Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reasons Why EQ2 Is Better Than WoW (Or Any Other MMO on the Market Right Now)

In honor of EverQuest II's fifth year anniversary, Professor Syp asks us to blog reasons why we feel EverQuest II is better than WoW. I made a post similar to this before, but I suppose there's no harm in doing it again. As the Sypster demands, I will refine my list down to five core features that I think define the EverQuest II experience; these are the features that World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and other MMO games on the market simply can't match.

Five Reasons Why EverQuest II > World of Warcraft

1. Mentoring and Level Scaling -

The leveling system in MMORPGs is great for providing a sense of progress, but it has its drawbacks. Two of the most significant problems are:
- Levels separate players who otherwise would want to play together.
- Levels block you from a lot of the content in the game.

EverQuest II addresses both of these issues by making leveling more flexible than in other games.

In EverQuest II it doesn't matter what level two players are -- they CAN play together. Using the Mentoring system, high level players in EverQuest II can lower their level so they can play with newer players who might not have a character that is as developed. To play with real life friends can be a chore in World of Warcraft since as a higher level character, you will completely trivialize their quests, and you get no reward. With the Mentoring feature, the higher level character still DOES get a reward, in the form of bonus Alternate Advancement XP. If the higher level character isn't at the level cap, they also still gain a small amount of normal XP as well.

In addition, if you are looking for something to do, EverQuest II provides two ways to ensure that a lot of the content is accessible to you. Many dungeons scale to the level of the party. And if there is content that does not scale in level, you can always temporarily de-level yourself to take on that content as a less powerful form of yourself using the Chronomagic feature.

2. More Interactable World

EverQuest II has several quests that involve:
- walls you can climb
- walls you can destroy
- explosive barrels you can move around
- crates you can move and stack on top of one another to get past a barrier
- items in your inventory that you can place at physical locations in the world [such as a flag that, when placed, allows guild members to teleport to that location]
- items you need to placed at certain locations in a dungeon to trigger events

The majority of quests don't involve this level of interactivity, and I tend to take them for granted, but every time I try to play another MMO, such as World of Warcarft or Lord of the Rings Online, I notice that the quests just aren't quite as involved. The world seems more decorative. The extent of interaction with the world that I experienced in World of Warcraft was simply clicking on items at a certain location to trigger quest updates [EverQuest II, of course, has that too].

3. Crafting

EverQuest II has a much more interesting crafting system than almost any other fantasy MMORPG. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes might have a superior system [I didn't craft in that game, but from what I read, it was more involved.] In World of Warcraft, however, it is simply a matter of gathering ingredients, and clicking on a button to make your items. After that, tradeskilling resembles Progress Quest.

In EverQuest II, you have to use abilities in a mini-game, to build your items. It could be better [I would prefer more variety to the mini-games, like in Warhammer Online or Free Realms], but it is much better than World of Warcraft's take on crafting.

Another nice feature about crafting: it's a separate advancement track from adventuring. This used to be the case in World of Warcraft as well, at least in beta, but for some reason they changed that and put in skill caps based on your character's level. I think that was a poor decision. Some people just want to craft: EverQuest II gives them the ability to do so. It even offers quests and missions, even crafting "raids" that tradeskillers can go on even if their character stays perpetually at level 1 in adventurer levels.

4. Adjustable Leveling

EverQuest II has a feature called Alternate Advancement XP (AA XP). AA XP are the EverQuest II equivalent to Talent Points. They let you unlock abilities in various trees that increase the abilities of your character. However, in World of Warcraft and Age of Conan and most other games, these abilities are tied to your character's level.

In EverQuest II, you have a slider so you can determine how much of the XP you earn from combat goes to normal XP or AA XP. Also, you earn bonus AA XP from completing quests and the first time you kill named monsters or discover a new area. These means you can choose to race to the level cap (and be weak for that level), or take the slow, more casual route and make yourself the strongest possible character for any level.

In addition to this, you can also shut off XP gain from combat, tradeskilling, or completing quests completely. If you are a completist and want to finish all the quests in an area before outleveling it, you can do so. (You could also just use the Chronomagic feature to delevel yourself, but still, the choice is there.) If you want to lock a character at a certain level forever, you can do so.

5. Appearance Armor

In World of Warcraft, every character looks like a clown with ugly, mismatched armor. And huge spiked shoulder pads usually. Unless they have a complete set and then they might look a little decent, but they'll look like every other character of the same class at that same point in the raid progression.

In EverQuest II, you have a separate tab in your inventory you can use to put in items that override the appearance of the armor you are wearing. This means your hero can truly look like a hero and not a clown with spiked shoulder pads.

Many of the rewards in the game are purely cosmetic in nature - and it's still fun to try to collect them. A game need not be a neverending treadmill of increasing statistics to be fun, and EverQuest II proves that. (Though, of course, it still offers the treadmill of increasing statistics, for those that want that, as well.)


EverQuest II has something for everyone. Raid types can concentrate on getting the most powerful items. More casual players have content that rewards appearance armor so they can just doll up their characters so they LOOK cool. The amount of variety in the content is staggering. There is plenty to do for both crazy hardcore raiders as well as more casual players like myself.

It's not perfect: clearly, the designers of the game went to great lengths to give it more of everything: more quests, more classes, more races, more zones, more everything. And in some cases, this becomes more of an annoyance: in particular, I don't like how I have nine hotbars filled to the brim with abilities and baubles and what not that I always use. Luckily, the designers ARE aware of that: the next expansion pack doesn't introduce new abilities that go on your hotbar; instead, they add new abilities that are triggered as combos.

However, for the most part, the sheer amount - and more importantly, variety - of content that is available to you, regardless of the class and level of character you play, is what keeps me coming back to EverQuest II.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Direct Downloader's Fate

I'm pretty excited about the new Sentinel's Fate expansion pack that's due in February of next year. Based on the trailer, it looks great. The artists in EQ2 are doing a great job in creating spell effects, armor, and monsters, that rival even some of the newer games on the market. The game's look has improved dramatically in the last few years; it's a far cry from the much maligned sea of gray and brown textures that the game had when it launched.

One thing that bothers me are the increasing number of extra items that you can only get by purchasing a game in a certain format. This isn't a criticism of EverQuest II in particular; Age of Conan and World of Warcarft all have bonuses or collector's editions or special in-game items you can only get through one channel or another.

However, once upon a time the difference were little figurines or fluff in-game items like a pet dragon that couldn't leave your home (and that was controversial enough at the time!) Nowadays we seem to be suffering from perkflation, as the extra perks that come with the retail pack has expanded to include things like the best mounts in the game and 7-day headstarts before anyone else can play.

Now, I do understand that offering retail perks is important to help get the game onto shelves, which helps attract new players. Apparently some people actually leave their homes to shop. But there's a line somewhere there that shouldn't be crossed, and I get the feeling, like so many other things in the recent past (particularly Legends of Norrath loot cards), we're getting precariously close to crossing it. If we haven't already. I don't know. It's only seven days and then the perk is useless, so it's not a huge deal. Except that if I don't buy it I may end up having to solo those seven days because the rest of the server are in the new zones. But still...

Where do you draw the line?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Finally Some Brawler Love

A dev post on the main forums hints that EverQuest II brawlers will be getting some love in the expansion pack. FINALLY!

Brawlers are getting a lot of changes with the expansion so I would recommend a little patience until we can reveal the full scope of what is being done.

There are no details yet, but brawlers have had a hard time in recent expansion packs since we don't DPS as well as scouts or mages (nor should we) and we don't tank as well as (equally talented and geared) plate tanks. The only consolation is the fact that we solo very well. Which is nice, I guess, but if I just wanted to solo, I'd probably be playing Neverwinter Nights...

Hopefully, the devs will realize the brawlers have a little fighter icon next to them, and we will be able to tank with better survivability and manageability so parties will no longer feel the need to specify "LF ***PLATE*** TANK" when they need a tank.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gotta Captcha Them All

Aion is going to have a change in an upcoming update to help keep bots from monopolizing the game's resources. On paper, that sounds great, but they decided to implement it by putting a debuff on the player after gathering, which is removable by answering a captcha.


While combating bots is a good thing, I think this is a very poor and laughable implementation. I'd prefer it if they did something that was in the context of the game. Age of Conan, for instance, sometimes spawned NPCs that would attack you when harvesting, like bandits or druids [angered that you were felling a sacred tree or whatever]. They posed little threat to a player that was paying attention, but a bot would be taken down eventually.

A better alternative would be to make harvesting/gathering involve a mini-game, like the ones in Free Realms.

Devs, if you really want to combat bots, just make the gameplay fun. Don't make crafting and harvesting a simple matter of clicking on a button and waiting. Make it something you have to play and react to.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Legends of Screwing You Over

Sony has decided to change the "Standard Format" requirements for Legends of Norrath gameplay to invalidate the oldest sets of cards. This makes cards from the earliest decks illegal in tournaments, and in raids and Scenarios you must use a Standard Format compliant deck or else it will not give a reward.

I can understand some of the reasoning behind it. As they add new sets with new cards, the complexity of the game grows exponentially. I think it even makes sense in tournament play as it helps to create a more level playing field. Veteran players are more familiar with all the cards since the game first came out, but by limiting tournament play to the most recent sets, newer players only have to learn the most up to date cards to become competitive.

Where I have a problem with this is that they decided to make it so the Player vs Computer Scenarios in the game (which sometimes give rewards such as new Legends of Norrath cards or loot cards) no longer reward the player if they aren't using a Standard Format deck.

This means, among other things, that you can't get a reward for playing an Oathbound Scenario using cards FROM THAT SET.

I understand limiting some cards, especially from older sets, that are unbalanced, but invalidating entire sets at a time for casual play against the computer is simply ridiculous, especially when it invalidates cards that were perfectly valid against those scenarios when they were introduced!

As a casual player, I simply do not want to constantly have to rebuild every single deck every time a new deck comes out because I have tons of cards from a now obsolete set. I think, IF Sony simply HAS to make these kinds of restrictions, they should instead have three formats:

- an Open format which allows any cards for casual competitive play or unrewarded play against the computer
- a Tournament format which, like the current "Standard" format, eliminates the oldest sets
- and a "Scenario" format which allows any card from any set except the cards that are the most broken... there should be very few of these cards.

But even this approach would still has its disadvantages:

One of the main reasons to play a trading card game is to be able to trade cards, but now they are making it so old cards become worthless! This is backwards. In Magic: the Gathering, my oldest cards became MORE valuable when they went out of print. In Legends of Norrath, they are useless to trade. They are useless in tournaments. Hell, they are useless when I'm sitting at home, just playing by myself!

Imagine that: a collectible card game where there's no point in COLLECTING. Great job, Sony.

I can accept having to replace a few cards on occasion. But having to rebuild every single one of my decks that I've constructed that have cards from pretty much every set (and therefore will break every time a set comes out) is simply not my idea of fun. And not being able to gain rewards unless I rebuild all my sets takes away a powerful incentive to keep playing.

While I understand that Sony has some good reasons for wanting to make this change, this really comes off more as a cheap money grab. It comes off more as if they are just being lazy so they can simply reintroduce existing cards with new artwork in new sets instead of coming up with new ideas; and a way to force us to buy new cards just to keep playing the game.

The sad thing, I WAS going to buy new cards. Until I read about this. Now, I'm simply not going to bother.

Monday, October 12, 2009

You Are Not Worth $15 A Month

Apparently Alganon, the WOW clone you probably never heard of will be distributed exclusively by Direct2Drive, which isn't surprising since this isn't a AAA game shop with a AAA title we're talking about. Yet for some reason they are thinking of charging $15 a month, the same as all the AAA titles out there.

Seriously guys, what are you smoking? If you charge $15 a month, you better offer something really amazing, because you are competing with Aion, WoW, Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings, and the EverQuest games.

You, Alganon, are in a different camp entirely. You look like a painfully clunky WoW clone and your major competitor is FREE. And it's pretty apparent from your forums that you aren't blessed with the same kind of financial backing.

I'm going to bet Alganon reinvents itself as a free to play game - like Spellborn did - within 6 months. Or goes under. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

It Sounds Wrong

The sound effects in Aion bother me. There's nothing necessarily wrong with them. They sound like the kind of effects you'd hear in any JRPG. And I'm a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series which has similarly video game-y sounds. But, for some reason I can't quite explain, it bothers me in an MMO.

The jarring sound the guards make when you alert them in Metal Gear Solid doesn't bother me. But the metallic beep-beep sound that occurs when you draw aggro in Aion irritates me to no end.

I guess I'd rather hear the bear growl or the monster shout or something a little more "realistic" in an MMO. I don't want a constant reminder that the virtual fantasyland I'm immersing myself in is just make believe. But that's exactly what the video game sounds do for me.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Travelers Might Get Me Traveling... to Another Game

When Legends of Norrath was first introduced, we were told that the loot cards would only be "fluff" and would not impact the gameplay. The new Legends of Norrath card game loot pack promises exclusive "new quests in EverQuest® and EverQuest® II that open all new chambers and rewards of loot and XP". To me, that goes well beyond the definition of "fluff"...

In EverQuest II, I have not specifically bought cards for the loot cards (I have bought packs but I play Legends of Norrath on occasion. Most of my loot cards came from the free ones that come with the subscription.) I have never bought in game items for Station Cash.

I HAVE bought things (hirelings and unlocking the monk class) in Dungeons and Dragons Online. Willingly. It doesn't bother me there.

The main reason why I'm ok with the RMT in Dungeons and Dragons Online but not in EverQuest II -- it FEELS optional in Dungeons and Dragons Online. I'm not subscribing so I control exactly how much I want to spend.

On the other hand, in EverQuest II, the really valuable RMT is locked up in loot cards which you MAY OR MAY NOT get. You could spend hundreds of dollars and end up with nothing but trash. The Station Cash items I don't have much of a problem with, except I'm already paying for two subscriptions and some of the best looking items in game have to be paid for! Unlike Legends of Norrath cards, I have NO chance of getting them with my subscription alone. That's simply doing RMT wrong.

EverQuest II is obviously not going to get rid of RMT and microtransactions now. But it needs to do a Dungeons and Dragons Online makeover soon or I'm probably done with it.

- Subscription fees need to be optional, like in D&D.
- You need to be able to level to the cap without spending a dime, just like in Dungeon and Dragons Online.
- You need to be able to play much of the content in game (maybe reserving some instances like Nektropos Castle for subscribers or people who unlock the individual instance), just like in Dungeons and Dragons Online.
- Subcribers need to get a stipend of Station Cash just like we get free Legends of Norrath cards every month.
- Subscribers should be able to earn Station Cash in game by completing quests (just like Turbine Points are awarded in game)
- Do Legends of Norrath boosters still drop in game? It's been ages since I've seen one. Put them back or increase the drop rate for subscribers. (It can be an extra loot popup just for subscribers just like quest loot appears only for the people who need them.)

Subscribers should be able to get anything you can PAY for just by PLAYING for them.

Dungeons and Dragons Online does microtransactions right. They work (for me) because they FEEL optional. I don't FEEL like I HAVE to buy anything. So I am quite willing to. They've made a lot of money off of me when I had written the game off at launch. My friends and I are thinking of starting a guild in game (none of us subscribe so we have to pay for the right.) Hell, I think in this first month I already spent more than a one month subscription costs.

But EverQuest II seems like it is treading down a road where every month it feels like my subscription is worth less and less. Which makes me want to spend less and less money on the game. See how that works, Sony?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Can I Borrow Some Hours?

Like Blue Kae, I'm playing too many games for the meager amount of time I have free. I don't generally even start playing until after 9, because my job is pretty demanding with the hours, plus I decided to do some consulting on the side. And then of course I have a wife and a baby that have demands (particularly the baby!) and a house to maintain. But somehow I still manage to squeeze in enough time to explore some of these online worlds that fascinate me.

So what have I been playing?

EverQuest II

Well, EverQuest II still. I have two accounts. I am going to start a third account for a month (since, with Refer-a-Friend, it doesn't really cost extra) so I will try my hand at triple-boxing. I'm sure that will make doing quests somewhat of a nuisance, but I don't really like quests anyway. Instead, I'll try plowing through some of the dungeons solo. I don't know what it is about multiboxing in EQ2 that I enjoy so much, but it's a lot of fun. I've always like playing multiple characters; the first CRPGs I played were games like Might and Magic and Bard's Tale where you created and controlled a full group at a time.

Dungeons and Dragons Online

I have some real life friends I meet up in Dungeons and Dragons Online. I'm still enjoying the game, but I had some awful PUG experiences. I think my last group was started by a ten year old. It fell apart miserably. This could be a drawback of having a free to play game: there is no barrier to entry for maturity. Not that an 18 year old with a credit card and a summer job is that mature, but at least they might be able to form a coherent English sentence. When you are doing elite difficulty quests, that ability comes in handy.


Lastly, I'm playing Aion. I paid for it, so I figure I may as well. So far I've only gotten to level 6, so no further than I did in beta. I haven't earned my wings. I think I should at least do that before making my final judgment. But, so far, I'm really not liking the game.

I know people say you can't judge an MMO after only a few hours of gameplay, but I think that's crap. I mean, granted, I can't judge the PVP, since I haven't tried it. And I can't judge the end game. But I can tell you that 99% of the gameplay is the same old quest based grind we get in World of Warcraft and EverQuest II. And it's mostly really simplistic quests like: kill X or run to someone and click on them.

EverQuest II is rife with those quests too, but it tends to shake them up a bit with other kinds of quests as well: discovery quests, quests that require using an item in your inventory in some fashion, quests where you have to avoid killing the mobs you are fighting, etc. So it shakes things up, and that's what keeps me interested.

The combat, so far, is dull, but then combat in EQ2 was dull under level 10 as well. Mostly I root or slow the mob and shoot them a couple times with ranged magic attacks. Rinse, repeat. I'll have to find a dungeon or a named and see how things differ in a group or against more elite mobs, but I haven't found those yet.

What Next?

Well, I guess I'll have to focus, and that's likely to be EverQuest II again. I just can't seem to find a game to replace it. I guess that's a good thing.

I'll probably keep D&D Online going on the side, but just when my real life friends are in game since the dungeons are a blast with the right company. I don't know how much longevity the game will have, for me, if my friends get bored of it and move on: the problem I have with it so far is that, even with henchmen, you really need to group, but my PUG experiences have been extremely poor so far.

I have a feeling I won't be continuing the Aion subscription after the free month expires. When I feel like I've toured the world enough to get a good feel for it, I'll move on and find something else to fill up those free hours. I'm not sure what that will be. Maybe something to give me a reprieve from all these fantasy games I play:

I'm somewhat curious about Fallen Earth because I like the idea of a sandbox based gameplay and I like the post-apocalyptic setting. However, I don't think what is obviously not a AAA title should be charging the same subscription fee as the leaders of the pack like World of Warcraft. It doesn't even look polished from the screenshots, and while I can tolerate that if the gameplay is solid, it should still be priced accordingly.

I'm also curious about Champions Online but mostly from a comparative standpoint, to see how it fares in gameplay compared to City of Heroes. I also like the idea behind the Nemesis system.

Or maybe I'll play more single player games or, heck, get back into some non-computer game related hobbies, like writing music again. Either way, I really need more hours in the day for everything I want to do.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

This Only Happens Once

Ah - the excitement of a new MMO, as throngs of new players log on for the first time, breathe in the fresh air of a new world, and shout in unison "OMFG LOL ROFLCOPTER GOGOGOGO WHERE MY BROS AT".

I know I said I think I wasted my money on Aion on my twitter account (@mymomentofzen). That opinion hasn't changed. But I did preorder it, so I may as well give it a somewhat more serious look. At least for the month I've already paid for.

So far, after getting to level 3 and having the server kick me off, all I've seen is this lovely "server is full, wait 4 hours" message.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's Like Multiboxing On a Single Account

Recently I've been playing Dungeons and Dragons Online. I tried the game when it first launched and enjoyed it, but it never seemed worth the $15 a month. So I played off and on for a month and quit. Never looked back.

Now it's free to play. And you know what? They actually made $12 off of me yesterday. And you know why I was so willing to plunk down money on DDO when I never paid for microtransactions in any other game (including Runes of Magic, Atlantica Online) or paid extra for a freemium tier (in games like Dungeon Runners)? Because I didn't feel like I had to. I was already having fun. Paying extra felt like it was something I just wanted to do. That's the trick. Turbine did microtransactions right.

One of the features I've really been enjoying are the hirelings. Part of the reason for this is - I simply enjoy playing with more than one character. It just feels more natural. I grew up on games like Bard's Tale and Wizardry and Might and Magic where you took an entire part through dungeons.

Nowadays games like World of Warcraft design most of the content so that its soloable. But here's the problem: since they can't tell in advance what skills any player will bring to the table, the quests and mobs are designed for the lowest common denominator. Which means they don't deal much damage to threaten a tank because that would cause them to destroy the cloth armor classes. Which means they can't have so much HP that they challenge a wizard because the tanks would still be fighting their very first mob when that wizard gets to the level cap. Which means the quests can't require you to do things like feign death or sneak or disarm a trap as a part of the quest without inexplicably requiring you to do so with a specific bauble.

So the quests and mobs became more of a chore. They aren't that exciting. You have your spell rotation and know exactly what you are going to do for almost every solo mob in the game.

With games that allow hirelings, there's no problem like that. Designers can expect that you will have an array of different skills and will likely have a rogue, a healer, and a tank in the group. They can have quests that expect one person to be in one place while another player has to do something elsewhere (pull a lever, keep two monsters separated, whatever.)

With hirelings, you tackle the same group content that everyone else does. Only you have NPCs to pad the party out for those times when you can't find a group (one of the reasons I quit DDO originally was the sometimes lengthy spells I'd be jumping up and down in a bar shouting LFG) or don't want to find a group (not necessarily because I'm antisocial - maybe I just know my baby will wake up within the hour and want to start on a dungeon but know I might have to go AFK for 30 minutes at any moment.)

So Dungeons and Dragons Online has been a lot more fun. Since I can always find a group - I can make my own when other players aren't doing what I need or want to do - there's no unwanted downtime. I just go and find the quest, summon some help, and go. And the game play is more interesting: playing NPCs allow you to bring more skills to the table since you are no longer confined to a very narrow role.

It hasn't been entirely without challenges. The NPCs do exactly what I tell them and a single misclick can cause them to rather happily run through the acid laden spike traps until they die. But that's part of the fun.

What about grouping? MMOs should encourage grouping right? I agree. Hirelings also improve grouping. I've convinced some real life friends to give Dungeons and Dragons Online a shot. Early on, we ran into a problem: I play a paladin in my real life D&D campaign and I decided to recreate that character in game as my main. My friend also made a paladin as well. I also have a cleric and a monk and a wizard but I didn't want to play them at the time. There was a specific quest I wanted to finish, on my paladin. My friend's other character (he only had two slots) was still on the starter island and couldn't group with me. We weren't going to get far without a healer, unless we played the easier difficulty levels. But no problem! We bought one in game and off we went.

Hirelings in Dungeons and Dragons Online could be better. The way theya re implemented, they are temporary. But in some games they are permanent and have their own inventory and skills. Guild Wars, for instance, allows you to have Heroes that you can improve in game. That's a great way to introduce lateral progression to a game. Instead of simply adding more and more levels, a game with Heroes can add more variety to the Heroes, and players will be addicted on two fronts: collecting all the Heroes, and leveling each of them up.

I wish more games would move away from the dichotomy between group content and solo content. The solo content is generally just no fun. But the more interesting, challenging, and scripted content, the dungeon crawls, have historically been relegated to groups only. To make games more accessible to the casual time-challenged players, instead of dumbing down the mobs and the quests, it's much better to let players round out the party and fill needed roles with NPCs.

I wish EverQuest II had hirelings. But if they did it well, they'd probably lose my second account. And there are a LOT of EverQuest II players who at least dual box. So I guess that won't happen. :)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Another NCSoft MMO Bites the Dust

Dungeon Runners is shutting down. I can't say I'm surprised. I tried the game a few times and thought it was cute, but ultimately I decided the game wasn't for me. The game used a freemium model of play where you could optionally choose to pay for extras. Though those extras included better loot and stacking potions, and without them inventory management was annoying, so it kind, to me, like it was necessary.

I wasn't attracted to the humor or the cartoonish graphics. The game didn't take itself seriously at all, which might be part of the appeal to me, but not for me. They are putting a nuke in the main town set to blow up when the servers go down for good. Yeah, a nuke. And some of the weapons included pizza cutters and guitars.

So it's not a game that I'll miss. Though I have to wonder what's going on with NCSoft after several consistent failures in a row. Of course it makes no sense to run a game that doesn't make money, but it almost seems like they aren't even bothering to try. At least Sony tosses them into their Station Access collection where they can go on into MMO undeath. Sure, Sony shut down Matrix Online but they still have quite a few games like Planetside and Pirates of the Burning Sea that would have definitely seen death's door already if they were NCSoft titles.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Secret World A Little Less Secret Now

A few trickles of information have been unveiled about the Secret World. Gamespot has a reveal on the Factions that will be part of the game's backstory. And there is an Initiation Test on the main web site,, that lets you figure out which of the three in game Factions you are most suited for.

I guess I'll be a Dragon. Working from the shadows, patient, subtle, and strategic. That's so me.

The quality of the promotional material is impressive. Unfortunately, we still know little about what the actual game play will be like. But I'm patient. All will be revealed in due course...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Streaming EQ2 Client

Autenil reports that he is working on reducing the size of the EQ2 client to 60MB and getting it to stream the rest of the content, like Guild Wars does. They are apparently leveraging some of the great work done by the Free Realms team.

I think this is a brilliant move to increase exposure. I had tried the refer-a-friend feature on a few people (none of them decided to subscribe unfortunately) and without exception the first thing out of their mouth was "how long is this going to take?!" referring to the extremely long download time. It's kind of hard to convince people to try a ten day trial for a game when the first two days are used up just downloading the game.

Also, you have to consider that people's attention is fleeting these days. There are dozens of MMOs on the market. There are thousands of other forms of entertainment. If you manage to capture someone's attention at the computer, getting them to download EQ2, the clock starts ticking. You do NOT have much time left. You have to grab them right away.

Although I have a much higher tolerance for the time it takes to download an MMO (and a willingness to try every MMO that has come on the market since I first got hooked on the genre with Final Fantasy XI), anecdotally, I know there are a few games that probably lost possible income from me simply because of download times.

Runes of Magic had previously announced that they were going to develop a streaming client. It's too bad they haven't, because I tried that game out, and liked it, but I stopped bothering to try to play. EverQuest II is my primary game, but it doesn't run on my old, cheap, crappy laptop. One of the reasons I was attracted to Runes of Magic was that it was a fun game and free with optional RMT -- which meant I could control how much money I invested in the game and didn't have to worry that I might end up too busy to justify a subscription fee. But everytime I played it it would take an hour to download the latest content. Which was usually about how long I had to play!

Another game I couldn't play due to download times was Warhammer Online. They came out with a Mac version, so I tried to get my brother to try it out, since he is a Mac (and I am a PC). So it took forever for him to download the first night which meant the two hours we had became thirty minutes. A couple nights later we find time to play together - but they released the new Lands of the Dead patch or whatever. I say "whatever" because it doesn't affect me, since I'm playing in the very first Chapter. But I was forced to download it and that was another play session lost. Then we didn't have that much time the rest of the week to play together and the free trial expired. A lot of the attraction for an MMO is to play with other people - especially ones you know - but it's hard to coordinate all that when massive downloads and patch times eat up what little time you have to play.

So I'm excited to see that the SOE team is on the ball here. MMO games are not getting any smaller, so streaming the content is necessary to attract and retain players.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Guild Wars 2 Preview

There is a great Guild Wars 2 preview on Eurogamer. Guild Wars is one of the best online RPGs ever released. But what excites me the most is this:

"We actually don't have a traditional RPG/MMO quest system," Flannum continues. "Instead what we've got are Events."

Looks like the trend towards creating content with goals available to the public (as opposed to individuals running ticking off their own personal list of checkmarks to complete their 'quests'), like Warhammer Online Public Quests, is continuing. But these look better because they are supposed to end. As new Events get discovered the world changes. THAT is how you add immersion to a game, by allowing people to shape the game's history through their actions (or inaction).

This sounds a lot like what the Heroes of Telara developers have said they plan for their game:

Unite with your friends and plan play-sessions around scheduled events that change on a regular basis.

I wish we had more information to compare the two approaches.

But hopefully the deathknell is tolling for the traditional quest system and the static, unchanging worlds will be a thing of the past. The quest system caused the MMO industry to become very solo oriented; with the shift to more public goals, MMOs might become social again!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Final Fantasy XIV Videos

We're seeing a lot more information about Final Fantasy XIV. These are a few of the videos available now.

The game looks absolutely stunning.

This second video shows some combat.

Some people seem to be disappointed with the slow paced combat, but I have to respectfully disagree. Combat was pretty slow paced with really long timers in Final Fantasy XI, and it was a blast. It still kept you on your toes, even if I only had to push a button once every 15 seconds. Many of the standard trash mobs required you to react (crabs putting up stoneshell, goblins preparing a bomb toss) in ways that are absent from anything less than a boss encounter in many modern MMOs.

Also, the frenetic pace of most MMO's combat systems (WAR, AOC, EQ2, WOW) is almost bordering on video game-y. There is little time or need for strategy when you have 18 hotbars filled with abilities. Unless organizing your hotbar counts as a strategy.

In FFXI you had few abilities, with long timers. My paladin could heal himself once per thirty seconds, and taunt once per thirty seconds. Every fifteen seconds, I'd either cure myself or taunt (that's how you held hate). The rest of the time I WATCHED the mob, to see if I needed to stun him (for example, a properly timed stun could deflect a thrown bomb attack back on a goblin), or use Cover to protect someone else, or move because of a repop to avoid adds. Most abilities were on long (several-minute) timers or more so you had to make sure you used them at the right time.

By contrast, in EQ2, my tank has to taunt every five seconds, and on top of that, taunt alone won't let you hold aggro; you also have to constantly pound out combat arts to do high enough DPS to hold aggro. The only thing that keeps it from becoming a constant button mash is the fact you must also time the use of your combat arts between your auto attacks to maximize DPS. I spend most of my time watching my hotbars and not much watching the actual screen. I felt the same way about other games, like AOC and WOW.

So I am excited at the prospect of playing a game that gives me more time to think and less carpal tunnel.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Encouraging Unhealthy Playstyles

I started to watch Second Skin on Hulu and found it depressing so far. It's a documentary which shows how online worlds such as MMOs have impacted the lives of various subjects. And it starts out with a bunch of people who apparently spend so much of their time they have no time for anything else. Even blogging, which is why I think I'll be ok posting negative things in public about the losers.

I intend to watch the rest of the movie later. Hopefully it shows a more balanced perspective than the almost scare-mongering it starts out with. And despite the snarky comment above, I'm sure the subjects have more redeeming traits than the movie portrays: there just isn't enough time to accurately portray the complexities of an individual, and it has to maintain its focus on the virtual worlds aspect of their lives.

But there does seem to be no shortage of people who are willing to simply live almost all their lives in game. It's sad, really. These games are fun, but it's like television: an empty diversion. I like it better because it's interactive and has a strategic element. There's not much strategy in watching Battlestar Galactica. We all have a need to be entertained. But it's not all I do.

I wouldn't normally place the blame on the game companies. They are providing a service and it's up to the consumer to use it responsibly. But then game companies come out and do things like leveling contests. These contests basically reward people who level up to a certain amount first. Since leveling is primarily based on time invested, that just encourages people to adopt unhealthy behavior: avoiding sleep, spending all their time in game, just to earn these "rewards."

I'm sure these same people would camp out for weeks to be first in line for Star Wars tickets if they could do so without missing a raid. But just as we would look down on someone for exploiting another's addiction problem were he an alcoholic or a drug user, should we discourage game companies from doing exploiting their more addicted fans?

Wouldn't a better contest be something like this: you have a month, and whoever earns a certain casually achievable level in the least amount of /played wins. Now the contest is who can get to X level smartest, not fastest. You have time to grab a pizza or take a shower or go to work (as long as you log off first :) ) because it won't impact your chance of winning. So you can still have the fun little marketing bonanza that comes with a contest without encouraging the kind of unhealthy playstyles that lead to becoming a subject in this film:

Friday, August 7, 2009

You Are What You Wear

Square Enix just released some more information about the Final Fantasy XIV game system. One of the interesting aspects of it is what they call the "Armoury System." The idea behind it is your skills are determined by what you wear. Arm a sword and you can be a warrior, pick up a staff, and you can be a mage. And you can change at almost any time!

And this is a good thing, in my opinion. I like job systems much better than the traditional static class system where to experience different jobs you have to grow a stable of alts. One of the main reasons for this is: I hate doing the same quests over and over again for each alt I raise. I hate having to grab the same flags (for fast travel or access quests) over and over and over again.

It's also easier to change what you are doing based on role - if I join a group and the roles we need change, and I can satisfy that, it's nice to know I can instantly swap out for the needed role instead of logging in an alt and dragging them halfway across the world, hoping they have all the right flags and access quests done.

It also helps with the community: in Final Fantasy XI, I might go out and see a Samurai is looking for group. However, I then realize this is the same guy, a good player, who was healing me the other day. So I know he'll probably be a good player in his new role. In EverQuest II, I almost never know who I'm getting involved with unless it's a guild group, since everyone in game has at least a half dozen different names and appearances.

It looks like the job system is become much more prevalent. Heroes of Telara mentions the ability to change subclasses at any time. Free Realms implements a job system as well, letting you swap jobs almost anywhere. The Agency likewise will allow you to swap between roles based on what you wear. This mechanic seems like it may be a defining trait for so-called "third-generation" MMORPGs.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wary of Champions Online

Like many others in the blogosphere, I'm also wary of Champions Online at this point. I'm an advocate of alternate payment models, and I love the idea of a lifetime membership, but if you had faith in your game, wouldn't you offer it AFTER it's released as well? Not just an exclusive feature for people who haven't played it yet???

Lord of the Rings Online extended their lifetime membership offer for a while after it launched. After it went away, a year later, they brought it back again. I suppose Champions Online, if successful, might bring the offer back as well. But you think they'd let you play the free month from the box purchase first before deciding whether to do so THIS time around.

The fact that they aren't just smacks of desperation.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Disappointing Year For Fantasy MMORPGs

Well, I'm still playing EQ2. Yeah, I railed against quest-driven gameplay lately, but in EQ2 I've just been logging in on occasion to go on a raid or to plow through old dungeons (not necessarily doing quests) with low level alts. So it's been entertaining enough to keep me subscribing. But not enough to keep my eye from wandering.

I've also been spending what little time I have in various fantasy MMORPG marketing ploys, er, I mean "betas." Aion is one I can name, any other I can't. But my opinion is the same: WoW. WoW. I mean, WoW, it's amazing just how blatant some games can get with their influences.

Seriously people, no one is going to switch from the king of the hill to your WoW clone no matter what you might think of the incremental innovation you tacked on to it. Especially since the #1 WoW clone on the market is FREE. Let me spell that for you: $ ... 0. That's what you are competing against if you go against WoW.

Either a) make your game free, or b) differentiate yourself somehow. Suggestion: start with the UI and the quest driven gameplay. Even if your game suddenly becomes super awesome and innovative at level 50, if I look at levels 1-5 and think: this looks JUST like World of Warcraft, I'm not going to play! Even the people who like WoW aren't going to play, because they already have WoW.

So I guess 2009 is a wash in the fantasy MMO department. Hopefully 2010 will bring us some great betas... followed by great releases. These are the games I'm looking forward to:

Guild Wars 2 -- The first game was incredible. Take its game mechanics and the core design that worked and add a more "worldly" feel to it so it feels more like a "real" MMO and it would be heaven.

Heroes of Telara -- A game where they are focusing on the technology and on the ability to deliver changing world content on the fly. Sounds like the developers there intend to deliver some real innovation instead of a simple WoW clone. Imagine a world where the focus is on fighting a threat that, when defeated, WILL NEVER HAPPEN APPEAR AGAIN. Instead of doing quests that will sit there and wait for the next guy to come along. That's beautiful.

Final Fantasy XIV -- The devs are talking and they say it won't have levels or experience??? That sounds too good to be true. The story based missions in Final Fantasy XI were incredible though sparse. The only flaw with the game was the interminable grind. But clearly there has to be SOME kind of progression system. Still, it's clear it won't be WoW without your traditional Diku ding, and that's a good thing.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Ugliest Thing I've Ever Seen


These are screenshots of one of Felicia Day's World of Warcraft characters. Felicia Day, of course, is the star and producer of the Guild.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I Want a New Kind of Grind

I've been having a bout of MMOADD and checking out various other games in between raiding. My guild is taking on Veeshan's Peak and it's a lot of fun, but I haven't had much will to play EverQuest II lately because I've been tired of the quest based grind to fill my AA.

So I checked out Dungeons and Dragons Online. I definitely will be resurrecting my old characters when this goes free to play. I love the new henchmen they introduced and the soloability in the low level zones. Of course, DDO is really a game that you want to group in, but the reason I quit the game when it first came out was because I spent a lot of time spamming LFG and not finding one. Hopefully all the players attracted by the free play will fix that. If not, at least I can now do SOME things without having to find friends first.

Still, it would be nice if the game had SOMETHING to do besides dungeon crawls. I mean, granted, it's Dungeons and Dragons, which is all about going on quests, in dungeons, with a group, but still, maybe they could add mini games or something??? While DDO has a lot of innovative game play in it, the running around, vacuuming in the quests from the NPCs with glowing whatever-it-is-that-isn't-an-exclamation-point-but-may-as-well-be over their heads, shouting LFG for half an hour, and then trying to find the stupid zone in point.

Do we really need to run around the overland city zones? Is that necessary for our immersion? Couldn't we have more fast travel options to get us straight to the dungeon? It's not like we're being attacked in the city. And I'm not asking for easy mode fast travel IN THE missions. Do we really have to suck in all the quests from random people around the zone? Can't we find another way to dole out the missions?

So I decide to go see what's new in Age of Conan. I earned my Tempest of Set two more levels but then got bored of it. I guess if I was more interested in the PVP side of things or the citybuilding aspect, I might like the game more. But as far as the PVE went, it just didn't seem to offer anything I wasn't already getting in EverQuest II. It's just your standard quest driven grind, once you get past the incremental innovations in the combat system. However, while I loved AOCs combat system, it simply isn't enough to get me to come back permanently.

The issue for me is content: while they've added a ton of content to AOC, there's just more of it in EQ2. And it doesn't seem as hard to find. Granted, I've been playing longer, so I know where most everything is, but quests in AOC would often force me to run to then the opposite side of the map from wherever you get the quest, assuming it's even in the same zone. EQ2 was like that at launch, but most quests nowadays are much more reasonable in terms of the mindless running around they force you to do.

I also tried out the Aion beta. I've probably tried every MMORPG beta since 2000. This is one of the smoothest and most polished. Probably because it's actually a released game. I'm not quite sure what they are really testing. I didn't end up doing too much testing... the game was yet another quest driven grind. Pretty unabashed about it too. Pretty much every quest was "you know, my farm is overrun by Random Smelly Monster". You look over at it, and sure enough, it's overrun alright. But mostly by "Random Stinky Monster"s which don't count. And you have to kill them because your mobs are ont he same respawn point, and apparently the farmer IS in fact actually OK with his farm being overrun by things digging it up if they have different adjectives over their head.

I think I might be at the end of my rope with this genre. The only game that really excites me now is Heroes of Telara because 1) you supposedly can play with everyone on the server [players of any level will have something to do], and 2) the world WILL change. Meaning you CAN be a hero. Meaning I'm actually doing something -- responding to a changing world -- and not simply vacuuming the same exclamation points up on all my alts and doing the same things over and over again. In theory -- we know little about the game at this point.

I'm also excited about Final Fantasy XIV, if only because I loved FFXI. While Final Fantasy XI was a grind as well, it was a very different kind of grind, and I actually think it was much, much more fun camping mobs and hunting named monsters with groups. Much more fun than it is nowadays where we are forced to hunt exclamation point after exclamation point by ourselves.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Venril Sathir Down

My guild finally took down Venril Sathir. Some might not consider this as much of an accomplishment, since he had been nerfed. From the July 14, 2009 game update:


* Venril Sathir no longer punishes players via Qxzytl’s Conversion if they have too much mana. The ornamental statues in his encounter now have reduced health and do less damage.

I'm glad they nerfed him. While certainly the game needs its challenges, this fight had an extraordinary amount of instant fail conditions:

* One person was removed from the fight entirely, forced to spend it clicking on one of two miniature statues on the ground as they became active. Otherwise some sentinel statues become active and wipe the raid.
* Randomly at 90% the raid force is wiped by the statues even if the miniature statues are clicked in time.
* Every now and then he put a debuff on the raid force that had to be cured or else you would lose almost all your health and power.
* At a certain point in the fight, you have to use a charm slot item dropped by a previous raid boss to continue the fight, or else the whole raid force instantly dies.
* During the fight, Venril Sathir would instantly wipe the raid if anyone had their power over about 60% or under 40% or so. It's a little wider than that, but that's the range we tried to keep it in.

In the meantime, he's randomly distributing debuffs that either drain mana (putting you at risk of going under the lower limit) or feeding you mana. So you had to watch your debuffs or else you would easily go out of that range.

The main change in the last update was to remove the upper power limit. Now you could keep your power high and just fight him slow and easy. You still had to watch Toxic Infusion because that drained your mana. You still had to watch your debuffs or else you could end up losing too much mana.

There's nothing wrong with this fight -- the problem was that he was in a league of his own in terms of difficulty compared to every other boss in the same tier. In fact, he is more difficult than most mobs in the next tier: Veeshan's Peak. I think it would be great if they took this script and made a similar fight for some contested elsewhere (with the appropriate rewards), for the very advanced guilds. It just should be a mob like the avatars that are reserved for the most elite guilds, and not something in the middle of a popular quest progression. Even that wouldn't be so bad (nothing wrong with having some elite-only content), except this fight was disproportionately difficult compared to the other bosses in the same tier and the NPCs you need to kill to get your Mythical weapon vary based on your class. Therefore, the classes that needed Venril Sathir were screwed compared to the rest because no one, not even top tier raid guilds who cleared the next tier of content, wanted to go back and do this fight. Some people even betrayed their classes just to keep progressing while avoiding this fight.

So I'm glad they nerfed him. He's certainly not easy mode (well, maybe it was a LITTLE too easy): he still took a lot of coordination and we still wiped a few times from people who missed their debuffs or didn't cure Toxic Infusion in time (mostly players who were new to the encounter). But the fight was definitely much closer to where it should be to balanced with the rest of the Rise of Kunark raid progression.

So now we have a new head to display on a guild hall trophy case. And we're on our way to VP!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hyboria Is Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

It's too bad Age of Conan wasn't like this when it launched. While I'm only level 28, so I can't benefit from the improvements they've made in content, they fixed most of the main issues the game had when I first played.

One issue I had was that itemization was confusing. I couldn't tell what the stats did, they didn't seem to have a noticeable impact on my character, and there didn't seem to be a clear way of telling which items were "better". Also performance is tons better. These have been streamlined so it's a lot clearer how new items improve your character.

Performance and the graphics engine are better now as well. I remember there was tons of lag and memory leaks and slowdowns and weird graphical glitches when the game first came out. For example - when the game first came out, every item in my inventory always had a semi-transparent floating yellow "?" floating over it. It would disappear when I moused over the item (causing the normal spinning item display to appear). It was cosmetic but terribly annoying because I'd have to mouse over every item in my bag first just to get them to look normal before I could look for an item. I've seen nothing of the sort this time around.

On the other hand, I think my Tempest of Set has been "rebalanced." I don't remember things being this hard. But maybe I've been playing the target and auto attack style of MMO for too long. :)

Friday, July 10, 2009

You Want Me To Go Where?!

Now I remember what I didn't enjoy about Age of Conan: the focus on questing. You barely get any XP from doing anything EXCEPT for finishing quests. What keeps drawing me back to EverQuest II is that its viable to advance your character in MANY ways: I can quest and earn regular XP, I can camp mobs for regular XP, and I can earn AA XP by mentoring low level players, hunting nameds, and exploring. Whereas in Age of Conan, I feel like I'm on rails because the only truly viable way to advance is by questing.

Unfortunately, this feeling is exacerbated by the fact that Age of Conan's quests tend to send you half way across the world and back. It's like the worst of EverQuest II quest design (a typical EQ2 quest: run around five different zones and collect four different things from the four corners of each zone) and the worst of World of Warcraft quest design (quest chain after quest chain after quest chain after boring, stupid christmas tree laden NPC hub after hub) mixed together. Except the NPCs in AOC all wear skirts.

On the other hand, Dungeons and Dragons Online has a focus on quests/missions, but I always enjoyed that there. I guess the dungeon crawl just works better for me than hailing a random skirt, running to a different zone, and then to the opposite side of that zone, then killing some random sort of dangerous wildlife that terrorize the land of MMOs.

Still, I am having fun. And, so far, I've only been soloing, which is hardly the full experience AOC has to offer. So maybe I'll have to find some time to be less anti-social, and see how the community is, and maybe try a dungeon or two in AOC. At least for the couple of weeks before DDO goes F2P and I get distracted by that.

Unfortunately, since my main is still young, having unsubscribed after launch at level 27 (now 28), I'm not even sure what there is that I can do at my level range?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Everyone Wants Me Back

I only subscribe to EverQuest II. Yet currently, I have free play time in the original EverQuest, Star Wars Galaxies, and Vanguard (which has oddly been reporting itself as having 1 day remaining for at least a week now). It seems every MMO I've ever played is clamoring to get me to come back. The most recent addition to that list is Age of Conan.

So far, I've been able to resist most of these pleas to resurrect my old characters. But I decided to bite the bullet and check out the changes in Age of Conan.

And man oh man, I totally forgot how to play. I died like a dozen times before I remembered. Hyborea is littered with my tombstones. If you also took Funcom up on their offer to return to the lands of Conan, I hereby apologize if you tripped over my corpse on your adventures. I do remember enjoying Age of Conan's combat system more. I like the fact your basic attack is directional so you do have to pay attention to shifts in the mobs defenses. While I'm playing a spellcaster, and therefore have something more akin to traditional hotbar combat, I spent some time with melee classes, and enjoyed the combination system. It's good to see a combat system where you have to pay attention. World of Warcraft always bored me because I'd spam hotbars and otherwise usually be staring at another screen. The only other game that has combat that is as interesting - that breaks the standard hotbar spamming model - is Dungeons and Dragons Online.

I don't know that I'll stick around permanently. The main problem I had with Age of Conan is that, aside from the combat, it offers very little that I don't already get from EverQuest II. I'm not that interested in PVP -- I never found PVP to make much sense in a game where time invested is the principle means of advancement. And combat alone can't captivate me.

But if you tried AOC at launch and left due to the general unplayable nature of it at that time, take advantage of this opportunity to try it again!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

DDO Goes Free to Play, Sony to Follow?

DDO just went free to play. Subscriptions are optional, but still have benefits. So you have a free tier where you can play the entire game from level one up to the cap. As you level up you'll find more and more adventures and areas locked unless you pay, but you can still play the game without paying. And they are introducing Turbine Points, which are a microtransaction system like Sony's Station Store.

Free Realms and Runes of Magic have proven that this model is attractive to players. And now with AAA titles like Dungeons and Dragons Online getting into the freemium game, who is next?

I have a suspicion that it will be Sony, with EverQuest II.

They have been hinting for a while of major plans in the works. They are adding lots of new content to the low level areas. They are adding content like Research Assistants that reward people for nothing more than subscribing (which most players don't want -- but would probably enjoy as a "premium" feature for subscribers in a freemium game). They are going to great lengths to finally fix the graphics engine (why bother in a game this old?!) We have the Station Store that no one asked for, which makes the most sense in a game where people aren't already paying you. And they have taken a rather sudden and unexpected interest in simplifying the more complex game mechanics (such as the spell naming conventions), which is a lot of work for very little gain, given that the current player base are already accustomed to the old names, and a game this old doesn't normally get a large influx of new players.

By going with a freemium model, EverQuest II just might gain that influx of new players that would justify all of this work.

At least that's what I'm hoping... I'd love to see new life breathed into my favorite game (at the moment :) ) by adopting a freemium model.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

FFXIV Online Will Be Casual Friendly

From the Square Enix E3 Live Blog:

Q: What influence have games like World of WarCraft have on the development of FFXIV?
A: As with WoW, we want to aim a bit for the casual user. However, we don't want to make a copy of WoW. We believe we will have things that are unique and will stand out from that game.

Thank goodness. Hopefully it will retain the unique qualities of FFXI without becoming a second job that *I* pay for.

I am a happy man right now.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Final Fantasy XIV Online

One of the surprise announcements at the Sony Press Conference that just completed was Final Fantasy XIV Online. This excites me, particularly because Final Fantasy XI was a game that I still sometimes think fondly of.

Yes, most people consider Final Fantasy XI to be an unrepetant grindfest, and it is. I didn't even level past 50 with my highest job since, after completing the first limit break quest, I no longer had the stomach for insanely long camps.

But Final Fantasy XI had some insanely great features that I haven't seen replicated nearly so well in any other game. We have no details about Final Fantasy XIV, and it is a completely different game, like all Final Fantasy games, involving its own unique game mechanics. However, I can only hope that they manage to retain these successful features from their previous online endeavor, while correcting some of the more unforgiving aspects of the game.

My favorite feature of Final Fantasy XI was the job system. This allowed you to change classes at any time. I played a Paladin (up to level 50), and leveled Beastmaster and White Mage into the 30s. Naturally I had a decently levelled Warrior job as well. All of this was done on one character.

In some games, like EverQuest II, I feel like I need a stable of alts to keep playing. I get bored playing the same class all the time. But the problem with alts is, as far as anyone else is concerned, you're a completely different person. Also, you have to do the same quests all over again.

With the job system, items I earn on one character that I can't use because they are for a different class, can be used when I change jobs. Quests that allow you to access restricted parts of the game or unlock special content don't need to be repeated over and over again for each alt. And, most importantly, my friends know who I am and what I'm playing, without forcing me to keep them updated or hog up half their friends list.

The skillchain and magic burst system was also an incredibly fun part of gameplay. It allowed multiple players to combine abilities to set off a powerful effect. EverQuest II tried a similar form of interaction with its Heroic Opportunity system, but failed, because their effects weren't worth the trouble.

The auction house was also a great feature. It used a blind auction where sellers posted an item for sale at a specified price. Buyers then attempted to purchase it, usually starting at the low end and moving up. The buyer doesn't know what the asking price is. If there are multiple sellers, the seller asking for the lowest amount gets his product moved first. There is a relatively recent price history you can use to get an idea of what recent sale prices were. This system helped reduce undercutting, since people generally undercut from the last actual sale price, instead of the last ask price.

I also loved the itemization. In Final Fantasy XI, statistics were relatively rare on items. Sometimes, it made sense to earn very low level items, simply because they had a stat bonus you wanted. In most other MMOs I've played, the progression is usually pretty linear.

In EverQuest II, for example, it's pretty uncommon to lust after a level 15 item at level 80. When EQ2 first came out, most every item in the game just had a random assortment of + modifiers to various statistics. Most items felt the same. The difference was usually whether it had +sta/wis or +str/int.

In Final Fantasy XI, however, it was common to see level 75s waiting around to smush Leaping Lizzy for a level 7 drop. These items sold for millions of gil. And people would go to great lengths just to get a rare drop that was identical to the common item, except with a "+1" to some stat.

Of course, none of this mattered in the long run for this consumer. The grind eventually forced me to quit and move on, and I eventually found a new home with EverQuest II. But I think there is evidence that Square Enix will not be making yet another grindfest. Over the years, they have made Final Fantasy XI far less 'hardcore.'

They introduced Fellowship NPCs, who act like Mercenaries or Guild Wars henchmen. They have even added "solo" quests to a game known for being an unrepentant group-only grind. They also added a Level Sync system which essentially makes everyone act as if they are the same level, eliminating the penalty for grouping with higher level party members, and making it easier to find a group.

So hopefully this is a sign that Square Enix understands that the MMO playing demographic has changed. But I guess we'll find out for sure in 2010.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Easy Breezy Server Transfers

Another feature in Free Realms that I hope will become more commonplace in the future is the fact that characters are not bound to a single server. You actually select the server you want to play on after logging in. The same character can play on any server. It's not the most ideal solution: I prefer Guild Wars' implementation better, where everyone is in one shared reality and you can change instances at will.

But however it's implemented, disassociating the character with the server removes a significant obstacle in playing a game. It's always rather frustrating when I run into someone who plays an MMO I'm playing, whether its EverQuest II now, or City of Heroes in the past, or even World of Warcraft. And then you realize they picked a different server.

So I pretty much have to hope all the friends I ever make will be on the server I rather randomly selected on day one? And hope that that server's population doesn't dwindle, leaving me playing an online game with NO ONE to play with? And hope that I don't discover that the culture that developed on a different server might be more compatible with my playstyle -- but after I've become too invested in my existing characters to simply abandon them and reroll?

An MMO gains strength by getting its players to feel invested in their characters. That means getting them to NOT want to simply abandon the toon and reroll. Preventing easy transfers actually makes it more likely for players to QUIT the game (if you have to abandon your character anyway, you may as well play a new game, rather than simply mimic your previous steps for a month to bring your new clone on the new server back to a similar level of progression.)

I'm not sure I understand why the game developers bind us to a single server anyway. Why not let us transfer between servers freely? Why have exorbitant character transfer fees ($50 a character is outrageously expensive for one, let alone the dozen I have)?

Part of it is technical, of course. Each server probably has different data centers associated with it, not all of which are collocated. Am I wrong in thinking that the benefits to player retention would most likely outweight the costs of developing that tool?

If all my friends on server A quit, I might have friends on server B that I could play with -- but I'm not paying $50 a character to move them, and I'm probably not interested in leveling from 1-80 all over again. Or let's say I pick a server and suddenly find that the population is low and it's hard to find a group. I would be more inclined to quit the game than start all over somewhere else; while I can't speak for anyone else, I can't imagine most people would find "reroll a new character" (which takes a few days /played, and therefore several months for the majority of players) to be a viable solution. Our time is money and most of us would rather spend it doing something new instead of repeating what we've already accomplished, just somewhere else, which might itself suffer from a population issue by the time we get back to the same level of progression we started out at.

Another obstacle is name collisions, due to game decisions like forcing characters to have unique first names, but allowing multiple accounts to pick the same name so long as the characters are on different servers. But that's a decision that players can choose to make. OR, an even better solution, would be to ALLOW duplicate names, just like the real world allows. And like Champions Online will allow.

Preventing easy server transfers doesn't really help prevent griefing, especially when there are cheap name change potions available.

So there's all that. What other reasons remain for making it difficult to change servers? What wouldn't Sony have to gain if, for instance, they took their character transfer service, and got rid of the fees, making it free for everyone to transfer between servers with compatible rulesets (even if it had a few reasonable time limits, like restricting characters to moving once per month)?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

At the Border Between the Free Realms and Norrath

Tipa opined, "Will EverQuest III be Free Realms II?", making the astute observation that Sony would hardly invest so much time in this new technology and not use it elsewhere. I think that goes without saying. It would be a waste of effort for any company to reinvent the wheel. EverQuest II shared a common foundation with Star Wars Galaxies. Similarly, some of the technologies in Free Realms are probably a taste of things to come in a future SOE AAA title.

The main feature that I expect to see in future SOE titles would be the streaming technology. Ogrebears disagreed, arguing that no one would want to stream a large title, given that MMOs are often in the 8-10GB range, and many top 20GB. I would argue that the size of new MMOs is the principle reason WHY streaming technology is necessary. Streaming brings many benefits that fix issues that games with particularly large resource footprints, like MMOs, face.

One of the main benefits is that you get into the game faster. I tried to encourage a friend to join EverQuest II. He downloaded the client and started the download. Then proceeded to complain day after day that the download was taking forever. I imagine World of Warcraft would have taken just as long to patch to the latest version from the original discs that were put on shelves in 2004, but he already had that installed. I don't think he ever even bothered to get in game. At some point, other things intervened and he didn't bother to try.

That's just one anecdote, but I doubt its an outlier. It's just human nature: we're all willing to try something new, but generally not if it's going to cost us. And babysitting a computer program patching over 10GB+ of data slowly isn't something many people will bother with, except the die-hard MMO addicts among us.

On the other hand, if you can download a smaller client, with just the files you need to launch the newbie area instantly, you can get a lot of people in the game instantly. Which means you get more potential conversions to subscribers.

Free Realms' streaming technology provides the ability to update the client WHILE IT IS RUNNING. [Update: Actually, I'm not sure if Free Realms can do that. I think I may have been confusing what I read with something in an article about Guild Wars' streaming technology, which does have the ability to seamlessly update the game on the fly. At any rate, it is a potential benefit of the technology that I'd like to see exploited and expanded upon in future games.] This is important because it reduces down time (which is a competitive advantage to other games). It also allows you to patch more often and more frequently (no more waiting until patch day to close a major exploit!).

The benefits don't have to be limited merely to reducing downtime for patching in fixes or major content updates. Being able to stream new information and new items on the fly provides more flexibility for Live Events, since you don't have to take down the servers to change the world. The Live Event can go through several stages and have smaller, more incremental changes over time.

While Free Realms isn't the type of game I'd like to play, because it is oriented towards kids, it has many features that I would love to see in a more mature setting. Streaming content is one such feature. Next week, I'll ramble on about a few of the others.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Scaling Damage for Live Events

Many Live Events in EverQuest II scale the quests and monsters to the player's level. This way they can offer quests that anyone can play, regardless of level. One problem with this approach: all monsters have to be first triggered by a player, so the game knows what level to create the monster.

What if instead of scaling the monster to the player's level, we had a certain class of monsters where the damage you deal was scaled up or down to match the monsters nominal level. The monster would also deal damage in a manner that scaled to the player's level. (Out-of-group player-to-player healing would still be a problem, so perhaps the game would lock all such encounters.) This way it wouldn't matter what level you are.

The player's level itself shouldn't scale, so their relationship with the surrounding zone would be unchanged.

This could open up a whole new set of scenarios. Imagine a huge lag inducing gnoll army starts to march on Qeynos. The entire server can join in on the fight without worrying about level 80s trivializing the fight by rounding up the entire zone and AOEing them. Low level players can even join in. And the monsters can roam around and aggro using normal game mechanics without having to be "force spawned" first.

This would be a neat way to provide story-based content that the entire server can enjoy and play together, without excluding people based on level. Because existing content continues to have level, the sense of progression that the leveling mechanic confers is not eliminated.

Would such a system be workable?

Final Fantasy XI had something quite like I envisioned several years back when they unleashed the Twinkling Treants upon us. However, instead of scaling damage, they forced players to mentor down to a specific level in order to fight it. This allowed everyone to participate, but it did have the drawback that you had to explicitly look for a guard to grant you the buff you needed to fight the monster first, instead of simply joining in while running by (which would be more immersive and make it more likely for the event to gather participants.)

Friday, May 15, 2009


There were some interesting comments on the May 14 Dev chat appeared recently. One of the comments that caught my eye was a question regarding keeping lower level content relevant, particularly Veeshan's Peak (so Mythicals retain some relevance.) A dev responded that they were indeed looking into ways to keep lower level content relevant. Unfortunately, they provided no further details...

I don't know what they have in mind, but one idea that I would like to see would be for zones to automatically mentor people who exceed the intended level range of the zone or raid by several levels. It might be acceptable to allow people to "outlevel" a zone by a few levels, to maintain a sense of progression, but to completely gray out and trivialize zones robs the game in the long run. No one ever wants to go to these old zones because there is absolutely nothing to be gained. Keeping the older zones at least somewhat challenging prevents many quests (where you simply travel to certain parts of the zone) from becoming completely trivialized, and therefore less fun.

I'd also want to see level scaling zones automatically mentor a player down if they exceed the level that the zone was set to. For example, if I mentor down to a level 50 and zone into Scion of Ice, the zone sets itself to level 50. If I then unmentor, I should be forced to remain at level 50 (even though I'm no longer mentoring anyone.)

These days, mentoring seems to be used most often to exploit game mechanics by trivializing zones. It was intended as a way to help veteran players join forces with newer ones, and to work around one of the principal disadvantages of a leveling system: leveling creates barriers that prevent people from playing together.

To help encourage high level players to join forces with low level players for mutual gain instead of exploiting the game mechanics, I would also want to see them increase the amount of XP you get while mentoring, almost to the extent that one could level from 81 to the next level cap on OLDER content if one wanted to (obviously the newer quest lines in the newer zones would be better since you'd gain better gear and so on that way, but the point is it gives people a choice and makes mentoring a mutually beneficial relationship, especially if the higher level player isn't earning AA from it [because they aren't at the level cap, for instance.])

This would make it more attractive to play with lower level players for both AA and leveling up (when they increase the level cap), without completely trivializing the lower level content (obviously the mentoring scales imperfectly, but to some extent that's fine.) And it would help keep much of the older content in the game relevant.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Guess I'm a Twit Now

I recently joined twitter as @mymomentofzen. I can't update my site as often as some of the more prolific bloggers out there but I think I might be able to muster up 140 characters of gaming-related blathering on occasion.

Monday, May 11, 2009

AA XP Conversion

It looks like they will be adjusting the Combat XP to AA XP conversion ratio at level 80 now! I am loving the idea of this (assuming the conversion isn't a paltry amount). It finally fixes a part of the game that I feel has been broken for some time. Namely, that, since AAs came out, and particularly with the most recent AA level cap increase, the game has turned into one huge solo quest grind.

And I HATE quests. I like them on occasion, but I despise having them as the primary means of playing the game.

I know it's quite ironic that I play a game called "EverQUEST" when I hate quests, but the reason I picked EverQuest II over its major competition (such as World of Warcraft) was because grinding quests wasn't how you were forced to play the game.

Once upon a time, before the Achievement XP system was added to EverQuest II, we had three ways to advance. 1) We could grind quests to gain XP. 2) We could get together with people and camp mobs. The game, when it was introduced, even had a "dynamic camp" system where as the camp continued to respawn, the mobs would become stronger and stronger, and occasionally would reward you. 3) You could grab some people together and go crawl through a dungeon.

Many other games such as World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online give such paltry combat XP that you really have no choice but to grind quest after quest after kill X quests collecting bandit livers and boar testicles for all the NPCs that litter the world that have an insatiable need for such things.

As AAs become more and more important over time, the game developed two problems. One: since TSO, there are a LOT of AAs to obtain, and the XP curve is pretty steep. You can gain some good AA XP from doing TSO shard missions, but that's not enough by itself to earn those AAs. And many of the TSO instances are balanced for a party that is expected to have well in excess of 140 AAs. Two: when leveling up alts, we have to do every boring kill X quest along the way, sometimes even shutting off XP gain temporarily to finish the quests for a particular area. While Sony has greatly increased how fast we level, they haven't increased the speed in which we earn AA, so it's easy to get to the level cap and then find yourself without enough AAs to play viably.

So that means my playstyle has been forced to change. I can no longer just get together in a group and plow through dungeons as the primary way in which I play the game because I'll gimp myself without earning those AAs. My alts, in particular, are effectively penalized when grouping because they will gain XP too fast and I'm afraid I will end up stuck at level 80 having to grind gray quests to get them later!

While simply increasing the conversion ratio isn't a perfect solution to our AA-related problems, it does mean that once I get to the level cap, I can earn AA XP by getting together and doing what I enjoy: camping and dungeons instances (even without a quest or mission for the zone).

And as for my low level alts; while skipping some quest lines along the way does mean I will get to 80 with too few AAs, it does mean I can keep playing, at least in the ROK zones and the easier TSO instances, and know that I will gain them over time just playing the game the way I want - without feeling forced to run around doing boring gray quests to earn them all.

Assuming the conversion ratio is decent...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

xXxFrodoxXx LFG

I decided this week I should put in some more game time in LOTRO, what with having spent $10 on it and all.

So I rolled up a hobbit. Time spent: 5 minutes to come up with a face I didn't want to punch. 50 minutes trying every freaking lore-appropriate name imaginable to find one that wasn't taken. Being forced to come up with a unique first name is really obnoxious, especially in a game where you are encouraged to use lore appropriate names. All the good ones run out quickly. The last time I checked, many people share the same first name. Why not let us do so here? Make us pick last names on character creation and use that as a part of the uniqueness as well.

It was a lot easier in Final Fantasy XI when half of the playerbase used idiotic names like "XxXSephirothXxX" leaving plenty of decent names available for the rest of us.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Back in Middle Earth...

It was $10 so I couldn't resist. I still had a Champion left over from open beta, so I dusted him off and ran around for a bit with Corwin last week sometime. I've continued to pop in here and there to complete a few more quests.

And now I remember what bothered me the most about Lord of the Rings Online. The quests my Champion has require a whole lot of running around. Slowly.

Middle Earth feels very vast and expansive. It's very immersive - the mobs aren't all packed within inches of one another like they are in World of Warcraft or EverQuest II. This is both a strength and a weakness. It is easier to get lost in the beauty of the world and to feel like you are truly in another land. And that's an amazing feeling. Until you start receiving quests that tell you to go to the bandit camp clear on the opposite side of the map, and you return, only to be told to go right back to the same place you were and do something else.

This is still a game after all and perhaps too much immersion can be a bad thing. The people that clamor on and on about how they want their game to be immersive with meaningful travel usually aren't complaining that you can swim in plate mail, or demanding that it take an hour or two to change armor. Maybe we should give the immersion fans a Sims like function to manage their avatar's bowel movements as well. If they don't enjoy the idea of that, they should probably STFU about how they need "immersion."

Though perhaps the problem here is less that I was required to travel, but rather that by splitting the quest line into a series of fetch this and run back to me steps, that travel was made inherently less meaningful. I mean, if my quest is really that important, couldn't the quest giver get off his ass to accompany me there so he could tell me what I need to do next without wasting half a day coming back to him first?

So maybe this is what the quest givers should start doing: when we complete a step, they should show up out of nowhere in a cut scene (because they were hiding, what with us being the heroes and all), tell us the next step in the quest, which was only five feet away anyway, and let us go on our merry way saving the world, without having to travel the entire length of the map again and again and again.

Because the trip isn't that meaningful when we have to make it a dozen times.

But, alas, I doubt that's in our future. My guess: when we get to Mordor, we will have to help Frodo figure out which volcano is Mount Doom. There are, after all, a lot of volcanos in Mordor. So we'll remember there's a cartographer back in Bree. And we'll go all the way back to Bree to talk to him. Then he'll say: "oh, it's in this general area, but there are actually three volcanoes there that look very much alike... Mount Doom, Mount Gloom, and Mount Buttercup. There's a geographer here in town who can help you figure out which one is Mount Doom." And the geographer will send you back to Mordor to collect rock samples from each mountain. And you'll go back to Bree and he'll tell you which rock came from which mountain. And you'll to back to Mordor where Frodo is still waiting, patiently, not succumbing to the Ring's temptations or anything, and of course Gollum is just following Frodo, even though Frodo isn't actually going anywhere, because everyone is WAITING ON YOU but you have to go back and check in one more time with the geographer before you can conclusively figure out which damn volcano you need to climb so the One Ring ends up in the One Lava.