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Archive for January, 2008

Run Forrest run!

January 31, 2008 Comments off

So finally has the new update of Tabula Rasa arrived and with that a number of goodies. With the new attribute changes both attribute points and skill/ability points had been reset and the first task when logging in to play a character is to start re-allocate those.

I started off with my exobiologist. The attribute point distribution became fairly even, although a bit more to body and spirit and a bit less for mind. The skills and abilities got some changes from the previous incarnation – I had put points in most exobiologist and a number of the biotech skills before, but this time the skill/ability choice got a bit narrower. I simply do not see much use for a number of the skills/abilities, so I left them out completely. The clone skill to clone ypurself temporarily is the only one that I have found reasonably useful, even though the clone is nowhere near the capacity of the original, even at the highest pump. It works more like distraction than a comparable fighter. The distraction can be quite useful at times though.

One of the new features of this update is the ability to get the helmet removed visually, while the armor and bonuses it may provide are still in effect. This is a global game setting, so either all of your character have their helmets off, or all have them on. I would have preferred an individual setting per character here, some of them look good without the helmet, some of them less so. Different armor sizes and types and the character sex affect what might be suitable looks for helmet on/off. But now there is at least the choice.

Another of these new features are the hybrid races – forean/human, brann/human and thrax/human. These need to be unlocked by completing a series of missions for each. Once unlocked they can be selected whenever a new character or a clone is made and it does not matter which character you clone. The reward for completing the mission arc is also a clone credit.

My guess is that each of these 3 mission arcs can only be done once per account, but I have not checked that. If every character can do them it will be a good way to get some extra clones for each character.

staal-crucible-1.jpg

I took my exobiologist to the task to complete the first one of them, to unlock the forean/human hybrids. This mission arc can be started from level 15 and from a forean in Thoria Das. The mission arc will lead to a search for some important forean material regarding their old home world and the confrontation of a traitor dealing with the Bane regarding this material.

The mission arc leads to some areas in Divide as well as to the 3 instances Minos Caverns, Torcastra Prison and the Timora Mines. While each of the tasks in these instances can be completed fairly early into each instance, it will probably still pose some difficulty at level 15ish, unless going with a team.

The end of mission arc provides a choice of action. I did not regret my choice there, it felt like a pretty easy choice for me also.

Witht he mission arc completed the opportunity to create new character was in place. I already have 8 characters, one for each tier 4 profession, so I initally started my hybrid as a recruit, starting from scratch and named him Forrest. After a few levels I changed my thing and got back and looked at my existing and decided to recreate Forrest again through cloing one of them.

After some consideration I decided to clone my grenadier. Forean/human hybrids have a boost to mind and less of body. Getting the potential damage bonus from all logos direct damage attacks through mind was an intersting prospect. The lower body setting might work out reasonably well with the graviton armor with has quite good protection. Grenadiers are also reasonably offensive roles, which may make a lot of body less important than guardian, whos is a bit closer to a defensive and/or tank role.

Making a hybrid pretty much just provide some different options for character faces compared and not that many either (at least for foean/human hybrid). After a little while though, Forrest re-appeared as a grenadier.

Forrest Sente, Grenadier

Then I sent out Forrest to run some missions in Valverde Plateau. I have already done all missions there at least twice, so there was so so much new, except trying out the grenadier role. After running some missions I took Forrest to some control points for a bit more intense fighting and also see how the health changes would play out.

cp-plateau-2.jpg

It worked out pretty good, although the control point fights did not last as long as I would have liked. Perhaps a bit too many players in the area.
cp-plateau-1.jpg

I also spent a bit with my exobiologist in the Crucible zone. It has a good setting and the music in that zone is really good and fits in well. It was good fun to start the missions there and the zone itself has some neat fetures. But all of that is something for another blog article…

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Anachy Online graphics update

January 29, 2008 Comments off

Anarchy Online was my first MMOG and for that it has always been a bit special for me. From time to time I get back into the game, if only for a short period of time.

About half a year ago I saw the game engine update mentioned for the first time, which at that time just sounded that they would take better advantage of the newer graphics cards to offload some of the work that the CPU(s) had to do in the game today – but I did not really expect any real changes to the graphics itself.

Funcom has released a teaser video of the new engine and this actually looks better than I hoped for. There were some old familiar environments shown in that video in a new light and that looks promising. No characters were shown, but hopefully those will get a similar update. The new engine release seems to be planned for late 2008.

Categories: Anarchy Online

Virginworlds 100

January 29, 2008 Comments off

The Virginworlds podcast has reached a big milestone now, with show #100 being released. I am a big fan of the podcast and the web site in general. Brent provides some quite enjoyable podcasts on a wide variety of what may be included in “the MMORPG genre” and has a nice list of related news items. And all that with a clean web site design which makes it easy to read and browse.

The first time I learned about the web site was in the EQ2 Daily forums, as a I recall when Brent “The prognosticator” had made some reviews of a couple of different podcasts – my memory is a bit fuzzy here though. After that I started to visit the web site and also picked up the podcasts when they started, although I did not become a regular listener until sometime in their late 20s I believe.

I have only listened to a bit more than 1 hour of this 3 hour show at the time of writing, I like it so far. And people looked at me strangly on the underground when laughing and smiling at the montage – can’t have that…;)

I am sure the rest of the show will be great as well, so do pick it up and listen to it!

Tabula Rasa 1.4 is live

January 29, 2008 Comments off

Today release 1.4.6 of Tabula Rasa went live. With close to 50 days since the previous update, this one is the longest one that players have been waiting for. Judging by the content it may also be the largest update so far.

The patch notes can be found here.

I played a couple of hours on the test server. Since I did not have any existing character so start with (please implement character copy a la CoH/CoV) I have only experienced it for roughly the first 10 levels in Wilderness with one character. Overall I liked what I saw there and some good things that are not mentioned in the patch notes (like multiple instances of escort missions!). There are bug fwhich I have been hoping for fixes that I have not seen mentioned as fixed nor as known issues – remains to be seen what has been done there.

Now is the time ro really try out the update and see how that affects gameplay, since I have one character of each of the 8 professions.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Country of Warcraft

January 24, 2008 Comments off

World of warcraft is of course a large game worldwide, but how large is it in your country?

Today in a technology newspaper I subscribe to (Ny Teknik – translates to New Technology in English) I saw a small article saying that World of Warcraft was bigger than Uppsala. Uppsala is the 4th largest city in Sweden. Knowing that Blizzard just recently announced that 10 million subscribers, which is larger than the population of Sweden, I continued to read to see what they meant.

The article basically talked about the two best selling games in Sweden 2007 was World of Warcraft and The Burning Crusade. There were no numbers for how many people in Sweden was playing the game, but a representative for Vivendi had said that the number of players in Sweden exceed the population of the city of Uppsala (population 128000) by a wide margin.

That may not sound that much. However, the population of Sweden is 9 million. Compare that to the population of United States, which according to CIA World Factbook has a population of 300 million. This is 33 1/3 times as many people.

Let’s assume the number of WoW players in Sweden are 130000. With a comparable density of players the number of players in the US would have been 33 1/3 * 130000, which us roughly 4.3 million. Add the Canadian population in the mix to get North American population size (334 million in total) and do the same type of calculation and the comparable player count would have been over 4.8 million.

The official Blizzard numbers say 2.5 million players in North America. So taking the population size into account, World of Warcraft is almost twice as popular in Sweden than in North America.

And then we have China, which weighs in with a population of 1322 million. Doing the same type of calculation a comparable player number would have been over 19 million players. So World of Warcraft is far less popular in China than in Sweden.

Compare the North American numbers and adjusting for Chinese population and one ends up with almost 10 million players in China if it would have had the same popularity in China. Which is quite far from actual numbers. Again, the game is less popular in China in comparision.

So what is the point here? Just that numbers for big regions may not say the whole truth and without trying put them in some comparable context they might no be so meaningful.

To be fair, I do not know if the Videndi representative referenced in the article used the same metric for number of active WoW players as the Blizzard press release. Number of sold units are far higher than these numbers through, so at least there was no Second Life type player count in this case.

Categories: World of Warcraft

Blizzard reached 10

January 23, 2008 Comments off

Blizzard made a press release where they announced more than 10 million players for World of Warcraft. Almost half of those are in North America and Europe (2.5 million and 2 million).

While I have not played this game for along time now and have no intention to start again, it is still impressive to see that they what a phenomenon the game has become. It seems also that the numbers fo Europe and North America has grown a bit also if memory serves me right.

Categories: World of Warcraft

Learning languages in MMOGs

January 20, 2008 Comments off

Every now and then discussions pop up about different premium services in MMOGs, which usually end up talking about better response times, better customer support, perhaps added community features and support.

But what if services would cover other areas than strictly game related? For example, what if that included additional support for learning a new language?

A player may spend hundreds of hours in an MMOG, doing missions, fighting, exploring, interacting with other players etc. What if this environment was used as a base for more than stories that are easily forgotten and repeating less exciting content?

Learning a language can be part of a series of puzzles that one has to overcome to learn vocabulary, grammar etc. A bit like picking up and understanding Logos in Tabula Rasa, decoding the language of the V’rix in Earth & Beyond – but more extensive and with a goal to allow someone to learn some basics of a foreign language. Missions can include puzzles that require learning some vocabulary and grammar to progess.

Of course there would be a need for some people who have the language as their native tongue (or are at least quite fluent) to help a bit, there could perhaps be incentives who may talk and chat in the language in question, perhaps roleplay a bit with the learning players.

When I go abroad on vacation most of the time I try to learn and pick up some basics of the language in the country I am visiting. So I typically end up buying or renting some basic language course some time before there is time to travel. It gives a nice sense of accomplishment and brings some extra to the vacation if I am actually able to understand or communicate a bit through this new language during the vacation. Unfortunately in most cases the learning never goes beyond those basics.

But if I would have the option to get some support in-game to learn soem more languages as I am playing, I would be quite interested in pursuing that. Why not learn a bit more while I am having fun?

There may be other areas also where such added services could make sense. It can of course be a challenge to make a game suitable for this – some educational games do suck. But as long as the game design does not forget about having stimulating and fun gameplay I think there could be many interesting options to explore here.

Categories: MMO Games

Blackstar & beyond

January 20, 2008 Comments off

Recently SpaceTime Studios released some information about their current MMOG project, Blackstar. A few bits and pieces and some concept art, I must say that I like it. The ambition to provide a SciFi universe with space combat, exploration in both space and on the ground and with a touch of mysticism and magic is a bold one. Can it work? I hope so and I hope that the storyline will take a front seat like it had in Earth & Beyond.

In fact, reading the description got me thinking about Earth & Beyond and some nostalgia kicked in for a bit (of course only after the happily tinted glasses were put on to filter out the bad parts of the game..) and I would really like to play a game along those lines.

The info about the project was released a couple of days after the less joyful announement that NCSoft had cancelled their publishing agreement with Spacetime Studios for Blackstar. Would they have started to put out info about the project if that had not happened? Is it perhaps one attempt to raise awareness and interest about Blackstar, to cast a wider net searching for a new publisher? If it is, I do hope they have success with that attempt.

When I played Earth & Beyond long ago there was another SciFI space MMOG released which I tried for a bit right after release – EVE Online. At that time, I left EVE after a rather short time and went back to E&B. Despite many of its flaws and some which were handled better in EVE, Earth & Beyond was still the more fun game for me. However, the game that is around today is EVE and E&B was cancelled years ago.

I might be reading to much in the info about Blackstar, but it does seem to go in an interesting direction and a space-based MMOG with some decent storylines would be a welcome addition.

Categories: Blackstar, MMO Games

Villains in Grandville Farm

January 15, 2008 Comments off

This weekend I got my second highest dominator up to level 45. Normally I do not care that much for levels, but 45 is one of those levels that opens up more contacts and missions. While I still did have some contacts that could provide missions the supply was limited; far from all were soloable for me. With only up to 3 possible selected missions at any point in time I did not want to end up with 3 mission I could not complete myself in case I had to play solo.

There is always the option to drop and complete a mission in those case, but which can only be used once every 7 days. Luckily, I did not always play solo – team play is when CoV/CoH is at its best. And progression can also be so much faster in team play. The game has sort of a presuasive argument approach to grouping – no force, but you are just better off grouping and you know it…;)

In one of the teams I played I noticed something that I had not encountered in a team before in this game – people repeatedly going through the same mobs over and over just to collect some specific loot drops. I have no interest whatsoever in collecting rare loot, so the practice is not something I find remotely interesting – follow the storyline is more my motto.

I don’t think it will become as common as I experienced it in some other games, or at least I hope so. But perhaps I should add a “no farming” entry to my search text if this increases. If the practice makes the game fun for others then it is great, but I will skip that.

In the 2008 State of the Game announcement that was made a few days ago there were some interesting notes about the future. One was that they will be smoothing the leveling curve, which I think is a great thing. In my own experience and what I have observed with others is that around level 30 (+- a few levels) lots of characters stop in progression. Of all my villains only two have so far made it past the 30s; two dominators which is an archetype which I love to play. I might get more dominators past that limit, but probably not the rest in the current state. Making it more smooth could help here though, so I am glad they are doing something about it.

They are also planning to show the real numbers behind the various powers and buffs/debuffs. It seems to be optional, which is good. I like the bit of vagueness that the interface has today, but sometimes some actual numbers might be handy and for those that are really into optimizing their characters this is good news that they will have official numbers to work from.

If they stick to their usual content update schedule we should also see soon what issue #12 will bring – I have a few wishes for the future and so far it seems at least one of them (the smoothie above) will come true.

Categories: MMO Games

Rats, another kill ten quests mission

January 13, 2008 Comments off

When discussing games in blogs, game forums, podcasts and various other location there is one aspect of the game that most of stresses as vital – that the game is fun to play. Do we actually mean fun? Perhaps what we rather look for is stimulating? With books, movies, theather, art and other forms of cultural stimulation we are not restricting ourselves to expressions in these areas that are just fun. They can scare us, tease us, annoy us, make us see things in a different light.

When the discussions arise about the lack of engaging storylines in MMOGs, the problem is that they often do not engage us, they do not stimulate us enough.

In the VirginWorlds podcast #99 one of the discussions was why we still had the same type of “kill 10 rats” missions/quests so prevalent in each MMOG. The conclusion was that mostly the designer was to blame. Which designer is that then? The mission designer who creates the mission content? The designer of the toolset that the mission designers use or the mission tracking game system designer? Or the lead designer(s) with the overall responsibility for the game content and direction?

Is the fault with the current mission/quest mechanisms? Are the tools good enough with a system which boils down to multiple steps with an NPC in between each step and for each step a couple of events may need happen:

  • A certain number of enemies/mobs must be defeated
  • A certain mumber of items must be collected
  • A certain number of items must be interacted with, or trigger a state change
  • Must go to one or more locations

These activities can cover many different scenarios, although it would be interesting to see any approaches expanding on this list, perhaps including emotes and reactions, a bit more dialog between players and NPCs. This will not be as easy to track as the above tasks though. And even with the simple events above, this is something that the game needs to constantly evaluate these events from thousands of players and test conditions for all of the different missions each player has active – keeping them relatively simple may be a necessity.

Many games nowadays have some kind of mission tracking system for the players that allows us to keep track of all the tasks necessary for each mission step. We can keep track of 20, 30 maybe even 75 missions, depending of the game. But who can keep track of 20 stories or even 75 stories at a time?!

These tasks become the main goal of each step in a mission and we forget about the actual story, if there is one to remember. It becomes more of an exercise in task management and the mission tracking becomes more like a shopping list – “I need to kill some rats, boars and collect some rat tails and a wolf paw. Shire valley supermarket should be good for that, not camped at this time of day. If I take the left route I can get to the rat isle and pick up the tails and kill the rats at the same time. The boar isle will be next to it. I think the wolf paws are in the back though, but they have an offer on extra weak wolfs with frequent spawns, so it should still be easy to get. And I got enough space in my cart for all of this. Let’s go!”

So why was it necessary to kill the rats, boars and collect the wolf paw in the first place? Who remembers? Some games give reasonably good summaries in the mission descriptions what the mission was all about, some have little more than the task list. Unless I play though a story to the end in one session, chances are pretty good I have forgotten what it was all about in the next session.

So how did this text get into discussing flaws of mission tracking systems? Just look back a few paragraphs and the point about the types of tasks that are in missions now and what is easy to track. At least for a long text and if the text was interesting, perhaps some people would have made some notes along the way – an easy way to remember what was important for you at the time.

A problem with missions/quests with less interesting storylines is really that they are not really missions or quests, they are just tasks. I go to the supermarket to pick up some food – that is a task. The reason may be that we need something more for dinner tinight, we might have some friends invited or whatever. That are tasks. Perhaps on the way to the supermarket run into an old friend who asks if I want to join to help search for his brother, who was travelling in Laos, but has not been heard from in a while – that is a mission/quest.

The missions/quests that are actually tasks in the games are there for a good reason. They are good fillers and give some direction to people and gives an alternative means of character progression in a leveling/experience point model as opposed to just straight monster bashing. But they are not heroic missions or quests and I think it would make sense to set a distinction here. Separate the more mundane tasks from the real heroic stories in a clear way. Use different mechanisms and tools for handling the real missions/quests and leave the current tracking model for the tasks.

The number of real missions/quests would probably be a lot less than the 100s or 1000s that some games boost about. But I do not see that as a problem; with much real missions/quests, the tools and mechanisms involved could hopefully be more versatile and the way players track them could be made different – no need to for game system to keep track of every detail or what needs to be done in every step. Paint a only broader overview picture automatically and give players tools to enter and share notes and info, for example.

For those that are more interested in maximizing their progression the tasks and its tracking system is fine and they do not need to bother with any story bits and vague clues slowing them down. For those that are interested in following a good story it gets more clear what might be worthwhile content in that regard.

Of course, calling tasks for what they are and not missions/quests may sound a bit less heroic and everybody wants to be a hero, right? But who feels heroic about running errands for all sorts of NPCs who cannot bother to move a couple of meters themselves? At least if the real missions/quests are clearly separated they do have a greater chance of inducing a heroic feeling than when they might get lost in a whole stack of more mundane tasks.

Make the real missions and quests separate, special and distinct and the overall impression will be better, I think.

Categories: MMO Games