Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Archeage Impressions

Archeage headstart was this past weekend. Recalling that I had (perhaps foolishly) bought a Founder pack, I decided to join the fun.

The launch hasn't been the smoothest launch, but it also hasn't been the worst launch either. There are pretty long queues at the moment, but I think they will die down after the initial rush.

There's a somewhat similar situation with land. Archeage is a "sandboxy" game, with crafting and farming right in the world. It's a non-instanced world too, which is something I have greatly missed. In any case, the open world means that land is valuable and can be used up. Right now, it's almost impossible to find space for a small farm in first few zones.

On the one hand, that's a bit annoying. But it does make the world feel more like a world. Land also has taxes that need to be paid, so I'm fairly sure some plots will start to be freed up in a few weeks.

Personally, I decided to skip the crafting, farming, and trading. I just focused on the questing. This may have been the wrong decision. The non-combat parts of the game are what make Archeage special.

The questing is decent enough. It's very clearly an Asian import. The main story, at least the Nuian one, is actually kind of interesting so far.

Combat feels good. It's tab-target, not action. But a lot of abilities put debuffs on mobs, and then have combos if a debuff is present. So you can figure out and set up chains of abilities, each combo-ing off the last one. It feels quite impressive when you find a decent chain.

The skill system is similar to Rift's, but without classes. Instead you pick three trees from a set of 10 or more. Then you spend skill points to pick up abilities in each tree. Each combination of three has a special name. I went Battlerage + Defense + Vitalism, giving me a class of Paladin (naturally!). I'm using a charge, a filler, and a whirlwind attack from Battlerage, an HP buff and a shield bash from Defense, and a Heal-over-Time from Vitalism.

You can spend gold to change your trees, so you can try many different builds on one character.

Still, though, there's nothing super amazing about Archeage's questing and combat. If you've played any MMO since WoW, you've probably seen these mechanics.

Other than that the only interesting things so far are your mount, a boat, and a glider. The mount levels as you ride it places, and unlocks abilities so you can fight from horseback. As for boats, you get a small rowboat at level 10 or so. It handles well, and feels like a small rowboat. The glider is pretty interesting too. Gliding is fun, though it's annoying when you're trying to glide to a specific location and you're still too high up when you reach it.

As I noted above, it's the non-combat aspects which are the main hook for Archeage, and unfortunately, it's the part of the game that I haven't really gotten to try out. On the whole, Archeage is worth trying. However, if a player doesn't get hooked by the crafting and farming, or possibly the PvP around those activities, I don't think she will stay. So far at least, the PvE alone isn't enough to satisfy.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Upcoming Schedule for Warlords of Draenor

Warlords of Draenor is being released in a few months. Since I'm not actually playing WoW these days, I've lost track of exactly when things are occurring. So I thought I'd list all the upcoming events that I know about.

Oct ??Patch 6.0 released. No formal release date yet, but it's usually about a month before the expansion proper.
Nov 7-8Blizzcon
Nov 13Warlords of Draenor released.
Nov 21 - Jan 6WoW's 10th Anniversary. Remastered Molten Core (for level 100) and Southshore vs Tarren Mill (for level 90-100).
Dec 2Rated PvP season starts.
Dec 2Normal and Heroic Highmaul raid opens.
Dec 9Raid Finder and Mythic Highmaul opens.

I'm really happy that raids are not being opened right away. At least there will be a few weeks so people can take their time levelling.

It seems like a short time between the start of the expac and the 10th Annversary. However, you only have to do the content once to get all the rewards, so that should make it a lot easier. As well, Blizzard does have data on how fast people normally level.

Still, the holiday season occurs at the same time. I expect that Blizzard to be monitoring what percentage of the playerbase has done the anniversary content. My guess is that they will extend the availability of the content to the end of January.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Old Republic: Forged Alliances and Conquests

Forged Alliances

Patch 2.10 for Star Wars: The Old Republic came out today. It contained the third part of the Forged Alliances story, which turns out be a prelude to the next expansion.

The tactical flashpoint was well done. It seemed a little bit easier than the previous flashpoint, but felt like the correct difficulty for a tactical (no Trinity). The previous Manaan flashpoint was a touch too difficult.

The upcoming expansion storyline looks to be very interesting. It's actually pretty hard to talk about without spoilers, and as this is Day One of the new patch, I'll avoid them.


All in all, TOR is good shape these days. Since the introduction of Conquests and decorations, we've been doing a lot more random stuff as a guild, including flashpoints and old operations. Today we did a random guild run of the Story Mode Karagga's Palace operation, just because it was worth 4000 conquest points.

It's sort of odd though. Conquests are just a list of existing activities with points and a leaderboard attached. Yet that's enough to get us doing things we never did before. Having the list of activities rotate from week to week was an excellent design.

As well, because the guild earns points for the leaderboard, the competition is guild versus guild, and that encourages the formation of guild groups.

Perhaps people want to group up, but just "to have fun" is not a good enough reason. Perhaps all that's really needed from the devs is just an excuse to do stuff.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Wildstar Woes

Apparently Wildstar isn't doing too well. It's losing players at a rapid rate and is switching to a single megaserver.  There's a 700+ comment thread at Massively discussing the issue. Massively blames it on the focus on raids and very difficult endgame content.

It's interesting to watch this from outside. I was in the Wildstar beta, but did not get the game at launch.

However, I'm not so sure that raiding and endgame are to blame, precisely. Sure, it's where a lot Massively readers--who are core MMO gamers--washed out. But my rule of thumb is that there are people who are ten times better than you are, and people who are ten times worse than you are. If the core MMO gamer group washed out at endgame, where do you think the casuals washed out?

I think the basic leveling game was too difficult. I actually wrote a post on the Beta forums when I was just level 15 or so, saying "I don't think I'm good enough for the game you are making." I found that just basic leveling quests in the Wildstar beta required a lot of intensity and avoiding telegraphs. I think having that reaction--for a fairly experienced gamer--at level 15 was a bad sign, because the game would only get harder.

Personally, I think it's instructive that two of MMO success stories of the past decade, WoW and FFXIV, have featured very simple leveling.

I also think Wildstar suffers from the "veto" problem. Let's say that you have a group of friends who want to go out for lunch. You have to find a place which all of you can agree to, or at least a place that no one cares enough to veto. I think Wildstar was different enough--both in tone and mechanics--that many groups had one individual feel strongly enough to veto it. And that means that the entire group falls away from the game.

Of course, though, this is just my view as an outsider and beta tester. Perhaps those of you who played the game at launch or over the last few months have a different perspective.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Log Horizon

There are many shows and books about people trapped in a virtual reality: Sword Art Online, Tad Williams' Otherland, The Matrix, many Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes about the holodeck, etc. Most of the time these stories share a common element: if you die in the virtual reality, you die in the real world. Thus the story usually revolves about the protagonist trying to avoid the dangers of the virtual world.

Log Horizon is different. It is about a bunch of people trapped in an MMO, but with all the MMO mechanics intact. This includes resurrection when people die. This immediately removes the default danger of stories like this, and results in a far more unique show.

The basic plot is that on the eve of the latest expansion of the MMO Elder Tales, which has been running for eight years, all the players wake up in a world which is identical to the world of Elder Tales. They wake up as their characters, and can access all their abilities. They're just physically "in" the world, and have no way to leave.

The protagonist is Shiroe. He's an Enchanter, a non-healer support class that specializes in control, buffs, and debuffs. The show follows him and his group as he comes to terms with the new situation, and as he and others attempt to build a society in this new world.

The thing about this show is that the writer clearly plays MMOs. For example, one plot thread involves several newbies. In Elder Tales, characters below level 30 get an XP potion each day to help them level. So one guild tricks a bunch of newbies into joining them. They then imprison the newbies and force them give up their XP potions each day, and spending their days crafting. The guild then sells the XP potions to the highest level characters who are rushing to get to the new level cap.

When I saw that plot thread, I knew that the writer understood the MMO gamer subculture.

Another element the show does very well is showing how MMO players are different from one another, through the guilds. There are the crafting guilds, the merchant guilds, the small elite guilds, the large zerg guilds, and the small friends & family guilds. Guilds are a very important part of MMOs, and are a very important part of this show.

The final major element in Log Horizon are the NPCs. The NPCs, called the People of the Land, are the real inhabitants of the world. They're like normal people, who live and die. But now they have to contend with these immortal (and bored) adventurers.

The key thing about this show is that it is not about a virtual reality, but is about an MMO. The game mechanics are important, especially the Trinity and group mechanics. In fact, I rather think Log Horizon uses the Trinity as a metaphor for how society should work.

Now then, Log Horizon isn't a perfect show. It's low-action, though there is some. It has a lot of dialogue, and can be fairly slow. It's also Japanese anime, which means its sensibilities are slightly askew from Western ones. The pacing is a little bit off, especially in the last three or so episodes.

However, overall Log Horizon is a very good show, and nails the MMO subculture in a way that no other show or book has.

Log Horizon is available at Crunchyroll. You can watch it for free (with ads). A second season will be airing in the Fall.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Letting Go?

Green Armadillo has a good post on Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings' talk about the lifecycle of the MMO player.

I think I'm with Green Armadillo in not really understanding what Jennings is trying to get at. Yes, people will get tired of your game and move on. But I'm not sure what advice he is offering the developers. Is it just emotional advice? Don't take it to heart when a player quits after several years? Assume your MMO will die after 4-5 years and plan accordingly?

The only other interpretation I can make is that Jennings is telling devs to avoid doing excessive work, or avoid trying for "Jesus features", which you think will keep people playing.

Maybe he is trying to say that an MMO developer should concentrate on their core gameplay. For example, if your game is about PvE group content like dungeons and raids, maybe you should stick to dungeons and raids, even if you know that people will eventually tire of it and move on. Maybe he's saying that you should not spend time and effort developing new gameplay modes like Pet Battles or Galactic Starfighter to reignite a player interest.

I don't know if that is what Scott Jennings is saying. I don't know if avoiding new gameplay modes is a good idea or not. Or if Jennings is trying to get at something completely different.

If I could give gamers, programmers, and developers one piece of advice when it comes to talks and posts, it is to be blunt and obvious. Assume that we the audience are stupid and hit us over the head with your thesis. Don't allude to it or try to be clever.

Monday, September 01, 2014

More on Gevlon's "4 fun ppl" Theory

A couple of commenters expressed skepticism about Gevlon's "4 fun ppl" theory. I thought I'd elaborate on what I find most compelling about it, compared to Penny Arcade's GIFT theory.

The first different part is "normal people" versus "basement dwellers". In the GIFT formula, everyone is a potential bad guy. This means that there is no hope of removing the bad element, because you'd have to remove everyone. But if Gevlon is correct, it is a specific subgroup of people who are cancerous. That means that you can target that subgroup specifically. As well, instead of binding the entire player base with rules, you can set specific privileges for specific groups.

For example, let's take vote-kicking. Under GIFT, we have to hedge vote-kicks with lots of defensive rules, because any normal person might abuse it. But under 4FP, it's only a tiny subgroup of people who abuse vote-kicking. So a better solution might be to have a broadly available vote-kick, but certain people are simply not allowed to vote-kick at all.

The second different part is "anonymity" versus "lack of clear rules/authority". Under GIFT, to clean up the internet, we have to remove anonymity and link virtual identity with real world identity. But a lot of people like anonymity and even feel safer with it. It is very unlikely that we will get rid of anonymity on the Internet anytime soon.

Under 4FP, anonymity isn't an issue. 4FP is perfectly fine with pseudo-anonymity. As well, removing anonymity is no guarantee that people will behave. I think Gevlon massed enough evidence that some people behave badly even when they are not anonymous.

However, I do think there is a partial link between anonymity and lack of rules. Very often, anonymity signals that a lack of clear authority exists.

I admit that I like Gevlon's 4FP theory because I believe in Broken Windows theory and the idea that people respond to their environment and push the edges of that environment. By setting the bounds of acceptable behavior closer than the absolute maximum required by law, I think it's more likely that the resulting community will be acceptable.