Sunday, December 21, 2008

Small / Independent Gaming Links - Part II

This is a followup to my first post. Click the link below to see some links and thoughts about a few interesting, independent, free games that you may never have heard of.

First off, we have two constructor set type puzzle games. You use the tools provided to put together machines that accomplish certain goals.

Fantastic Contraption - Assemble a self-propelled contraption to move past obstacles and reach the end goal.

Incredibots - Similar to Fantastic Contraption, but with a lot more complexity in regards to the types of machines you make.

The Eyeballing Game - Very simple concept, but engaging nonetheless. Find out how accurate you are when gauging angles, distances and straight lines.

Auditorium - This is an interesting concept. You move and resize circles to deflect rays through certain spots on the screen. As you successfully do so, bits of music play. The object is to get all of the bits of music to play at the same time. It's basically a puzzle game, but the ebb and flow of the music as you try and manipulate the rays properly lends an ethereal and calming air to the whole process.

Minotaur China Shop - I havent played this one yet, but the concept makes me giggle.

Fun-Motion Physics Games - Blog with commentary and links about various games with physics.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Where me Choppas!?

It was with heavy heart that I read this interview with Adam Gershowitz and Josh Drescher where they stated that there were no plans to work on additional careers for Warhammer Online! Which means, that the Dwarfs and Greenskins are left out in the cold. Not only do we not have the racial capitols available for either race, but they are also both short one class, that of the melee DPS variety.

Having recently started working on some Tier 4 PQs with my all-Greenskin guild, we ran into some extremely difficult end-events for a couple of early T4 PQs, ones that it seemed would have been a lot easier with the capacity to output more damage. Makes me wonder if these PQs were initially designed with all four Greenskin classes in mind, but never re-tuned when they decided to cut one of the DPS classes.

In this post by Mark Jacobs back in March (which was in response to the outcry when he announced the major content cuts) he says:

As to the future of these careers, I would love to say that they will be put into the game at some point but I can't. We will continue to look at them and if we feel we can make them great, then we will put them into the game. If we can't, then we will put in other classes to take their place.

The emphasis is mine, but I think the point still stands. And the devs in the first linked post aren't just saying that there are no plans for Choppas, they are saying that there are no plans at all for additional classes! So given that there aren't even any ideas in motion, the earliest we would see any filling out of the Dwarf and Greenskin factions would be six months down the line!

When Warhammer was first released, I remember there being a lot of complaints about how completing PQs required tanks and how the Dark Elves and Empire factions were having trouble due to their lack of tanks. Now, they are magically blessed with new tank classes. So I just have to ask...


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Improving RvR in Warhammer Online

Mark Jacobs made a big announcement yesterday about Mythic's plans to focus on changing and fixing the RvR portion of Warhammer Online. It sounds like their brains are moving in the right direction, but I think there needs to be some significant changes to RvR in WAR aside from simply adding in an influence system.

Below are some various thoughts and ideas I've had about Open RvR and Keep Sieges in particular. And no, this article doesn't discuss the maligned contribution system and the gold bag rewards. I really don't care so much about the items. Having fun is my focus when I play. This post will also not touch on any issues regarding scenarios.

Note: My babbling below comes from playing up to level 31 on an active server, participating in a handful of Tier 4 battles and sieges as well as too numerous to count fights in Tiers 1-3.

Second Note: Most of this was written long before the announcement from Mythic linked above. But this information did prompt me to finish up this post.


Lets start this off with some talk about Open RvR. Open RvR is combat in the RvR areas, usually centered around Battlefield Objectives or pushing the opposing side back into their warcamp.

One of the big issues with Open RvR is simply the large, empty spaces. Coupled with scattered objectives, awkward terrain (such as thousand foot high cliffs), and lack of anything else to do, makes it very easy to march in, capture the area and then march back out without ever seeing an enemy player.

Another issue is the lack of purpose regarding Battlefield Objectives. Aside from the experience and renown gain when capturing them, these spots really serve no strategic or tactical use. Give each side a reason for controlling these spots.

BOs should provide some advantage to RvR in the local area. The buffs from the guard captains at BOs can be nice (aside from the fact that the easiest BOs to get to always seem to have the merchant buff!), but give us something interesting and useful. Maybe a long-range siege battery that if controlled by your side, can be commanded to drop AoE catapult-type attacks on either the keep or the besieging force.

Or how about Bugman's Brewery in Blakfire Pass or the Tavern in Tabelecland? If Order controls this spot, then the NPCs in the BOs and keep in this zone have plenty of beer to drink and thus are emboldened to fight harder. Something small, but meaningful like making them do more damage. BOs could provide also provide a discount to owning a nearby keep. For each BO owned by your side near the keep, upkeep costs for claiming that keep are reduced by 5%.

Here are some other thoughts and ideas about Open RvR in general.

  • Markers on the world map are not up to date. There have been a number of times where I've traveled to a land where I saw the enemy held a keep, only to find when I arrived that the keep had already been taken by my side.

  • Keeps under attack should have better grading of how much of an attack is occuring. One player wandering by and getting one hit in on a guard is treated the same way as an assault by four warbands with siege equipment as far as the indicators are concerned.

  • On a related note, the cryers in warcamps should speak up whenever ANY keep is under attack. Along with slightly varying messages, such as "The outer door has been breached by our foes at Gnol Baraz!"

  • Battlefield objectives should have a little marker on the zone map indicating whether or not they are available to be captured. It sucks to spend time running to an objective only to find that you can't even try to capture it yet.

  • There needs to be more points of interest in the RvR areas. Something else to fight over besides the one to four focus points that are currently there. (Just one example.)

  • Ability to bind in a Warcamp. Making it difficult to get to the RvR areas was not a good decision. Why do I have to bind in a PvE area? (note: This was just added recently but since it was already in my list of things to improve, I figured I would leave it in for future reference)
  • More Contested PQs. There seem to be only a handful of these, and they are awkwardly placed so that one side has a clear advantage to accessing them. Contested PQs should be everywhere. Give us a reason to engage in PvP outside of the RvR zones

  • Add in more NPC patrols to the RvR area when one side controls all the objectives. And not just around the fort, but between the BOs as well.

  • NPC 'scouts' that shout out warnings about enemy warbands. If they see more than XX number of enemy players, they make a zone-wide shout announcing their presence and where the enemies are located. So, in order to move through the area without drawing attention, you would want small, scout-killing parties out in front of your main force that can dispatch the scouts without causing them to raise a zone-wide alarm.


There are numerous problems and bugs related to keep sieges. The biggest defensive issue is getting to the keep before its taken. A full, prepared warband can tear down the outer doors in the time it takes me to recall to the nearest warcamp and run to the fort. The problem for attackers is the lack of options and strategy. Basically, there is only one. Bash down the doors, charge up the one ramp and kill the lord. There really is no strategy involved. And if there are player defenders, the ONLY way to succeed is to have them heavily outnumbered.

Step 1: The Initial Siege

First off, someone really needs to very carefully go through every single siege pad in and around every single keep and check their LOS, as well as actual visibility (ie what the player can see). Their are numerous places where siege engines have no LOS to other siege engines, or, they are out of range. A catapult placed on a siege pad should never be useless. I should be able to see and target all the enemy siege pads.

Secondly, move the guards back from the doors. Having them run in and out constantly getting in single hits is extremely annoying and just plain dumb. Or better yet, keep them from runing through the doors altogether. And on a similar note, increase the leash range for the guards and patrols. Too often I see them rubberband back and forth because they decide to attack a healer who is out of their leash range.

Next up, you need to stop the ability for defending players to run inside through a gauntlet of foes. If a player is in combat, they shouldn't be able to go in through the doors at all. This will give the attacking players incentive to defend the postern doors, and it will also provide incentive for those inside to make a sally outside in order to secure that door for their reinforcements. Getting in and out of the keep should be about control, not about who has the most lag-free connection.

Add in some interesting siege options such as the Orcapult (Greenskin special catapult that Black Orcs can use to try and launch themselves onto the walls. Sometimes they miss with disastrous results.) Allow the option to seize the gatehouse from the inside and open the gates (put a lever in the gatehouse with a long interaction time that can be used to open the gates).

Along with these changes to give more options to the attackers, you need to help out the defenders as well. The main issue I've found when defending keeps is simply that by the time I recalled to a warcamp and ran out to the keep that was under attack, the outer doors would already be down. So give the gates some more health and make it more resistant to spells and bleeds (in fact, I think that doors should be immune to all sorts of things, but that's another issue).

Also, put some NPC archers up on the walls! What kind of shoddy keep defense has noone on the walls!?

Step 2: Inside the Outer Walls

For Tier three keeps and up, we really need to some more points of interest inside the first keep walls. You have all of this area inside the walls that is virtually useless and generally ignored. The only points of interest are the gates, the walls and the postern doors. Much too narrowly focused.

Having such a single, narrow focal point throughout the entire keep assault really makes things boring. Here are a few random ideas that popped in my head.

1) A Barracks with a hero-level guard captain. If the attacking players don't go and kill this captain, he periodically spawns a full group of guards that head for the front door. Not enough to seriously hamper a sizable warband, but enough to be annoying and provide another point of conflict in the fight for the inner keep. Attackers have a reason to kill him, while defenders have a reason to defend him.

2) Magical teleporter - This provides another way for defending players to get inside aside from the postern door and also a way for the defenders to sally from an unexpected spot. Attackers will obviously want to destroy this.

3) Add-in the ability to break down a postern door. These are doors after all. However, they are generally small and placed in awkward attack locations so that a ram cant be used. However, if the attacking players want to try and beat it down with their swords, that should be an option. Inside the postern door should be a narrow, easily defended hallway. Not the best solution for storming a keep, but something to add another layer of potential strategy and tactics.

Step 3: The Final Assault

Once inside the keep, things really get ugly when you have defenders (and are simply boring when you don't). Trying to crowd up a single-narrow staircase that opens directly onto a tiny room with more narrow stairs up to the third floor is just annoying. In particular, a heavy mass of players combined with the decreased room for camera angles makes this fight not much fun. Make the room bigger and make the Lord and his guards move faster if you're worried about players kiting them.

Make the inside of the keeps interesting. Currently they are extremely plain.

Turrets and whatever else attacking through walls, floors an ceilings is a pretty awful bug. This really needs to be fixed ASAP. These bugs seem to result in lots of extra lag as well.

One of the worst things about the Lord room is the fact that the Lord and his bodyguards reset when they reach the top of the stairs. And where is the first place they make a beeline for when they get low on health? That's right, the top of the stairs. The easy (and sensible) solution is to just make it so that they don't try to run at all. They should stay and fight to the death once engaged.

The inside of keeps definitely need some love. Multiple stairs, larger interiors, hallways and passages to fight over. One room down, one room up is so boring and uninteresting. The rooms themselves should be larger to start with. Give us some room to maneuver and engage our foes rather than having everyone pile up into one big mass.

Step 4: The Aftermath

Killing a Keep Lord is a bit of a letdown after the crazy combat of an all-out assault. Insta-spawn guards and keep lords are boring. Have the new troops spawn slightly outside the keep and march inside, taking their assigned spots.

I understand that supposedly, keeps NPCs do upgrade after a while when a guild claims a keep and holds onto it for extended periods. However, I have never seen evidence of this in-game, nor have I seen any official info about this feature from Mythic. It sounds good in practice, but given the fact that a keep can go from completely safe to dead Keep Lord in 20 minutes, makes it pretty much impossible to ever maintain a claimed keep on servers with active, balanced populations (and even on those servers a late hours raid could easily make short work of any NPC defense).

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Pimpin' the Interface, WAR Style

After a month of getting by with the default UI options, I finally broke down and looked into installing some player made addons.

My general goal when looking at addons is giving myself more empty screen real estate and a cleaner, more streamlined UI. I like to do as much as I can with the built-in interface options and find addons that are simple and to the point, without a lot of extra fluff that I don't use. I also try to keep the number of addons I'm running to a minimum. The more you have, the more you have to worry about conflicts, updates, etc. Five or Six addons at most would be ideal for me.

I did quite a bit of interface tweaking in WoW via addons, and its obvious that the WAR addon community (as well as the WAR API that allows addons) is still in its infancy. So while the addons themselves are generally easy to install (simply copy the folder into your Interface -> Addons folder), they all use a variety of slash commands to change options in-game and there are a number of minor issues with a lot of them.

One of the first addons you will likely need is Libslash. This is a dependency that many other addons require. It allows the addon authors to easily incorporate slash commands to allow users to control the addon settings.

First off, a quick note about what I changed with the default UI options. Looking at this first screenshot you can see that I have hidden both my experience and renown bars. It's not overly important to me to know exactly how far along in rank I am, so out they went. I decreased the size of the game options bar and the zone control bar, putting both in the center. I've also broken my chat into three tabs and removed the combat tab altogether. One chat tab is the basic default tab, the other is for all guild and alliance chat as well as tells, while the third is for say, emotes, party, warband and scenario. General and guild chat tabs are on the left and the local chat tab is on the tight. I also moved around a number of screen elements to try and keep everything compact and near the edges of the screen.

Click on the images below to see a larger version.

In the bottom right you can see my minimap, provided by Custom Map. Not only does it remove the extra graphic fluff around the mini-map, but it makes it into a nice square shape (which is great for fitting it into a corner) and also allows me to zoom out to the zone level, which is nice for getting a quick view of the local battlefield objective and keep status. Current location is displayed above the map, and at the bottom of the map, it gives your percentage influence for the current area.

Warband and party healthbars are controlled by Squared. Makes everything nice and simple and also has numerous commands for changing the shape, size, layout, colors, etc. It has an option for displaying buffs/debuffs on players in your warband, but I have that disabled to try and improve my system performance. You can move the Squared display around by going into the Layout Editor and moving the Squared Anchor box.

The only issue I've had with this addon so far is that every game session, I have to go into the warband UI and manually tell it to not display the default warband healthbars. There doesnt seem to be a way in Mythic's UI options to just not display this. Apparently there are are other addons that will take care of hiding the default warband interface, but so far I've just been manually disabling it every time rather than adding in yet another addon.

Healthbars for myself, pet, target and friendly target are all controlled by Clean Unit Frames, I've never really understood why MMOS force me to look at photos of myself and those I have targeted. It would seem like this would be an obvious option to add in from the beginning. There is a little bit of weirdness with this addon in that each UI element has a small sliver of black space on the left side, and to get mouseover info on buffs and debuffs, you have to hover over a very precise, tiny area at the top of the buff icon, but otherwise it works great and has a compact, sleek look that I appreciate. Character rank and renown rank are both displayed on my healthbar. Champion, hero and lord level mobs are noted by the + signs next to their names on the target healthbars.

Vertigo is used to control the layout of the action bars. You can change the number of buttons each bar has as well as how many columns the buttons are arranged in. The bars can be moved and sized as normal via the layout editor. I have Action Bar 1 reduced to 6 buttons and use it for storing all of my attacks (it switched pages based on my current 'plan'. See the PlanB info below). Action Bars 2 and 3 are below that along the bottom of the screen and I altered the hotkeys for one of them to use the F1 through F8 keys. And then, over on the right next to the mini-map, I have a smaller, vertical bar where I store consumable items for quick usage.

MinChat is a simple chat mod to remove the scrollbar from the side of the chat windows and also removes the extra graphics fluff. The mousewheel is used to scroll through the text in the chat windows.

Note: It looks like I hadn't yet installed MinChat when I took the above screenshot as you can see the scrollbars on the chat windows.

On top of those I also have two mods that cant really be presented in pictures.

PlanB - This mod is a godsend for Black Orcs and Swordmasters. It sets things up so that your first action bar will change pages based on your current Career status. This way you can reduce icon clutter on your screen. Unfortunately, Mythic has it setup so that page 2 of action bar 1 is the same as action bar 2, which makes it kind of useless for people who want more than one action bar on the screen. Luckily, PlanB has ways to handle this. First off, I used the /planb pagemax slash command to increase the number of pages available. Then I used the /planb pages command to make it scroll through pages 1, 5 and 6 on action bar 1, so that those buttons wouldn't overlap with my other action bars. Very handy. I held off on installing this mod for a while, but as soon as I got it setup and configured, I kicked myself for not installing it earlier. It makes combat as a Black Orc much easier to deal with.

Buff Throttle - Controls how often buffs and debuffs refresh. Given the extreme number of these seen during RvR, this addon seems to be pretty much required if you are interested in engaging in large RvR battles. It definitely put a dent in the amount of lag I was having to deal with.

So that comes out to 8 mods total. One is simply a library for some of the other mods, and another is only in place due to WAR's poorly optimized client. I'm sure there are lots of other mods out there that many people would find useful. I don't do crafting and I also don't get a lot of emails, so I haven't looked into any mods that help out with those two features.

So this is just Round One. I expect to continue tweaking my interface (and in fact, I've already made some modifications since taking these screenshots). Look for another post on tweaking the WAR interface soon.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Warhammer Online: 2-week Impressions

It's been exactly two weeks since the official launch of Warhammer Online (not including the head start). And I thought it was about time for another post. Most of it will be complaints (because the annoying bits seem to stick in my memory), but I give the game a thumbs up rating overall!

In my last post I bitched about the dumb way that Mythic decided to roll out their servers, and I still stand by that.

My guild had initially chosen Skavenblight as its server of choice. But since that server wasnt open until the official launch date, it has a very low population. So low that we felt forced to switch servers. There just wasn't very much PvP action. And to top it off, Destruction had a great than 2-1 advantage in numbers, making our chances of finding a fun fight very slim. We switched to a more populated server (Ostermark), and even though we're a week behind most of the larger guilds, both in guild rank and character levels, our intra-guild activity is at an all-time high and everyone seems to be having lots of fun. Encounters with enemy players occur often, and the keeps come under siege from one side or the other on a regular basis.

Skavenblight is still a low population server to this day. And its unlikely that this status will change anytime soon. Most players want interaction with other players in their MMO, particularly when its focused on PvP. So new players will gravitate towards the more populated servers, leaving the low-pop servers out in the cold.

The interface needs a lot of work. Chat tabs have lots of issues (hopefully somewhat alleviated with todays patch). You're unable to customize what you see in the frames (for example, the large player pictures next the their status bar). Text sizing within frames is independent of frame size, so if I shrink down a window, the text shrinks with it, making most text unreadable. There is a lack of real options for the action bars. I can only have 1 2 or 4? Not 3? I can't turn them sideways? Or have them active but hidden? I'm sure some user mods will come out with these features, but since the game is only two weeks old, the mod community is still in its birthing stage. I installed a mod that gave me different unit frames, but then it screwed up my ability to edit the interface, so I had to remove it entirely.

I've also had horrible, horrible graphics lag in major RvR encounters. I've tried all sorts of changes to the graphics settings, but oddly, the one that seems to work best is using the default 'balanced' setting. Manually turning all the settings down and turning off the extra fluff seemed to actually make things worse. I also had someone suggest that I remove my combat log tab, which I've done. We'll see if that makes any difference.

Another issue I've run into with my guild is a severe lack of guild vault space. I can fill up our entire guild vault by myself after a couple of hours of PvE and Scavenging. There are just so many varieties of crafting materials. And for a large guild with 100+ players, this really becomes a major problem. We've ended up using the Guild Auctions as storage space instead. It's also pretty annoying that you cant stack items in the vault. You have to pull things out to your pack to get them to stack properly.

The amount of gold/level selling services spam via tells and in-game mail is pretty ridiculous. I reported them at first, but that doesn't seem to have much effect, as I find myself getting spammed by the same people the next day. Hopefully this will die down, as gold really isn't very useful in WAR once you get your mount. But this ties into my next point

No right-click functionality within the chat window. Right-clicking just brings up the options for opacity and such. I cant actually interact with the text in the window at all. I'm used to WoW where I can do such things as party invitations, sending tells and reporting gold spammers, all with a quick click. I have to say that I'm pretty surprised that such functionality didn't make it into WAR.

They just changed the way scenario queuing works other day so that you can queue for any scenario for your level from any zone pairing or the same Tier. This means that I can queue for the Chaos and Dark Elves scenarios without leaving my preferred Greenskin lands. This is an excellent change for those who love playing in the scenarios, but overall, I have found that I'm enjoying scenarios a lot less due to this alteration. No longer do scenarios have racial flavors. I used to go into the Gates of Ekrund and find that at least half, if not 90%, of the players were Dwarves or Greenskins. I knew that I could encounter my hated enemies there. Now its just a random mishmash of players from all over the world. All racial flavor has been removed. Also, this change has also had the undesired effect of pushing the average level of characters in scenarios up quite a bit. Now a large percentage of players are at the top end of the level range, making scenarios much less enjoyable for lower-level players.

Open RvR can be quite a bit of fun, provided that both sides show up for the fight. And though most large fights are reminiscent of the old Hillsbrad/Southshore battles back in the old days of WoW (ie. pre-battlegrounds), it has become apparent that there is room for tactics to play a part in the results. Using terrain to your advantage both to hide your own forces and to force the enemy into choke points is a viable strategy. Flanking maneuvers can also be highly successful. For example, a few nights ago there was a keep under siege by the forces of Order. We ran out there and went inside via the back postern door. But sitting in a keep waiting for the door to fall is not something I particularly enjoy, especially since I didn't have any siege equipment on me. So we sallied forth, catching a couple of players who were trying to camp the back door and then moving around towards the front. This resulted in some initial success, as we pulled a few players over and tore them up, but soon our foes realized what was going on and smashed our ranks apart, sending us back to the warcamp. After a couple of run backs and more defeat, the Order forces finally broke through, took the first floor and began trading long-range fire with the Destruction forces camped inside. Myself and several other players took positions out front, attacking any Order reinforcements that tried to run inside. A few of their stouter characters managed to get past our blockade, but we effectively blocked and/or killed the majority of them. This in turn forced those players inside to try and clear us out, which in turn gave the upstairs defenders an opening to push down to the first floor, and in-between our two groups, we crushed the remaining Order forces and drove their army back to their warcamp! Good times!

But beyond any issues I listed above, I am having a lot of fun, which is really the most important part of any game. All of my complaints can be fixed by Mythic to one degree or another. And in spite of those, I still login daily.

We have a large, active guild (which makes a huge difference), and there is almost always at least one warband engaging in RvR somewhere in the world. Just so long as I can get my graphics issues worked out, I see myself continuing to play this game for quite some time. My WoW time is way off in the distance of my rear view mirror and I wont be looking back that way again!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How to Screw Up Your Initial Server Release in an MMO (A Lesson from WAR)

1) Purposefully stagger your server launch so that the initial ones are overly full and the later ones are ghost towns.

2) Make copies of the full ones a couple of days later and encourage players to play on the new copies instead of allowing/encouraging transfers to the ghost town servers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Warhammer Online: Preview Weekend Thoughts

Played some over this weekend, though I tried out a lot of different classes using my newly patented Smash 'Em leveling technique (queue for scenarios constantly as soon as you log in, doing quests while waiting in line. I hit level 5 and renown rank 5 in under an hour using this technique).

Here are some random thoughts and comments in no particular order.

I noticed that a lot more low-level items come with slots these days. I assume this is to give the as-yet-unreleased Talisman Making profession a use from the start. I just wish they would patch it in so we can see how it works.

It seemed to be very popular to level up to 11 (the max for the Tier one scenarios) and queue for scenarios. That way players could feel powerful by tearing through the lower-ranked opponents. But, since PvP gives experience gains (and pretty significant ones at that), at least these putzes will eventually level out of that Tier, which is a godsend in my opinion. None of that perma-twink BS that is the bane of low-level WoW battlegrounds.

I took some time to stop in one place and just look around, taking in the action that was going on. Even though WAR is a themepark MMO, they do an excellent job of making it feel alive, with NPCs fighting it out, reinforcements running around the camps, explosions and artillery combat happening at a steady pace. It would add some flavor to the game if these bombardments actually caused some damage (not a lot, just something to keep you on your toes).

Every class plays differently. I haven't played them all, but I've spent at least a few levels with Shaman, Squig Herders, Ironbreakers, Engineers, Bright Wizards, Marauders, and of course, lots of time with the Black Orcs, and they all have different mechanics or styles of play. Add this on top of the ability to PvP right out of the starting gate, and replayability becomes a huge draw for WAR (at least in the early levels. The grind might get more tedious as you get to Tiers 3 and 4).

Scavenging is a very useful money-maker. Butchering not so much, since animals are less common than humanoids.

Still no functioning banks, guild or otherwise. Same with the auction house.

The polish is definitely in progress. A lot of people seem to be complaining about the clunky feel of combat, but for those who have been in beta previously, the new system is much improved (though it can still use more improvement). The low-level game just seems a lot slicker and tighter than it did a month ago.

I haven't played all of the starting areas, but the Greenskin area seems to be a lot more compact. I felt like I was running around a lot more in the Dwarf, Empire and Chaos starting areas.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Warhammer Online: Guild Beta Impressions - Part III

Phase 3.3 saw the opening of the Tier 4 zones, along with character wipes and the ability to make level 31, templated characters.

Seeing the Tier 4 zones and getting a chance to try and push the zone control so that your side can assault new zones was interesting, but it also revealed some flaws with the system.

For example, its possible for your side to gain control of all the objectives and keeps in an area, but still lose control of the zone. I know that PvE and Scenarios also have an effect on the zone control, it just feels kind of weird to have physical control of a zone, but the magic meter tells you something different.

Keep combat is very one-dimensional. Attack the front gate, run in, attack the keep lord. The only difference with the higher tier keeps is that they require you to bust down two doors. The keeps look fancy, but 90% of the area is never used. It's also odd that there are no NPCs on the walls. You would think they could stick in some static archers.

Tier 4 areas have a bit of an interesting setup. In the middle there is a zone that is 80% RvR, flanked on either side by two PvE zones that feed into the middle zone for control purposes.

Thunder Mountain is the central Tier 4 area for the Greenskin/Dwarf pairing. It is a badlands type area, with a volcano in the center. Very cool atmosphere, very crappy for actually getting anywhere. Due to large chasms dominating the landscape, you often have to take a very roundabout route to get to where you need to go (note: this is for the RvR area. The PvE areas of the zone don't have this issue), resulting in a lot of running around. This is especially annoying because it is the RvR area. I don't want to spend more time running back to the combat than I do actually fighting.

The Empire vs Chaos area of Praag on the other hand, is a great RvR setup. Almost the entire zone is encompassed by the town, which each side having a warcamp on the outskirts to give them easy access to the interior. Objectives are on a general line through the middle of town, with one keep at each end. This is much more fun than running around on windy paths in Thunder Mountain. It also gives more of a feeling of an actual war, since you're fighting in a city instead of out in the middle of nowhere at some random spot.

I really think that Mythic will have to revisit the RvR zones for the other two pairings to make them as interesting. Currently, 90% of the outdoor PvP action happens in the Empire vs Chaos areas.

Another thing that really bothers me is zone control resetting periodically? I find this feature a bit odd. Apparently, you are under a time limit in regards to gaining control of zones. Otherwise, the zone resets entirely. Pretty lame design, IMO, but I guess it goes along with the theme park style of gaming. After several posts about this issue, I finally got some details from a Mythic employee. Once you start a keep assault, you have 60 minutes to win before it resets (though I'm not sure what exactly causes the timer to start. Hitting the front door? Destroying the front door? Attacking the keep lord?). Also, once one of the final fortresses is taken, you have 36 hours to take one of the other two, which will then open up the capitol for attack. If you don't beat the time deadline, the Tier for which the fortress was taken resets back to its default values. All objectives in that zone become neutral and the keeps revert to initial ownership. I find this to be a pretty lame mechanic. Maybe if they had an NPC spawn that retook the keep, that would be interesting. But as it is, it just suddenly pops back and you have to start all over from the bottom. My preference would be to leave it in the hands of the players to retake the keeps. Make the players actually fight for what is theirs rather than just resetting the pins for another round. But, I guess that goes along with the themepark MMO.

Leveling is definitely slower post 30. But its still not too bad. Definitely much quicker leveling than any of the other fantasy MMOs on the market.

I continue to be impressed with the whole open party concept. It works very well, with most successful open Warbands being formed around a small core of guild players. There are a few issues. The main one that bothers me is that I cant always see where everyone in my warband is on the map. But, this is a bug that affects all warbands, not just open ones.

Talisman making is still not in game yet, but drops for it have begun to appear. Some items have enhancement slots, so I am assuming that Talisman making will create items for these slots, kind of like Jewelcrafting in WoW.

Got a chance to play with some of the dye options. The colors seem to be a lot more apparent on the higher-level gear. And it does make your avatar stand out. Unfortunately, there are only a dozen or so color options, and some of them are priced differently. I've seen some hints in-game that they plan on letting Apothecaries create their own dyes, but it seems that this feature isn't fully implemented as noone has managed to actually make any.

The game has improved quite a bit over the last month. Things generally seem a lot smoother, particularly client-side. I still get occasional graphics lag, but it is vastly improved.

And before I finish up this post, I suppose I should talk a bit about the guild system. Forming a guild in WAR requires a full party of 6 players to gather at the guild registrar in Inevitable City. You then pay a fee, pick a guild name and you're all set. The guild window has several tabs, including one for managing alliances. The UI has a few issues, but all-in-all, its well laid out and fairly comprehensive. One of the more unique aspects of WAR is its Living Guild system, whereby your guild gains levels. Each level opens up something new, from standards, to special access to the guild area in the capitol, to designing your own, personal heraldry (which has quite a number of options to choose from). This system seems to work pretty naturally, and quickly as well. We had to remake our guild several times during the beta, but we were always able to gain back the early levels rather easily. The highest level our guild achieved was 9, so I cant comment too much on the details above that, but it definitely was a source of pride for us to see our guild growing as a result of our efforts to bash in some stuntie heads!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Warhammer Online: Guild Beta Impressions - Part II

Here is the second of my beta impressions from the Guild Beta. This post is kind of short, since this phase only lasted a week. This was labeled Beta 3.2 and opened up the Tier 3 zones. My random thoughts are below in no particular order.

Note: This was written in mid to late July.


In addition to continuing to play my Black Orc, I also played a bit in the starting zones for the Empire and Dark Elves as well as playing a Squig Herder up to level 10.

I noticed that the Tier one objectives for Empire/Chaos were a hotbed of activity. Likely due to the fact that they are all of 10 seconds outside of the camps, and sit smack in the middle of both sides. On the other hand, the objectives for the first two Greenskin/Dwarf zones are tucked away in a corner of the map that noone ever goes to. So those objectives usually switch hands with no conflict whatsoever. Of course, it was mostly a mindless zerg (if you played WoW before they implemented battlegrounds, this is akin to the mass Hillsbrad/Southshore fights that used to happen on a daily basis).

Beta 3.2 saw the opening of Tier 3 zones, but they seemed strangely empty. It also seemed that the racial pairings aren't as in your face as they were in the other zones. The only times I saw any enemies in the two Greenksin/Dwarf Tier 3 zones was when they were riding by to go to the Gunbad dungeon.

Speaking of dungeons, I believe this is the first dungeon available for Destruction players. It's called Mount Gunbad and is designed for mid-20s players. It involves delving down into a cave to take on some goblins that are breeding super squigs. Though you have to go through a portal to get inside, the dungeon itself is open, which means that everyone is in the same instance. I think it's divided by faction, since I didn't see any enemy players inside, and all of the quest givers were goblins. There is no party-size limit, so you can take as many players as you want. Unfortunately, I crashed soon after entering and was unable to get back to my non-Guild group due to respawns, so I didn't get to see much of the place.

Some of the scenarios are pretty lame. For example, there is one King of the Hill scenario that is actually on a hill. Unfortunately, a number of classes get a knockback ability, which they will use to knock you off the top of the hill, forcing you to run back up. Another scenario requires you to grab and hold an artifact. The usual result is that one side gets it first, then camps below their spawn with it. Sometimes I have fun, sometimes I don't, usually revolving around how well my side is doing. If you enjoyed WoW's battlegrounds, you'll probably enjoy WAR's scenarios. Though sometimes you might end up waiting a while to get into a scenario, one good thing is that once the scenario is done, you're returned to the exact spot you were in before you entered. Makes it easy to continue on with questing or activities while waiting in line.

This phase also saw the push of the Realm War 'leader boards' which are pretty dumb at the moment. For one, they don't update and still have info from two weeks ago. For two, they're really not that interesting. For three, I don't see any info about the actual war. That is what I want to know! Which keeps are controlled by who, where has the fighting been going on for the past couple of hours. What objectives are available for attack. How close are we to pushing the gates of our opponents' city? This is the sort of info I expect to see. I could really care less about who spent the past 24 hours grinding renown points. But, I'm assuming they have plans to make it more interesting.

Next Up: Part III, which includes info from some time we were given in the Tier 4 zones with templated characters.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Warhammer Online: Guild Beta Impressions - Part I

Note: These are my initial impressions from the Guild Beta and were written a month ago. A lot has changed in the game since then. More recent thoughts will follow over the next couple of days.


I'm not going to be able to post this before the NDA is lifted, but I wanted to gather my thoughts together from Day one onwards. This initial writeup was made from my experiences playing exclusively as a Black Orc with an established guild (Shadowclan) for the first 10 days of Guild Beta (July 15th - 24th).

First things first. The ambiance of the Greenskin starting area was good. You start out in a fungus-lined cave and emerge to beat on some dwarfs as your first quest. Initial leveling is quick and painless (I was 30% through level one before even fighting anyone). Since I logged in on the initial day of Guild beta, the starting area was quite crowded. I didn't really have issues with completing quests because of the crowd, it just resulted in a lot of extra lag.

The User Interface is very customizable, though they still have some work to do. You are given the option to go into layout mode and move, hide and resize all of the various parts of the UI. Unfortunately, you don't have control over text attached to the various panes, so resizing sometimes makes the text unreadable. But, all in all, having this functionality straight out of the box earns lots of bonus points from me.

Public quests are awesome! Though the roll for loot is more random than you might expect (and generally leads to initial shock and griping after you finish 1st in contribution but then get a bad roll and no loot), it seems to work out in the long run. It really works best if you have a group that will run through the same public quest a couple of times. Public Quests are centered around the various Chapters on quest progression and participating in them gives you influence points for that chapter. Each chapter seems to have three or so public quests associated with it. Oftentimes the one closest to the camp is the busiest while those further away are mostly empty. Some public quests are also labeled as difficult, but in exchange, the rewards are better.

While on the subject of public quests, I should probably also talk about grouping. In particular, WAR's open group system. By default, all new groups are open, meaning with a couple of mouse-clicks, anyone nearby can join. By far, this is the best grouping system I have ever seen. I've joined open groups for everything; from Public Quests, to assaulting Keeps.

It also helps that no quests (at least as far as I have encountered in the first two Tiers) are hindered by being in a raid/warband. I can complete quest objectives no matter how many players are in my group. In fact, many of the public quests encourage large groups (some of them require killing 100 mobs to advance to the next stage). Being able to complete all quests in a warband (WAR's version of a raid which allows up to 24 players), also negates the pressure many players feel to only allow certain classes to join. It just really doesn't matter that much. This might be different in the high-end content, but that sort of stuff will likely be organized ahead of time anyway.

It's kind of interesting to think about the ramifications of this open group concept. WoW received a lot of praise for its solo-friendly content. WAR takes that a step farther, but in a kind of sideways manner. Most of the standard quests are easily done solo (and in under 10 minutes), but it is so simple to join a group, that you tend to find yourself grouped for pretty much everything else. You're still solo in a sense, in that you're not with a specific group, but you're also being social by grouping. Hard to get my point across in words, but trust me, its a beautiful concept that works extremely well, especially in this sort of RvR environment.

Joining an open group is as simple as two clicks. One click opens the group window displaying the list of open groups in the nearby area, how far away they are, who the leader is, how many players are in the group and what the group is involved in (PvE, RvR). You click the join button and voila! You're in the group! So it manages to meld the soloist into group play in a very smooth manner. The only issue is getting the word around about this feature and how to use it. It's very common to be involved in bashing something and have someone come up and ask for an invite when your group is already open and they can just join whenever they want to.

There are options for kicking troublesome players and banning them from joining your group, but I have never seen that used in beta. Even if a player just goes AFK to leech, it usually doesn't really matter than much (and its a rare sight in my experience). Instead of walking into a mob area and seeing several players doing their own thing, you walk into a mob area and see several players fighting together. Even if they're not working directly together (IE, everyone is beating on a different mob), they're all working towards a common goal.

Its also nice that quest drops happen automatically. You often don't even have to loot. You can just kill the required mob and immediately get a notification about completing a quest objective. I've even finished a number of quests without realizing it due to groupmates completing the required steps while I was nearby.

Mythic has definitely raised the bar on ease of access with public quests and public grouping.

One of WAR's taglines has been War is Everywhere. And I have to say, that is pretty much true so far. Not only are a lot of the quests in the first 4 zones of the Greenskin area based around smashing stunties (Hoowah dat!), but the scenery evokes the feel of a WAR in progress and a number of public quests are shared by both sides, though working at opposite goals. While these are technically PvE areas, they often result in heavy PvP fights when both sides show up. And in these sorts of PQs, there are usually NPCs fighting it out even when no players are involved!

Collision detection does indeed play a role in PvP, especially when you have narrow stairs or other choke points. And there have been a couple of times where I've managed to hinder someone's escape by blocking their path. It seems that slipping around someone blocking you isn't too difficult, but it can delay and confuse players enough to make a difference. I haven't yet had a chance to really coordinate on forming a wall, but I guess that it is possible.

Now for the low points.

First off, I'm curious as to how Mythic defines polish. They have said for a while that they were in the polish phase, but yet there are lots of major bugs and missing features. While major things such as combat, movement, creating guilds, are in place, other things aren't; banks for example!

Secondly, the much-lauded Living Cities, the system who is at fault for loss of four out of six capitol cities.. In current beta, the two existing cities are supposed to be at their peak level, and to be honest, I really see nothing special that I haven't already seen in every other MMO. They have vendors, they have trainers, they have a banker (not working), auctioneer (not working), a mostly-empty guild hall, a couple of quests and a dungeon or two inside the city. Whats so special about all of this? This is what I EXPECT from a capitol city. If a lower-level capitol doesn't have these basics, then its not much of a capitol at all. And why cant they shove this stuff into four other cities? Maybe there is more secret features that aren't in-game yet, but currently, I am thoroughly unimpressed. The graphics are very pretty, but I was expecting something different and special with the Living Cities system.

Crafting, well, at the moment, all we have are the gathering skills and apothecary. And really there's not that much new about either. Apothecary is very much a grind to gain skill, despite the claims in the crafting videos. You still have hard skill limits on everything, so you end up standing near a vendor, making the same potions over and over again to increase your skill so you can use the higher level components which have skill requirements. They should really just remove the hard skill limits on raw materials and allow players to use everything from skill level 1. The user is presented with a success meter showing their chances of making the potion. If they want to use up their higher-level materials on low-chance mixes, that should be their prerogative!

Single-race viability certainly seems possible, though I don't think there is enough faction-specific symmetry to preclude a guild from taking the best classes from 3 races and combining them into a force that could easily dominate any equal-sized single-race group. But, if you're not worried about dominating and just want to have fun, you can certainly do everything, including PvE and RvR, as a single-race guild.

RvR seems too isolated from the rest of the world. The RvR areas in the first two Tiers are rather large, but there is nothing there besides the battlefield objectives and keeps. So, what generally ends up happening is that one side runs through and captures the points, then everyone leaves because its boring in the RvR when no opponents are around. Then an our later, the other side comes through and does the same thing. Rinse and repeat over and over. And this rut certainly isn't helped by the fact that the announcements about objectives/keeps being attacked are either non-existent or way too short. For example, the objectives give the previous owners three minutes to respond when they're taken by the other side. However, it takes a good minute (or more) to run there from the nearest flightpath. Add by the time you get to a flight master, fly down there and hopefully join an RvR warband, you're already too late. Keeps don't send out any defense warnings until the keep lord is under attack.

This all basically makes RvR a round-robin game of taking turns on capturing objectives. I can only hope that there are more points of interest or things to do in the RvR areas in the higher Tiers.

I upgraded my CPU over the weekend (from an Athon 3500 to an Athlon X 64 5200) and the difference was just astounding. I went from having low graphic settings at 1024x768 and still getting lots of graphics lag when too many models were on the screen, to running at 1440x900, high graphics mode and only occasional slight stutters when loading new graphics content.

Next up! Some looks at the game from a different faction's perspective and hopefully insight into missing features and higher-level tiers (Mythic willing).

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Farewell to Warcraft

This post is actually several weeks late, as I canceled my World of Warcraft account last month and the subscription expired on July 11th. So, I will likely have very little, if nothing to post about WoW in the foreseeable future, which is a bit unfortunate as my posts about the interface and Heroic Mechanar are the most popular ones on this site. However, in replacement I hope to have an ongoing series about my very casual foray into Age of Conan, and I am in the Guild Beta for Warhammer Online and plan on creating a number of posts about my experiences that will be seen here as soon as the NDA drops!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Age of Conan: Initial Impressions Part I

I played Age of Conan during the 'open' beta and did not really enjoy it that much, so I decided to give it some time to see if Funcom would end up crashing and burning or if they would manage to pull their act together and quickly take care of the major issues. So, here we are, 2 months later and I found myself purchasing and installing a copy of AoC.

I'm hoping to document my progression through the game on a regular basis, though it will be a bit sporadic since I am also participating in the WAR Beta at the same time. So here we go with Part One...

First off, installation. Both installation and the patching process went smoothly, though I was a bit annoyed to see it taking time to copy the movie files in several languages to my computer when I had selected the option to install the English version. Why even give me that choice at installation time?!

But once I was in-game, my experience was quite fun. Performance was much better than when I was in the beta. I only had to tone down a couple of fluff settings to get a decent 45-50 frames per second. However, this did drop noticeably once I started encountering other players.

I'm not really interested in doing a bunch of standard run-here collect that quests in Age of Conan, so I resolved to only pursue the destiny quest until I got away from Tortage. Unfortunately, that revealed a hole in the Destiny Quest line. Mainly, the requirement that you be a certain level to proceed past certain sections. Now keep in mind that I wasn't doing any side quests, but I also wasn't avoiding combat. I killed anything and everything along the way and I still came up about 2/3 of a level short when I reached the part that requires you to be level 10, and a little over 2 levels short at the step that required level 15! Kind of annoying. I can understand having level restrictions for later parts of the Quest, but this is the starter, newbie island. It should be easy to complete this initial part and move on to the larger world. I could see it being especially bothersome when having to run through the same exact content for every character you make!

And, I do have to again complain about the fact that while I'm in my own private instance, I have to zone in and out of the houses! And to make things worse, the main quest NPC that you talk to repeatedly is also in her own private zone! Come on Funcom! Give me a break, here!

Anyway, since I had two levels to go before I could continue on my annoying, but required Destiny Quest, I headed over the Acheronian Ruins and kill some Picts while gathering up a nice Pictish outfit. As I made my way through the instance (which is very breath-taking. Kudos to the level designers for this zone) I saw a number of other players around. Most noticeable were the Necromancers who seemed to always have a number of pets and who would simply wade into the middle of a group of 4-5 Picts and emerge victorious, grabbing loot before moving on to the next pack. Meanwhile, I was left skulking about the edges, trying to grab lone Picts, two at most, though I could sometimes defeat three at once if I was lucky. I'm guessing that Necromancers the current uber-powerful PvE class?

Ended up with a LOT of deaths while grinding away in the Ruins (since I didn't have a half-dozen pets around to help me out). But I could see where having a couple of buddies to group with would make it much easier, and more enjoyable. It also seems that the NPC Picts are very good at seeing through stealth (or maybe stealth just becomes a lot less useful after level 10). I have my stealth maxed and the only time I was able to sneak up on a Pict was when they had just spawned.

I found the button-smash combat more interesting this time around. Perhaps because I realized that timing can make a big difference. And I definitely appreciate the interactiveness of the system, though it forces you to rewire your reactions when coming to AoC from other MMOs.

I ran into an odd bug with setting up hotkeys for the left-bottom bar. After quitting the game and then logging back in, the bar no longer displayed text showing me which hotkey was bound to which slot, but the hotkeys still worked. Not a hug deal, but a little confusing if you aren't aware of the issue. Another UI issue is the fact that the Feats screen doesn't display how many feat points you have available. You just have to try and select a feat and see if it works or you get an error message. Seems like a simple enough thing to fix, so I'm not sure why this issue is even in the game at this point.

Overall, my first few hours were fun, though it 90% solo, and 90% of that in my own instance. Hopefully my next installment will include some time spent with the Shadowclan Picts!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Gutting of Warhammer Online

In a very surprising announcement yesterday, Mark Jacobs informed the Warhammer community that Warhammer Online was cutting out some pretty major parts of their game, including all capitol cities except for Inevitable City (Chaos) and Altdorf (Empire) and four careers! Holy Feature-Cut Batman! I don't think I've ever seen such a major gutting of game features since the great MMO disappointment that was formerly known as Horizons!

This is a pretty huge blow in several ways. First off, the capitol city removal. To me, this is almost a game breaker. Not having a capitol city completely destroys the culture of those races who are now forced to inhabit a city that is not their own. Very sad indeed. Not to mention the pain of having to deal with traveling to your racial-specific areas from someone else's capitol city every single time you want to adventure there! All the quests are going to be dogpiled into these same cities and they will be the ONLY place to trade, sell, repair, etc, and I shudder to think of the lag that everyone will get to experience in these towns. It will be like WoW (pre Burning Crusade), where only one city on each side is the hotspot and the other capitol cities are ghost towns. And that makes me weep.

Mark Jacobs has posted further elaboration on the VN Boards, part of which includes a thought about maybe rotating in cities so that the focus is on one at a time. That is an even more horrible idea. Who cares if the players are spread out in three areas of the game? That's what the game is about! If one side decides that they want to make a serious push on one city, then maybe they would need to try and coordinate with the other races to focus on that particular section of the world. If they cant get organized enough to manage that, then they don't deserve to lay siege to capitol cities. Sieging a capitol city is supposed to be a big deal anyway, right? It shouldn't be happening every other month!

I won't suggest additional delays to the release date (which would be fine with me), but personally, I would much prefer to have some sort of placeholders in place instead. I don't mind if my capitol city doesn't grow in size and cant be sieged and maybe doesn't even have all the amenities of those for Empire and Chaos. But I do want a place to call home. A place where I can meet up with my fellow Greenskins that is OUR home. They can always patch in city improvements later, but losing that cultural quality in the initial launch is a hard thing to swallow. And yes, I know that they'll add in the cities at some point. But how long will it take? Will the cities be less interesting because a majority of the player base has already outleveled a significant portion of their content? Given the loss of entire career options, its not as if each race has a lot of options for replayability. And how much of that initial awe and excitement of being part of our own capitol city will be lost? Too much, IMO. I really don't care how fancy Inevitable City is. I'm not planning on playing a Chaos character. I'm a Greenskin at heart and I want a Greenskin city, not a couple of token Greenskins in someone else's town. Knowing that you'll be making major changes in the future allows you to plan for that ahead of time and lock off parts of the capitol city area as needed. Blocking them off entirely is a demoralizing and crushing blow to those races.

The loss of no less than four careers is a bit less galling to me (likely because it didn't hit any of my main class choices directly), but probably even more damaging in terms of gameplay. Those races that have lost careers are now much less viable as single-race entities, especially the ones that have lost their tank class! Single-race guilds are reeling beneath this announcement. ARAC all the way it seems, which makes me weep even more. If you wish to read more, there's also a thread covering this topic.

These changes seem to really destroy the concept of racial-pairing and will have a huge impact on both RvR and PvE.

So, I issue a heartfelt plea to Mythic. I certainly understand the desire to get things right and not release half-assed efforts, but I also understand that MMOs go through a lot of changes, especially in the first few months after launch. I can only speak for myself, but I would rather have partial, incomplete content that maintains the immersion and flavor that I've been eagerly awaiting for well over a year, instead of HUGE missing gaps that force players into a big, generic mash that undermines the concept of racial pairings. Let us have our cities and classes, as incomplete as they might be rather than completely denying each race their individuality.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Crafting and MMOs: A Look from Three Perspectives

Crafting has always been a system that has attracted my attention, especially from a design standpoint. Partially because most games seem to relegate it to a sidebin.

As serendipity would have it, there has been some minor discussion from three different games in development about their crafting systems. Those being Warhammer, Earthrise and Darkfall.

WAR released a podcast several weeks ago where Mark Jacobs talks about crafting in WAR. This was followed with a three-part interview (which seems to be divided into three parts just to be annoying since each part only has 3-4 questions).

In these , we find out that the WAR devs claim that their crafting system is non-recipe based, which is a bit disingenuous. There is a recipe system, its just not presented to the players up-front, and it is more flexible than crafting in most games, which tend to go for crafting systems that are extremely static (IE, X +Y makes Z with no variations). In WAR, the crafters will be able to play around with various ingredients to alter the results of the standard recipes.

WAR also plans on having only a few, limited crafting options at launch; three gathering professions and two crafting. In the interview, Jacobs explained that they would rather start with a small subset that can be expanded later and do it right, rather than trying to do everything at once. And that's certainly a philosophy I can agree with. Three years after launch, WoW is still working on trying to make their crafting professions useful, and failing for the most part.

The ability to customize your potions based upon your needs is great. The more control you give to the crafters the better. I also find their idea of having more gathering than crafting professions interesting, though we'll have to see how it plays out in-game. Is the world going to end up flooded with crafters who cant get hold of materials because there is too much competition for them? WAR also wants to make it so that crafting doesn't replace item drops and quest rewards, which I'm a bit leery of. Now we're headed back into EQ and WoW territory, where the crafted items are only minor bonuses compared to what you get from defeating the Big Bad Boss.

On the other side of the coin, you have Earthrise. In a recent interview, the talked about their plans for crafting (which are also revealed in a post on their forums. They are planning on making crafting THE way to acquire items. Players will be able to craft every item in the game, and they will also be able to make customized items by sticking various parts together. A complex system, and a bold venture by Masthead, but one that I hope works out well so that other games will feel emboldened enough to make crafting more than a side diversion from their amusement park rides.

And then, to round things out to a nice even three, I also want to include mention of a recent post from the Darkfall devs (yes, apparently they are still alive). In Darkfall, the plan on letting players
"You can gather crafting materials from killing mobs, and looting and/or skinning them. You can harvest materials from the environment, for example from rocks, trees, bushes etc. You can get the materials faster from organized resource production, like mines and farms, while collecting in nature is slower. You can craft crafting materials used to build complex items when they’re made of building blocks. Finally you can kill players and take theirs."

Hey, they're stealing my ideas! Though I didn't go into complete detail in the linked post, I've actually had a similar concept floating around for some time, so as you imagine, I'm excited to see how Darkfall handles it (assuming that they ever release their game). I really like the idea of being able to harvest from almost anywhere, ala Ultima Online, but also encouraging player cities/guilds to invest resources and time into creating semi-permanent structures that function as advanced resource harvesting centers. Not only does it allow for multiple levels of play and interaction, just within the harvesting system, but it also provides focal points for interesting conflicts between players.

So, there we have it. Three games will very different philosophies about crafting, though all look to be trending in the direction of giving more control to the player. I certainly hope that this is a sign of things to come in the future of MMOs.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Burning down Ahune

Last night I gathered together four guildmates to head into Heroic Slave Pens and take on the new seasonal boss, Ahune. Getting to him was easy enough, though he appears towards the middle of the first large cavern, which meant that we had to clear out a couple of extra mob groups.

I won't delve into his abilities too much since that's already covered elsewhere, but I will say that we had several wipes as we tried to figure out the encounter, each time getting him slightly closer to death, but the sheer number of little water elementals he spawns kept overwhelming us (and the ice spikes certainly didn't help). After seeing how little damage and hit points these little guys did, we decided to go all out offense. I switched out my tanking gear for my epic PvP suit, wielded a two-hander and spent most of the fight in fury stance (as the main tank). It was a hectic fight, and I had a couple of close calls (the damaging debuff that the main add puts on you is pretty rough), but we emerged victorious! The smaller adds only have 2000 hit points, so it was pretty easy to bring them down with all of us targeting them. With both myself and another warrior using whirlwind, we were able to work over the elite rock elemental at the same time. Then, when Ahune was vulnerable, we were already in the proper stance for damage. Couple fury stance with Blood Fury and Death Wish and you have some serious damage output! Our group makeup was two arms warriors, one elemental shaman, one beastmaster hunter and one holy priest.

Overall a fun fight, though expect to have a few wipes when you're first learning the encounter.

Bartle and WoW

So there's been some buzz going around lately about Richard Bartle's latest interview. Most of it coming from enraged Warhammer fans who take umbrage at his comment that he wont play WAR because he already played it and it was called WoW. I think that statement is fair enough, and in fact, I hope that WAR is similar to WoW in many ways, because WoW does do a lot of things right. Anyway, there has already been a lot of talk about that on other blogs and Bartle has even responded on some of them.

But, I'm going to skip commenting further on that bit and instead focus on the rest of the interview, because I found a lot of his comments about WoW exceedingly odd.

My first impression on reading the transcript is that Bartle seems to have some trouble voicing his thoughts. Some of his responses are pretty jumbled and they all kind of ramble. My second impression is that the title is very misleading as he really says very little about how he would change WoW. He has one comment asking why the WoW auction interface doesn't accept buy orders, and another about the limitations of the LFG tool. Both good points, but the rest is a semi-coherent ramble.

As far as I know, Bartle hasn't done any active MMO development in years, and from some of his responses, that's probably a good thing. He says that he has played WoW to the point of having three level 70s (which is about all I can understand from his disjointed mutterings about his character progression). But, it also seems that he wanted to play WoW as a solo game almost entirely (and I also don't understand the part where he bitches about being 'required' to farm Stranglethorn Vale if he chose leatherworking? You know, there are plenty of skinnable creatures in other zones and also a little something called the auction house).

He has a very odd comment about having trouble getting a group together to get his last 0.5 Tier armor piece for one of his level 70 characters!! I don't know why he's so focused and upset about trying to get a level 60 blue armor piece for a level 70 character, but I doubt anyone will argue that the LFG interface in WoW is subpar. I've managed to get into a couple of instance groups using it, but, for the most part, the only reason the LFG tool ever sees any use in-game is so that players can get access to the LFG channel and manually assemble groups themselves.

Then he goes off on a rant about Karazhan and mentions several times about how its impossible to go into with PUG. Maybe Bartle should have tried harder, because I see Karazhan PUGs forming all the time. The process for acquiring a key to Karazhan is pretty painful, and the fact that they used to require EVERYONE to have the key was just plain dumb, but I'm really not sure why he calls it a "guild breaker". Karazhan was the first epic-level raid zone that Blizzard created that could be easily explored by even the most casual of guilds.

It seems as if he really had little idea what he was doing in WoW (or he's just really, really, really bad at explaining himself). Now granted, I have had my own share of complaints about WoW, but I have also played for 3 years and delved into every aspect of the game; crafting, soloing, raiding, PvP of all sorts, and even roleplaying, so I feel I have a pretty solid base from which to throw out my complaints, suggestions and applause as warranted. But from reading this interview, I have to wonder if Bartle should have had his daughter show him how to play the game.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Fall from Heaven: Initial Impressions

So I finally got around to trying out the Fall from Heaven mod for Civ IV and I have to say that I am impressed. It's a pretty major reworking of the game, giving it a distinct fantasy feel that fills that longtime void left by Master of Magic.

First off, a disclaimer. This is an alpha work in progress (they're currently on version 0.32), so there are plenty of bugs and balance issues as well as a lack of consistent documentation. But if you're willing to put up with that, it can be a very entertaining experience.

Here are a few highlights and general observations of the gameplay:

  • Magic, magic and more magic - 12(?) different types of magic; dozens of spells; civilization specific 'world spells'; various summoned units, some permanent, some temporary; buffs, debuffs, direct damage, terrain alteration, etc. Did I mention that you might want to invest is some magical units and research?

  • Religions have a major effect on your civilization and the game in general. Choosing your religion can change your alignment as well as affecting what types of units and buildings you can create.

  • Tech research is extremely slow, which encourages specialization, but also makes the game drag quite a bit. I definitely wouldn't play any slower than normal speed (I usually play on epic) and have been considering increasing the game speed even more for my next round.

  • Lots of new unit promotions and a shifted focus towards veteran units. A number of units (including all heroes), gain experience just for existing.

  • Lots of new abilities such as units that can walk on water, land units that can attack and board naval units, area effects, and more.

  • Barbarians are more dangerous (especially the annoying giant spiders that like to hide in the forests) and can build hero units of their own.

  • Warriors are an important and viable unit for much of the game

  • Researching mysticism early seems vital. Not only does it give you a cheap source of research (via the Elder Council city improvement), but it also paves the way for future magical research.

  • Every civ plays quite a bit differently.

Click the link below for more thoughts and summaries of my first two games.

My first time playing the game, I just chose a random starting civilization and ended up with the Grigori, an agnostic civ as it turns out. This ended up being good in one way, since it gave me one less aspect of gameplay to worry about, but I also felt like I was missing out on an important part of the game. I also started off with my typical standard-Civ strategy of trying to get a worker out quickly and learn bronze working so he could cut down trees and speed up production. This is not such a great strategy for Fall from Heaven. Chopping trees only gives a small production bonus and tech research is significantly slower, making those early research choices even more vital.

Before I abandoned that game, I did manage to build several of one type of my special units, Dragonslayers, and send them over to a nearby barbarian city that happened to be occupied by a dragon! After defeating the vile beast, I occupied the city and discovered an 'improvement' called Dragon Hoard that gave culture points as well as gold. The most interesting part though, was that this improvement could be picked up by a unit and taken to a different city for safekeeping!

For my second game, I wanted to experience the magic side of the game, and I also wanted to try my hand at being evil (Fall from Heaven has an alignment system that can have a major effect on diplomatic relations as well as your civilization progression in general.) I immediately locked onto the Sheaim, a civ who's ultimate goal is the destruction of the world! Sounds good to me!

So I start out at one end of the continent. I get off to a slow start and find my one and only neighbor infringing on my territory and establishing an outpost in a hilly desert area near a small lake. I managed to build some of my special units, the Pyre Zombies and declared war on him taking the outpost that would eventually become the seat of religion in my small, decadent empire.

At one point towards the middle of this game I definitely had a WOW! period where I really felt like I was an evil bastard, driving my pitiful population as hard as I could while the wastelands piled up around us. Setting the forest on fire and watching it burn, leaving charred trees behind where once there had been lush green foliage as far as the eye could see (the trees eventually grew back). Zombies and demons poured out of my cities, slaying his warriors as they tried to cross the desert and striking back into his forests whenever I was able to get a few units together. My economy was in shambles, my people illiterate, but I was actually maintaining status quo by pillaging improvements and regularly sending groups of slaves back to bolster my production. In the meantime, I was focusing my research of dark magics and deals with demons, which gave my lands this sort of sickly red and black color scheme. Meanwhile, my opponent had founded the Tree-hugger religion (the actual name escapes me at the moment) and was building an army of Fawns to supplement his seemingly never-ending train of warriors. I also found it oddly appropriate that my evil religion (Ashen Veil) had been founded in this town that sat on the edge of the desert and was surrounded my mines, a truly miserable place indeed. I was inspired to write the following couple of bits during my escapades.

Turn 282 - My troops rampage through their countryside, setting forests ablaze at every turn. I have not the power to assault his cities in force, but any troops caught outside of their protective walls are quickly destroyed and the survivors sent back to my capital as slaves where they are sacrificed to aid in finishing the Prophecy of Ragnarök. My economy is in ruins, but I drive my people forward on the brink of destruction, bolstering my faltering civilization with riches from the plundered towns of my foes.

Turn 287 - We have begun to encounter strange woodland creatures defending the cities of our enemies. Though hoofed, they have the smell of fresh air about them, and thus are not demons. They have proven little match against my zombies so far, merely slowing our assault with piles of their furry bodies.

Turn 304 - Rosier the Fallen has been summoned and the Stigmata raised in our Holy City. This was the same outpost that our foes had planted near our borders, prompting this entire war. Once a small village, barely eking out substinence in the hilly and barren lands on the edge of the desert, it had been turned into a city of industry and corruption. Deep mine shafts have been dug into every hillside, vile temples have been established and a eldritch Planar Gate was built to call forth minions and allies from beyond the void. Demonic whispers came to our priests through this Gate, bringing with them a lovely and deadly succubus to help fulfill our goals of conquest and destruction. And with the newly learned art of Necromancy, diseased corpses now answer our call as well. It is tough finding a proper balance of troops, but I suspect that this infernal hero on my side will soon sway the tide of battle. Slaves are still being sent back to the homeland on a regular basis to provide fresh blood for anointing the Ashen Veil temples. Meanwhile, our sages work diligently in their attempts to contact the demonic forces directly and bring their might to bear on our side.

At about this point I finally got my act together and pushed a stack of units (led by the hero) behind the front lines and took several towns. Unfortunately, I went for capture instead of razing, figuring that I was on the verge of wiping him out. It didn't work out that way and my economy quickly went down the toilet. Just as things were looking really grim (0% research and I was still hemorrhaging ~30 gold a turn), I finished researching Infernal Pact, which brought a new civilization into play, the forces of hell themselves! I was then offered the option of abandoning my current civ and taking control of the new one. Given the dire straits I was in, I chose to jump ship and found myself in control of a small city out in the tundra on a different continent. I had a very large demon hero and a number of various other demon units. Unfortunately, I happened to be next to two goody-goody civs who quickly declared war on me and started blasting my units with holy spells at which point I decided to call it a game.

All in all, I've had a very interesting experience with the game so far and it has occupied most of my gaming time for the past week. If you like fantasy, strategy games, or are just a Civ fan looking for something different, I highly recommend checking it out. Given the sheer scope of the changes and added features coupled with sporadic documentation, it can be extremely confusing. I suggest looking up anything you're unfamiliar with the Civopedia. Here are some useful links:

Forum thread with links to download latest version as well as an FAQ

Strategy link #1

Strategy link #2

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Small / Independent Gaming Links (mostly)

I've recently gotten into the whole RSS feed thing lately, and have been subscribed to a number of gaming blogs, which in turn have led me to a plethora of independent games, a very large side of gaming that doesn't get a lot of press but can generate some amazing results. These links have been gathering in various emails and such, and in organizing everything, I decided I should share them there.

Some of these have already generated their own threads, but I included them here just for sake of completeness

Some of these are flash games, most are standalone downloads, some are free, some cost money, but they all have at least some sort of demo and are all worth a look.

Click the link to see the list.

Game Links:

Indie games of the year from Games Tunnel - Lots of good stuff here! I've only tried a handful of the games listed, but every one I tried I found interesting and considered throwing 20$ at it. Even if I only play for a few hours, that's money well spent, IMO. Anyway, the listing is broken up by genre and every game seems to have a free demo download available. This site is an excellent source for finding small games of all sorts.

Toribash - Hard to describe. Its a fighting game, but the player manipulated their fighter by tweaking muscles and joints. I havent even tried to play multiplayer. I just have fun seeing what happens with different combinations of muscle contractions and extensions. And if you cant get into the game itself, you might be interested in simply going to YouTube and searching for videos players have created.

Dwarf Fortress - I've talked about this game a lot, but it always deserves another mention. Still very much an alpha, and still has ASCII graphics and a painful interface. But the sheer genius of it all is well worth the pain. Go here to download a version with pixel graphics.

Tower of Goo - Just what it sounds like! Try to build the tower as tall as you can before it falls apart.

Jello Car - Platformer with some interesting physics.

Orisinal - Collection of odd flash games by one guy. Some are more entertaining than others.

Hoshi Sage - Another flash game. Objective is to 'discover' the star. The interesting part is that each level has different ways you manipulate the objects.

Putty Challenge - Puzzle game involving blocks of putty that you can merge and break apart.

Last Stand 2 - Zombie attack survival simulator. Part strategy, part shoot 'em up. Flash based I believe.

Here are a few links to games that I haven't looked at yet.

7-day rogue - Results from a competition to create a rogue-type game in 7 days. I haven't had a chance to look at these yet, but it seems like there is some nice variation and its not all about bashing monsters in a multi-level dungeon.

Chronotron - This one sounds really interesting. Its a platformer, but you have multiple versions of yourself that you use to accomplish your goals. The copies repeat whatever actions you did before you copied yourself, requiring you to coordinate with them in real-time.

Music Bounce - Don't know enough to make any comment, but it must have caught my attention for some reason!

Fall from Heaven - Mod for Civ IV: Beyond the Sword. Haven't tried this out, but I've seen it mentioned numerous times in various blogs.

Gamma 256 - Collection of small, experimental games

LOTR Total War - Mod for Rome: Total War. Unfortunately, it requires the Alexander expansion. I wish they would do a version for MWII.

And finally, here are a couple of miscellaneous links that aren't games.

Miscellaneous Links:

Dominance War - Concept art competition. There are a LOT of extremely cool drawings here.

Gaijin Smash - This is a blog about being a black American and teaching English in Japan! I found it laugh out loud funny and bizarre! Follow the link and scroll to the bottom to start with the oldest posts and work your way back up. Otherwise you'll lose out on the history which can put some posts out of context.

Monday, May 12, 2008

AoC Beta Impressions: Part II

I had expected to get a few days to play around in the AoC beta after the boost to level 20, but, apparently, this was a one-day only event (thanks for letting us know ahead of time Funcom!).

So here are some various extra observation snippets to go along with my Initial Beta Impressions post.

Open PvP - Funcom has some serious design flaws if they really plan on having open PvP as it was on Saturday. In addition to the numerous zone-in campers (which is easy to do since there is so much instancing), and the res-point camping (which is also easy to do since you get a friggen loading screen everytime you res, even if you died only 3 feet away!), there is also the oh-so-fun, kill you while you're in a cut-scene dialog with an NPC! Not only can you be attacked while you're forced into this meaningless multi-stage conversation (while you are given lots of conversation options, it ultimately all boils down to either accepting or rejecting the quest. None of the other options matter one bit.), but because it is a pseudo cut-scene, you cant even tell that you're being attacked until you finish the conversation and find yourself dead. Very poorly planned.

PvP is fast and furious. Most of my PvP experience involved dealing with the zone campers. Luckily, I had maxed out my hiding skill so as long as they were attacking someone else when I zoned in, I could quickly hide and move away. I jumped in and helped to fight the bastards when I could, but I still died every time, even when I managed to kill someone, resulting in a net experience gain of 0. As with my experiences in the battlegrounds, I felt like I had very little control over the result of the combats. Of course, this was all involving level 20-24 characters, so the ability options were limited, and I didn't get much time to practice, so my player skills were sadly lacking as well.

The best method of leveling seems to be by doing quests that involve killing NPCs or venturing into areas with hostile NPCs. A lot of the in-town, go talk to so-and-so quests didn't give much, if any experience. They do have quest hooks that send players to the various main towns for each race.

Traveling between the three major towns is as easy as finding the appropriate NPC and asking for a ride. There was no time limit or cost that I saw. The first secondary town in Stygia also had an instant transport from the main city. I didn't see anything similar in Cimmeria.

I ran into numerous terrain and graphic bugs. From seeing my avatar sink halfway into the ground to jumping into a river expecting a swim, only to find myself walking along the river bottom. And then I had to recall out of the river because the terrain was too steep for me to climb out. At times, my screen would suddenly become a mishmash of screwed up textures making the game completely unplayable. Luckily, I could alt-tab out and back in to fix the problem, but it could have easily resulted in my death if I had been in a fight or someone/something had wandered along and decided to attack me. This happened to me several times in Stygia.

I will give Funcom credit for allowing me to alt-tab out and back into AoC with no problems. Something a lot of other games don't handle very well (TF2 locks up my machine if I try alt-tabbing).

As of Saturday, my client was still throwing errors everytime I hit the esc key. Graphics lag and loading times were still about the same for me.

AoC either has some serious memory leaks or does an extremely poor job of offloading unused textures and graphics. Framerate and responsiveness start to seriously deteriorate after a while. Seems to be especially noticeable after changing zones a few times.

Res points seem to be few and far between, which makes for lots and lots of annoying running. At times, I was reminded of the old WoW days when there was no graveyard in the southern half of the Barrens.

Skills UI. I had numerous lines in my skill list that had no text, but allowed me to put skill points into them. Were these actual skills or just a bug?

I see there being a problem with competition over quest objectives in the early days after release. Not only did I have trouble finding the right types of mobs to kill at times, but I had one quest in town where I was supposed to climb a tower and steal a jewel. After suffering through the awkward, figure-out-the-one-spot-near-the-wall-where-you-can-climb mini-game, I got to the top of the tower to see that the jewel was gone and another player was also already there waiting for it to respawn. I sat around for a minute or so before logging off. When I logged back in later, the jewel was there, so I grabbed it and moved on, but when you have hundreds of players trying to do the same quest after release, its going to be a nightmare.

Didn't get to see any part of crafting aside from finding a couple of pieces of leather on critters I had slain.

I found no method for returning to the character selection screen without going back to the main login screen. And getting to the main login requires the user to hit escape, select exit game, then wait 30 seconds. What year are we in again? How such a simple and expected feature could be missing from a top-end game is beyond me.

In summary, AoC has potential, but it looks like it is being released too early (something that no MMO, including WoW, has really managed to avoid in my experience). And nothing about the game or gameplay made a strong impression on me. I haven't pre-ordered and I don't feel any special need to play at launch. I may pick up a copy later in the month, or I may wait a while to see how they do with the patches and updates, or I may not even play at all. Only time will tell.

To Twink or not to Twink?

Not, its not really a question. At least not for me.

I've thought about this a couple of times in the past but then I always come back to the fact that the whole process of 'twinking' is specifically to unbalance the competition and make the game easier for the 'twink'. Before video games, this was usually the other way around. In order to make the game more fun and engaging, the experienced player would give the newer player some leeway or a small advantage to try and balance out the skill discrepancy. Twinking is the complete anithesis to the concept of fun and fair gaming.

And to top it off, its pretty sad to see that Blizzard is considering adding extra support to the twinking process in WoW...

Tom Chilton: Potentially legacy items, haven’t really talked about those in the past.

We are planning to do certain types of items that essentially bind to your account, so they are deliberately created as twink items. You might be able to find one of these items when you’re doing an end-game instance or raid, something like that.

You might be able to get an item that binds to your account so you are then able to hand it off to your other characters, but, it does have to stay within your account. They can be deliberately overpowered for a low-level character to help level up, or whatever.

That being said, I see no problem with having characters who don't level so that they specifically can stay in a certain bracket for the battlegrounds. But when these characters start sporting level 70 enchants and enhancements, its gone way over the edge in my opinion.