Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Darkfall, the next Messiah of MMOs?

A little MMO called Darkfall is looming on the horizon, with its release date currently slated for February 25th, 2009.

This game has been in development for many years and has made enough promises to make it seem like it will combine the best aspects of Ultima Online, Shadowbane and Age of Conan. A skill-based character development system, the ability to build towns and villages, ship and mounted combat, the ability to craft almost any item in the game, dynamic weather and NPCs, smart AI, meaningful factions, open PvP, twitch-oriented combat, the ability to loot your enemies and 'real' stealth. Sound too good to be true? Well, it probably is!

Besides the fact that this game has been hyped since 2001, with only a few marginal gameplay videos and screenshots to go on, and the fact that they took applications for a Clan Beta test in 2005 and never followed through, and that previous games over-promising something different and grand in the MMO universe have generally flopped, probably the most disheartening part in my opinion are the latest patch notes. You would think that something as basic as 'Dungeon monsters are now enabled' would have been taken care of and tested sometime before the final month of development!!

That being said, there are still lots of high hopes for Darkfall in the MMO gaming community. And I expect those high hopes will be crushed. I'm taking the route of low expectations to avoid disappointment, myself. I'm expecting to pay to play an early beta release, with lots of bugs, exploits and balance issues. I'm just hoping that they do indeed have a diverse, interesting and fun core game that can be tweaked and polished on a regular schedule after release.

The developers have certainly talked the talk over the last seven years, and I applaud the fact that they've stuck with the game this long, I only hope that they can deliver on enough of their promises to avoid turning this into another Horizons, Roma Victor or Pirates of the Burning Sea.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Improving RvR in Warhammer Online Part I: Battlefield Objectives

This is the first in a series of posts with details about how to improve and embiggen Open RvR in Warhammer Online. This post deals with everyone's favorite renown farm, Battlefield Objectives! For this post, I'm not going to deal with whether or not BO's should given renown/influence/experience. Instead, I want to focus on making Battlefield Objectives a meaningful and important part of Open RvR that are actually worth fighting over and defending.

Click the link below to read on for details.

The basic concept here is that Objectives give bonuses / advantages to those who control them. However, I've also thrown a wrinkle in to give them more flavor and to also make it so that pushing zone control back towards a fortress becomes harder as you lock zones. So, the bonuses for Objectives work for both sides in the center T4 zone, but then as that middle zone is locked and the war is pushed back towards a fotress, the Objective bonuses only benefit the 'defending' side. The attackers will still want to control the Objectives to deny the bonuses to their enemies, but they won't receive the bonuses themselves. This concept is designed to instill a desire for control of the Objectives prior, and during, keep assaults.

To give specific examples, I decided to create a list of potential Battlefield Objective bonuses for all BOs in the Dwarf / Greenksin pairing. I tried to match the bonuses to the official Tome of Knowledge Lore for each objective, but some objectives just don't really make sense. Thunder Mountain is particularly bad about this (come on now! An out-of-the-way, tapped-out Gromril mine that goes nowhere?! Who cares?). Below are my partially thought-out suggestions, along with the official, in-game descriptions for the Objectives.

Black Crag

Lobba Mill - Though goblin constructions are semi-chaotic messes of thrown together bits of whatever is handy (which often includes weaker goblins), their machines are suprisingly effective. The Lobba Mill is one of the most productive spots for production of siege engines in all of the Greenskin lands.

Control of this objective grants a 20% damage bonus to siege engines for all Destruction players in the zone.
Despite its unassuming name, the Lobba Mill is Black Crag's most prolific rock lobber construction camp. The mightiest Lobbas in the Waaagh! are built in the camp, and the abandoned Dwarf stone quarries that dot the mountainsides provide more than enough ammunition for even the longest sieges.

Squiggly Beast Pens - These pens are the source of some of the biggest, nastiest Squigs around.

While the Pens are controlled by Destruction, there will be several champion-level squig and herder patrols added to all keeps controlled by Destruction in this zone.
While the Night Goblins of the Old World Mountains have always been the most cunning, nasty and independent of greenskin tribes, its often easy to capture a few here and there. When kept in small groups they are more craven than rats, and easily forced to work. Most often they are put in the squig pens, where their considerable expertise helps Grumlok and Gazbag's Waaagh! grow the some of the most vicious squigs in existence.

Madcap Pickins - The mysterious shrooms found in this area of the Crag have been known to drive some shaman crazy, but their potential for bolstering magic power is too great to ignore.

While this Objective is controlled by Destruction, all Destruction players and RvR NPCs in the zone have their chance for critical heal and spells increased by 3%.
If there is one thing that Goblin Shaman know how to do when they aren't eating mushrooms, it is growing them. Among the dank mountain caverns many different varieties grow, and every shaman knows that the best mushrooms grow in the darkest, muddiest, and smelliest places. Of particular valley are Madcap mushrooms, a type so potent as to enhance the sorcerous power of the Waaagh! to unpredictable intensity. Consuming a single mushroom will turn a normal Goblin into a frenzied, frothing lunatic. Few Goblins, shaman or not, survive and encounter with a Madcap mushroom, but that hasn't stopped them eating them by any stretch.

Rottenpike Ravine - Controlling this objective allows the Goblin Shamans to harness the restless spirits that linger in the area and utilize their energies for protection.

While Destruction controls this objective, all Destruction players and RvR NPCs in the zone have their magic resistances increased by 100.
This brambled and terraced ravine has been a hideout for all sorts of riff-raff, vagrants, and vagabonds. It is a place of death, and is haunted with the spirits of the innocent men and women who were killed here. In the middle of the ravine is a bend called Hell's Half-Angle where everything from bad luck to full-scale military ambushes seem to occur. The debris of dozens of carts and wagons and towed items such as cannons are strewn about, and even found in piles, and made into defensive redoubts by some forgotten army. In terms of the war, it is an ideal choke point on an obvious line of advance, and both sides desire to control it.

Thunder Mountain

Doomstriker Vein - Controlling this important source of Gromril is vital to creating higher quality weapons and armor.

While controlled, Doomstriker Vein increases melee damage and armor by 5% for all players and RvR NPCs on the controlling side.
While many Dwarfs march to secure Thunder Valley against the coming greenskin Waaagh!, an elite few must follow the direct orders of the High King and obtain the gromril needed to complete the Doomstrikers. Only through the strength granted by these mighty weapons do the Dwarfs have a hope of turning aside the massive horde commanded by Grumlok and Gazbag.

Gromril Kruk - Though the Gromril in this mine has long since been tapped, controlling this mine is a source of pride for both sides.

Whichever side controls this Objective will receive a +3 bonus to Morale generation.

Also, controlling Gromril Kruk and Doomstriker Vein at the same time provides a teleport option between the two locations. If either becomes contested, the teleport is disabled.
For the Dwarfs, Gromril Kruk has transformed into the cruel joke of Thunder Mountain. Recently discovered, the area was heralded as a ripe new source of gromril from which the Dwarfs could finish the Doomstrikers and rebuild their kingdoms. However, the vein gave out quickly and suddenly, proving as false as an Elven promise. No sooner had the Dwarfs come to grips with this truth than a contingent of Orcs took up residence in the barren mine. Now the Dwarfs must contend with a constant stream of enemies from the depths of their false hope, while they scour the mountains for what gromril they can find.

Karik Palik - 10% damage bonus for all players and RvR NPCs on the controlling side.
I couldnt find a description for this objective.

Thargrim's Headwall - 10% armor and resistance bonus for all players and RvR NPCs on the controlling side.
The campaign to capture the summit of Thunder Mountain is a long, painstaking affair. The route to the top of the mountain is narrow and treacherous and easily defended if one holds one of the many choke points alongside the mountain.

Thargrim's Headwall is a large defensible stone redoubt overlooking two smaller redoubts below it on the path up the mountain. As the first major choke point in the route up the mountain, he or she who controls the Headwall can easily frustrate the movement of an enemy army up the volcano.

Note: The above two Objectives were hard to create flavored bonuses for. Apparently, they are both meant to be choke-points, but they really don't serve as that function in-game. Riding past either is no problem, though Karik Palik could potentially be a choke-point if there were player defenders there.

Kadrin's Valley

Gromril Junction - Keeping the trains running on time is important for quick manuevering and defense of this zone agains the rampaging Greenskins.

While Gromril Junction is under Order control, there will be an active teleport to/from Order warcamp and this Objective.
The Dwarf railroad stops at this station at least once every day, as the train engineers proudly boast. The Dwarfs are as hard-nosed and inflexible about keeping this train running as they are about anything else, and will not tolerate any mischief that would cause the trainmaster to have to delay the timetable. The greenskins are fascinated with the idea of interfering with the train, stealing its valuables, slaying the stunties who run it, and at last, breaking the thing into small pieces if they can.

Dolgrund's Cairn - Possession of the Cairn instills a sense of pride in the Dwarven folk and their allies.

While this objective is controlled by Order, all Order players in the zone will receive a +3 Morale generation bonus.
Dolgrund Dralminsson, former commander of the Gharvin's Brace Regiment, gave his life fighting a rear-guard action centuries ago, single-handedly saving the lives of a hundred seven Dwarfs. The burial site of Dolgrund Dralminsson is sacred to the Dwarfs, for no action is as undeniably Dwarfy as an embittered last stand. The greenskins have sensed that they can easily goad the Dwarfs into a fight at the Cairn with a few well place piles of drek, yet such a decision may prove foolish at such a revered location.

Icehearth Crossing - This tunnel provides a quick, easy and secure route for forces moving north and south through the valley. Securing and maintaining control of this tunnel is of vital importance.

As long as this objective is controlled by Order, there will be level 55 Dwarven hero guards blocking the north end of the tunnel.
Icehearth Crossing marks the main passage through the Icehearth Crag. During the winter the cold is so intense that only a being blessed with the legendary stoutness of a Dwarf could bear to cross from one side to other. In the battle for Kadrin Valley, the underpass has proved a valuable route, and both Dwarf and Orc bleed in its chill caverns.

Hardwater Falls - The icy falls provide a source of fresh, clean water for the dwarven camps in the zone.

While this objective is under Order control, all Order players and RvR NPCs in the zone have their health increased health by 10%.
A large waterfall continually pours gouts of fresh water into the Kadrin Valley, where the water collects in many small pools and streams that trickle through the lush terrain and rock formations.
The Dwarfs now call the area the Hardwater Falls after the freezing torrent of water that blasts down from the rock above. The Dwarfs are trying to preserve this source of water to keep their armies supplied, but the Orcs seek to defile the waters in anyway they can.

Are these suggestions balanced and fair? Probably not. Are they all equally useful? Again, probably not. But I'm not a Mythic developer. This is merely meant to be a rough sketch of what could be done to make Battlefield Objectives important, valuable, and interesting.


Personally, I would actually consider taking it a step farther and making the bonuses race-specific for the zone. For example, Madcap would only effect goblins. While I'm sure a lot of folks would complain about it being unfair, so what, life is unfair. These additional restrictions would add a different dynamic to the game. I can imagine that Greenskin and Dwarf players would be more interested in fighting in the Dwarf / Greenskin zones because thats where they would get the bonuses.

But if it were race-specific, then you could do interesting things such as making the bonuses bigger and/or adding in potential negative side effects. For example, we could say that Madcap Pickins increase the spell crit chance by 10% for all goblin shaman, but also gave them a 2% chance of being overwhelmed by Waaagh! energy when casting a spell and being disabled for 3 seconds.

But, I know how much most players hate that sort of restriction, so I'm merely adding this suggestion as a note rather than incoporating it into my main proposal.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pimpin' the Interface, WAR Style: Part II

I figured it was about time for a followup to my initial post about altering the UI for WAR. Unfortunately, Mythic hasn't done much of anything to address UI issues and make their default UI more acceptable (in fact they made it worse by introducing an annoying global cooldown flash that appears on ALL your buttons EVERYTIME you use an ability. I had to download an addon just to disable that 'feature').

So, I am now up 19 addons! Much more than I generally want to maintain, but every one feels needed and or useful at the moment. Click the link below to read all the details and see the screenshots (click on the images to see larger versions of the screenshots).

Here is a basic screenshot of what my UI looks like when I'm not doing anything in particular.

The square mini-map in the corner is provided by Custom Map. In addition to being more compact than the default mini-map, it also allows you to zoom out to region map feature, and displays info about your current influence level for the area you're in.

Simplified group and warband health displays provided by Squared. Has a ton of settings available. I have modified the class colors, the bar size, the text, disabled showing buffs for others and chosen a texture to give the display some pizazz.

Vertigo allows for creation of action bars. You are still limited to the six that the game comes with, but you can define how many buttons they have, and how many rows and columns each bar has as well. Excellent addon for those who like to customize their action bar layouts.

I have a four action bar setup. You can see my main action bar at the bottom. It uses three pages and is controlled by PlanB, which makes it auto change pages based on the progression of my Plan (Black Orc mechanic). Though this hasn't been updated in a while, it still works like a charm. Highly recommended for all Black Orcs and Swordmasters.

The bar on the right hand side has various potions and miscellaneous abilities. Most of my other abilities are on the other two bars which are hidden using Phantom, which is an addon that lets you hide all sorts of basic UI windows and parts that the default UI doesn't allow for. I have run into some issues where it won't reshow previously hidden bars. Something to do with configuring it on a different character. I'm not sure of the details, and it hasn't bothered me enough yet to look for a fix. But the author for it is one of the most respected and active modders for Warhammer Online, so I feel confident the issue will be fixed sometime soon.

War Effort is the little graphical display at the top, center-right of the screen. This addon shows the current status of all T4 zones, including current victory points for the contested zones. The display can be toggled on and off with the little 'W' icon next to it.

In this second screenshot, you'll notice that my current target has red vertical bars around them. These graphics are courtesy of Target Ring. This addon makes it much easier to keep an eye on your targets in a crowd. It uses green bars to denote your friendly target (unfortunately, I didn't have one at the time of this screenshot).

Clean Unit Frames are used to show health for myself, my target and my friendly target. Just a simple layout, without any unneeded fancy borders or graphics.

Duff Timer gets rid of the annoying cluster of buff icons (the number of buffs, debuffs and DoTs in this game is insane) that are constantly shifting and changing during battle, and puts them into a nice, timed display that includes the name of the effect. You can configure, move and size buffs and debuffs separately for yourself, your target and your friendly target.

The black boxes in the bottom corners are courtesy of SNT Panel. Pretty simple mod. It lets you create background panels that can be moved, resized and made transparent via the default UI configuration options. I use this for my chat windows, because the fade-out really bothered me and made it hard to see the text depending on the brightness and color of the terrain I was in. It took some careful resizing and placement, as well as help from a chat mod called Chatty Cathy to get the chat windows looking good in relation to the panels. Chatty Cathy allows you to remove the fluff from the chat windows, including the tabs and scrollbars. A simple slash command redisplays these items if you need to resize or change settings for your chat tabs.

Dammaz Kron is THE must-have mod for anyone that wants to track their PvP kills and deaths. It's very full featured and even integrates directly with your Tome of Knowledge. I'm so impressed by this mod, that I've included a screenshot of it, just to try and encourage others to check it out.

Then there are the addons that can't be seen in the screenshots.

alertMod - This mod allows you to change the size, vertical location, and duration of the text for the alert messages that pop-up in the middle of your screen, for example, the notification you receive when gaining a level. The default text is rather large and can be annoying when it appears in the middle of a fight.

Aura - Lets you configure pop-up icons and/or text messages that appear when certain events occur. As one example, I have an icon that pops up over my character's head when my health drops below 40%. Helps me quickly and easily know when I need to fall back or drink a healing potion.

Think Out Loud - Another mod that wouldn't be required if Mythic allowed you to put more than one action into a macro. This mod simply allows you to say configurable text when using abilities. You can even set the percentage chance that the text will fire.

Global Cooldown Remover - The flash appearing on ALL of your icons is especially annoying when you have multiple action bars. This mod simply removes the global flahs for that 1 sec global cooldown. This is one of those mods that I never should have needed to begin with. But when I had 4 visible action bars on my screen, seeing all of the buttons light up everytime I used any ability was driving me insane.

Realm Status - This is another RvR mod. This one has a couple of different features. One is that it shows you a summary of all victory points for all zones. This display can be shown and hidden with a simple slash command. But, the feature that I find most interesting is a pop-up window that informs you of any change in VPs for any T4 zone. Mythic isn't very good about accurately updating the status of keeps (and since the RvR addons rely on information that Mythic provides, they are generally slow to update as well), but when I see a popup window telling me that the victory points for a zone have changed by 15+ points, I know that a keep has just been taken.

Lib Slash - Required mod for slash commands.

Clean Cast Bar - Simple but sexy looking cast bar.

So there you have it. I actually consider this post a sort of mid-term update. The modding community for WAR is getting better at what they do, and the addons are becoming much more versatile and slick. I already have a couple of new ones that I'm keeping an eye on. Look for another WAR UI post in a month or so, hopefully with better screenshots as well!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Liberation of Black Crag: A WAR Story

I wrote up this little RP story about one weekend afternoon when the Destruction forces on the Ostermark server locked the Black Crag zone, pushing Order back to Thunder Mountain. Now zone locks have become rather common on our server and occur daily at this point, but the reason this particular one stood out for me was twofold.

1) Order had pushed the conflict into Black Crag and controlled Thunder Mountain for several weeks prior to this. And being a very nationalistic orc player, that was just unacceptable from my viewpoint

2) This was the first time I had ever felt like I personally (along with a few guildmates), had made a distinct and noticeable impact on the zone control.

Click the link below to read the story.

"Skahin' hoomeez," Azh muttered as he picked up the limp body of the shaman, Khargug.

"Wake up ya dum git! It's time ta get ta smashin'!" Azh roared as he violently shook the poor goblin back and forth. A Witch Hunter assassin had snuck right in between the hulking Black Orcs and skillfully stuck a blade into the tiny shaman. The human had tried to make a quick escape afterwords, but while Orcs are often slow on the uptake, nothing stirs up their bloodlust quicker than seeing one of their own cut down in front of them. The red, pulpy remains of the assassin still lay at the end of the road leading out of the Black Crag warcamp as a few ravens circled, eying the fresh meat.

"Oi Boss! Me wakee, me wakee," Khargug groaned as he slowly opened his eyes. Azh set him down on the ground and the shaman muttered a few strange words, calling upon the power of Gork (or was it Mork, Azh could never remember which was which) to mend his grievous wounds.

Azh grunted in satisfaction as he saw the final two Greenskins of his band ride in across the bridge, two not yet fully-grown gobos, Pachum the Shaman and Scraak the Squig Herder. Along with the two other Orcs, Mlarak and Grubdug, Azh had gathered this small Shadowclan force here to probe the enemies defenses and see if they could wrest control of the Crag from the damnable stunties who had inhabited the many ravines of the area for much too long.

Azh had checked in with the goblin scouts at the warcamp who informed him that both keeps were already under the control of Destruction forces. All that was left to secure were the small, odd ruins below the Skar called Rottenpike, and the Squig Pen caves in the north.

But first, it was time to try and throw a wrench into the stuntie machine that allowed them to maintain control of the area. In a small, out-of-the-way niche amongst the many gorges and dead-ends of Black Crag, there was a vital crossing point over which the Greenskins and Stunties fought on a daily basis. Each side had a small encampment nearby, flanking a seemingly never-ending supply cache of Stuntie Boom Barrels. If the Greenskins could permanently blow up the stuntie camp there, they would have a tremendous advantage in pushing the front back towards Thunder Mountain.

So the Shadowclan band gathered their choppas, prepared their mojo and moved into the fray known as Howling Gorge. After nearly an hour of constant combat, including a number of encounters with the same Witch Hunter that had impaled poor Khargug earlier, Shadowclan withdrew, battered, tired, victorious, but ultimately unsuccessful in their attempt to drive the stunties out of the area completely. Numerous booms had been placed, many foes slain and much blood shed, but it was not quite enough to destroy the stuntie camp. Shadowclan rode away from the Gorge, patrolling past Rottenpike and the Pens, discovering in both cases that some other clan had already secured these points. Continuing their patrol of the winding chasms and paths, the Greenskins happened upon a few unlucky Order and gleefully chopped them into little bits.

Finding no other activity in the area, the Shadowclan force once more headed back into the meat grinder known as the Howling Gorge, more determined than ever. This time was different. With the Black Orcs stubbornly carrying the Boom Barrel repeatedly, at great risk to themselves (Orcs aren't known for delicately handling anything), the Destruction forces set up a chain of support from the center cache to the stuntie camp, flowing back and forth in response to pushes and attacks from their Order foes. Explosions echoed through the rocks as the stuntie camp was obliterated from the Gorge once and for all.

Battle yells of victory rang out across the land as the powder-singed Shadowclan force emerged from the Gorge. After months of fighting the stunties on the doorstep of the Greenskin fortress, Black Crag had finally been liberated from their grubby little hands, and the push on the dwarf capitol could begin again in earnest.

Azh raised his choppa and gestured northwards as the group mounted up. "Guud job, boyz! On ta Tunder Mownt. Dem stunties gonna be hoppin' mad an us gonna be der ta greet dem when dem come out ub dem holez!"

Azh let out a roar and led his troops onward to the next battle.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

How to Lock a Zone in Warhammer Online

6/22/09 Note: This post is about locking via victory points. If you are looking for information about locking a zone via domination, please see my other blog entry on the subject.

In Warhammer Online's RvR endgame, locking zones is the key to pushing the war front closer to your enemies and opening up fortresses and capitols to assault. However, the way this is done is not especially intuitive. So this post is my attempt to summarize what I have learned about the process over the past couple of months.

To lock a Tier 4 zone, one side needs to gain ~97 Victory Points in that zone. Victory Points are gained for controlling objectives and keeps, winning scenarios associated with that zone, completing Public Quests in that zone, and controlling the Tier 3 zones for that pairing.

Victory Points go as high as 97 and as low as 0 and will decay slowly over time if there is no action in the zone or its related scenarios (but the VPs will not fall below whatever the baseline is for the controlled keeps and BOs). Each objective is worth ~6 Victory Points, while keeps are worth ~15. So controlling all six points of interest in a zone will only give you about 54 total points.

Scenarios can contribute significantly to your faction's VP total, but the key is winning on points rather than having time expire. This makes the scenario objectives vitally important, something that many kill-happy players don't seem to understand. Winning a scenario with 500 points will grant your side 6-7 VPs for the appropriate zone. Winning because time ran out, on the other hand, only generates 2-3 VPs. Quite a difference!

PQs only give 1-2 points, which makes grinding PQs to flip a zone rather difficult and not especially efficient. PQ grind should only be considered if you just cant seem to get those last few VPs to lock the zone, or there is major overabundance of players on your side in the zone.

Skirmishes between players in the zone seem to contribute almost nothing to the VP total. Occasionally you will see a 1 or 2 point gain as the result of a large battle, but that's pretty rare.

The bulk pressure of locking a zone still seems to rely on scenarios. And as a result, scenarios are not always the casual, quick fun that they are in the lower tiers. And remember, scenarios only affect VPs for the pairing they are in, so if you're trying to lock a zone, it's best to queue for only scenarios in the pairing that you want to lockdown. Unfortunately, this relies of the other side also queuing for that scenario, but there are usually enough players choosing the queue all option to make it work. Supposedly, if the other side never tries to join the scenarios and you have enough people queued to get it started, your side will still get a few VPs, but I'm not exactly sure how this works.

In my experience, one of the best ways to lock a zone is to first win a bunch of scenarios to push your side's VP total up. If your opponents control the keeps, so much the better. It is unlikely they will notice your point creeping upwards unless you take a keep from them. If you can reach 40 or so VPs without controlling any objectives or keeps in the zone, then you're pretty much set. Run out and grab all the points of interest as quickly as possible, running a scenario or two at the same time to buffer your VPs and keep VP point decay from setting in too much.

To assist in your zone-locking attempts, I recommend installing an addon or two that will give you more information about the Victory Point progression. I use Realm Status and War Effort, myself.

War Effort is a nice addon that shows a window with basic info about all the T4 zones, including current VP count and keep status.

Realm Status is dual-featured. It has a window with VP info about every zone, and it also has popup windows that notify you about changes in VPs for the Tier 4 zones. I almost never look at the main window, but I love the popup notifications. By keeping an eye on these, I can generally get a good idea of whats happening in each zone without actually being there, which makes it easier to see when the RvR focus needs to be moved to a different pairing