Tag Archives: MMORPG

Quote of the Day: Opportunity Costs

Quoth powernut

Companies will shut down profitable branches simply because they aren’t as profitable as they were pitched to management, or as profitable as the competition. From a capitalist economic theory standpoint, they can argue that they are losing “opportunity cost”, but the difference between opportunity cost and reality is the difference between a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and a doubloon in your pocket. When leprechauns are your financial advisors, you’ve got problems.

In related news, it seems that the TORtanic is continuing its steady sinking. They try to pass off the downsizing as business as usual, but they forget that the internetubes have a long memory and we remember when they said:

Unlike a lot of other game companies that, once they launch a game, downsize their teams radically, our plan is to keep the team together and continue to focus on building content.

Uh-huh

They should have made KOTOR3 with co-op instead. I would have bought that.

I now wonder if Bioware will eventually suffer the same fate as many of the other companies that EA bought. To paraphrase:

The pattern has repeated itself more times than you can fathom. Game companies rise, evolve, advance, and at the apex of their glory, they are extinguished. Bioware is not the first. By utilizing our funding, game companies develop along the paths we desire. They exist because we allow it, and will end because we demand it.

The eventual fate of Bioware?

Guild Wars 2: First Impressions

So, this past weekend was the first pre-order beta and after playing until the wee hours of the day, I think it’s only appropriate that I make a post about it and bore you all with my personal impressions 🙂

So, first things first: The game is everything it advertised and that is saying a lot. Most of the time, a heavily expected game just doesn’t match its hype to any extent, but Guild Wars 2 (GW2 from now on) matches it easily. I will not declare it a complete success just yet, because I’ve only seen the first 10 levels of content or so (with three different race/class combinations) and it could very well still pull an “Age of Conan” and quickly lose steam after level 25 or so, and turn into a grindfest to cover it up.

However, there’s a few things that work in GW2’s favour in this regard, and it has to do with some of the fundamental designs of the game. I’ll go through that in the next sections. For now, I  want to talk about the hyped things I knew about and how they turned out.

(I won’t go into details on some of the things I’ll talk about, as you’ll find multiple sources explaining them in far more depth than I could. I will provide links when possible though.)

Dynamic Events

This is one of the things I was the most excited about, and after playing a considerable amount of time with them, I must say that I love them. The idea that you find things to do in the world as you explore is almost alien to all other MMORPGs out there at the moment. After playing Star Gars: The Old Republic beta a few months ago, where it would almost cynically bundle all quest givers for your particular level in a “hub” (i.e. a small safe area with merchants and so on) which you’d have to finish before moving on, this was a serious breath of fresh air. I honestly do not like the hub approach as it feels just so forced.

With dynamic events, I could just go exploring in the generic area of an appropriate level and I would find exciting things to do. And we’re talking about exciting, not silly “kill 10 rats” quests. For example, one of the last ones I played, which I found randomly when I went harvesting (i.e. I was just exploring, looking for crafting materials, and bumped into this dynamic event). It went like this:

I discovered a small outpost in the wild, which was being attacked by some things called “crawlers” I believe. I started defending the area with another player and after losing ground at the start, a few others came around and we managed to drive them off. Soon after that, everyone left to go do their own things, and I was hanging around a bit selling some junk and buying some other stuff. Once I was done, every other player that had helped me was gone. I was alone.

I noticed a quest giver (Note: There are a few “quest givers” around, but they are not as you’d expect. They are also fairly rare) so  I decided to talk to him. He was a scholar who wanted to research some relic or something (was 3am, wasn’t paying too much attention). I accepted the quest and we started an escort mission. I needed to get him to a location for him to study something and protect him from dangers. The dangers were some Ice Wyrms popping up from the frozen lake we walked upon, and some still rampaging crawlers.

Once I accepted the quest, a Dynamic Event started about it. Which means anyone approaching my area would notice it, and get a marker on their map. I started escorting alone, but soon, another player joined and (this is fairly stunning in it’s brilliant simplicity), started helping out. Think of this for a moment: In any other MMORPG this would be fairly impossible. Either you’d have to start the quest while in a party already, or you’d have to specifically invite another player to help, by sharing the quest, which would take a lot of communicating effort and…well it’s a mess which is why it’s not done that much.

So I was escorting this dude, killing out wyrms and crawlers and by the time we reached the end, there were 3 of us. The event finishes, I get some small reward. Now another event starts. We need to destroy the corrupted relic he found there. As we start doing it, we start getting swarmed by Wyrms, as well as a few solo enemies defending it. Some of us are attacking the relic, some are defending them and so on, all is well. And then a swarm of defending raiders run outside a nearby cave and start kicking out asses. We fall back and desperately try to hold them off. Then a group of like 5 new players descents from a hill to help out. Quickly the battle turns and we drive them back. Soon, the relic is destroyed and the event finishes. Soon another event starts. A hostile shaman approaches to recreate the corruption, so we have to prevent him. Now the event really bumps up the difficulty. By now there were like 10-15 of us and I think there was a a partial wipe by all the enemies swarming in. I respawn and run back to the battle, by now there’s some portals with summoned enemies opened (another event) which is what caused us to lose the previous battle. So we all concentrate on destroying those first. We finish this event and run to the relic location to stop the Shaman. There is now something like 20 players and the Shaman event has become a Boss Fight. Special AoE attacks falling from the sky, enemies spawning in and a “bullet-sponge” shaman that needed the combined might of 20 players to bring down. In the end, we manage to get him down and the event is also finished. The area is now calm.

This, for me was an amazing experience. From a single-player escort quest, it became a 5 player destruction quest, then a 10 player survival quest, then 15 player destruction raid and finally a 25 player boss fight. By this time, it was like 4am, but at no point could I extricate myself from it, because I couldn’t just abandon the other players. And take note that this wasn’t just people fighting. There were some dropping down support AoEs, some running around reviving people, some trying to tank the enemies and so on. The naturally emerging teamwork was glorious! And at the end, everyone got rewarded, depending on how much they participated. I got the most reward because I was there from the very first escort mission (so basically I got a reward for each finished event in the “chain”) while others got only the rewards for each event they participated in.

This is the definitely the best way to do quest in MMORPGs. It just works so well and naturally. It really puts the MMO back into the RPG.

Renown Hearts

These worked similarly to dynamic events with two main differences: The progress for each heart is specific to your character and there’s many ways to fill the completion bar. This means that any player there can do the quest on their own pace and at their own preference. Most of them allow you to complete them without any combat. In fact, there are many that don’t involve any combat at all. Unfortunately it means that there’s not a lot of cooperation, even though many of them have ways to complete that involve helping others but it’s a minor points because the main purpose of Renown Hears from what I understood is different.

They are there to serve as beacons to focus players in a specific area (each heart is marked for its level, and players can easily participate in areas that are up to 1-2 levels higher than them with some skill) so what happens is that player will travel towards the heart (if they don’t like aimless exploring that is) and in the way find various dynamic events to take part. Then, the renown heart will hold them interested in the area for a bit,  long enough for various dynamic events to start, which puts you into an event chain, thereby hooking you. Fairly brilliant.

I also loved that many of them are a nice break from combat. Some of them are their own mini games, like the one where I had to find and bring bunny food to a guy, while dodging leaping bunnies all the way. Other players could help by scaring the bunnies away from others players. Another one I had to play snowball fights with kids or fight off enraged guards who turned into bears! Another was turning into a snow leopard and hunting giant chickens and bunnies in the bushes. Yet another was answering riddles! I loved the fact that if you wanted a break from combat, you got it quite often and if you didn’t like the mini games, there was almost something else to do in the area, or a way to complete it via combat.

Sidekicking

What happens when you want to play with your friends but realize that their character is 5 levels ahead of you? Either both of you make an alt and promise not to play them without the other, or you suck it up and quickly grind your way to their level, losing a lot of the story in the meantime, so that you can play the same content.

I started playing GW2 with a friend at some point, where we both made the same character, so that we can start in the same area. At some point I was having a break and he was trying a different class. Then I came back and he went into a break so I started trying our a new character class myself. When he came back, neither of us wanted to really play the characters we started together, but rather our current ones. But there was a problem. He was level 9 and I was level 4.

Hah, I’m joking, there was no problem whatsoever. All he needed to do was grab a portal to my own area and then we could continue question together seamlessly, as he was automatically adjusted downwards in level, so that he was always just 1 level above the current area’s recommendation. This means that the enemies were a bit easier for them, but nowhere near a walk in the park.

This works brilliantly because the game is not based on quests, but rather dynamic events. So there’s no way you’ll have done a particular quest and not able to do it again. You can always take part in dynamic events happening around you, which means that you will always be able to play with your friends. We played the last day with those 2 characters. The level different was a complete non-issue. How cool is that?

Combat

Combat in the world of GW2 is visceral and skill-based. You have your first 5 skills that you quickly get by simply using a weapon of choice and then as you level up, you slowly grab your race and class skills which where the real customization happen.

Initially, I thought that the dodge ability would be a gimmick, something that you use once or twice for not much effect. But now that I’ve played some other characters I realize that there’s a lot of other skills that allow you to perform extra blocks and evasions, and they’re all skill/timing based. When I used my engineer with shield and pistol, I had a block & stun skill, that I had to press at just the right time. With my Sword&Dagger wielding ranger, I had 3 different evasion skills to call upon. This means that for the lightly armored ranger it became imperative to learn when and how to dodge my enemies, because even same-level enemies hit hard. Melee with more than 2 enemies was always a very risky proposition and most often than not, I couldn’t handle it.

Unfortunately, the way the combat works now, coupled with the low skill of most players, means that melee combat is avoided by most, even though it has more damage potential (it hits faster/harder and it seems that all attacks his everyone in front of you). Basically if you went into the melee pile or toe-to-toe with a boss, you almost always fell on the grown in no time flat. The boss can wipe you with one hit, and the bundled mobs just focus fire you. With 1-3 players in an event, it’s still manageable, but when there’s 20 players and all the mobs are granted double the highest player level in order to last, then it’s a nightmare. As such, AoE skills and Ranged attacks rule the day. Even warriors play with guns and bows.

I think the main reason for this is three-fold. One, as I said is the low skill of most people playing currently, which made combat seem much more difficult, since you cannot dodge well (especially with the crazy lag we had).

The second reason is that because of all the newbies, all the starting areas were swamped. Which meant that any event had something like 20-30 people going at it, which not only is a clusterfuck by definition, not only does it boost the mobs so much that they’re mini-bosses into themselves, but it grinds most computers to a snail’s pace due to performance hit and lag. At a big battle around a lake,with something like 30-40 people fighting, I was having 14 FPS with the PC I built less than a year ago.

I don’t know if there’s any plans to address this, but I think one way to somehow about this is to make new enemies spread out a bit more. Right now they’re all pretty much in the same pile, which makes AoE effect and ranged attacks the best way to fight them. If the enemies instead spread out so that each attacks only one player if possible and gives preference to players that are not close to allies (i.e. so as to avoid creating a pile, by the enemies charging a group of players standing together) while ranged attackers focused on those not engaged in melee, then it would achieve the following:

1. Nobody would be safe. You couldn’t just stand on the back and fire arrows and AoEs into the clusterfuck. You would be sniped by archers or charged by melee enemies.

2. AoE wouldn’t be that effective, as there would be less of a mob in one spot. It would make achieving results with an AoE more about positioning yourself and hitting charging enemies or clusters or archers, rather than a mindless “fire into the clusterfuck” action.

3. Melee would not be suicidal. Since you’d be fighting 1 or two at most, you’d be able to actually utilize your evades and blocks and wouldn’t die in 3 seconds.

Hmm, I should probably suggest this somewhere (But where? The forums?)

On a sidenote: This is just my impressions for PvE, especially on large scale dynamic events. I’m guessing that combat in a PvP scenario would be something entirely different, as players would definitely focus fire players and go after the squishy ones first.

Story

The story is the one thing that didn’t really grab me. Although some of the quests in the story are interesting – such as transforming into a minotaur to trick some raiders, or masquerading into a bandit and then infiltrating their camp just to steal information – the story itself was very forgettable. I could somehow follow the story of my Norn huntress because it was a simple “find out what the hell is going on with the minotaurs” thing, but I’ve completely forgotten what I was fighting for with my Human engineer or Charr guardian.

There’s also a small issue in that while being able to play the co-op is nice, not giving the co-op player anything to do except combat in a storyline mission is not optimal. In non-combat quests, the accompanying player was just bored. It would be nice if the players could coordinate their strengths a bit, so that during the infiltration attempt I mentioned before, one player charms a bandit, while the other pickpockets another, even if the main player wasn’t a thief.

Other than that, the storyline quests were OK. Perhaps they get better later but for now I can’t say they really drew me.

And finally, I’d like to quickly mention some thing that bothered me.

Racism/Sexism

I’m afraid the ArenaNet dropped the ball on this one. Not that I had particularly high hopes about it.

There’s practically no people of colour that I saw in the game. Almost all the humans and Norn are the whitest of whites. Almost no dark-skinned people, no people with asian features, almost nothing. Maybe 1 in 20 NPCs you saw would be a PoC. Even on character creation you’d be hard pressed to make a character that had facial features that were distinctively non-caucasian. Well, at least (when I was paying attention) 1 in the 8 classes in the selection was dark-skinned.

And then there’s the presentation of women. The good news is that female armour from what I saw does not egregiously increase the skin-showing percentage, so most of the time, you can be a woman who dresses seriously for battle. The bad news is that of all the starting archetypes for women were wearing ridiculous shit. The Norn Mesmer was the most absurd, showing off as much a skin as if she was going to a sexy gala, and not in the midst of battle. All the others followed similar motifs, showing boob windows, thighs and midriffs whenever possible. The only exception was the Norn-Engineer who was wearing a bad-ass leather trench coat. Pity she doesn’t start with it 🙂

There’s other issues here that bothered me. Such as the fact that all the character you can create, range from wispy to well-trained young adults. You cannot seemingly be old or frail. You also cannot be overweight. I don’t understand why MMORPGs don’t provide these options which would really improve the look of the game as you’d see a variety of characters as PCs and NPCs, and not the (for all intents and purposes) identical body type running around.

On the bright side, the Charr females are awesome. Since the Devs didn’t feel the need to cater to the Male Gaze on the Charr, their women look bad-ass from the get go. Easily on par with the males.

A small problem with the party system and overflow servers

One thing that really annoyed us when there were two of us playing, was on how the overflow got in the way of us playing together. You see, the overflow server is where you get put to play the game, when your own server’s world instance is full. This isn’t an issue at all normally, but the fact that you and a friend might join the main instance and one of you gets put in the overflow and the other doesn’t is a bit annoying. Because you can’t see each other anymore and you can’t even join the same instances like that. The only solution we found was for one to teleport out and in again, and hope we end up in the same instance of the main world.

The lag. Oh my gawds the lag!

The start of the pre-order beta weekend was a disaster. For the first 3 hours that I tried to connect on Friday, it was impossible. When I did manage it, it had so much lag that it was almost unplayable. On Saturday things were better and I was happily playing until 8pm or so, at which point the USA woke up and started trying to login, which promptly brought down the authentication servers and kicked me off. I only managed to reconnect at 1am or so. Sunday had no problems, so that’s good.

What Frames per second

The game was not using my graphics card at all. At least according to the info I’ve found, this is deliberate, and the game is CPU-bound. Fortunately I won’t get situations with 12 FPS again in the released version.

Crafting / Junk Collection

While crafting is not anything particularly annoying by itself. It is made so by the fact that to craft you need to bring your shit from the bank, drag them to the crafting bench and then go back to the bank to store them. And if you forget one, do this again. With the Charr, fortunately the bank was close, but with the humans and Norn, it involved a teleport. This was just annoying.

There’s some good ideas, like the fact that you can “teleport” crafting material to the bank when you find them in the world, thus saving you some inventory space. Unfortunately you can’t do this for all material, so you end up carrying a lot of teeth, bones and blood with you. Not a particularly big deal. What more annoyed me is all the junk you gather from the game and how they clutter your inventory. They are not a big deal by themselves and I don’t mind them taking a bit of inventory space, but I would really prefer if they had a secondary inventory called “junk” and they put all that stuff there, just so that I don’t have to shift through them every time I wanted to look at what useful stuff I’m carrying. They also need a “Sell all junk” button on merchants.

Content

This is more of a concern than a complaint. Given how common dynamic events were in the world, I am concerned on if they’ll manage to keep up this level of content for 80 whole levels, plus dungeons and renown hearts and whatnot. This is a lot of content to fill and I am afraid that there just won’t be enough time and ideas. I wouldn’t want to start the game and quickly discover that after level 25-30, there’s something like 1 dynamic event per level.

the good news is that because of the level adjustment that happens when one goes to a lowe level, there’ll always be “end-game-content” to do, in the form of all the renown hearts and dynamic events you haven’t done in the rest of the world. In this case, the “questing” system that GW2 by itself saves the day, as you are not locked out of content just because you’re exceeded its level requirements. I am not sure if the rewards for it scale as well, but I think I read somewhere that they do.

Epilogue

Whew, that was a larger post than I expected

I will say that after playing this first beta, I’m just as much, if not more excited for the game than I was. In the next pre-order beta I think I’ll concentrate more of PvP scenarios, particularly on WvWvW just to see how they play, and also to avoid spoiling all the single player experience for when the game comes out.

In the end, I truly think GW2 has some amazingly good innovations that will certainly change the way MMORPGs are made in the future. Yes, It is that good.

 

SWTOR is just WoW with Lightsabers

A World of Warcraft Orc with a space helmet, floating above the earth, while a Dragon is flying in space.There, I said it.

…But mostly just to troll those butthurt by the statement 😛

There is however some truth in the title statement. SWTOR is for almost all practical purposes, a “reskin” of WoW, with better graphics, better story and full voice acting. You see, when someone makes this statement, they’re expressing something specific, something that most people who have played WoW can instantly notice behind the thin veneer of polished dialogue – that the gameplay mechanics are not just fundamentally the same, they are exactly the same as in WoW.

Yes, many people at times have compared new MMORPGs to WoW, or called them clones of it, but much of the time this was an unwarranted comparison, which is why such sentiments were never particularly common or popular. However the single most common opinion expressed about SWTOR is that it’s basically WoW in Space. Why is it that this comparison comes so naturally and so often to gamers, when it so uncommon against other games? I’ve seen a lot of other MMORPGs come and go, but very rarely has this comparison been so popular among their critics.

The answer is that even though many of the other games might have shared some core aspect of MMORPG gameplay, as it’s been refined by Everquest and later on by WoW, they nevertheless included a lot of interesting innovations to make their gameplay stand out. I am not an MMO expert, but from the little I know: Conan had a completely different combat system, Warhammer online had its Overall campaign which relied on a dynamic conquest mode, D&D Online has a completely different leveling/class system and significant innovations in questing (eg the Dungeon Master). All these make these games stand out in their own way in regards to gameplay. Even if they didn’t manage to dethrone WoW as a fantasy MMO, they still helped to advance the gameplay of the genre of MMORPGs as a whole, by experimenting with incremental or sometimes revolutionary changes and see how well they work.

And even small gameplay changes can have significant effects on the dynamics and the “feel” of a game. This is how FPS manage to stay fresh, even though they’re all the same “point & click” if you get right down to it. SWTOR fans love to sarcastically respond “Yeah, and CoD is Doom with Snipers” in an attempt to point out that all FPS’ have the same control scheme. But the changes that differentiate between CoD and Doom and FPS in general, are not in the control scheme, which has to stay the same if a game will be in the same class and also instantly convenient/familiar to FPS players. Such sarcastic remarks,deliberately or not, misunderstand where the innovation in FPS happens. It is in the weapon mechanics, in the player health, in the player speed, in the implementation of cover mechanics (or not). These changes may be minor on first look, but due to the emergent dynamics of fast-paced games like FPS, they grow up to change the whole pacing. Consider for example that Quake 3:Arena and Unreal Tournament came out at roughly the same time. They were both very similar theoretically. Both had a sci-fi theme, both had fast-paced PvP-only focus,  both had some  weapons with similar use (rocket launcher, machine gun, shotgun), same type of game modes (FFA, Team Battle, Capture the Flag) and so on. And yet, the games, aside from the core “point & shoot” gameplay, play nothing alike. The game just feels completely different instantly.

And this unfortunately is not true for WoW and SWTOR. The games feel exactly the same. The gameplay feels like someone took WoW, improved the graphics, switched to sci-fi, renamed the abilities and classes and called it a day.

It is mistaken to mention the core similarities of FPS when trying to prove how dissimilar WOW and SWTOR are. This is because the core similarities of MMORPGs are on a different level. If we exclude strong outliers like EVE Online or Dofus, and simply look at the more focused example of “Theme Park MMORPGs”, the core mechanics – that is to say, the gameplay features that have been incrementally improved, shown to function well and most players of the genre are familiar with – are the 3rd person view, skill with cooldowns, quests, combat, levels & classes, and item seeking. At the root of all Theme Park MMORPG (TP MMORPG), all these exist in some form. Note however the last part: “In some form“. The fact that all such games include these tried & proven & expected mechanics in no way means they are clones of each other, because there’s still the differentiation happens on a layer on top of that, much like the differentiation of FPS happens on the layer above having a point & shoot, first person, multi-weapon game.

What is that layer? That is the layer where you decide exactly how the core mechanics function.

  • Just how exactly are your skills with cooldowns are implemented in combat? How many can you have active? Do they use some form of “mana”? How?
  • How many levels do you have? How do you gain them? How are they limiting the player in the world? What does a difference in levels interact in PvP?
  • How are your quests activated? How are they completed? What is the usual types of quest? How many types do you have? When completed, is there any change in the world as the other players perceive it? How are parties created and how do they function?
  • How do classes differentiate? Are they using a “holy trinity” setup? How are they progressing on their early levels? How does specialization happen? At which point?
  • How do you find powerful items? How many kinds are there? How do people split the loot?
  • What is the combat flow? Are there other mechanics outside of skills with cooldowns? Does maneuvering and a player’s  skill make a significant difference given equal characters in power?

These are all the kind of questions that show how and where a TP MMORPG differentiates in gameplay from the other TP MMORPGs. A game which has significant changes in some of these, is usually changing its emergent gameplay and the general feel of the game so much, that it cannot possibly be considered a clone of another. Sure, fanboys of one game may call it a clone of their favourite game so as to discourage other players from jumping ship, but such voices are usually easily dismissed by those who experience it.

However, when almost nothing is different in all these aspects, aside from cosmetic changes (such as disabling auto-attack) or simple streamlining, then games feel and play practically the same. And this is sadly the case of SWTOR compared to WoW.

  • The skills with cooldowns? Same exact mechanic. There is a cosmetic change in that your basic attack is now a skill as well and is not automatic but other than that, I haven’t seen a significant difference.
  • The level mechanic is the same. A level cap is 50 (WoW was 60 at launch), you have areas with specific level requirements/expectations, you defeat everything of a significantly lower level easily, at the max level, the things that will keep your interest are very different from everything before.
  • The classes all start at a safe area specific to them. The classes all have skills dedicated to a role of the holy trinity designed for  them (healer, tank and DPS). The classes all select a specialization at level 10. There is a skill tree and you get or improve your skills with money.

And so on and so forth. Won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say, the rest of the list is very much the same trend. There are cosmetic changes here and there but nothing particularly noteworthy. SWTOR fans at this point usually try to point out that this is the standard recipe for TP MMORPGs, so why should SWTOR change what is working? But that’s the thing, this isn’t the standard recipe for such games, all of them have at least a few significant changes in their gameplay. If they hadn’t, they would rightly have been called “WoW with ____” as well.

SWTOR hasn’t even attempted to put their own unique spin on mechanics. It’s just a shameless copy-paste of the mechanics that WoW has perfected, into a different theme. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that, mind you. I have nothing against a game doing this, so that someone can have the same gameplay they know and love, but in a theme they prefer. Some people are all for that as a matter of fact, and just shinier graphics and Star Wars are enough to make them switch.

But at least call a spade, a spade. Nobody is bashing SWTOR for being what it is. When people mention that SWTOR is simply “WoW with lightsabers”, they express something specific, that perhaps is not immediately obvious. From what I understand it is “I am tired/bored of WoW gameplay (or don’t like them at all) and was looking for something significantly different, but SWTOR is not it.” And again, there’s nothing wrong with that statement either. This is why it perplexes me when the obvious is denied. The obvious being that SWTOR is directed to people who wanted to play WoW – but in sci-fi, or people who wanted to play a Star Wars with the proven gameplay of WoW (or don’t care about the gameplay at all).

SWTOR does have strong and interesting points to notice, but they are not its gameplay innovation. The innovations of SWTOR lie on a different layer entirely: In the layer of the RPG elements and storytelling. In short, exactly the reason they chose Bioware to do this. And yes, from what I’ve seen, the story does seem to be worth it and anyone who liked KOTOR should probably like SWTOR as well. I would personally play it as well if the price was right, but it isn’t (primarily because I personally did not like the WoW gameplay.)

There is no reason for fans of SWTOR to get annoyed and deny that SWTOR is WoW with Lightsabers. The correct answer should be “Damn straight, and that’s all I wanted!”. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Why I'm excited about Guild Wars 2

After my first impressions on SW:TOR the other day, I thought I’d mention why Guild Wars 2 has made me not only take notice but get genuinely excited about, since WoW in 2005. Specifically I thought I’d post about this since I found two excellent videos on the things  I found awesome to have in an MMORPG.

First: Dynamic Events

The video also doesn’t mention that each dynamic event is composed of a cluster of different quests, each of which actually progresses towards completing that event. So you could be defending a smithy from a kobold assault, and you could be either fighting the kobolds, or repairing damage inflicted on the smithy, or gathering required minerals to fuel it, or manning a catapult and so on. This allowed each player to help towards the dynamic event objective, by finding an activity they prefer, or even swap activity in the middle, if the one they do is boring.

If this sounds promising, Check out this detailed look by the game designers.

Second: The Death of the Holy Trinity

Now this is something I’m really eager to see in action. I always found the way that a game locked you into a role and then made some roles boring but necessary to be completely anti-fun. I love the idea that I may be playing a tanky wizard and then instantly switch to a DPS skill set if I lose aggro, while whoever gets targeted can tank up if needed. Hell, just the idea that I can play a tanky wizard makes me happy. I always try to play tanky combat wizards.

There are certainly quite a few other reasons that add to that, but these two concepts  above are the primary changes to standard MMORPG gameplay that add a degree of innovation I believe will make the game significantly different enough to keep me interested.

Anyone else planning to play it?

 

First impressions on Star Wars: The Old Republic – Not impressed.

PGWTOR 2011

So yesterday night, I’ve had the opportunity to try the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic during its open/stress test beta weekend, so I might as well write my impressions of it.

First I want to say that from everything I know about it, I was not planning to play SWTOR. The reason for this is that the game, to me, frankly seems like a reskin of WoW, circa 2005. Few classes and races, holy trinity setup, not particularly innovating gameplay, cookie-cutter quests etc. The few videos I’d seen about it, made it seem like nothing particularly exciting, unless one was a hardcore Star Wars or Bioware fanboy.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the Star Wars universe quite a lot (albeit, I’d love if G.Lucas stopped messing with it, and let some people with a more realistic understanding of ethics and human motivation take over) and I’m still a Bioware fan, but WoW couldn’t keep my attention for more than 3 months (and that was pushing it) and thus I didn’t expect such a similar game to do any better. Also compared to other games like Guild Wars 2, which really seem to be doing a lot of innovative steps at a far lower cost (i.e. no subscription), I just didn’t see why I should bother.

That disclaimer out of the way, let me give you my impression of the various aspects of the beta.

Getting to the game.

I got my invitation, from the Bioware social site of all places. It came in a PM from the admin directly, and frankly, up until that point I never even bothered to try the beta out. But hey, I wouldn’t turn down a free demo of one of the largest games of the year. I’m guessing I got the PM because I had bothered to actually populate the Bioware social with my Dragon Age characters and the like and I was also currently replaying Dragon Age: Origins. I doubt I would have otherwise gotten a free invite. But perhaps I’m wrong and everyone registered there got one as well.

Downloading the game client was a bit of a headache as well, because for some strange reason, the installation program would crash if I had FRAPS running. It took a lot of search online and in the forums to figure this out. After I managed to get the client, came the very long download process, which went OK, barring an unexpected BSOD just as it had finished downloading, which I’m not sure was the cause of the downloading client, but anyway. Nevertheless, I still don’t get why they didn’t use EA’s Origin, which they rammed down our throat with Battlefield 3, but rather they used this standalone client, and thus yet another useless program to have on one’s PC.

As the open beta period was starting, I was hearing horror tales about hour-long queues, lag, crashes and so on, but to my surprise, everything went without a hitch. Europe had only half a dozen English servers and far too many German and French ones. No idea why this is the case, since everyone who doesn’t speak German or French is likely to go to the English ones. Nevertheless, even with so few English-speaking servers, the queuing times were very small. I managed to create characters in three different servers within an hour or so (I swapped servers due to miscommunication with Plutonick and some other friends I was supposed to play with). Still on the subreddit for SWTOR, I still see a lot of people complaining about the long queue times which I didn’t experience. The worst I had, was 25 minutes.

Character Creation

I won’t got into a lot of detail here, since you can find lengthy videos about this all over the internets. I’ll just mention the things that stood out to me.

Why are the larger body type men somewhere between overweight and ultra-beefy, while the larger body type women are simply displayed as (in structure) large and curvy, but still fairly slim/athletic type? What is it with game developers assuming that there are people who will play overweight men but not overweight women? Just give the option and let people choose for crying out loud.

I like the varied options for characters but I was disappointed when I found yet another game where I couldn’t play a long-haired guy. The best approximation I found for cyborgs was a fairly tame bob cut. So I went for the mohawk instead.

On the matter of hair, why don’t facial hair have their own slider for cyborgs but are rather tied in with either “hair” or “cybernetics”? Perhaps it is different for normal humans, but for cyborgs, I just couldn’t make what I wanted.

I still don’t get why in this day and age, a game thinks it’s a good idea to keep all starting character uniform rather than let them choose some preferred skills, abilities and clothes? Why is it so difficult as a smuggler to choose to be proficient with a blaster rifle, rather than a blaster pistol? Why do we all have to start with the same clothes? This is supposed to be a role-playing game goddamnit. As it was, the only differentiation between starting characters of each class, were body types primarily and faces secondary. And within the same body types, you might as well have had clones.

Playing

Disclaimer: I only played through the introduction area as I didn’t have enough time (since the beta was, as is common with these things, starting on US time. Yeah, America is the only place that counts obviously). As such, perhaps I’m missing how things improve considerably later but I’m not holding my breath.

The first area might just as well have been the clone vats. Dozens of identical-looking characters, doing the same quests, using the same skills, killing the same people. It was all fairly silly. I realize much of this was because of the beta and because everyone was new at the game, but the whole thing still was looking messy. Especially with everyone vying for the same enemies to kill and whatnot, even with the instancing that happens to separate all the people in the same area.

For someone who is looking for immersion, the whole area was really a blow to my suspension of disbelief. There was nothing permanent. Any quest you did, reset a few seconds later for the next person. I blew up a communications tower and it was pristine a few seconds later, enemies just popped into existence 20 seconds after you killed them and a horde of newbies, wearing the same clothes and wielding the same weapons, was running through an area that was supposed to be controlled by the enemy.

It also still left you with very little opportunity to choose your path. As a smuggler, my enemies were always the “Separatists”. Was there ever any option to start working towards joining them? To stay neutral? No, there’s a railroad quest-line with very little opportunity to avoid. The best you can do is select a light or dark answer at the end of some discussions, but effectively you still had always the same end result. Seriously, at some point I was offered a quest from, the main storyline, and I selected the option which very explicitly said “[Refuse Mission]”. I was expecting the classic Bioware nonsense which exited the dialogue and didn’t let you continue unless you talked to them again and accepted anyway, but surprisingly, I simply got the quest regardless of my choice. The main quests are very much a railroad and the side quests, (which you need to get in order to receive the necessary experience) are all very simple. Mostly go there and kill that, or go there and destroy 3 of these things, or go there, kill that guy and get this item. All very uninspired with their only benefit being the fully spoken dialogue.

That last part was really the only saving grace of the quests which were otherwise completely forgettable and superficial. You see, nothing that you do affects the world around you, and you do not really have much of a choice when doing them. It really felt too much like the way I felt when doing Borderlands quests. Just gather as many of them as you can, go to the area where they’re all concentrated and just do them one after another by the bucketful. I never really felt at all interested in most of what I was doing as I had almost no input as a role player. I had no option how to approach the scenario, no choice to avoid combat and very little choice on how to deal with the quests. Just bland Dark VS Light options (i.e. good vs Eeeeevil) which  sometimes manifested in you finishing the quest at a different quest giver than the original. The voice acting helped to draw you back to the quest, but it was only at the beginning or at the end of the quest line (with few exceptions) and thus, it was just not enough to make me care. It just helped me avoid skipping the dialogue altogether.

In this kind of game, I always try to play a character that is fairly outside the boring norms of good vs evil behaviour or lawful evil VS chaotic good. For example, two of my favourite archetypes I like to play is an Anarchist1 or an archetype I call “Benevolent Might Makes Right”2. Both of these are imho closer to the nuanced ethics and ideology of many humans and it’s interesting to see how they interact in a very binary system of “Dark VS Light”. What happens is that there is rarely any acts or dialogue choices that are provided to me, fit within the character role I’ve selected. Very often I’m given three different options in a dialogue and end up saying to myself “Well, this character would never say any of these”, so I’m left to choose the out-of-character option that more approximates me. So that Anarchist archetype usually ends up coming off like a greedy opportunist with a good streak, while the Might makes Right Archetype sounds like a schizophrenic.

I digressed a bit above here, but this was to point why the quest lines of SWTOR and the dialogue left me unimpressed. The characters I like to roleplay cannot be done in this game of standard Bioware trinary morality (Good, Eeeevil or Greed), and the quests are generally uninspiring.

What I did like somewhat was the dialogue system when multiple player are involved, but I feel that this has so much untapped potential that they simply did not even consider. Why did they go for simply random rolls to see who speaks, which have no relation to who is a better talker or has more powerful personality? Why don’t we have skills pertaining to dialogue that can be utilized in these cases either in combination with the other players when trying to convince an NPC (and avoid combat for example) or against other players when trying to see which quest path you will take? Some mini game, based on skills and abilities between the speakers would be a great addition to a game so focused on dialogue. Unfortunately I can see why a fully voiced game would shy away from something like that, as it could theoretically increase exponentially the amount of spoken dialogue. But then again, that’s why I think that spoken dialogue can easily be a detriment in role-playing games as it severely limits available options.

On the graphical side, the game is good-looking but nothing particularly jaw dropping. Fortunately that meant my VGA could handle it, even though on the starting area, my FPS took a severe beating. Initially I thought it was because I had too high settings, but my FPS managed to creep up to the high 70s after I moved away for quests, so it seems to me that it had mostly to do with how many Player Characters were around my area.

A minor peeve was how the game prevented me from playing with my two Jedi friends which were apparently on a completely different planet. I understand that this can be amended after you reach level 10 and leave the intro portion, but it still annoyed that I couldn’t play with my friends, especially since the only guy I could play with, got bored with the game within a few hours and left me alone.

As for combat and general such gameplay – One word: Boring. Perhaps this was because I was still at the first levels, but I never felt any challenge, nor any need to actually strategize. It was simply a process of using my abilities one after the other as their cooldowns expired and my energy allowed. As a smuggler, the cover mechanic worked only half the time, as it was very often I would stand next to cover rocks or whatever, and the character would simply kneel rather than use them. I could however run behind them and kneel and then I would actually get the benefit of cover. I also don’t understand why I couldn’t take cover behind covers, or behind trees. If you actually hide behind a tree and use cover, rather than peek out and shoot, the game would tell you that you have no line of sight. As a result of this loss of opportunity, the level designers ended up spreading random barrels and chests on the rooms, simply to act as cover for people, where the corners would have sufficed much more believably.

I still don’t understand what is with their obsession with 3-man groups. Granted you still find the occasional solo beefy enemy, but usually it’s groups of 3 people standing around for you to kill, before they pop back into existence a few seconds later. It was fairly silly, and at some point Plutonick got killed by such a group of three when he went afk for 3 minutes and it ended up spawning on top of him, at an area we had just cleared. I don’t understand why we can have larger groups, as was the case with other Bioware games, thus forcing one to actually strategize with Area of Effect abilities, tactics in movement and cover (such as when being attacked from multiple sides) and so on. But no, usually just the usual boring 3 enemies waiting for passers-by, or a beefy single dude.

In closing

I’ll probably try to play it a bit more today and tomorrow and see if things improve at all outside the intro zones, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m also interested to see PvP, but I don’t think it will be anything to talk about.

After playing this beta, I’m sure I’ll be sticking with my original plan to completely bypass it and try Guild Wars 2 instead. The price for this game, is imho just not worth the lack of innovation and lackluster role-playing and story. The funny thing is that I would be perfectly willing to purchase this game if there wasn’t any subscription required, so that I could play it at my leisure with a few friends a few times per month or simply as single player. But this is definitely not something worth however much a monthly subscription will be.

  1. Direct action towards helping others, or let them help themselves, combined with actions which undermine established hierarchical authorities, such as armies, police, states and other kinds of oppression – i.e. closer to Chaotic Good in D&D terms but with a lot of fine details []
  2. A character who believes the weak should defer towards the strong (in power of arms) but that the strong have a moral responsibility to protect the weak who are under them. Usually I couple this with some underlying racism (not against human skin colour, but rather against other fantasy or sci-fi races) and xenophobia as well as a strong sense of honour, loyalty and respect for accepted authority. i.e. similar to Lawful Evil in D&D tems, but again, not exactly []

Ryzom finally free

European Retail box for The Saga of Ryzom.
Image via Wikipedia

Do you still remember Ryzom? the MMORPG that was closing back in 2006, was attempted to have its source liberated by the Free Software enthusiasts, got taken over by another company, which subsequently bankrypted and the whole thing stalled? Well it seems that finally, 4 years after the original suggestion was made, Ryzom has been released into the wild as a pure Affero GPL3 Free Software, assets and everything. Exciting!

I just got an email announcing this and even though it took a helluva long time to get this through, it’s nevertheless better than never. Since I’ve covered this subjects twice in the Division by Zer0 already, I thought I should at least announce this exciting development and finally close this chapter of the saga.

I am extremely glad that this has finally happened. I’m very interested if the liberation of the code will manage to re-energize a game which has been practically on life-support for the past 4 years (and wasn’t doing very well before that anyway). I’m interested to see if the first completely free software game which can arguably be called to be of commercial quality, will manage to make any kind of effect in the MMORPG area.

Now that the doors are open, it can be extended in ways that were never considered or followed due to cost constraints. The community can finally start fixing the bugs and then add custom content which can quickly be improved upon and replicated elsewhere.The Affero GPL license will make certain that the improvement made on the game and the code will be shared back to the community for all to enjoy.

The biggest problem is naturally that the game’s code and graphics will be quite dated by now as the game was initially released in 2004 and commercial development seems to have stopped since 2006. The good thing is that it’s now free nature will not require it to compete for price with the big commercial games and the bazaar development it will follow should hopefully allow it to challenge them for content. Still, the huge delay of 4 years and the understandable death of its community in this time will be very hard to recover.

Lets try it out and hope for the best.

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Free Ryzom

Now this is damn interesting.

Μια προσπάθεια γίνεται αυτή τη στιγμή ώστε το MMORPG Ryzom να περάσει σε μία άδεια ελεύθερου λογισμικού.

Διαβάζοντας λίγα πράγματα περι του θέματος, φαίνεται οτι το Ryzom είναι ένα αρκετα ενδιαφέρον παιχνίδι όσον αφορά τον τρόπο που λειτουργει. Αναφέρω 2 πράγματα.

  1. Ο κόσμος είναι συνεχώς μεταβαλόμενος, αλλα όχι απλά με την πρόσθεση περισσότερων περιοχών όπως είναι κοινό για την πλειοψηφία των MMORPG. Αντιθέτως, τα πανίδα και χλωρίδα έχει εμπλουτιστεί με τεχνητή νοημοσύνη. Τα ίδια τα ζώα και τα φυτά δουλέβουν μέσω του οικοσυστήματος και έχουν φυσικούς εχθρούς καθώς και φυσικές άμυνες. Σαν αποτέλεσμα, το περιβάλλον μεταβάλεται καθώς, πχ ένα δάσος επεκτείνεται μέσω της νέας βλάστησης και ολόκληρα κοπαδια ζώων αποδημούν σε άλλες, πιο εύκρατες περιοχές για το είδος τους.
    Ακόμα και εποχές έχει, που επηρρεάζουν τα είδη των ζώων που είναι ενεργά και κατά προέκταση των υλικών που μπορείς να βρείς.
  2. Δεν έχει το κλασσικό στυλάκι του D&D με τα levels και τα classes που είναι κοινό στα MMORPG. Χρησιμοποιεί κάτι παρόμοιο με το Dungeon Siege όπου όλοι οι νέοι χαρακτήρες ξεκινάνε με 4 βασικές ικανότητες και καθώς τις χρησιμοποιούν αυτές βελτιώνονται και ο παίχτης αποκτά την δυνατότητα να ειδικευτεί. Αυτό έχει σαν αποτέλεσμα οτι ο κάθε χαρακτήρας έχει πραγματική ελευθερία ως προς τον τρόπο που θα λειτουργεί μιας και οι ικανότητες όχι μόνο μπορούν να συνδυαστούν αλλά σου δίνουν κάτι σαν υπο-δυνατότητες που μπορείς να συνδυάσεις για να κάνεις κάτι προσωπικά βολικό.

Anyway, εχει δημιουργηθεί μια κίνηση γύρω απο αυτό που αυτή τη στιγμή προσπαθεί να μαζέψει “όρκους βοήθειας”. Αυτό σημαίνει οτι υπόσχεσαι ένα ποσό, το οποίο θα χρησιμοποιηθεί ωστε να αγοραστεί ο κώδικας του προγράμματος, όταν γίνει η ρευστοποίηση της εταιρίας. Μετά αυτός ο κώδικας θα μεταφεργεί στο GPL.
Αυτό είναι σημαντικό σε πολλά επίπεδα. Κυρίως θα μπει στο ελεύθερο λογισμικό ένας αρκετα μεγάλος όγκος κώδικα για MMORPG και ακόμα καλυτερα μεγάλος όγκος απο Γραφικά και Ήχο, κάτι στο οποίο το ελεύθερο λογισμικό υστερεί.
Δεύτερον, όλοι ξέρουν οτι τα παιχνίδια ελεύθερου λογισμικόυ δεν συγκρίνονται σε ικανότητες με τα υπερθήρια των κλασσικών εταιριών. Το Ryzom θα μπορέσει να δώσει μια επιλογή σε όσους δεν θέλουν να είναι κλειδωμένοι με ένα συγκεκριμένο διανομέα και ίσως κάνει ορισμένες εταιρίες να ξανασκεφτούν το πόσο βιώσιμο είναι το όλο θέμα.
Τέλος, το Ryzom θα επιζήσει άσχετα με το πόσοι παίχτες υπάρχουν. Τα Open Source προγράμματα ποτέ δεν πεθάινουν, κυρίως γιατι εαν ο developer χρεωκοπήσει δεν παίρνει μαζί του και τον κώδικα.
Έχω ήδη υποσχεθεί 100€ σε περίπτωση που κερδηθεί η δημοπρασία και ελπίζω να βοηθήσουν κι’αλλοι. Πιστεύω οτι αξίζει τον κόπο να ρίξετε μια ματιά.