Friday, July 29, 2011

World of Tanks - The realm of five

I'm still plodding away at World of Tanks most nights.  I say plodding not because the game isn't fun, but rather because I'm simply not very good at it.  Yes, still.  Some nights are better than others, but I'm not one of those people with racks of Top Gun medals (I only have one) and a nice average kill ratio.  I do have a big pile of Steel Wall awards though--people like to shoot me (a lot) and sometimes I get lucky and they don't manage to kill me.  That's worth something, right?

Overall I'm finding I enjoy the tier 5 and 6 battles the most, and prefer to drive the tier 5 and six tanks when I can.  I currently have a Panzer IV, Ram-II, and M10 Wolverine for tier 5, plus a VK3601 and M4A3E8 for tier 6.  They're all fun tanks to play, but if I had to rank them it would probably go M4A3E8 > Panzer IV > Ram-II > M10 Wolverine > VK3601.  The VK is a solid tank, but sloooow.  The Panzer IV is probably my most deadly tank to date, as I think it's biggest gun is probably a little overpowered for a tier 5.  Shh, don't tell!

Unsurprisingly, I have much more fun driving my tier 5s when most of the enemies are tier 5s, and less fun driving my tier 5s when the enemy has tier 7s and 8s.  I like being able to go into a battle thinking "ok, I have a fair chance against anyone in this match, if I blow up uselessly it's because I screwed up or they're more skilled than me."  I don't like going into battle thinking "aww crap, 12 tanks I can't even scratch, I'm going to go sit in that bush for a while."

Which is why I hope really does add a new queue system that gives you a choice between fast matchmaking and a wide spread, or longer matchmaking and a tighter spread.  I would gladly wait several minutes to have a fun balanced match that lasts 10 minutes than spend 10 seconds in the queue for a match where I can do nothing and get one-shot after a minute or so.

Out of curiosity, anyone have any tier 5 (or even 6) tanks that they think are really fun?  I wouldn't mind adding another one or two to my collection . . .

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

SWTOR: Feeling a little hopeful

Most of the blogger responses to Star Wars: The Old Republic's presence at last week's SDCC seems to be positive, and a lot of the things mentioned are making me more hopeful that the game will be good.  I still don't think it's going to be a great MMO, and it's still not the sci-fi game I'm hoping someone, somewhere, will make, but I'm more comfortable in my belief that it will be a solid single-player RPG that also has the ability to group up for harder content.

Some of the recent items that sound interesting to me:

  • Every class gets unique quests from level 1 to max, there are no quests shared between classes.  While this clearly makes doing quests in groups rather stupid, it does make for fantastic replayability.  I wish their single player games had this too.
  • There will be an entire planet dedicated to solo endgame activities.  Again, not a group friendly feature, but one I'm glad to hear about.  It's going to largely be a solo game while leveling, so a switcheroo to group only endgame would be painful (I'm looking at you every MMO currently on the market).  I think I'd just replay that game rather than grind out some endgame, but it's nice to know the option is there.
  • More vehicles (mounts) than just the repulsor segway.  This was sort of a given, but it's still good to see it's been done.
  • The combat is looking a little better -- it still has some rough edges, but it's looking less like "I stand here and shoot you in the face, you stand there and shoot me in the face, repeat until one of us is dead". Granted, this is a promotional video, so some liberties may have been taken.

  • Advanced classes at level 10.  I seem to recall they were originally slated for level 20, though that might have been my imagination.  Level 10 is better.  Personally I think they'd be best off just having 8 classes per side at character creation and be done with it.  EQ2 tried something similar at release, and ended up just making them all classes selectable at level 1 in the end.
  • Customizable companions.  While you still can't change the name, gender, or race of your companions, you can change their hair and skin color and control what equipment they're wearing.  Even though you might be in a group with people using the same companion, chances are they won't look the same.
  • Adjustable companion AI.  They are rumored to be working on customizable AI like that used in Dragon Age.  If they pull it off, companions would instantly become the best MMO pets ever.
  • Branching quests in Flashpoints (dungeons).  Instanced dungeons are great things.   Running them with a group of friends is one of the high points of MMOs.  Running them over and over, doing exactly the same thing every time is one of the low points.  Bioware is supposedly implementing branching quests in their dungeons, such that decisions you make change your objectives and opponents throughout the flashpoint.  If this works as advertised, it will be a very good thing.  Yes, your average PUG is likely to insist on whatever choices yield the fastest and/or easiest run, but when running with a coordinated guild or group of friends this expands the options of what you're doing.
Those are the things I can think of off the top of my head.  I'm still not bouncing up and down in gleeful anticipation like I have for some games in the past, but I feel confident SWTOR will be a game worth playing, and that's a pretty big step up.

A brief mention of politics

This is not a political blog.  However, the current antics in Washington D.C. are making me sick.  The members of congress should be ashamed of themselves.  Putting personal political gain ahead of the nation's well-being is indicative of the worst type of politicians.  This is not a partisan critique, both sides are acting like squabbling little children and need to grow up and learn how to compromise like every other person in every other profession.

The founders of the U.S. quite clearly set up the two party system to generate legislation that met in the middle rather than being dominated by one extreme or the other.  In some ways, the uncompromising hard-line attitude being held by certain members of congress could be seen as unconstitutional -- certainly its not constructive.

Polls have repeatedly shown that most Americans support a budget approach that both cuts spending and increases revenue.  Those members of congress claiming their hard-line uncompromising approach is "the will of the voters" need to get their heads out of their asses and start paying attention.  Republicans need to accept that removal of tax breaks for big corporations and the rich are widely accepted by voters.  Not, of course, the rich voters lining their campaign coffers though, so clearly there's no self-interest there.  Democrats need to accept that deep cuts are needed to get government spending under control.  Pet projects are going to die. Deal with it, the government doesn't exist to be your little plaything.

As voters we only have one recourse.  If members of congress won't do their damn job, vote them out in 2012.

Monday, July 25, 2011

SWTOR: The pre-order "shortage"

For those who may not know, Star Wars: The Old Republic became available for pre-order last week.  One of the pre-order options is for a digital copy through EA's Origin digital distribution platform.  Supplies of the digital version are, apparently, limited.  Yes indeed, the might run out of digital copies, better get yours fast!

The official explanation is that this isn't being done to artificially inflate demand (no no, of course not!) but rather to make sure the "head start" that comes with the pre-order is playable rather than having thousands of angry customers in choked login queues and overcrowded starter zones.  That's . . . plausible.  Maybe.  At least a little.

I have a solution for EA though.  Rather than limit their pre-orders (and risk not getting those 1 million subscribers they need to avoid failure) they should just offer a head start to the head start.  They can start selling pre-pre-orders that give customers a head-head-start.  Heck, they can even link it to the version of the game purchased too.  Collector's edition buyers get a 2 week head start.  Digital CE buyers get a 1 week head start.  Plebians buying the regular edition get a 3 day head start.  Then stick a pre-pre-order on top of that for an extra $5, for people who want to get in even further ahead.  Then they won't need to limit pre-orders in order to protect the people pre-ordering from having an unsatisfying head start.

EA, you can mail me a check, thanks.

(P.S.  This post is not serious)

Friday, July 22, 2011

World of Tanks CAN be more fun with friends!

To date my experiences with grouping (platoons) in World of Tanks have been . . . less than stellar.  My first attempts were made without voice chat, and my friend and I discovered we had absolutely no way to communicate during battle short of the chat everyone on your side can hear.  That really wouldn't work.  Not to mention typing while trying to drive and aim a turret wasn't likely to work too well, even if that was an option, which it isn't.  After a few nights of that we got Skype set up and started using voice chat.  That went much better, at least as far as communication went.  The match up themselves, well . . . not so much.  As Tobold explained in a comment a while back, being in a platoon increases the matchmaking "weight" given to your tanks, thus increasing the likelihood of you being in matches with higher tier enemies.  My luck being what it is (if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all) we got lots of matches with enemies 4 tiers above us.  There's very little you can do in a tier 6 tank against predominately tier 8, 9, and 10 opponents, voice chat or no.

Of course, we've kept playing that way, because having someone to talk to makes it more fun, even if you do spend a lot of time blowing up.  We both had lots of tanks, so once we were both destroyed we'd just jump to a new match.  It wasn't ALL bad, of course, but overall the matchmaking made it pretty painful.  My friend made the comment that he'd never seen such a strong disincentive for grouping in a multiplayer game before.  I have to agree.

So it was with some trepidation that last night I grouped up with not one, but two friends in a full platoon and a conference call through Skype.  The newest member of our team only had tier 1 tanks (our last miserable outing netting him plenty of xp but very little cash to buy new tanks) so we all equipped ourselves in some tier 1 vehicular goodness (the Russian MS-1) and queued up.  The rosters popped up and . . . we got a 50% tier 1, 50% tier 2 battle.  That was really quite balanced.  All three of us had the 45mm gun on the MS-1 which is more than capable of taking out tier 2 tanks, so we did just fine.  We got that same draw, over and over all evening, and quickly started racking up more wins than losses.  It was not unusual for the three of us to account for a third or more of all kills scored by our team, despite being in tier 1 tanks.  Typically the bulk of the remaining kills would be claimed by Hotchkiss drivers.

Ah, the wretched Hotchkiss.  That overpowered tier 2 premium tank was often the bane of our existence, and if ever you saw someone with 4 or more kills on the scoreboard they were invariably driving a Hotchkiss.  Our worst moment of the evening came when the three of us were trundling up an alley in our little MS-1s and my tank suddenly exploded.  There were no enemies in sight, but clearly somebody had just shot me.  My friends continued on, looking to avenge my untimely demise, and shortly uncovered a Hotchkis (otherwise known as a Panzer 38H 735(f)) hiding out behind a shed.  My friends had no cover and nowhere to run, so were certainly in a bad position to start, but the enemy's gun never seemed to miss, while our shots went all over, or hardly hurt him.  Once the smoke cleared he'd destroyed all three of us.  A few moments later he was taken out -- by an allied Hotchkiss (who went on to get 7 kills for the match).

Despite a few setbacks like that, we did really well, and soon my friend was able to buy a shiny new T2 Medium tank.  My other friend and I opted for the speedy BT-2.  We queued for one final match, and I was sure it was going to get bad now, three tier 2's platooned together?  Prepare for the splat!  Instead, we got yet another 50/50 T1/T2 matchup.  It ended up being a pretty terrible game, with the three of us in unfamiliar tanks, but it was a balanced match and that really surprised me.

So at the low levels at least, World of Tanks can actually be quite balanced and fun even when you're grouped.  Who knew?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's hard to write when you're not playing anything

Thanks to a convergence between the twin demons Lack of Free Time and Not Feeling Well, I haven't actually played any games all week.  It does, unsurprisingly, make it difficult to find things to write about.  Sure I could go on about the ridiculousness of Star Wars: The Old Republic's $150 collector's edition (it's ridiculous, there I said it) but the fact is tons of people are buying it, and as Apple has clearly demonstrated over the years it doesn't matter how overpriced something is if people keep buying it anyway.  I won't be buying a collector's edition, I would rather have 3 games for that price than one game and a Star Wars statue my wife would be ashamed to have sitting visible anywhere in the house.

I did play a little bit of World of Tanks last weekend, and finally unlocked the VK3601(H), a tier 6 German medium tank.  It's been interesting to compare it to the M4A3E8 (a tier 6, U.S. medium tank), in that the VK3601 isn't really a medium tank, it seems to quite clearly be a heavy tank in medium tank's clothing -- which makes sense considering it's the predecessor to the Panzer VI Tiger heavy tank.  Compared to the M6, the U.S. tier 6 heavy tank, the VK3601 is slightly faster, has slightly fewer hit points, but has similar armor and firepower.  Sadly I think it's superior to the M6 until you can unlock that heavy tank's 90mm gun, at which point the M6 might take the lead, except it's still a larger, easier to hit target and thus technically has a shorter potential lifespan.  Compared to the M4A3E8, the VK3601 has better armor but less speed and agility.  I'm finding in higher tier matches that the difference between 70 armor and 100 armor is negligible, as either will be easily penetrated by a tier 8 heavy tank's massive gun, whereas speed and agility can help you avoid being hit at all.  If I have to be stuck in the miserable position of dueling a Lowe in my tier 6 medium tank, I'd rather be in the M4A3E8.  At least I might be able to get behind the thing.

I'm also reading the latest book in the Song of Ice and Fire.  It's been a good read so far, but George R.R. Martin has spread the story so thin over so many characters that the overall plot is barely creeping forward.  I don't know how he's going to tie everything up by the end of this book, but supposedly it's the last one so he better.  I don't want him to pull a Robert Jordan here.

Also, this is the worst WoW phishing attempt I've seen in ages:

Greetings,***Please read this e-mail carefully, as it is related to your account state of World of Warcraft ID.
Deathwing the Destroyer returns to Azeroth. There is a serious saturation point in the World of Warcraft ID(s) and it is very difficult for players to creat a role. That we may delete some of the same as role's ID(s) to ensure to get a better gaming experience for players. 
Sorry, because the part ID(s) which is not logged on ,for a long time. For our regular check may cause your ID(s) is cleared. We need you to submit the further questionnaire in person. In order to confirm that you are still in Azeroth. Please click *link redacted*

It goes on for a while, but I think you get the idea.  I've seen some phishing attempts I could understand people falling for, but this one?  Really?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Enough with the WoW Phishing spam already!

Has anyone else noticed a real uptick in the quantity (and sometimes quality) of WoW phishing spam lately?  I'm getting them on 3 e-mail accounts, only one of which has ever been associated with Blizzard in any way.  They keep sneaking into my inbox by fooling my spam filter into thinking they're actually from Blizzard.  The most recent one I've been getting is a carbon copy of Blizzard's "come back for 7 days free" e-mail, except it lacks the personalized touches of the real Blizzard mail, and of course points to a phony sign up site.

I've also been getting phishing spam.  There used to be little to no value in a account, but now that it's linked to your WoW account I guess that's fair game too.  Sigh.  I've even had people trying to sign up for using my e-mail accounts.  Double sigh.

It's all getting pretty tiresome.  I'm not sure I'd especially care if my WoW account DID get hacked, except I have no doubt the day after my account was hacked and stripped I'd get yet another phishing attempt (or three) in my inbox.

Friday, July 15, 2011

You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here

Have you ever reached the point in an MMO where, despite your continued interest in it, you just don't feel welcome any more?  There can be a variety of reasons for this, from time commitments to player elitism to changing development focus to the quite literal closing of a game's doors.

I reached that point a while ago with Rift.  I still think it's a great game.  I still think Trion have produced one of the most polished and well rounded fantasy MMOs to be released since WoW.  I think Rift at launch was a much better game than WoW at launch.  I look forward to playing it again in the future.


Too many tiny little issues have glommed together and made it hard for me to justify a continued subscription.  My play time is limited, and as such I fell behind the average level of the game's populace long ago.  This resulted in level after level of soloing, which is not why I play these games.  Minor rifts aren't very interesting, and zone events that spawn rarely only to fail because there aren't enough players in the zone aren't much fun either.  The looking for group tool was well done and a good idea, but not very helpful when there just aren't many players in your level range to begin with.  I was in the game at launch, I remember the excitement and fun of zone events in Silverwood.  Starting an alt now is almost no fun in comparison, the crowds just aren't there any more.

I've heard repeatedly that getting to level 50 brings back the magic, as most people are level 50 and hanging out in the high level zones, so you get the fun rifts, and more events, and the spontaneous raids sweeping across the landscape.  But as each level took longer to go through solo, the game started to feel like a grind, and after hitting level 44 or so I just couldn't muster the will to log in and spend my limited time soloing a few more quests or defeating some minor rifts.

So I let my subscription lapse, and the annoying part is that it's not because I don't like the game.  Most of the time I quit an MMO in frustration, annoyed with this or that and I just can't take it anymore.  Rift is still my favorite fantasy MMORPG, I just don't have the time and the will to reach the fun parts of the game right now, and there are so many single player or free-to-play games sitting around vying for my attention.  I want Trion to succeed with Rift, I think they deserve it, but I can't keep paying for a game I'm not really playing.

I'm now in the rather unusual position (for me) of not have a current subscription to any MMO.  At all.  I'm not sure I've been without a subscription MMO since 1999.  I'm now an MMO nomad, looking for a new home.  Thankfully I'll have exploding tanks to keep me warm in the meantime.

Final Fantasy XIV - Worth Playing?

Ok, I'll admit it -- I'm a bit of a closet Final Fantasy fan.  I got my first taste with Final Fantasy VII (yes, I'm one of *those*) and have dabbled in various iterations since, most especially every single Tactics game that's been released.  I tried to play Final Fantasy XIII, but it killed my Xbox.  And the replacement Microsoft sent me.  The brand new 360 Elite I purchased to replace the replacement Xbox can't even read the disc, so I've left well enough alone and pretended I don't have the game and don't want to play it.

I've never really played any of the MMO versions though.  I tried to play the trial for FFXI a few years back, but the graphics seemed weird (like playing on an old TV with those interlace/whatever-they're-called bars) and I just couldn't get immersed in the game.  I was interested in Final Fantasy XIV until I started reading about it, and got turned off by all the things the developers were doing that just didn't make sense, differences from the MMO norm done solely for difference's sake, rather than actually making a better game.

Square-Enix paid for it too, with a fairly miserable showing at launch and thousands of angry customers.  So much so that they didn't start charging subscriptions, and promised big changes to the game.  It's been almost a year now, and I know the developers have implemented a lot of changes to the game.  What I don't know is whether those changes have made the game worth playing for an average (rather than die hard) Final Fantasy fan.

Anyone have any input?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Easy 8, I think I love you

In World of Tanks, I suffered through the M5 Stuart.  Scout tanks just aren't for me, I don't think I have the right mentality.  They go really fast, and can have fun taking out artillery, but if you actually play an active scout role you're almost guaranteed to die.  Maybe better drivers than I can do ok, but I suppose I lack the skill.  On the plus side, it was only a tier 4 tank and didn't take that long to earn the xp needed for the next tank up.  On the down side, it was a tier 4 tank and so often found itself in matches with tier 6 and 7 medium and heavy tanks that could destroy it with a sneeze.  I got into the M7 medium tank as soon as I could.

Then, sadly, I suffered through the M7.  The text calls it a medium tank, but really it's just a light tank with a bit more armor and hit points, but also larger and easier to hit.  It was certainly no match for other tier 5 medium tanks, and it didn't take long for me to realize why the M7 is relatively rare compared to the M4 Sherman. By tier 5 you rarely see more than one or two poor light tanks on a team, which is the main thing the M7 would be good at dealing with.  The thing is as fast as most good light tanks, so should make a decent scout, except of course I suck at the scout role and the M7 is fairly large and easy to spot.  It certainly had its moments (and was more enjoyable than the M5 Stuart) but overall it was fairly miserable to play.  Once I had my double xp win for the day I wouldn't touch it again until the next day.

You're fun to play!  Thank you! *hugs*
Then, finally, I unlocked the M4A3E8, a late war variant of the famous M4 Sherman used so widely in WWII.  It's a true medium tank, slower than the scouts, faster than the heavies, more armor than a scout, less than a heavy, and so on.  It's good at almost everything, excellent at very little, and bad at virtually nothing.  And it's FUN.  I don't get lots of kills, it just doesn't have the firepower for that.  But I get lots of assists, and it's an excellent flanking tank.  The gun reloads and aims so quickly that it's excellent at popping out from behind cover, making a shot, and ducking back before the enemy can even respond.  I can consistently beat the German VK3601 in duels despite it having much thicker armor and a more powerful gun thanks to the M4A3E8's maneuverability and fast firing.

I've heard the M4A3E8 referred to in game on multiple occasions as the "Easy 8".  I assumed that was an in-game slang that evolved from it being an easy kill or something like that.  I was surprised to learn that it's actually a WWII era nickname, that it earned thanks to an advanced suspension that gave it a very smooth (or easy) ride (  One of the fun things (for me anyway) are all the historical references in the game, and the way so much of the tank modeling and balancing reflects the reality of the time.  Reading through the wikipedia entry I referenced above, it's interesting to see how many of the tanks they reference are both in the game and meet the performance expectations described.

So, it's only taken dozens of tanks and ranking up to tier 6 in a research tree I was often not quite sure I should be spending time in, but I've finally found a tank I just enjoy playing, win or lose, whether I do something useful or get one-shot within the first 3 minutes of the match.  For the first time I'm not at all concerned about advancing to the next tank (the tier 7 T20) and am just happy to play with the tank and not worry about the numbers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Forsaken World - Free to play autoplay

Over the fourth of July weekend a friend of mine convinced me to try Forsaken World with them.  Forsaken World is the newest (at least I think it's the newest) offering from Perfect World Entertainment, the folks behind, well, Perfect World.  The game is clearly an Asian free-to-play, and as far as I can tell, Forsaken World is sort of like Perfect World 2.0, with vampires.  Where vampires are cross wielding energy blasters that shapeshift and wear silly clothes.  At least they don't sparkle.  I think.

So, my friend convinced me to try the game with them.  Knowing they'd likely play a support class I rolled up a warrior.  As expected the warrior focused on melee strikes in a variety of flavors, from basic strikes to debuffs.  Somewhat unusually though, the warrior gets to mix in some elemental based attacks, and I have to admit being a standard boring warrior seems less standard and boring when you get to sheathe your sword in electricity before stabbing something with it.  Combat itself is very basic, but at least there was some graphical flair to it.

Each race starts in their own starting area until progressing to a central town at level 10.  By the time my human warrior hit level 10 my friend's elf bard was level 16 (they had a head start, I'm not THAT slow) and I had some catching up to do.  They took a break and I got to work.  One of the odd things about Forsaken World is that it has piles of daily quests even at low levels.  There are story quests, and even a core questline that takes you through the whole game, but there are lots of daily quests too.  One of them, called "Life in the Harbor" is probably the strangest approach to quest gaming I've ever seen.  It's a daily quest that you can do 30 times a day.  Each time you do it in a day, the xp reward increases.  The NPC that gives the quest randomly assigns a task from a pool of tasks.  Most of the tasks involve getting him an item, all of which (in my experience) can be bought from vendors.  I happened to have 20 of an item he wanted 3 of, and got that draw 4 times in a row, so was able to complete the quest 4 times without even moving.  I did the quest 10 times, only leaving the city twice (to kill some mobs right outside) and at the end of that I was . . . level 16.  It's quite apparent you could level to the level cap without ever leaving the city.  The quest essentially throws xp at you just for showing up.  I guess if you don't really want to play, you could just do that and level while skipping the whole "game" thing.

Which seems to be a theme to the game -- get as much progress on your character as possible with as little player effort as possible.  If you do choose to quest in a more traditional fashion, you don't really need to read the quests.  Just accept the quest, click some green text, and your character will be autopiloted to the quest location.  Kill the mobs there, or click the objects, etc.  If the object is to talk to an NPC, you'll even automatically open a dialog with the NPC.  In leveling to 20 I think I actually read the quest text twice.  It's all pretty standard "kill x" or "collect y" sort of stuff, so there's not much to really read most of the time anyway, unless you really want to know why Farmer Bill needs you to kill 10 wolves for him.

I'm a vampire!  Rawr, scary!
For a free-to-play the cash shop was very subdued.  In fact, I don't think the game directed me to the shop even once.  I only found it through trial and error, and it seemed to be largely populated with cosmetic items, mounts, and wedding packs.  Considering you get a mount for free at level 20, the mounts are also essentially cosmetic.  It's a very low key cash shop, and not intrusive at all.  My only complaint about the shop would be that the currency is different from Perfect World's base currency, the Zen.  It makes it harder to figure out what something is worth, since you have to convert Forsaken World currency to Zen, then Zen to dollars to figure out the real world cost of an item.  Why they're not just using Zen is beyond me, unless they're trying to hide the actual cost of the items.

Overall it's not really a bad game, but I didn't find it very engaging either.  Zooming from place to place with the auto-route feature stops the game world from becoming a "place".  If I were to jump back in today, I wouldn't know where anything was and couldn't navigate there manually.  The combat is pretty simplistic and there aren't a whole lot of skills/abilities.  However, sometimes that could be exactly what you need.  My friend and I spent most of our level 16-20 grouped playtime talking, with the game serving more as a background than the center of attention.  For a low-impact social gaming platform, Forsaken World is not a bad choice.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Theoretically Speaking

As gamers, we generally want the games we play to do it all.  If a new MMO is slated to come out, it should have awesome PvE, and PvP, and RvR, and a moddable UI, and instances, and open dungeons, and huge zones, and strong story, an interesting endgame, no grind but not too fast, lots of mounts, crafting, so on and so forth.  While a game that does everything extremely well is certainly possible, it's just not generally feasible.  Game designers are in the unenviable position of having to create as many of the systems that players as want as they can, with as much quality as they can manage, without taking too long or going over budget.  Since time and money are limited, the chances of crafting a perfect game are almost nil, and the designers have to pick the systems they believe are the most important for their game.  Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don't.

I'm curious though, as to what the core "must-have" features of an MMO really are.  What features, if omitted, would result in gamers avoiding the game entirely.  PvP has become one of those "go to" features that developers (or maybe publishers) seem to insist on including in every new release, but it seems like more of a buzzword than a required core feature.  If, for example, Rift had no PvP whatsoever, it might have fewer subscribers than it does, it could possibly even have more, but the lack of PvP would hardly have prevented more than a minority of players from buying the game at all.

Of course, the type and style of MMO also has a major impact on this.  An easy answer to the question would seem to be "PvE content", but even that isn't true.  Many people consider World of Tanks an MMO (I'm not really one of them, but humor me here), it has no PvE content at all, nor even a persistent world, yet it's certainly a successful game that lots of people are playing.

The more I think about it, the less sure I become that it's even a question with an answer (and the more I pity the poor game designers trying to figure out the secret sauce of MMORPG success).

It seems like the strongest games are the ones that take a concept and build the game out from there.  World of Tanks is such a game and has a pretty simple concept - online tank battles with WWII era tanks.  Features get built out from that concept, rather than the other way around.  Games that build from a feature list seem to end up weaker.  I suspect Warhammer Online is an example, as all through development they talked about features.  "We'll have this, we'll have that, we're adding new features left and right!"  Rather than a single defining concept to build the game around, Warhammer Online was a collection of features/systems shoved together into a single bundle.  Strangely enough, I suspect Dark Age of Camelot was the other way around, with systems and features created to support the core concept of Realm vs. Realm combat.  Warhammer Online didn't know what it wanted to be, other than "like WoW, but not WoW, with RvR too!"

Yes, I realize I'm just rambling now.  I did give this blog its title for a reason.  I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this -- what do you think the truly "must have" features of an MMO are (if any), and would you rather play a game with a large number of loosely interconnected features that offers a wide variety of gameplay options, or a highly focused game where any features take a back seat to the concept behind the game?

World of Tanks - It's a tough time to be new

So last night I spent most of my free gaming time in World of Tanks with a friend that I'd convinced to try the game.  He used to play Battlefield 1942 way back in the day, so I assured him it would be a fun romp and that he should give World of Warcraft a break to try it out.  After he worked out some technical issues (in his first test runs all tanks were invisible, both ally and enemy) we got set up on Skype and got into the game.

It . . . didn't go so well.  The lowest tier tank I had was one of the new T82 tank destroyers (tier 3) so I initially tried grouping with him in that.  Our first two matches had has near the bottom of the roster against primarily tier 4 opponents.  I did ok, but his poor T1 Cunningham was nothing but cannon fodder.  I ended up selling my T82 and buying a Panzer II (a tier 2 tank) in hopes of getting us into more appropriate matches.  Nevertheless, we spent the entire night at or near the bottom of the roster (we had 3 matches in a row where he was at the very bottom and I was right above him) and although we got wins and he maxed out the xp on his tier 1, he wasn't a premium player and he wasn't being able to damage the enemy so he wasn't really making any money.  He could have upgraded to a tier 2, but didn't have the credits needed.  I'd have gladly given him the money, but there doesn't seem to be any way to do that.

So he spent most of his evening getting blown up by tanks with bigger guns and better crews and armor he couldn't even penetrate, puttering around in the awful T1 Cunningham while BT-2s and the like zoomed past him at warp speed.  Here I was trying to show him a good time, and instead I was demonstrating World of Tanks at its most frustrating.

I won't even go into how ridiculously bad the UI is for grouping and chatting and supporting useful teamwork. If we weren't using voice chat it would have been essentially impossible to play together in any meaningful way.  I can do voice chat right now because my family is out of town at the moment, but it's not normally a viable option for me as it would be too disruptive.  So if my family hadn't been away, it would have been even WORSE.

The truly amazing thing, though?  He's declared he'll be back for more.  I think it's a testament to the core gameplay of WoT that even while it's abusing the crap out of a poor newbie, that player can still look at the game and go "Wow, this is actually pretty cool.  Please sir, might I have another?"

Friday, July 1, 2011

Prime: Battle For Dominus -- Where the heck did this come from?!

So, via Kill Ten Rats I just heard about a new Sci-fi MMORPG, Prime: Battle for Dominus.  Where the heck did this game come from?!  It's supposedly launching this year and looks at least marginally interesting.  It doesn't have everything I'd want from a sci-fi game, but it's a start, and it is, amazingly, one of the first games since Dark Age of Camelot to feature a 3-sided PvP conflict.

For a game allegedly slated to release this year they don't have much in the way of screenshots on their website -- just some rather bland looking environmental shots with a few character models standing around.  Unless I hear it's absolutely abysmal I'm going to give it a try though.  Three races/factions, six classes per faction, crafting professions, high-tech weaponry and fancy looking body armor?  Sign me up.  Probably as close to a Mass Effect MMO as we're going to get.  If it just had a space exploration aspect to it as well I'd be pretty excited. Maybe they'll add something like that later, though the title of the game kind of argues against it.

Anyone have any experience and/or knowledge of this game?  Something more in-depth than the official site?