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Archive for October, 2007

Seaweed in my teeth

October 26, 2007 2 comments

A while ago, two of my youngest villains (levelwise) both had a task from a Lorenzo Ansaldo, a representative for some family run business in Sharkhead Isle – the kind of business that makes you offers you cannot refuse. Being on the same account, those villains could unfortunately not cooperate in these tasks, but work on it one at a time.

The villains were my fire/fire brute Ezrail and my fire/psi dominator Flamebrain.

A do-gooder lady who called herself the Sea Witch was disrupting business in the area, which Lorenzo wanted to put a stop to. She reportedly worked with the Legacy Chain group. So, after some violent chit-chat witht he chain guys it seemed that Sea Witch had a sweetheat among the blue collar workers (The scrapyarders) in the area, called Iron Billy.

Evil work to be done, some scrapyarders were beaten up to reveal the location of Billy and then Billy himself were captured as bait, to lure out Sea Witch.

This worked out as expected and a pretty pissed off Sea Witch appeared. This puts villains in a bit delicate position. The Sea Witch is a lady which quitely literally can take one by storm, strike you down with lightning, knock you off your boots and drain your endurance – and that is on a happy day.

Sea Witch is pissed off

Playing with my brute has for the most part being like playing in”easy mode” in the game compared to my dominators – he can take a lot of beating and can deal huge amounts of damage on a good day and does not bother so much on multiple mobs attacking him at once – in fact the thrives on the situation. A dominator need to have control of the surroundings to survive, he is pretty weak, hardly any defense or damage mitigation and does not deal a whole lot of damage compared to some others.

Dominators on the other hand can potentially keep the real bad (good) ones in check and not let them unleash their anger – and taking on the Sea Witch is no exception here. Most of my dominators have not had that much issues with fighting Sea Witch, a bit challenging but doable solo or in group. And for Flamebrain it worked out pretty well.

But then comes the turn to the big “easy mode” brute…

Hi Ms Witch, feeling hot?

While Ezrail can take a lot of beating and can deal a good deal of damage, he actually has to get close to the one to beat up. And Ms Witch tends to keep many of her suitors at a distance with various means and poor Ezrail was barely able to touch her, and those attempts did not last long.

Ezrail vs Sea Witch

So what is a brutish evil villain to do? When met with a challenge in an MMORPG there are typically two ways to deal with it:

  • Get a group to beat up the culprit
  • Outlevel the adversary and then beat them up when they are to weak to resist

In City of Villains/Heroes there is also a third option:

  • Lower the difficulty setting

Now, if one were at the lowest difficulty setting, one had to resort to the means presetn in other MMORPGs. Fortunately, Ezrail had his difficulty bumped up a bit and was also close to a new level, so lowering setting and getting another level changed the conditions considerably in the brutes favor. And in the next attempt he appeared victorious.

Not a victory to brag about, but business as usuall for a man of evil – mua ha ha ha…

And of course, both villains now have the Seaweed badge to show for the accomplishment. I did not see much point in capturing the dominmator fight – while it was more successful initially, it also have less to show – locking down the enemies tend to get fights a bit one-sided – beating up on someone who does not move or do anything else, at least when playing solo.
Legacy chain backup

While I do really like the lock-them-down-and-beat-them-up aspect of dominators and they are by far my favourite archetype in the game, some simple damage bursts with a brute – especially when fire is involved – is something that I have a soft spot for occasionally and it is nice with a bit of change to the regular play styles.

Categories: MMO Games

Allhelgonadagen

October 22, 2007 Comments off

The title is the Swedish name for All Saints Day or as it is known in some English speaking countries – Halloween. In Sweden we do not have this on a fixed day, for the last 235 years it has been a floating day – the first Sunday in November.

All this pumpkin stuff is also something that we did not exibit during this day either, but in later years commercial entities have started to introduce this as a “tradition” here to be able to sell more stuff to people for a few days. Not too bad though, a bit more reason to have some fun for people at a time of the year where things tend to get a bit gloomy here.

And as always, different MMOGs take the opportunity to add some extras during this time. This year for City of Heroes/Villains, the festivities starts today and ends at noon GMT on Sunday the 4th. Which means that the festivities actually ends in the middle of our Halloween here…

I am looking forward to this years new feature, to be able to get costumes of members from the different villain groups in the game. And they of course have all the old halloween features as well from previous years. Trick or treat time!

Categories: City of Heroes

Game operator, where are the options?

October 16, 2007 1 comment

When a new MMOG is released here in the Western hemisphere, many people pretty much assume that it is going to be a subscription based game and that it will cost roughly $15/month for unlimited playtime – at bit more here in Europe usually. At least if the game is a fairly high profile title and not an translation of an Asian MMOG, which probably more would expect to be “free to play” with some in-game transactions.

The assumptions are often correct. Either you do not play the game, or you pay a single fee every month, 3 months or 6 months. All or nothing, one size fits all. The MMOG publishers are service providers, providing an entertainment service. But in many other service areas, there are multiple options available because not all customers are the same of fit the same template.

If I get a mobile phone, I can get a number of different deals from one operator. I can select to pay no montly fee at all and pay for every single minute I call. I can pay a fairly high monethly fee, but I can pretty much make as many calls as I want, or other types services I can use with my mobile phone. Or I can have a couple of options in between – get some time for free or some extra services included and pay per usage for the rest.

I can get similar types of variations on offers if I shop see what broadband operators or cable/satellite TV operators will provide me. There is also special offers if I combine different services fromt he same operator of if my household has multiple persons using the services from the same operator.

Todays subscription prices for an MMOG has risen a bit in actual numbers, it was closer to $10 a number of years back. But other than that there is not much change other than that some games use the “free to play” option. Still, there is generally not much choice for a specific game – one size fits all.

I really do not believe that the game companies has done extensive studies and came to the conclusion that $15/month fixed fee is what pretty much everyone is happy with, if they play the game at all – regardless of what the game is and who plays it.

So why not offer multiple choices to use the entertainment services that is provided by a game operator? People may play one game or multiple games at once, they may spend at most a few hours per week at most or may spend as much as a full-time job or something in between. They may be the only one in the household playing or the whole family may be playing. There are lots of combinations and lots of opportunity to make different offerings that can make a customer feel that the operator has something to offer that suits them.

A problem here may be longevity. I have seen some comments saying that a typical MMOG players stays around 3-6 months with a single game. That is probably a bit shorter than people usually stay with their mobile, broadband or TV operators. Would it be worth it to make many different offerings?

If the only offer is a single game, then maybe not. But if there are many different games available chances are that people may stick around to play other games available also.

It has not have to be restricted to just games as well – strike deals with other types of operators. E.g. I set up an account with my mobile operator for a certain fee and get 10 hours worths of play time with an MMOG of choice (from a certain selection). Perhaps I get ring tones associated with the game as well and can hook up to guild chat through instant messaging on the phone. Probably still some time away from that type of synergy, but at least some baby steps here would be nice.

Another problem may be if the support systems used are up to the challenge here. Game companies have been switching from being pure developers and software producers/distributors to being service operators. Versatile support systems for billing and customer management may have not been on the top of the list. I suspect there could be some home grown stuff used here that may not be able to cope with that much flexibility that some applications dedicated for it may provide. But that is just speculation, I’d be happy to be proven wrong there.

A number of years ago the customer base was small enough and the number of games small enough that not too much effort was needed to think about what may be suited for different customer groups. Hopefully this entertainment segment will grow enough that the companies must think more about this – and not just whether a single game should be $15/month or “free to play”.

Categories: MMO Games

Polish kills MMOGs?

October 13, 2007 12 comments

Polished games are certainly a potentially important factor for successful MMOGs, but may it also provide a risk to kill a certain segment of this market?

This past year there has been a number of new MMOGs being worked on that have had their release dates pushed back. Since Blizzard launched a very successful and polished MMOG it seems many companies think they need to get their games polished before releasing them. This has been in particular emphasized by the relative failure of another MMOG from Sigil, which showed a distinct lack of polish at release.

Many of the MMOGs that are now getting close to release and postponing it were probably already in progress and/or had had their budget expectations set before the Blizzard polish mantra entered the mindset of many of the developers. So they have to extend their financial constraints which may potentially be a challenge to convince investors that it will still be a good idea and that in the end the game will still make a lot of money.

It seems Perpetual was not on the lucky end of that bargaining game and as a result Gods & Heroes may never see the light of day.

Now, for any new games that concept/design/development work have just started on or will start, taking the polishing time into account should not be an afterthought and investors should be aware of the time and effort involved, assuming people make reasonable estimates. This likely mean that investors need to consider longer time to release and more investment to get there. More polish should be one factor can make the game successful, so that would reduce the risk of failure.

A polished game that will take 4-6 years to develop can certainly make a lot of money if it works out well and it may not need to get close to Blizzard numbers to get some money back to the investors. But when will the game reach break even? After 1 year, 3 years or 5 years? How long can it be expected to give any significant return back and at what point will it merely be enough to keep it running with some minor updates?

The idea of investing money and perhaps wait 6-8 years before it pays off is certainly fine, as long as it does – or if it flops the amount of loss can be reduced. So why would investors really invest in such MMOGs then? The question is if there are better options for them to invest in or not.

The key part that MMOGs are expanding and taking advantage of is people playing together in various ways, which in general has a huge potential. But this does not only include big budget MMOGs – there are lots of opportunity and potential market for “lighter” multiplayer options.

Lokk at all the Barbie Online, Club Penguin, stardoll.com etc. Users in millions, development cost and time to market a fraction of what big MMOGs require. They may not get as much money back per user, but cost and risk is lower and results come quicker (success or failure). One genre of game does not exclude the other, but I doubt that there will be a steady increase of big MMOG titles. Rather more smaller, perhaps less comprehensive offerings.

Maybe also also more work on expanding existing titles with content, but then the games need to be redesigned with a different kind of progression of the world as such. Many of the aging MMOGs suffer from a pattern of thinking that seem to be a remiscient of the design of single player RPG titles and not evolving persistent worlds.

In the area of software development methodologies are changing to make development more agile and responsive to changes in requirements and more adaptive to the outside world. Can and will this also include big MMOG releases at some point? And what business models will these require?

Categories: MMO Games

Gods & Heroes cancelled

October 10, 2007 Comments off

The Gods & Heroes web site has closed down with a message saying that Perpetual will focus their efforts on their PEP (Perpetual Entertainment Platform) and Star Trek Online and that Gods & Heroes have been put on indefinite hold.

I can’t say that I am entirely surprised by this, but I think they could handle it a bit better. It was not that long ago they announced that they had started to sell pre-orders of the game and most likely some people have been buying these, just to get to see this.

While the game did have some work do be done before being ready for prime time, it will still have been in a more ready state than Star Trek Online is at judging from info seen on the games. Obviously they and/or their investors consider the Star Trek a much stronger name to attract future customers than roman mythology – including any features that is pushed for the games.

Categories: Gods & Heroes

Improved crafting and start for player economy in Tabula Rasa

October 6, 2007 Comments off

Richard Garriott (General British) recently announced the content update Operation 0: Fair Trade for Tabula Rasa. Since it is supposed to be added around launch and has the number zero, it is probably a bit wrong to call it a content update though.

Either way, the crafting part is changing so that it is more flexible than it is in the current beta when it comes to modifying weapons and armor. What the new system will allow is to take any weapon or armor with an enhancement and decompose it into the core weapon/armor and the enhancement parts. These enhancement parts (will appear as recipes I assume) can then be used on any other item.

Each item can be enhanced up to four levels of a specific enhancement, which can come in different levels (corresponding to the tiers perhaps?). Dropped recipes can be used as before, but will not only modifyexisting enhancements they can also be added.

To support this they are also creating a base for a player economy with the Military Surplus facilities, which will allow players to buy and sell stuff. No auctions or consignment at this point though, so it will still be a bit limited probably. But it is good to see that they are at least adding this around launch.

With this announement and others about content updates for Tabula Rasa I think they probably want the game to be released before Christmas shopping starts and that they think it is good enough that some rough edges may be tolerable.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Blizzard folks go NCSoft, which goes into space

October 5, 2007 Comments off

NCSoft provided some recent updates on two of their game studios. One is a previously unnamed studio in Orange County Californ is named Carbine Studios, which consists of a number of former Blizzard employees, as well as people with background from Fallout, City of Heroes and Asheron’s Call. Judging from the art on the web site they are working on some fantasy title.

In Austin NCSoft has a different studio, Spacetime studios, working on an original SciFi space MMOG. They seem to be at the end of the preproduction stage where they have built tools and other things needed to acyually start develop the game content. Both seem to be filling up their ranks and are seeking developers.
Personally I am not so sure I would be attracted to yet another fantasy game, but a space MMOG would definitely be something I would look forward to.

Categories: MMO Games

Tabula Rasa end game

October 4, 2007 Comments off

I cannot say that I care too much about end game content in games I have barely started playing, but some people do. There is a note on the Tabula Rasa web site about elder game, where they mention that chracters can basically get their own mechs at level 40 (that I do like) and at 50 one will be able to command their own squad of NPCs. The squad and their abilities will increase as the character earns command points.

There also seem to be some variation on raids coming, called Flashpoints. And of course the PvP stuff, Clan warfare.

None of this is in the game yet, so these are just teasers for the future.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Character transfer and rename of heroes and villains

October 4, 2007 1 comment

Today some news was posted at the City of Villains web site that I have waited a long time for now – character transfer and rename is live – for real this time! Finally I can bring together all my favourite villains to the same server.

The cost for a server transfer is 8.99 Euro. Done two transfers now, worked quick and easy and I could keep the names of the characters.

Categories: City of Heroes

City of Heroes/Villains – Issue 11 update

October 3, 2007 1 comment

NCSoft/Cryptic has released some information about the next update for City of Heroes/Villains – Issue 11: A Stitch in time.

A time travel option provides access to new content for heroes and villains that happened before the current timeline in Pagaon City and the Rogue Isles. It also provides the ability to go back to existing story arcs that a player/character may have missed and outleveled. The character level will be adjusted so to keep the encounters challenging.

In the lower levels there is generally more story arcs and missions than a character can play, since they will outlevel them before everything is covered. It sounds like a nice feature to be able to go back to do those.

Some more powersets are added for melee type archetypes (dual blades and willpower) and also the ability to customize the weapons used by certain powers. This is also a nice thing and I would certainly be interested in modifyingsome weapons that gets wielded by some of my characters. Invention sets gets another level of rarity – this sounds like something that will become very expensive to get – or very lucky…

Sounds like some nice additions and I guess this is something we will see released in perhaps 2-3 months time.

Categories: City of Heroes