hate those names so on this point I’m going to be inconsiderate of those players.