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Archive for July, 2007

Switching games

July 31, 2007 1 comment

I recently decided to cancel my Everquest 2 account, I think for the 4th time now. As for game mechanics, I think EQ2 is a neat game and it has lots of features. There is a wide variety of classes and there are a number of fun quests. The game has lots going for it.

But I currently do not have any people to play with and in my previous comebacks to EQ2 the guilds and groups I joined were too much focused on raids or high level content for my taste. In low level and mid level group it was mostly to maximize xp, farm master spells from named mobs or just do some heritage quests as quickly as possible. Neither has been particularly interesting for me. And with EQ2 only being number 2 on my list of MMOGs I spend time on (City of Heroes/Villains has the top spot), there was not much meaningful time in there. So I leave the game again.

This is a problem not only with Everquest 2, but with other “oldies” I have jumped into again. Most players are focused on high level, end/elder game content and if they have lower level characters they tend to rush them through the lower level content in order to get to the high level parts ASAP.

This actually makes me appreciate City of Heroes/Villains and the “no end game, make alts” approach the game has. It is easy to group and have fun at pretty much any level and at lower level there is usually a mixture of new players, those that have played for a while and the real veterans grouping together.

Lord of the Rings Online has been on hold for quite a while also. I did preorder the game and paid the 6-month option, so there is no need to cancel that game yet. At the end of this 6-month period I will probably take a peek again and see if the subscription will be worth extending.

However, I did start to play Guild Wars again. So far I have actually bought all three reelased Guild Wars campaigns – Prophecies, Factions and Nightfall. But I never played any of them for more than a few hours before I got tired of it and my highest character in there is level 7, and a couple others in level 3-5 range. I decided to give it another try though and started a new character, a dervish – no secondary yet. I only play a few hours per week at most, and will see if this will have any more staying power this time. The game should fit reasonably well with a casual playstyle and make the time useful and fun in shorter time periods, at least that is my hope. We will see.

A seamless world or one world? Or a Google MMOG?

July 26, 2007 1 comment

Zones in MMOGs can be annoying – at least when passing from one zone to the other and the games shows some zone loading screen. Games like World of Warcraft has removed annoyance factor from the user experience and the world appears seamless, regardless of the actual structure beneath – the technological borders are more hidden and there are no zone loading screens.

The many worlds/realms/shards that exists for many of the popular MMOG titles can also be an annoyance factor. If you and your friends have not created your characters in the same world, you cannot play together. If people can all synchronize within their groups where to play, then it all works out. But often people may not be that synchronized – one may start to play at different times and perhaps not knowing about each others characters initially.

Some games provide a character transfer service for a fee, which at least partially can accomodate such issues. But if there are multiple friends spread out on a number of servers, chances are slim that all these people may synchronize their location, especially if they belong to different guilds and groups in each world. And with some people you might just want to play a bit every now and then, but might not be that frequent to movivate a transfer from one world to another.

Games like EVE Online and Guild Wars essentially provide one world experiences and basically everyone playing the game could hook up with each other. These games have lots of zones or instances of zones though, again technical borders showing themselves.

If you had a choice of a seamless world experience, but many isolated copies of that world, or a single world experience with many zones, what would you choose? All other things being equals.

Personally I think I would definitely go for the one world experience, unless the zoning was really annoying. The ability to hook up with anyone anywhere is worth more than a slightly better world immersion.

In practice all other things are not equal, so how important would these factors be – seamless world multiples copies, or one world with zones?Many MMOGs today does not provide either option – they have experienced zone borders and they have multiple isolated copies of their worlds.

One might also ask – why would I have to choose between them, why can’t I have the best of both worlds? So far, as with much else, the current technology sets limits and compromises will have to be made. But technology advances also and what was not possible a couple of years back or was not commercially viable then might be more viable today or in a near future.

When it comes to technological advances in massive scale distributed computing, a number of the MMOG companies like SOE, NCSoft and Blizzard have likely accumulated a fair share of experience in this area, running their games. Their server farms have likely 1000s of computers running their games, with at least a decent amount of uptime and tuned to keep operational costs low.

They are however dwarfed by giants like Google. The Google platform were at some point estimated by external sources to consist of over 450000 servers. Looking at the type of people working at Google, research papers they have published etc one might conclude they have a fair amount of smart people in the area of distributed computing. While initially being just a search engine, they are expanding in other areas and providing other services that takes advantage of their immense distributed platform.

I would not be surprised if Google at some point turns their eye towards online gaming and the MMOGsphere. If anyone has the means to set up a platform for hosting games on a really massive scale it is them. They probably do not have all the know-how of all the old players in the field, but what they don’t have they can probably buy.

The bright star is gone and the night rises

July 25, 2007 Comments off

About a week ago I deleted a dominator character I had on the villain side, a level 22 with mind control and psi assault powers. I love playing dominators and mind/psi is a good power combination for a dominator, but still this was the character I choose among the 12 available to make room for a new character.

The problem with him was that I already 5 other domainators covering all the powers available. He had no background description and a name that I could not easily associate with a good story either – he was named after a star, Suhail Hadar, which means “bright star of the ground” in Arabic.

With 11 villains and 1 hero on that server, I wanted to create a character on hero side instead. So born is Baron Nuit, an aristocrat from the 15th century who has prolonged his life through the studies of magic and continues to hunt down bandits after wrongdoings to his family – a black knight. (A broadsword + dark armor scrapper).

So far I have had quite a good time with the good baron and for a change I have spent most of the time playin hero side – usually my villains get most of the attention.

Although this will change with the now release Issue 10, where the majority of new content is of level 35+ and I got 3 dominators eligable for that. More on the invasion later.

Categories: City of Heroes

Is your computer up to it?

July 20, 2007 Comments off

I came across the link in one of the forums at The Older Gamers – it is a site which will check your system and if it is good enough to play any of the games that can be selected from a long list.

System Requirements Lab

The result is presented with info if your system passes minimum and recommended requirements and with much you pass (or fail) and if you fail, what you need to upgrade. It is a quite neat feature. A potential problem is that it is likely based on numbers the developer of the game has provided – as long as this is an accurate representation it is just fine, but otherwise…

I did run the test for a couple of games I have played and some others. For most MMOG games I tested, my system passes the test with flying colours for both minimum and recommanded. That includes the City of-games (no surprise), Everquest 2 (well, not on higher settings…), Vanguard (excuse me? I’d beg to differ),
SWG, Auto Assault, FFXI, LoTRO etc.

Not many future games there, only Age of Conan as far as I could see. That was also the one MMOG that I only met the minimum requirements and not the recommeded – would have to get Vista and a better graphics card in that case.

Categories: MMO Games

Characters without a server

July 19, 2007 1 comment

NCSoft/Cryptic recently announced that they would start testing character transfer and character rename service on the test servers. Nice to have definitely, but not anything revolutionary.

However, the latter part where they say that they are considering making character server-less is however a more interesting topic. Basically a character would not be limited to a single server/realm/world as it is now, but rather be able to enter any available server.

That would perhaps be something similar to Guild Wars, although there would be plenty of common outdoor zones as well obviously. I like the idea and hope they will pull that off.

A concern may of course be – how many character slots will there be in that case? Currently an account can have 12 slots per server if you have both villains/heroes – 8 slots if one only has one of them. Many people have filled their slots on more than one server and would probably not like a reduction in available slots and be required to delete characters.

I am quite sure Cryptic is aware of this though and my guess is that they would allow more slots in this case, although that would perhaps be associated with a fee. Everquest 2 has sort of done that and Final Fantasy XI has that model also, that you paid extra for any additional characters you added.

They could also still keep the server association as it is today, but with the difference that the associated server is only the default location for the character.

Either way, I think it is good that they are considering such a change. After all, with global chat channels and auction houses also being cross-server, server-less characters is a fairly logical step to continue with.

Categories: City of Heroes

Visual emote aid

July 17, 2007 Comments off

Many MMOGs have sets of emotes to make the characters do certain things other than hitting critters in the head. Plenty of games have guides or lists which describes the available emotes available in each game.

But in most cases the lists are just that – no or minimal indication what an emote looks like. Fortunately for City of Villains/Heroes, Mantid’s animated emote guide provides that extra info – animations for each emote available so one can look up different emotes and see what they looks like without logging in and go through all the emotes and test them to figure out which does what. A very nice added element! It even has a choice wheather one wants Mantid himself or Ghost Widow to show the emotes 😉

Categories: City of Heroes

Heading home

July 14, 2007 Comments off

Today is the last day of the vacation in Iceland, early tomorrow morning the flight goes back home. No specific activities scheduled for today, just strolling around in lovely Reykjavik and doing nothing pretty much – along with the rest of the population that sits outside in the street cafes/bars, enjoying the sun, a cold beer or some coffee.

The weather has been sunny and nice pretty much the whole time, with some shorter exceptions. Definitely better than I excepted, neither my rain jacket nor the umbrella has been utilized. Iceland is a lovely country and many parts of the scenery would have been nice even with a bit bad weather. There will definitely be a future visit to Iceland again. It is a bit pricey though.

Nevertheless, it will be good to be in a proper home again rather than a hotel room.

Categories: Uncategorized

NPC story development

July 8, 2007 Comments off

How many NPCs that you have interacted with in various MMOGs can you say you remember by name and what their story was? What were their likes and dislikes and what made them tick?

For many MMOGs I have played, I can barely remember any names of the NPCs or much of the story line that surrounded them. Whatever made them tick and why they wanted my help has just vanished to some distant corner of a remote synapse in the brain. If I remember anything, it may perhaps be where an NPC was located and what he/she wanted me to do, but often the reason behind it, why I did it, is long forgotten.

For many movies and books I can remember similar details much better, so it is not just part of an early case of senility – at least I like to think that…

Most of the NPC stories I do remember from MMOGs are currently from City of Villains. One obvious reason is that this is the MMOG that I have spent most time in during the past year. But I also think that some of the NPC stories have had a better job at being developed than i a number of other MMOGs.

I do remember Seer Marino and her concern for fate of her brother Paulo and my assistance there. I distinctly remember Timothy Raymond and his memory loss and weird way of talking and my eagerness to find out why the aliens presumably had abducted him. Being a villain, I still found Westin Phipps be a quite despicable character operating under cover as a guardian angel, seemingly helping the poor, but destroying their lives when he got a chance. And chatting with Doc Buzzsaw made me smile, a bit of a polite lady underneath the cover of a bloody successor to Dr Frankenstein.

Perhaps if I stop playing CoV for a while I will forget these as well. But I think the game has done a fairly good job at developing characters that one might remember, more so than with a number of other MMOGs.

Categories: MMO Games

More media cross-overs

July 8, 2007 Comments off

Continuing on the subject of the previous post, MMOGs and media cross-overs:

While I have been a bit negative and sceptic about some cross-overs into the MMOG space, there is of course an obvious benefit from it – you do not have to invent the world, its lore and how it fits together from scratch. You already have a framework which makes sense and have had some recognition and success in other media. This will obviously save some time and work and you would have an easier job with marketing. It will obviously also cost some money to use that framework and lore, so I think the main attraction may be to save time and possibly make marketing a bit easier.

I n the previous post I said that I think they framework and and lore have to be developed further with the MMOG space in mind, not just try to fit the existing lore within the technical framework of an MMOG. In an MMOG there will not just be story telling, but also more of story enabling. The player is part of the story – it is just not told/shown to the player, but also experienced by the player and the player is interacting with it. It is a richer environment in a way than many other media.

In movies and theater plays there is generally just a few hours at most to tell a complete story – while the format allows for multiple senses to be used to forward the story, there is a limited time and depth that can be utilised. A book will have more limits on the sensory usage, but will have more time to develop characters and the story. Neither are particularly interactive with the audience – although exceptions do exist in theater plays of course.

TV-series and comic books have a mixed situation – they must tell some stories within a more limited time than movies, plays and books, but have on the other hand the ability to develop long reaching story arcs over considerable time.

I think the latter is something that probably is somewhat easier to fit within a conversion to MMOG space than other media. An MMOG will have short stories (typically quests/missions or a series of quests/missions), but can also bigger stories going on and fitting in with the world and its progress. The lore is likely covering many angles and types of stories already, providing a better foundation to build from. There is still the shift from non-interactive media to interactive, persistent media, but at least there the framework itself would likely be easier to continue development in the MMOG space with.

Categories: MMO Games

MMOGs and media cross-overs

July 7, 2007 Comments off

Is taking the lore and story lines from other media and adapting it to the MMOG sphere a successful approach?

There has been a few attempts so far – Star Wars Galaxies, Matrix Online and Lord of the Ring Online comes to mind. The two former mainly coming from the movie business and the latter from fantasy litterature.

The Star Wars and Matrix efforts have probably less than the expected playerbase today. Lord of the Ring Online seem to be do fairly good at least, but I think it is still to early to judge.

There are some more coming up, like Marvel Universe Online, Star Trek Online and Stargate Worlds and probably a few more which I do not know about of have forgotten. Then we have some that might fall somewhere in between, like God & Heroes which is based on perhaps primarilyRoman mythology but likely have used some creative freedom in adjusting the stories to adapt to the gameplay.

Where am I going with this? I must say that I am a bit sceptic when it comes to media cross-overs like this, in particular when there is a strong control factor in favour of the non-MMOG medias. I think this has been the case with Star Wars Galaxies and is a situation that Turbine faces with Lord of the Ring Online as well.

Just as most movie adaptations of books often tend to be a bit of a disappointment for readers, this can probably happen when moving to MMOG space from other media as well. A key here I think is when moving story lines and lore to MMOG space is to continue to develop the lore in that space, together with the previous media. The MMOGs cannot just adapt to fit within the frames of the existing lore from the other media, it must be developed further in MMOG space.

Lucas have a quite strong control element in what happens with the Star Wars brand and I am not quite sure they have been that interested in moving the lore and developing it in the MMOG space. This is by far not the only problem SWG have had, but I think this has been a contributing factor to the troubles the game have had.

For Matrix Online I think there was an effort to develop the lore within the MMOG space as well and that game has still not been doing well. But the lore cross-over factor is just one factor.

I think the longevity of LotrO might potentially be a problem as well. JRR is not around to help develop the story line and while there is much material to work from, Turbine is still restricted in fitting it in the existing litterature. It may last for a while, but I think it may have trouble sticking around for as long as other games with original lore. Ultima Online has been around for 10 years, Anarchy Online for 6 years and Everquest falls in between. All of these games will likely be around for a couple years more. If they are shut down it is not because of the lore, but for other reasons (outdated graphics and game mechanics comes to mind).

Of the later coming games it seems that at least Stargate Worlds and Marvel Universe Online are going in the direction of developing the lore within the MMOG space, which I think is a good thing and that these games may end up successful also in the long run.

Will this be different for different markets also? In the Western hemisphere PvE and lore focused gameplay have had more success, while it is more PvP oriented in the East and possibly also less focus on the lore. Going for existing players/customers, the cross-ver development is probably being more important in the West. But will it be for future potential players/customers as well?

What do you think?