Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Guild Wars 2 - Ok, you have my attention now

Well, to be honest, Guild Wars 2 had already garnered my interest, and I haven't been ignoring it . . . exactly.  Maybe a little.  I really don't want to get burned by the hype for another MMO that isn't even going to be out this year.  Still, I follow Kill Ten Rats and in a post today Ravious talked about running dungeons in GW2, and the party makeup required to be successful.

The short version is -- there isn't one.  Guild Wars 2 is being designed to do away with the "holy trinity" of classes that have been the backbone of MMORPG fantasy games since Everquest.  If you want to get technical, it really dates back to the days of pen-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons, where sensible players would put their beefiest most heavily armored characters in the path of danger, the fragile mages would lurk in the background tossing spells, rogues would skulk around the edge of the battle trying to stab things in the back, and clerics would keep everyone alive as best they could.  It's a model that has been essentially unchanged for decades, and one that most (but not all) MMORPGs have followed.

Guild Wars 2 developers have been claiming for a while that they've done away with all that.  I've nodded appreciatively and essentially dismissed the claim with "I'll believe it when I see it."  Ravious, apparently, has seen it, and my interest in this game just jumped up a few notches.

The "holy trinity" is tired, and just doesn't work that well from a social standpoint in an MMORPG setting.  Tanks and healers have a lot of responsibility.  Responsibility makes things feel like work.  Games are (generally) played for fun, not work, so the roles of tank and healer are shunned by a majority of players.  This has no impact on general questing and adventuring out and about in the game world, but it has a huge impact when it comes time to run group content like instanced dungeons.

Rift attempted to alleviate the holy trinity by giving almost every character the ability to play almost any role by flipping a switch.  Sadly, it doesn't seem to have been enough, because it doesn't address the underlying issue that people don't want the responsibility of being the tank or the healer, especially in pickup groups, even if they actually like playing the tank or healer class.  So even in Rift it is often very hard to find a tank or healer for groups.

Guild Wars 2 is trying to avoid that entirely, and it sounds like they're succeeding.  Groups still need to work as a team, and content is not cakewalk easy, but it should be possible to form successful groups with almost any class composition.  This suggests groups will be much easier to form, and group content will be, dare I say it, more accessible. I'm all for accessibility through clever game design rather than the dumbing down of content.  Time will tell whether it really works on a broader scale, but I'm more optimistic at this point that Guild Wars 2 really will be something new and different.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

World of Tanks Experience Calculation

Does anyone out there know the formulas used to calculate XP earned in World of Tanks matches?  Lately the amounts I've earned seem to be wildly erratic with minimal correlation with my actions in the match.

For example, my first ever match in a KV-5 was a win, with 2 enemies destroyed, and earned me a whopping 4000+ xp.  I assumed this was normal for a tier 8 tank, but in match after match since then I've never come close to that kind of xp again.  In fact, I haven't broken 2k, even with 4 enemies destroyed.  Another example would be a recent victory with my M6 in which I destroyed 4 enemies, and even with doubled xp only earned 960 points.  My highest ever with that tank was over 2000, and I certainly didn't have 8 kills or anything absurd like that (4 with the M6 was a personal best).

I had a "win" last night in my T-28 where the doubled xp award was 204 points.  I didn't destroy any enemies, but I did detect a few. That's a pitiful payout for a victory in a tier 4 tank.  I'm used to seeing numbers like that on a loss, not a doubled win.

So, any WoT players out there have any insight?  I'm kind of baffled.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons Online - Still a strange duck after all these years

Going free-2-play was one of their better ideas
Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) released way back in early 2006.  This was one of those games I was eagerly awaiting, having been a big pen-and-pencil Dungeons & Dragons player in my youth (I'm the GM, eat dragon suckers!).  I didn't really get to play D&D anymore, so this was going to be cool!  I eventually got into the beta for the game, and I think my feeling for what I experienced could be summed up as follows:

Wait . . . what?

It was not at all what I expected.  It was technically D&D, but didn't really feel like playing D&D, especially compared to other computer game versions that had come before it such as Neverwinter Nights.  I think I would have been happier with an MMO version of Neverwinter (and I guess Cryptic is hoping to fill that need).  The setting didn't exactly help either, as Eberron is a pretty atypical D&D campaign world and being confined to a single city (and it's sewers) really made the game feel small and confined.  Knowing that all I had to look forward to were bigger sewers with nastier monsters didn't exactly encourage me.  I'm not much of an explorer type, but I still like variety in the environments I play in, and the lack of big outdoor zones seemed insane.

However, DDO did introduce a lot of features the MMO genre in general was missing.  Things like ladders, and the ability to climb.  They also had puzzles and much more story-intensive "quests" than typical MMOs.  They even had voice narration!  The game was pretty atmospheric, and the lack of "kill x" quests was refreshing, so I dutifully bought the game at release despite my beta misgivings.

I think I lasted maybe a week or so before the incredibly slow and painful leveling process wore me out and I dropped the game entirely.  Having the run the same quest over and over and over for ever decreasing experience rewards completely counteracted all the advantages having that sort of content brought to the genre.

Fast forward a few years and Turbine announced DDO Unlimited, a free-to-play version using a "freemium" business model.  I decided to give it another try.  A lot of the issues I had with the original had been fixed, as xp rewards for completing adventure instances had been massively increased and there were a whole lot more of them to choose from.  Suddenly I could progress a character without grinding the same adventure over and over, and the game seemed more fun.

Unfortunately, the timing was bad.  I was knee deep in WoW at the time, playing with a group of friends.  I was also continuing to dabble in City of Heroes, my long time gaming mistress.  I just didn't have time for another MMO.  So DDO got left to gather dust again.

This past weekend I saw a +20% xp bonus and +1 loot roll bonus weekend for DDO.  I don't even know what the loot bonus meant, and +20% xp doesn't really sound like much (especially when Lord of the Rings Online was getting +50%), but the promotion reminded me that DDO still existed, so with a desire for something different I downloaded the client and dusted off my rusty old Favored Soul.  Well, not literally rusty of course.  His Full Plate +1 is nice and shiny still.

Sadly, I still can't get into the game.  I'm not sure why.  It's not like EVE Online, which was opaque and hard to get into until on my 3rd try the game finally clicked.  It's not that I play it and think "this game sucks, why am I here?"  I don't even play it and wish I was playing something else instead.  It just doesn't grab me.  And that's a shame, because DDO is still one of the few online fantasy MMOs to provide gameplay above and beyond the basic "kill x" or "collect y" quests.  If you want something truly different from WoW, give DDO a try.  Just be warned that unlike slipping into the well-worn comfortable groove of your basic quest MMO, DDO can take some getting used to.

I am Force Nonnac Reddof, and that's OK

Shoot me!
I've been forced to confront a painful truth over the weekend.  A truth about World of Tanks, and my skill therein.  Or perhaps we should say, lack of skill.  It has become apparent that I am no tank ace, no destroyer of foes.  My enemies need not tremble in fear when my name appears on the roster.  I am cannon fodder.  I am almost guaranteed to plow head first into the most powerful tanks on the enemy team about 95% of the time.  It doesn't matter if I'm at the bottom of the roster or the top, I'll drive about 50 yards and be confronted with 2-4 enemies I only "might" be able to hurt, but who can certainly hurt me with every shot they take.  If I play defensively, I get encircled and killed.  If I play offensively, well, you can guess how that goes, outnumbered by superior foes in a game where some tanks can indeed one-shot you.  I take comfort in damaging a foe or two before they obliterate me.

I prefer T8-T9 shells from heavy tanks with real guns.  Yum!
You know what though?  It's ok.  The 20-60 seconds I have those four enemy heavy tanks occupied with encircling and destroying me is 20-60 seconds the rest of my team has an advantage.  I've seen games won and lost over 10 seconds of combat.  I mean, I seem to consistently pick tanks with guns too puny to seriously damage even same-level opponents, so I might as well go out and get myself shot at, right?  I'm taking one for the team, playing the role of cannon fodder for the greater good.  It's a shame then, that all too often I'll look at the roster over the smoking corpse of my tank and see what while I was dancing with the enemy heavies half my team got wiped out despite having a numerical and/or class advantage.  What the heck guys, were you all as bad as me?!

Friday, June 24, 2011

SWG shuts down just in time for SWTOR launch?

The news dropped today that Star Wars Galaxies will be shutting down on December 15th due to the loss of the right to use the Star Wars intellectual property  It shouldn't come as a great surprise that Star Wars Galaxies and Star Wars: The Old Republic won't be coexisting.  I always thought it odd that Lucasarts sanctioned a second Star Wars MMO when they already had one running.

I'd like to say I'm sad to see the game go, but that would be a bit of an overstatement.  I played the game at release and enjoyed the ways in which they innovated and expanded the MMO genre.  However, there really wasn't much content for an adventurer/combat gamer like myself, and I grew bored after a few months and quit.  I didn't go back until after the Everquestification of the game (NGE) which I absolutely despised (hey, let's take all the things about this game that are interesting and different and good and get rid of them!  Brilliant!) and I quickly canceled my account and never went back.

However, I am sorry that all the people who have worked so hard on the game over the years will presumably be losing their jobs.  One would hope SOE would find work for them elsewhere, but with how shaky SOE itself seems these days there's really no telling.

Now then, type to start a rumor.  If SWG closes on December 15th, and SWTOR has been promised for 2011 (multiple times), can we expect SWTOR to launch December 20th, 2011?  Just in time for Christmas, and the only Star Wars MMO in town.

Update:  Well, per the article at Massively nobody from the SWG team will be losing their jobs over this, so I guess I have nothing to feel bad about at all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rift Trial Servers - Is this a good idea?

Apparently the imminent 1.3 patch for Rift will be creating dedicated trial servers.  Only trial accounts will be able to make characters on a trial server, and if a player chooses to subscribe to the game they'll be able to transfer to a normal server of their choice for free.

This seems like a rather odd thing to do.  On the one hand I can see a benefit -- spammers won't be able to use trial accounts to harass paying customers since they'll be segregated by server.  On the other hand, it doesn't seem conducive to creating an environment that will encourage trial players to actually subscribe to the game.  The population will be incredibly unstable, as players either decide the game isn't for them and stop playing or subscribe and move to a different server.  Rift is a game where population density is very important, since events and rifts respond dynamically to player population.  Unless the trial servers have a constant stream of incoming players to keep the population high I can't imagine playing on a trial server will be much fun.

Plus, one of the ways in which trial players can be retained is by allowing them to become part of their server community, make friends, and so not want to leave when the trial is up.  That's going to be hard on a trial-account-only server as instead of joining a community and sticking with it, players will likely have momentary acquaintances who disappear every day and IF the choose to subscribe they'll have to pick a server and hope to find a welcoming community there.  It doesn't strike me as very welcoming.

Now, one would hope that Trion has data showing how many trial players they currently have and how many new trials are created each month, such that a dedicated trial server will have a reasonable population.  Hopefully.  Still, I'm not sure there are enough benefits to having a segregated trial server to make it worth risking potential customers.  Anyone else see benefits to this that I'm missing?

Monday, June 20, 2011

World of Tanks and the Free-to-Play Switcheroo

Oh World of Tanks, you sneaky thing.  You lured me in with the promise of free play and quick, fun, multiplayer matches.  "Psst," you said.  "Come over here and try this thing.  Look, it's shiny, and has tanks!"  I was hesitant at first.  "Just say no!" I thought.  "It's a free to play, how good could it be?"  So I resisted, and played other, non-free games instead.

You were persistent though.  "Look at us," you said, "we're setting concurrent user records (in Russia, but people are people)."  Still I was hesitant . . . but I loved World War II stuff as a kid.  I made model airplanes, I had green plastic soldiers.  I staged massive battles between the Axis and Allied forces to determine the fate of my bedroom.  Eventually I bowed to the inevitable, and took my first taste.

And it was good.  I can still remember the visceral terror of my very first match, lines of MS-1s, Cunninghams, and Leichttraktors (not that I knew what they were at the time) waiting for the timer to count down, engines rumbling all around, exhaust spewing from all the tanks, with an idyllic pasture spread out before us.  Was that a farm?  What was I supposed to do?  Where was I going?  How did my gun work?  After the countdown finished I saw a stream of tanks head up a road to the left and followed them, and got blown up along with all of them as we ran into the guns of the enemy hiding on the far side of the field.  I learned my first lesson of WoT that day - don't follow stupid people.

That was all it took, I was hooked.  I played, and played, and played some more.  My subscription MMO got neglected as I spent time each evening blowing up enemy tanks and getting blown up in return.  I started learning the maps, and recognizing which tanks I could fight and which I needed to avoid.  I moved up the tiers, getting out of the silly tier 1 light "tanks" and into the beefier medium, then heavy tanks.  I was enjoying the game and so bought a little "gold" (the game's real-money currency) to show my support for the title.  I trained up some crews and bought some premium access.  The bonus xp and credits per battle were nice, but hardly necessary.  My premium time eventually ran out, but I continued to have fun, and progress.

Then something changed.  I got into the middle tiers, five and six.  Suddenly I was consistently being matched against tanks up to 3 tiers higher than me (tier 9s in my tier 6, tier 8s in my tier 5s).  Most of the time I was at the bottom of the roster, on occasion I was in the middle.  I almost never appeared near the top any more.  When you're in an M6 (tier 6 heavy tank) and at the very bottom of the roster there's really not much you can do.  You're too slow to scout, your gun is too weak to damage anything, and most opponents can take you out with a couple of shots.  My xp gain slowed to a crawl, and I actually started to LOSE credits on matches where I got destroyed (which was a majority of them) since you don't earn much money if you don't contribute to the match, and you can't contribute when you're slow, fragile, and undergunned.

WoT began to cackle madly.  "How'd you like that free taste, boyo?  Pretty sweet huh?  But you're invested now.  You liked the way the game used to feel, didn't you?  Well, if you want to feel that again, it's time to pay up."  Melodrama aside, that's really how it's started to feel over the past few weeks.  The message when you reach the middle tiers seems to be "pay up or go back to the minor leagues."

Now, I'm not saying there's anything really wrong with that.  The game has to make money after all.  I want it to make money so they'll make it better and I can keep playing it.  At the same time though, I wish they could have been a little more . . . subtle . . . about it.  When equipment upgrades cost around 100k credits and you're only bringing in a couple thousand after repairs (or none, or negative, depending on how unlucky you are)  it's hard to see how that represents reasonable progression without paying for the 50% bonus.

Hi, I'm here to make money and xp for you!
I think the new Tier 8 premium tanks are a big part of the problem.  They truly represent pay-to-win, and they're everywhere.  Match balance is off because there are so many wretched Lowes and KV-5s running around.  After getting blown to bits by a Lowe for the umpteenth time, I finally decided to screw it, and bought a KV-5 and some premium access.

Holy cow.  Pay-to-win doesn't even begin to cover it.  My first match out I was near the top of the roster.  I only got two kills, but I got kills.  Then the results rolled in, and I made over 4,000 xp and 56,000 credits from a single match.  The KV-5 can't use the xp, but you can convert it to free xp (for a price in gold) and level up your normal tanks.  The KV-5s offense isn't very good, but I was getting the "Iron Wall" achievement in almost every match.  I converted the xp made on the KV-5 and researched gun upgrades on my poor M6. I used the cash earned on the KV-5 to pay for upgrades on the M6.  Now that my M6 has a 90mm gun it can actually hurt higher tier tanks and at least be a nuisance rather than just a free kill.  The KV-5 pushed the M6 over the hump, and now it's actually fun again.

So all I had to do to make my free-to-play fun again, was pay.  Good job on the old switcheroo, WoT.  Well played.  Honestly though, this really feels like one of those situations where "free" players are actually being penalized and paying counteracts the penalty.  I now wish WoT was just a normal subscription game without all the premium tanks, premium ammunition, premium crews, and premium access.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Random Dungeon Generation

A lot of games have included randomly generated content.  Action RPGs like Diablo and Torchlight have randomly generated levels.  Strategy games like Civilization and Master of Orion have randomly generated worlds/galaxies. Yet we rarely see randomly generated content in MMORPGs.  Anarchy Online had it, City of Heroes had it (sort of), and I think the occasional Asian import sports it as well.  While I certainly wouldn't want it as the cornerstone of an MMORPG's content, it seems like having some randomly generated dungeons in a game might help spice things up a bit and provide some more variety, especially at the endgame.  It would need to be done very carefully, and not be the only option for players at any point in the game.  Random dungeons should sit alongside the carefully crafted scripted dungeons so that players always have a choice - scripted with story or random with surprises.

Imagine using a dungeon-finder like tool to find a group and then queue for a truly random dungeon.  Rather than picking a specific dungeon you'd simply select a difficulty and let the game do the rest.  The dungeon would be generated from a single themed group of art assets, populated with random groups of trash mobs, and sprinkled with random bosses.  There's no reason why the bosses would need to be basic unscripted fights - as long as the scripting was independent of the environment it wouldn't really matter.  You could have dozens or hundreds of bosses in a "pool" that could be drawn from.  Undoubtedly every boss would eventually be documented on the internet, but at least you'd go into a dungeon with no idea what you were going to face until you came across it.  The dungeons would require more thought and exploration, as you can't memorize the layout of an instance that didn't exist until you stepped into it.  I think the hardest part would be making sure the randomly generated environment was contiguous and couldn't result in dungeons that can't be beaten (final boss is in a room that can't be reached, etc.).  Surely by now the programming skill and processing power exist to do that though.

Certainly there are risks to randomly generated content.  In my current game of Space Pirates and Zombies (SPAZ) every system I've come across has had items for sale ONLY from the faction that hates me, with no missions in the system to improve my reputation.  There are ways around it, but they're painful and have turned the game into a bit of a slog.  I can remember plenty of missions in Anarchy Online that couldn't be finished because the mob/item/whatever that I was after never spawned, and missions in City of Heroes that were almost impossible to beat solo due to the combination of mobs that were randomly generated being powerfully synergistic to the point of invulnerability.

Despite the risks, I think a well programmed random dungeon generator could be a boon to a certain portion of the playerbase in games like World of Warcraft and Rift where a lot of time is spent at the endgame running the same dungeons over and over and over.  Granted, there is a distinct portion of the playerbase that only wants to race through a dungeon as quickly as possible to get the carrot at the end and for them this idea would be nothing short of repugnant.  But for those players that want to actually play their game of choice and not have everything mapped out for them ahead of time, it seems like random dungeon generation could be an interesting addition.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Black Prophecy - Flash Impressions

Before I left for the weekend I signed up for the Black Prophecy open beta and downloaded the game.  I have to say I wasn't encouraged by the download, as it consisted of 5 separate files and some simple, if odd, instructions.  It's been a LONG time since I've downloaded a beta that didn't simply consist of an installer.  Still, it installed fine, and I was able to log in on my first try without any trouble.  I did not get to play that day though, as I needed to leave for the weekend.

Last night I finally managed to give the game a little time.  Not enough to really call it a "first impressions", more like a brief flash of gameplay that left a few pertinent memories.  Overall, I came out of my brief experience with relatively positive feelings.

First things first - I'd swear I read somewhere that this was a browser based game, and being a Gamigo published F2P that seemed reasonable (if unfortunate).  I'm happy to report that's just misinformation (or bad memory) on my part, as the game runs full screen from an executable like any normal game.  The graphics are pretty darn nice.  Not jaw-droppingly cutting edge, but very solid and appealing.  The characters you can create in avatar creation are reminiscent of what EVE recently added, though you have fewer options overall.

The gameplay is action-y space-sim fare, controlling acceleration with the WASD keys and direction with the mouse.  Targets are selected with "T", there is a lead indicator showing you where to shoot, and gunfire tends to be fast and furious.  The game has a nice feel to it -- if I had to pin it down I'd say there's a strong Freespace 2 influence.  It's definitely far more visceral than EVE Online which is a plus.  As much as I like EVE, the combat itself is terribly dull.

I went through the start of the Prologue, which was heavy on cut-scenes and light on gameplay, but you get your feet wet in the relatively safety of a turret on a colony ship, before shifting over to piloting a basic fighter. I think it's a smart way to do it because it lets the player sit in the middle of the action (the colony ship is under attack of course) and learn the basics of targeting and weapons fire without having to deal with movement or getting blown out of the sky.

My character is now sitting in a space station waiting to get some missions and figure out how the game works.  I still don't know much about the game, I don't know if you're always stuck in little fighters or if you can someday move up to something bigger (like EVE), but either way it seems like a fun diversion.  As a F2P, there's really no risk in trying it out.

Space Pirates and Zombies (SPAZ)

This past weekend I was away from home and all my usual gaming accoutrements, and thus limited to my non-gaming laptop for any sort of electronic entertainment.  I don't really keep many games on my laptop and nothing I had really appealed to me. I ended up browsing and came across a game with the unlikely title of Space Pirates and Zombies (SPAZ).

I was intrigued enough by the screenshots to give the game a try.  It's not what I expected, I would have been better served by checking out this video first. However, what I found quickly ensnared me and I ended up playing it every free moment I got over the weekend.  I think the fastest way to give an idea of what the game is like would be to call it a cross between Star Control II and Starscape, with the bonus of allied AI controlled ships allowing for fleet battles.

Each game consists of a randomly generated universe populated with a configurable number of star systems.  If you choose a low number of star systems each one will have more resources, but the difficulty ramps up faster.  If you choose a high number of star systems there are fewer resources per system, but difficulty ramps up more slowly.  I've been playing in the middle, with a measly 250+ systems to explore.  You start with a mothership (that you can't control) and a pathetic little ship with which to gather resources.  Once you have enough resources you're able to build some slightly better ships, then start interacting with the neighbors, earn more resources, learn new technologies, and so forth.  Over time you build up a bigger and bigger fleet, the mothership gets improved, and you research upgrades that make your ships faster, stronger, better.  Each system contains two factions, Civilians and UTA.  The UTA is a paramilitary faction, the splintered remains of a once pan-galactic police force.  When you first enter a system you will have a certain reputation level with each faction, and by performing certain tasks you can increase reputation with one while decreasing it with the other.  Having a positive reputation will allow you to buy blueprints from that faction's space station, so improving relations is an important part of increasing your power.  Of course, one of the great things about the game is that you also have the option of simply blowing them up and taking what you want.

Combat is very action-oriented which came as a surprise when I started up the game (I was expecting  something more strategy-like).  You can control your thrust direction with the standard WASD keys, but the direction your ship is facing is controlled by the mouse.  This makes piloting both more complex and more flexible than many games of this type have been in the past.  Accelerating backwards while shooting at a target is easy, and strafing and similar maneuvers can play a big part in survival for the smaller, more agile ships.  Even if an NPC is allied with you, friendly fire is a risk, and if you hit them enough times they'll eventually get tired of it and turn hostile.  This is an important part of the game, because sometimes you WANT to attack a friend.  They might be piloting a hot new ship you don't have access to, and destroying them will let you loot the blueprint for the ship.

Overall I found the combat satisfying (I especially love the beam weapons) with enough challenge to force smart play without being overwhelming.  Of course, if I found the game too easy I could push faster into more dangerous star systems, so to a certain extend the level of difficulty is player controlled.  I suspect it might all start to feel a bit tedious after 20 or 30 hours, but the game will have more than earned it's price by then.

There are a lot of things I'd like to see added to the game, such as more factions, more mission types, maybe a new campaign where you play as the UTA and try to rebuild civilization.  How about some aliens?  That's a tall order though, because the game is being developed by a company called Minmax Games, an independent developer almost as small as it can get - it's two people essentially working out of their garages.

Which is a big part of why I decided to make this post.  I think the game is fun, and while it certainly won't be for all, if you were a fan of Star Control II or similar games you owe it to yourself to check this one out.  If you can help out a small independent developer with a sale, then even better.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Repbulic - A Few Concerns

So Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) has been getting a lot of coverage at this year's E3.  Despite some of the less than excited comments I've made on this blog about the game, it is a game I'm looking forward to.  As the promised 2011 release looms, of necessity, ever nearer, my interest in the game and the amount of attention I'm paying to its hype machine is increasing.  If it doesn't slip, I figure we'll see SWTOR in December of this year.  That's a good thing, since it means they've got six months to continue improving their game, and from what I've seen in the videos there are some pretty basic things that need improving.

The first thing is pretty nitpicky, but it bugs me so I'm going to get it out of the way.  I hate, hate, HATE, the way vehicles are "summoned" in the videos.  The vehicles themselves seem cool enough, pretty much what a SWTOR "mount" should be.  The swirling "magical" cloud that "poofs" into a vehicle makes me want to foam at the mouth, though.  Could we maybe, I don't know, try something not entirely genre breaking?  Don't bother with all this interactive dialogue crap if you're going to throw immersion right out the window.  What's wrong with having the character whip out a datapad, punch in a code, and then have the vehicle swoop in from off-screen?  See, nitpicky, I know, but it's stuff like that that drives me crazy.

My next concern is about combat.  In most (all?) MMOs, enemies (mobs) are essentially bags of xp and loot waiting for you to beat the squishy goodness out of them.  That's fine, that's a convention, we all understand that.  Does Bioware really need to cram that fact down our throat by having mobs seem so stiff and lifeless though?  I'm hardly going to claim I've seen ALL the SWTOR videos out there, but in the ones I have seen combat seem very stiff, with everyone standing around trading blows like good little piƱatas.  Maybe it's less noticeable if you're playing the game instead of watching it, but it seems very archaic.  Star Wars Galaxies had the ability to kneel and go prone to at least make it LOOK like you were trying to avoid incoming fire.  I never thought I'd be saying SWG did something better than SWTOR, but there you go.  Even Knights of the Old Republic (which is how many years old now?) seemed like combat was more dynamic, though admittedly it suffered from "stand and trade blaster bolts" syndrome as well.

My final immediate visual concern is that the world seems very lifeless.  Everything is very static. You don't see NPCs pathing around.  You don't see things going on in the background.  There seems to be very little animation going on in the game unless it's the player character.  Maybe those are little touches that will be added over the coming months -- I certainly hope so.

I want to end on a more upbeat note though, by pointing out the things that I think look good.  The adventuring areas seem pretty large, and that's definitely a plus.  Nothing could ruin a game like this more than being cramped into tiny little tubes and boxes like Dragon Age 2 or Final Fantasy XIII.  The voiceovers and conversation wheel look like they'll actually work.  It seemed much like most Bioware single player RPGs, except your character gets right to the point instead of beating around the bush (simplified choices).  I think people will be willing to listen and pay attention rather than skip through everything because it will be interactive instead of passive (like quest text) and it looks like players will generally only be following one main quest at a time.  When you have 24 quests in your journal and go to add your 25th, who cares?  They're all errands of run here, blah blah blah, ka-ching!

Despite my misgivings, I think the game still has a chance to be good.  It may not be a great MMORPG, but I think it will be a fun RPG regardless.  If Bioware can work over the coming months to bring their game world to life that should go a long way to making SWTOR a game environment people want to stay and play in.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Open Request to MMO Developers

Hi, I'm a gamer.  More specifically, I'm a pretty invested MMORPG gamer.  I consider myself reasonably typical, or at least typical enough to be representative of a decent portion of the MMO gaming population.  Undoubtedly NOT a majority, but probably enough to support an MMO at a decent level.

Please, please, PLEASE stop making so many fantasy MMORPGs.  I think there are something like 376 either coming out this year or currently in beta.  They're all essentially the same.  The vast majority of them will never see a dime from me.  I'm sick to death of them.  If I want a fantasy MMO, guess what?  I can already get my fantasy MMO fix in almost any flavor I can imagine, and quite frequently for free.  All you developers announcing your hot new fantasy MMO are wasting your time.

Make something else.  Anything else.  Kudos to Funcom for the Secret World.  The game may end up sucking, but at least it sounds interesting.  At least it's different.  I'll at least give Bioware a golf clap for Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It may end up being a reskinned fantasy MMORPG, but at least it looks different and is trying a few new things.

I've already beaten the sci-fi thing to death, so I'll leave it be, but what about a modern warfare MMORPG?  An economic based world-wide sea trading MMO?  Steampunk?  Gothic horror?  Shadowrun?  Robotech? A football MMO where you play an individual player?  I mean, come on!  I could probably think of 20 games given half an hour, and yet the industry continues to churn out fantasy game after fantasy game after fantasy game.  The market is saturated.  Let it go already.  I understand all the most successful MMOs have been fantasy ones.  You're not going to steal that market from WoW.

Seriously, if you HAVE to do yet another fantasy MMO, can you at least do something different with it?  Make it a dragon wars setting where everyone rides around on dragons all the time.  Set the game in the realm of the fae and have players take on the roles of light and dark sidhe battling it out for supremacy.

Just . . just do something new.  Geez.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stellar Dawn - Looking for Details

I've complained previously on this blog (and for years to my friends) that I really want a sci-fi MMORPG that's not based solely around ships (ala EVE Online) or a complete travesty (ala Star Wars Galaxies).  Jagex, the creators of Runescape (a game I've never played) are currently developing a sci-fi MMORPG called Stellar Dawn.  Other than being described as a combat focused sci-fi MMORPG with exploration and pvp aspects, there's almost no information available.  It's not going to be a graphics powerhouse, and it's going to be browser based (sigh).  Still, I could forgive those things if the game scratches the sci-fi itch that's been bugging me for years.

Yes, I know Star Wars: The Old Republic is going to be the biggest "sci-fi" MMO release ever, and I'm still hopeful that it will be a good game worth playing.  However, Star Wars (especially The Old Republic) is more science fantasy than science fiction.  I like it, but it doesn't scratch that sci-fi itch for me.  I had really hoped Bioware was going to make a Mass Effect MMO, as that would have been much closer to what I want.  Alas, it was not to be.

So, Stellar Dawn.  Anyone know anything?  Is this something I should be eagerly awaiting?  Or is it just going to be too simplistic due to it's browser-based nature.  Or will it end up being another "ship" game.  As if we need more of those . . . (EVE Online, Battlestar Galactica Online, Black Prophecy, Jumpgate Evolution).

World of Tanks - This Tank Needs Lucky Fuzzy Dice

In a post today Tobold talks about having a 50/50 win/loss ratio.  Looking at my stats that's roughly where I am as well . . . overall.  If I look at the individual tanks in my "stable" though, the win/loss ratio is all over the place.  It balances out over my account to a roughly 50/50 ratio (it's actually 51/49, woo!) but some tanks do well while others just seem to be cursed, and I really don't know why.  Well, ok, I know why my Hetzer seems cursed - the damnable thing is a near useless abomination when you first get it, capable of pelting along at a mighty 12 kph with a gun capable of penetrating wet tissue paper.  It becomes much more fearsome with some upgrades, but you really need to destroy something and win some matches to ever get them.

My worst tank, for no apparent reason, has got to be my Panzer III.  It's really quite a lovely medium tank, fast, agile, decently armed and armored.  Yet I have a 26% win ratio in the poor thing.  I've had some pretty "heroic" moments in that tank, such as when I snuck behind enemy lines by myself, taking out a scout and both enemy artillery units, then started to cap the flag only to discover I was the only person left on my team against 4 enemies.  I had the flag at 50%(ish) when the other four arrived at our base.  With four their cap went faster than mine.  We reached 94% at the same time, and then they passed me, hitting 100% as I hit 97% . . . I thought we'd lost (so close!) but the after-battle screen showed it was declared a draw.  Woo!  No heroic win for me, but at least they didn't win either.

Err, but I digress.  The point is that I don't (totally) suck, the tank itself doesn't suck, yet somehow I always end up on teams where we either don't pull it together, or the other team is just better.  I've fully upgraded the Panzer III (working on unlocking the Panzer IV now) mostly through losses -- so that's a lot of matches.  Yet the win/loss ratio stays stubbornly around Bush-era approval ratings.

This is balanced out by tanks like my T1 Heavy, which for no good reason has over a 60% win ratio.  I don't really like the tank -- it's slow, it's armor is not particularly good, and it's gun is amongst the weakest a heavy tank can get.  It's not unusual for me to get 2-shotted by medium tanks with better guns, better armor, and more mobility.  I often finish a match with 0 kills which is frankly embarrassing in a heavy.  Yet the tank does like to win, and has certainly had it's moments as well.

I just find it very strange that my Panzer III has a high survival rate and a low victory rate, whereas my T1 Heavy hardly ever survives a match but wins more than it loses.  Anyone have some lucky dice for my Panzer?  It's getting ridiculous.