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Archive for January, 2010

Mass Effect 2 and Global Agenda on the same day! WHY?!

January 31, 2010 3 comments

Although I would very much like to make an angry post about the Vibora bay debacle, there’s little information about it at this time. To summarize: it seems that Cryptic wishes to make subscribers pay for just one additional zone, while all other games with a subscription model consider this kind of content to be included in the subscription fee. I shall save my rant for later if it is necessary. For now, there’s enough entertainment on the official Champions Online forums.

Customization in GA is limited to the head to ensure that every class has an easily recognizable silhouette.

For some stupid reason most games in Europe are put in stores on Friday while they are available in the USA from Tuesday. This meant I got my Mass Effect 2 package (XBoX Collector’s Edition) just a few hours before Global Agenda’s Headstart began. Two great games and I had to choose…

Mass Effect 2 is simply great. The strong storytelling is back, the controls are smoother than in ME1 and there is actual use for the sniper rifle. Personally, I could never use it effectively in ME1 compared to other weapons, but perhaps that was just me. I got dragged in the story from the start and normally I would not have stopped playing.

However, I also wished to listen to the last Blue Plz! on Warcraft Radio before that station closes down. Luckily most talk shows continue in one form or another. ME2 contains too much dialog to combine with listening to radio, but radio and MMO’s fit together perfectly. Actually, limited story-driven content of MMO’s makes them work perfectly with radio and sometimes even television.

I greatly enjoyed the PvP in GA even with my medicre shooting skills (ME2 on Veteran is good challenge for me), but ME2’s story is going to take the majority of my time for now. Still, I expect to clock some serious GA hours this week as well, because there are plenty of live radio shows I wish to listen to!

Update: Several former CO PvPers have banded together in GA under the AntiVirus banner!

Honesty, apologies and recompense

January 24, 2010 1 comment

The official PvP forum in Champions Online has been filled with ‘goodbye’ posts. Normally, I detest these kind of posts, because most do not add anything to the discussion about making the game better. However, in this case several people who have been very active in the Hero Games and on the forums, even testing things on the Test Shard, have announced their leaving. Some of them had enough confidence in the game to buy 6 month or lifetime subscriptions. Their threads in the forum have been locked after a while. PvP needs a healthy amount of players to thrive and that means that CO PvP is currently on life-support.

The lack of updates on the website (the last front page item is from twelve days ago) indicates that all of Cryptic’s efforts are going to Star Trek Online. And, frankly, given the state of that game, they should. I understand that the time before the launch of a new game is hectic, especially one with a famous IP like Star Trek. I understand that it is next to impossible at this stage to get and train new people to help out with programming and bug fixes. I even understand that Cryptic’s future is dependant on the success of STO. However, I do not understand that they have not communicated about this to the Champions Online community.

Let me make something up:

The launch of STO is stretching Cryptic’s resources more than we expected. Therefore we have moved most of the CO team temporarily to STO. While there are no content updates to CO any engine fixes and new technology that we make for STO will also immediately benefit CO.We are still fully commited to Champions Online and there will be regular updates to the game again starting February with [insert moderately exciting announcement here].

As an apology to our heroic playerbase we would like to offer Open Beta keys to everyone with an active CO subscription. You will receive an e-mail about this today. Also, we will give everyone a free month.

My mock-up contained three elements: honesty, an apology and recompense.

It is probably too late to get players back on short notice. While I still love the whole theme and look of CO, Cryptic will have to regain my trust. That starts with being honest about their situation. Then they can admit they’ve been treating their players wrong by offering an apology. Recompense is not that important to me, because I have a lifetime subscription, but people who have been paying for these last few months with sparse updates and lack of bug and balance fixes deserve something, in my opinion.

Global Agenda

I bought Global Agenda, which automatically gave me beta access. After trying it for a bit, I decided that I liked the game, but I do not want to burn out my enthusiasm on beta. Contrary to my expectations, Mass Effect 2 is going to get some competition for my play time.

Star Trek Online – First impressions

January 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Blowing up Borg cubes in the tutorial

First impressions do so much, too much really. MMO’s are supposed to be deep and shouldn’t be judged until some serious time investment has been done. On the other hand, when you walk into a building and you see the cracks in the wall and feel it collapsing, should you walk on or run the hell out of there? I know what I would do. The following happened during my first Open Beta hour: I finished the tutorial while experiencing horrible lag, went to Earth Space Dock and bought a Bridge Officer. Only, I spent the credits (the combat log showed this) and the BO never appeared in my inventory or in my BO list. Of course, I had only cash to buy one BO. Then I went to do the first mission, Lost in Space, and got stuck in the instance after finishing the mission. Yes, I know how to get out of the instance by using the map screen, but the exit button should have appeared. I logged out. First impression: not good, not good at all.

The character creator is not as rich as CO's, but it is still pretty impressive

This was not really my first impression of STO since I had already clocked in some hours during Closed Beta. It was a buggy and unfinished game by then with some decent potential. The ship to ship combat is a nice departure from standard MMO combat, but Pirates of the Burning Sea had that already. The third axis added in STO barely adds anything (well, it adds confusion). Nevertheless, space combat is great fun, maybe even fun enough to compensate for all the current problems. The squad based away missions are another nice touch, but the AI made the Bridge Officers act like retarded lemmings. They actually ran into fires to attack those.

The worst offender for me was the way the map and mission direction worked: it may the setting feel low-tech! Low-tech in Star Trek! Directions in the missions where either vague or non-existent. A ground mission in which I had to find five objects had me wandering aimlessly over the map while looking for the things. My advanced tech was apparently not able to distinguish rocks from metal.

The episode missions did feel like Star Trek and there were even some nice twists and turns in the plot. The patrol missions on the other hand became repetitive quickly (fly there, kill some opponents, rinse and repeat). A better kind of mission are the Fleet Actions: large Open Missions that anyone can join. These play and feel like giant space battles. PvP on the other hand seemed decidedly unbalanced: Klingon Bird of Preys are very fast, hit hard and can cloak while attacked making them difficult to kill. They do pay for that power by having next to no shields and hull. Still, my short time in PvP did feel like more and if anything makes me buy this game it will be the PvP.

I reported lots of bugs during my play sessions, but in the end the game felt to unfinished to me to continue putting much time in. My major complaint about Champions Online is that it is too shallow. It has many features but each and every one of them, except the character creator, is quite limited. The same seems to be the case with STO. I felt it needed a solid three to six months more development time.

Fleet Actions (open missions) feel like real large scale battles

Star Trek Online has a lot of potential, but the slow reaction time on issues with CO has made me cautious and even a bit cynical of Cryptic’s abilities. It is definitely a game that I’m going to keep my eyes on, but I’ll let it mature a few months first.

The view from Earth Space Dock.

Away missions are a nice break from space

Forced Grouping

January 10, 2010 Leave a comment

MMO’s are per definition social affairs. We actually pay a price for being able to play with our people: the world becomes static and whatever we do, it will not change. In single player RPG’s like Dragon Age when we kill a dragon, it says dead and the town is saved, but it will be back every week in an MMO and the town it threatened will never be free. Blizzard solved this partly by introducing phasing content: it hides or shows certain aspects of the world depending on where you are in a quest chain, for example: building a fort starts by securing the area, then help gathering materials and then the fort is ready. However, this limits the social mechanic because people cannot see each other in the phased zone if they are in another part of the story.

Grouping is social, so social is grouping?

Social interaction can happen on several levels:

Presence: while playing you see other characters active that are not NPC’s and as such are not predictable. This makes the area less static and helps convince you that you are really in a living world.

Communication: talking to others about the world, but also about real life. However, there’s also a negative side in the form of spam.

Cooperation: playing together, trading to mutual benefit, PvP, Roleplaying

Competition: having other real people in the world is not always beneficial, there’s the risk of kill stealing, ganking, killing quest givers etc. On the other hand, fighting against real people in PvP adds a level of unpredictability and learning ability that no artificial intelligence can mimic so far.

Thus social does not mean grouping.

Flavors of grouping

I never played Everquest, but people who did told me that you could not get anywhere without a group. My first MMO was World of Warcraft and I could do most things on my own. However, the best items required playing together with others to conquer the 5man and 40man dungeons. And that made sense, because the scale of the dungeons showed that no single person would be able to fight through the armies and giant monsters that awaited there. Super heroes too a have long history of teaming up to defeat powerful foes. My characters that did not group could get adequate gear for the content they did and PvP provided its own rewards.

Playing in a group demands different skills and poses a different challenge to playing solo. If an MMO wants to have grouping at end game there should also be grouping while leveling, because otherwise the endgame will be filled with people who have no idea how to behave. The many complaints about pick-up groups in World of Warcraft are caused exactly by the fact that one can go to maximum level without ever grouping. A game should teach people to group by making it worth their while to group. WoW’s Dungeon Finder has done exactly that. The epic quest line in LOTRO does require grouping while leveling and this is fine because it is just one quest line, but everyone wants to do it, because it is truly epic.

Five heroes banded together to take down Shadow Destroyer...and I'm still the one getting hit.

On the other hand, public quests in Warhammer and in Champions Online allow a kind of non-communicative grouping: everyone in the quest area contributes to the quest objectives. The quest gets progressively more difficult and that should, in theory, let people cooperate to finish the objectives. I like the idea of public quests, but I have not noticed much coordination and communication between players most of the time. Still, I think that public quests will be the way forward, especially if more storytelling is added to them to really draw players in.

Team vs Team PvP. Playing together in a team against other players is basically the same as grouping for a dungeon.

Roleplaying is also a form of grouping. Developers cannot control where RP happens, although they can facilitate by providing locations without opponents where people can RP undisturbed.

In conclusion

Social interaction does not require grouping, but grouping allows for encounters on a larger scale and demands different skills from players. While players should not be frustrated in their progression, they will have to accept that not everything is soloable as long as they can get gear appropriate to their level of play. Playing in a team is not a skill that everyone has naturally and thus the developers have to encourage, teach and reward grouping.

Categories: General MMORPG Tags: ,

LOTRO Skirmishes for Champions, please!

January 3, 2010 1 comment

Fully scalable

Skirmishes are a new kind of instance that were added to Lord of the Rings Online as part of the Siege of Mirkwood Expansion. These are scalable event-driven instances that can be played solo or in a group. A short introduction quest has to be done at level 30 and from there on the instances can be accessed from anywhere in the world through a special panel. Skirmishes are like PvE battlegrounds from WoW and Warhammer Online in which locations (marked with banners) have to be conquered, freed or defended e.g. Siege of Gondamon is a survival style attack on the fortress city of Gondamon in which the player has to assist the defenders at the gates, while another Skirmish deals with freeing the hobbit town of Tuckborough from invading bandits and goblins. At level 65 more than ten Skirmishes are available to the player. Besides fun, these are also a great source of experience. My previously mentioned slow leveling in LOTRO has received a boost that has greatly increased my interest in playing the game for longer stretches at a time.

Not every class is able to solo well so every player has access to a special kind of pet called Soldier that is only available during Skirmishes. This Soldier can be customized to fit a role (tank, healer, melee dps, ranged dps, crowd control) and given special abilities as well as a custom look. All these options can be changed like traits for a modest fee. Characters in CO can be more all-round because of the open skill system, but something like a sidekick or NPC partner would fit the super hero setting.

Not all options are available from the start. Some are gated by level and others have to be bought with specials tokens called Skirmish marks that are gained by playing (more are gained by performing better). CO could use a mechanic with gradual rewards instead of grinding hundreds of mobs for only a cosmetic effect. People hate grinding but they do it all the time in MMO’s because the grinding is wrapped into something interesting and because there is a reward at the end. LOTRO Skirmishes have both: good content while gaining tokens for future rewards.

Fully customizable

Why Skirmishes would fit in Champions Online

There are several reasons why Skirmishes would fit better in CO than more lairs:

Flavor

Super heroes are often reactive. They respond to a crises. Even a proactive team like The Authority waited (most of the time) for trouble to start before they got involved. Because superheroes often react to crises solo or in a small team, the instanced Skirmishes would fit the setting as well. And, frankly, stopping a giant monster on your own feels a lot more heroic than doing it with the other 99 people in the main world zone.

Replayable Group/Solo content

There is too little group content in CO, but, to be honest, there is also to little solo content. Scalable content fills both holes and people are not dependant on others if they really want to run a certain scenario. The Nemesis instances already scale so the technology seems to be in place. By getting a token system in place, the content is replayable.

Reuse of assets

The LOTRO Skirmishes use familiar locations like Weathertop. These places already exist in the normal world, so no/limited new artwork had to be created. If CO does something similar and cuts out, for example, a part of Millenium City, then the development time can be reduced.

They are already in the game, kind of

The crisis zones in Millenium City, The Desert and Canada are pretty close to being Skirmishes, but Stronghold Prison is the closest with its scripted assault through the levels of the prison.