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Archive for November, 2007

Issue 11 is live

November 28, 2007 Comments off

The new content update for City of Heroes/Villains, Issue 11 – A stitch in time has gone live today. This is the 3rd content update this year and has some quite nice new features. Follow the link above to see more details.

This will probably mean a bit less Tabula Rasa activity for me and also the hard decision on character managment – all 12 slots on the main server I am playing on are occupied, but I also want to create at least one new character to take advantage of the new powersets available. Some characters might be moved to a different server, or even considering using a second account for more characters.

Categories: City of Heroes

The sense of humor

November 24, 2007 1 comment

How important is humor in the MMOGs you play and what kind of humor should that be? Often we divide MMOGs into areas such as fantasy, SciFi and other themes, or perhaps if the experience is somewhat directed or more of a pure sandbox style.

But would not also how serious the game and its theme take itself or allows people to see the funny side of some thing be an important factor as well? After all, it is entertainment, so humor should be a relevant factor.
For me humor is an important factor, perhaps not for choosing to start play a game, but a contributing factor to why I might stay with a game. It can be what NPCs say, humorous things in the environment or situations occuring. And of course funny things caused by players.

Humor is a difficult thing; it should be delivered in the right context, with good timing and in reasonable amounts. It still will work differently for different people. And talking about it like this in a bit of analytical way for sure does not bring out the funny side…

I am not sure how much consideration is going into MMOGs when it comes to delivering humor in the games. World of Warcraft has some quite nice situational elements with the school class in Stormwind and the Dwarf shooting range in the dwarf/gnome newbie zone. And some of the characteristics of the races there might be funny initially, such as the troll Jamaican accent. That game is a good example I think where there is a decent amount of humor delivered well – it does try to take its story and environment too seriously and be that realistic, so it probably works well with most of the audience, I think.

In Everquest 2 humor was a main contributing factor for me when choosing to play on the good or the evil side (and that ratongas were evil only). The rude and sometimes sarcastic comments made by the NPCs in Freeport was a great benefit over the quite annoying and a bit cutesy comments of many of the Qeynos NPCs. Of course, humor is easier if you can be a bit evil and that shows in the Quenos/Freeport case. Comments were also adapted to the race you played, if you for example played the cat-like race some NPCs would comment on how wonderful I looked and if they could have my pelt..

The ratonga chef in the Temple Street zone in Freeport is also my favourite NPC in that game, with his constant hunt on the street for food sources to kill on the street, as well as being chased himself by street cats (he is a rat after all…)

Everquest 2 was also the first game I heard a mob ask for a heal (Cleric, heal me!) which was good fun the first time I heard that and smiled a number of times after that when it has popped up. Other games have also included that now, the latest I heard that in in Tabula Rasa, when a Thrax soldier called for a Caretaker to heal him. Short one-liners like that work great when delivered with voice, as has been the case in both Everquest 2 and Tabula Rasa.

City of Heroes/Villains have plenty of humorous one-liners and does not take itself and its environment too seriously, which I think works pretty good with a comic book inspired setting. There is also some good cut scenes, such as the one in Mercy Island, with the target of the mission, Dr Gerst, an evil genius wannabe being shown that he is just that, a wannabe…

Some of the one-liners in City of Heroes/Villains as well as in Everquest 2 is being delivered a bit too often, while others are seldom enough to work just great when they occur. If you see/hear a joke for the 100th time, it probably is not that funny anymore.

Another source of humor and fun is of course the emotes and how they are used by players. For me, City of Heroes/Villains is at the top there. I remember Anarchy Online having a decent amount of emotes here that were pretty good, useful. To be honest, I cannot remember what World of Warcraft had here besindes the dances (its been about 2 years since I played the game) and as I recall Everquest 2 emotes were a bit so-and-so. Tabula Rasa does not have many and do need to work a bit on that side.

So how is it for you, is humor important in the game? And what type of humor works for you? Any games that has too much humor, are lacking humor?

Future MMOGs and stuff from NCSoft

November 22, 2007 Comments off

A couple of days NCSoft released their earnings report for the 3rd quarter. These reports includes a little bit of information on future plans and work in progress, so it can be interesting to have a look from time to time.

In the MMOG space they seem to have 8 different MMOGs that are being worked on or at least planned. Three of them are named and are not new, Aion (1st half of 2008), Guild Wars 2 (early/mid 2009) and Lineage 3 (early 2011). In addition to this they have mentioned the MMOG from Spacetime Studios (mid 2010) and the one from their Carbine studio (winter 2010/2011).

There is also 3 more MMOGs that are just noted as “unannounced”, in mid 2009, winter 2010/2011 and late 2011. While not mentioned explicitly, my guess is that half of them are mainly aimed at the Asian market and the other half at the Western market due to the way their diagram is organised. One of the unannounced would be for the Western market then, probably developed at NCSoft Austin in that case, since it seems they are working on a new MMOG also. The other unannounced ones are probably being worked on in Seoul then – the report mentions that they are working on several new titles.

Another thing mentioned is an “ecosystem” that they are working on for people that play NCSoft games, with a number of web-based community tools that should work together with the games. Clan managment tools, instant messaging, voice chat and integrated game launcher are things that are mentioned.

However, this seems to mainly be focused on the less massive online games that they are working on, not the MMOGs. Although I hope that they will include their MMOGs in this system. This may prove a bit difficult though, since the existing games have quite different systems in place already in-game, developed quite independently probably.SOE did solve that for some of their games for the chat system though.

Categories: MMO Games

Crafting a slate

November 14, 2007 2 comments

This is an entry about the crafting systems in Tabula Rasa. In short, I think there is some potential, but at least one of the crafting systems definitely need more work and they really need to get the player-driven market in place. It does not feel that they have spent a huge amount of effort to make some good crafting systems – there are elements that probably look good on paper, but does not work out that well in real life.

Now on to more details, if you are interested. Tabula Rasa contains two crafting systems, one which you make various types of consumables and another one to enhance weapons and armor.

The enhancement crafting

The latter one is a system where various modifiers to boost your character and debuff your character’s enemies, which importantly is separated from the regular properties of the weapons/armor they are applied on. This is a bit different from a number of other MMORPGs where modifiers on the different items are fixed to that item, e.g. the Sword of the Howling Guineapig might enhance your spirit by +12, if that is no use for you then you might consider yourself out of luck, even if it looks cool.

City of Heroes is an example of a game where the modifiers are completely separate and other future games, like Chronicles of Spellborn also seem to go for a design with slotting of modifiers, thus separating looks from good-to-have properties. So one may have the option to both look good/cool and have useful modifiers.

Adding modifiers to the “slots” of weapons and armor is disguised as a sort of crafting in Tabula Rasa. Since this slotting is separated from the core properties of an item, the rarity of an item does not dictate how cool/good properties an item has – all items of the same type and level requirement has the same core properties. The rarity instead dictates how many “slots” are available on the item for modifiers, from vendor/standard items, through green, blue and purple items. More rare items have more “slots”.

To get the parts to enhance an item, one has to disassemble other items with enhancements on it, destroying the item in the process. This looks a bit similar to Earth&Beyond’s crafting system, as well as World of Warcrafts enhancement profession.

This system was revamped not long before the release of the game and it is now in a state which seems reasonably usable – at least of they get the player-run economy and market in place soon enough.

The consumables crafting

The second crafting system requires investment in certain available skills, which is different from the enhancement crafting. The problem here is that while the previous system did get some improvements in beta, this other system pretty much seems to have stayed as is. One has to invest skill point to be able to craft the consumables, but there there is little help or indication that crafting these will be worthwhile. Judging from the items at lower levels there is very little incentive to spend time on crafting. A number of the items can be bought from a vendor and those those that cannot be bought does not seem to provide any siginifcant advantages, at least not at the lower levels.

The system also suffers from too many items that can be crafted and too low volumes of the things that can be crafted. With all the different recipes available there are too many options, leading to a lot of recipes that just get dumped at vendor, because there are too many uninteresting consumables recipes dropped. Too many different recipes also makes it more difficult to find and get the correct parts to construct the item. Many parts can be bought from vendors, but that just ends up being more expensive to craft an item than buying a corresponding item directly. And some items have relatively low volumes, e.g. crafting recipes for various types of ammunition is for 100 units at a time. 100 rounds of ammunition can be consumed very fast sometimes (e.g. machine guns or to some extent polarity guns) and when people buy new ammunition in the 1000s, getting to a crafting station to craft another 100 rounds is something that is not likely to happen.

What I would like to see here is that they both cut down on the number of items that can be crafted, e.g. the 3 types of medpacks at each class level. At the very least cut it down at lower levels. Also, instead of having a huge amount of recipes, one for each type of item that can be crafted, make groups of items instead. E.g. put all the grenades at a certain class level in one group and create just one recipe for those. The recipe can require some mandatory parts and then maybe some optional parts in order to make specific types of grenade. E.g. all grenades will require part A. If you want to make EMP grenades, you need parts A+B. For fragmentation greandes you need A+C, concussion grenades A+D etc. But it is the same recipe for all of them.

And also simplify the current model to construct other parts from more simple parts. It is too many steps to reach the end result and too difficult to find the proper parts. Look at the simplification done in Everquest 2 to crafting and the simple but well designed system in City of Heroes/Villains. This is not A Tale In The Desert.

Luckily the developers realized that they need a player-driven market system in place – they realized that a bit late, but at least they are working on that. This was one of the big flaws of Earth&Beyond, which only had a chat channel for trading. Look at and learn from City of Heroes system – it took them years after release to add a market and crafting system, but when they did that they designed it to fit well with the rest of the game. I really do hope they put in a consignment house system like in City of Heroes/Villains also – that would be preferable to an auction house system, if one would have ot be chosen.

Enough of my ranting now. While I might not come out so positive about the crafting in Tabula Rasa, I still have good hope for improvements. Until that happens I would at this point ignore the consumables crafting – it might become a bit more useful at higher levels and by the time the higher levels are reached they might have something about it.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

More City thoughts

November 11, 2007 Comments off

Since the announcement that NCSoft aquired all of the City of Heroes franchise (they owned part of it before) the company sent out an email to all subsribers informing about the change. This also included some promised “gifts” to the subscribers, debt wipe, added prestige to supergroups and that anyone who bought only CoH or CoV will now get the other side as well for free.

There has also been interviews with Brian Clayton, executive producer for City of Heroes/Villains at NCSoft at Warcry and Stratics where he ensures there is a bright future for the game. Pretty much everyone that worked on the game at Cryptic has moved over to NCSoft to continue to work on the game and NCSoft is hiring more people as well. Given that Brian Clayton said that they plan to double or perhaps even triple the staff for City of Heroes, my guess from the number of job positions offered that they are about 20 people currently.

In the European City of Heroes/Villains forums the reactions have been almost all positive to this change of ownership, both for removing a potential comflict of interest and that NCSoft seems to put more resources into it than what perhaps Cryptic has managed to do.

There are some speculation that there might be a City of Heroes 2 in the works. While NCSoft certainly is no stranger to sequel games with Guild Wars 2 and Lineage 3 coming in the future, a sequel superhero game is probably not what they have in mind.

Looking at the list of job offers and their prerequisites, it looks more that they are ramping upp content development and perhaps some general infrastructure/tool improvement and code maintenance, not building an entirely new game. More content and story, perhaps speeding up development of some features that got lower priority and left out during the Cryptic day, as well as fixing some bugs that has been in the game for a long time.

New zones, new archetypes, powersets and villain groups are things that I think will be more likely. Perhaps the ability to play characters in some of the villain groups (City of Rikti, City of Thorns)? Either way, it is promising that that they put more resources into developing the game content and are keeping pretty much all of the old staff.

Categories: City of Heroes

Cryptic Studios sells City of Heroes/Villains

November 6, 2007 2 comments

Today it was announced that Cryptic Studios is selling their City of Heroes/Villains franchise to NCSoft, see here and here. It seems basically everyone in the live team that was working on the game at Cryptic has been offered job at NCSoft – it remains to be seen how many of them will make the transfer.

Cryptic says they were doing this to free up resources for the new games that are under development. But if the whole live team has been offered jobs, who do they expect make available for other projects? NCSoft is the publisher, handles billing and hosts the servers and provides the customer support already. Perhaps testers and quality assurance people, if Cryptic’s definition of live team do not include them.

Perhaps the agreement they had with NCSoft put in some restrictions on what they could develop outside of City of Heroes/Villains also? They do talk about creative freedom and perhaps they are working on titles that would compete against other NCSoft titles? The picturs shown under their in development section may provide some guesses on themes, but not much more. Or the do not want to depend too much on NCSoft and money from them

Selling their intelletual property to NCSoft will also provide some more money to Cryptic for their other titles and is probably also a significant factor.

I have mixed feelings about this move – I think it is great if it allows Cryptic to do better work, but also a bit concerned for how this will affect City of Heroes/Villains in the long run. They could probably do a lot worse than selling it to NCSoft though.

Categories: City of Heroes

Filling the blank slate

November 4, 2007 3 comments

The pre-order headstart has passed and finally the real and actual launch of Tabula Rasa has taken place now on Friday November 2nd. This is probably a relief to Richard Garriott and his team to have reached this milestone, but probably also a bit nervous – will they get a good enough reception of the game from the target audiences so they can continue and build upon what they have?

I have no intention of writing a review of the game, but will add a few observations and comments here after a few days of playtime.

Currently four servers/worlds are provided – 3 located in the US and one in Europe. The European one is quite crowded at times, although with the exception of a few zone instances it seems to work quite well. Overall the launch has worked pretty good from what I can see – not perfect, but I have not seen any serious problems either. Only one server for Europe seems a bit low though, given the amount of people playing – there has been login queues to get on to the server during the weekend. On the other hand, those that have bought the pre-order but not the actual game may still be playing until beginning of next week. So there may be some people that will not play anymore and there are likely be more intense play close to launch than it will be later.

There is one annoying bit which is still around and have been there through allt ime I spent in beta – sometimes when logging in and selecting server to play on it then gets stuck in “sending server request”. Nothing more happens and no timeout – or perhaps a very long one. Kill the application and try again and it may work next time – or perhaps get the same problem again.

I must say that I am bit disappointed by the maintenance schedule. They seem to have put the schedules almost at the same time, regardless of which time zone the servers are located. In the European case, the downtime is scheduled for 10:00-12:00 GMT, even on weekends. This is 11-13 CET or 12-14 EET and at least on weekends there will be plenty of people that would like to play at those times.

First, I like the rebalancing they have done lately – some encounters are more difficult now and they also changed the types of mobs in some locations. Overall I think that has been good. It will depend on the type of career path where the difficulties will be.

As always nowadays it seems, MMORPGs get too much garbage talk in their general chat channels and Tabula Rasa is no exception. Fortunately it is easy to turn off.

Cloning is limited, one basically gets a clone point at each tier, plus one if one completes the Target Of Opportunity (TOO) missions for a zone. The first choice is when it is time to level to level 5. This happens so early in gameplay that there is not much point in cloning at that point. Just playing through the tutorial will get a character almost to level 4 typically and going through the tutorial does not take too much time either. Since there is only two choices at level 5 (soldier or specialist), spending perhaps an hour extra by not cloning then might be useful later, if one wants to try both of these paths.

The combat mechanics works quite nice and it has good fun. The slots for weapons and tools are not enough – only 5 and only 1 bank of them, as opposed to the ability slots. But this is probably intentional, to force a choice of weapons/tools for the situation rather than having everything available right away.

There is a bit of running around at it may take a bit of time to get from one place to another, although not too bad. And in the case of Tabula Rasa I really do not mind that – they have done quite well in making an environment that feels more alive and fluctuating compared to many other MMORPGs. Not that there are huge changes, but the behaviour of the NPCs and mobs do provide a more live feeling than in many other games and it makes travel more interesting. I do like exploration in general, but it becomes more fun with these added touches.

Fighting for control of the various control points in a zone has been good fun so far – the mobs are plentiful and typically also higher level than the rest in the area, battles can be intense and death can be swift and fast. I do wish that one would not have to get the particular assault/defense missions for a control point to gain the tokens involved to complete those missions. With only space for 20 active missions at a time, the control point missions could take up a sizeable chunk of the possible missions if one would like to jump into a few of them on a whim.

The logos system is quite nice to use to build up the abilities. While a number of them can be obtained through missions, some does not have a mission associated with them and will only be found with some exploration.

Clan mechanics, friend lists and chat and the community tools in general are a bit rudimentary as of now. I do not think it will make or break the game, but some improvements would be welcome – allow some communication between people even though they are not online at the same time would be one thing on my list.

The crafting system are more two related but different systems in my mind. One system is for making various type of consumables. One can get the ingredients as loot, buy them or craft them in some cases and one needs a one-time recipe – also possible to get as loot, or mission reward. For this type of crafting one has to invest skill points to be able to do the crafting. Crafting here is always successful.
The second crafting system is about enhancing weapons and armor. The ingredients here are different, they are obtained by dismantling other enhanced items. Recipes are also needed here and they are also one-time. However, no particular skills seem to be needed to be able to do this type of crafting. It is not always successful though, there is chances of failure in both dismantling and enhancing items – in some cases it is possible to destroy the item one wants to enhance. It is not clear to me yet what affects the percentages here. This system was introduced quite late in the beta, replacing a similar but more limited system.

The web site only provides some limited information for the first system, assuming one looks at the US web site – the European versions have less information available. Maybe they have not translated everything to French and German yet and want to keep all European pages to have the same amount of information. It is too bad though, because this may give the impression that the European side may be a bit second rate – at least if stays this way for long. It is not the first game it has happened for though and it may just reflect on cultural and organisational differences between continents. As someone who works for an American company here in Sweden, I can certainly relate to potential issues there.

I am hopeful for this game, it provides some good and fun gameplay and for me it will work as a nice complement to City of Heroes/Villains – both are easy to get into and play in fairly short sessions and have a bit of fun. Both have relatively fast-paced combat (for MMORPGs) and some good story content.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Eochai and Jack

November 2, 2007 Comments off

Two of the popular visitors to Paragon City and the Rogue Isles during Halloween are Eochai and Jack-in-Irons. Eochai is part of the Fir Bolg, a villain group that appears in the zone Croatoa in the game, fighting the Tuatha de Dannan. These groups have their origin in Irish mythology, where Eochaid mac Eirc was the ruler of the race Fir Bolg who fought the Tuatha DĂ© Danann.

In the game though, Eochai is a big pumpkin head on drugs, a Giant Monster, who roams the zones outside Croatoa during Halloween time. One can find Eochai in pretty much any zone during this time of the year and since he is rather big, not too difficult to spot.

A good pastime during this time of the year is thus to convince Eochai to stay off the pumpkins, which as an addict he usually have some objections to and may quite often put his foot down and just say NO!.

Eochai sets down his foot

With some good arguments though he can be convinced and in immense gratitude of the effort the friendly heroes and villains put in to help him, he usually drops down on the ground in sheer relief.

Eochai drops down

Most of the time the efforts are if not fruitless, then fairly shortlived – looking around in the neighborhood one will usually find Eochai in some other spot, high on pumpkins. And the work has to start all over again – but fear not, but November 4th Eochai will finally be convinced on the error of his ways and will be off the streets.

Any time someone makes aconvincing argument with Eochai, there is an about 10% chance that Jack-in-Irons will appear. Jack has his origins from English Folklore where he was a ghostly giant haunting the roads around Yorkshire and scaring people – quite fitting for Halloween work.

Jack thinks he is pretty cool because he wears chains, plus he carries a big spiked club which he likes to hit people with.

Jack goes clubbing

What can be a bit disturbing at times is when Jack shows off the skulls of his victims in his non-club hand, which is meant to put terror in people around him. This he can be pretty good at when he gets in the mood, which may cause heroes and villains to falter a bit in their efforts to keep Jack off the roads.

Look what I got

In such dark times it is nice to see community efforts where lots of people unfamiliar with each other all do their part to keep the crime and bad guys on the street to just be the regular neighborhood gangs.

Categories: City of Heroes