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Archive for February, 2008

Tabula Rasa respec

February 28, 2008 Comments off

Today I had a peek at the news from the Tabula Rasa official site and noticed this entry about respecs. This is an absolutely brilliant change. They fix two problems at once; first the lackluster rewards for the control point fights and second the respec issues.

Control point rewards have been less than satisfying given the current state of the enhancement and crafing game mechanics and certainly not a motivator in itself to fight at the control points. I do it because it is fun anyway, but there are of course a number of people who needs a carrott as well. Given that many control points seems to be more or less permanent in the hands of the Bane I think there is a fair amount of players who likes to chew on carrotts.

Introducin real respec:s is also a welcome addition. The original idea that the cloning functionality should work as a respec also has a few shortcomings:

  • Friend lists and clan membership is tied to a character. If you clone you create a new character, so if that cloning was to respec, one will have to get people to update friend lists, get reinvited to a clan etc. That can be a hassle.
  • New first name. The name can be important and one can feel attached to that. Being forced to change the name through cloning is not an attractive option
  • Clone credits are not transferable. If you create a clone that one will start from zero when it comes to clone credits, which has to be earned again if the prospect of changing through cloning should come up again. Or use clone credits from the original character, which may mean that a number of levels would have to be replayed, depending on how long one have played. Having lots of clone credits on a character is not particularly useful from a respec perspective, unless some wild experimentation is taking place during a short period.

This is an example of what I think is a very promising aspect of Tabula Rasa; the developers do not seem too scared to kill their darlings if it turns out it does not work out as well as it was originally envisioned.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Eyes of Staal

February 24, 2008 Comments off

In the past week I brought my engineer to Ligo Crucible, the first area to visit on the Ligo continent on Arieki.

Arriving at the location of the remaining forces from the Bane attack on Fort Intrepid, one quickly realizes that the war has not gone that well for the AFS side here. Morale is low in parts of the remaining forces and a number of people have deserted also.

The central location of the area is the former Staal detention center, where the Brann kept some of the less upstanding citizens.
View of Staal detention center

Nowadays it is the center of operations for some of the local crime lords. Each group occupy their area of the complex, which has a decent size. The center area also have various merchant running their trade.

staal-crucible-1.jpg

While these groups are not entirely getting along, they are an important potential ally for the AFS and so some officer came up with the idea that my engineer, who is so skillfull, should smoothen the relationship with these Brann (I am sure he says that to everybody). While these groups have their differences, they all listen to and respect the Kappa Grupa (boss of all bosses), so I’d have to pay him a visit.

The Kappa Grupa’s place - nice view

Talking to the Kappa Grupa, he (surprise, surprise) wanted me to so some missions in order to get on good terms with all the crime lords and by that also with him. It took some work, but finally I got Lohen (the Kappa Grupa) to more friendly terms after sucking up a bit.

Glory to the Kappa Grupa!

While a significant portion of missions were related to the Brann mobsters, there was also some dealings with deserters and genome business, in order to enable the Thrax/human hybrids. And some regular AFS war support. For some reason, pretty most of them involved some killing of Bane soldiers and officers.

Moving around in the Crucible area can be pretty hazardous. There are Bane patrols in most places and not that far between the different patrols. In the areas where no Bane are seen, the surroundings are dominated by robots or the local fauna. The latter consist basically of flaregashers (fire-spewing wolfs) and lashers (hoovering octopus-like critters) and the odd magmonix. The gashers and lashers often appear in large enough groups that moving around in the territory can be challenging – I like it:)

Some areas are not easy to reach due to the rocky landscape; for example I had some trouble getting to the Prometheus Outpost. The long obvious route on the map required passing through a lot of the Bane and fauna-infested areas, which was not always met with success. I did find some shortcuts after a while, which made the travel significantly simpler, but not trivial.

Nearby the Prometeus Outpost is the Bane encampment Khulago Base, which is of course crawling with Bane troopers and also a bunch of Juggernauts. A couple of missions originating from Prometheus dealt with Khulago base, so a fair amount of travel back and forth was done and lots of fighting, including the Juggernauts.

Khulago Base visit

Hello to you too, naughty Jugger

With Prometheus being a control point, a fair amount of time was also spent on either defending or attacking the control point. The mission givers taking part in the defense of the outpost and running around, order needed to be restored to be able to talk to them. And of course the control point needed to be in AFS control to be able to access them at all. I enjoy fighting at the control points just for the fun of it. But also fighting for access to the mission NPCs gives another boost to the motivation 😉

The instances in the area is still on the to-do list, this will probably be when a few of the clan members can go together. Overall the zone has been a good fun place and the music scores have been a great addition also, quite good. Most zones have had quite good music scores and the various sound effects and voices have certainly also helped to set the mood properly.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Heroes that makes sense – Champions Online

February 24, 2008 Comments off

It all starts to make sense. When Cryptic Studios announced the Champions Online MMORPG website on the 20th, the bits and pieces from the past months such as the rumors and cancellation of Marvel Universe Online, and Cryptic closing down its game-related forums. The latter pretty much only covered Marvel Universe Online at that time.

One can only speculate what was going on between Cryptic, Marvel and Microsoft. But my guess is that the Cryptic forums closed down when they had the Champions deal in place and were leaving the joint venture with M&M. Combining the agendas of all three companies were probably far from easy, in particular the both Ms I believe. For Cryptic, the MMOG business is their only business, so I think it is perfectly understandable if they felt it did not quite go where they wanted to get out in some way.

Cryptic Studios has acquired the intellectual property of Champions and Dark Champions, which is the characters and places and events included from Hero Games. So they have effectively bought the framework for their lore and story-line to use as they please. They have not bought the game system that the Champions RPG uses (HERO System), but they indicate that their game system is inspired by the HERO systems flexibility.

Both parts make sense. They now have over a quarter of a century’s worth of story material to work from, with no restrictions from other parties on how to use it – other than possibly issues with fans for the original roleplaying game. I am pretty sure the game systems they have conceived are as much borrowing from HERO system in spirit, as things they wanted to have in City of Heroes/Villains and included in Marvel Universe Online.

Essentially what we will be seeing is City of Heroes 2 and Marvel Universe Online without Marvel. The game engine and everything related is something Cryptic developed in-house. Since they plan to release the game in 2009 I think any major feature is already in place to some extent. Story content need to be worked out to fit Champions universe and probably some modifications and continued refinement to game systems and engine.

Apparently there is an article in the game magazine Game Informer about the game. I have never read that magazine and normally do not read game magazines at all, so some of my speculation here might be way off. I’m not sure if that particular magazine is on sale arund here at all. There is also an article at Massively aboutthe game – that one I could read 🙂

The game is said to be soloable through all levels, which means that there will be levels and lots of solo content. If City of Heroes/Villains is any indication, there will probably be scalable instances when content is instanced. Team sizes of up to 5 players sounds a bit small though; I like the upto 8 person sized teams in CoV/CoH. Although with the introduction of games to the consoles in particular there is probably a need to reduce the amount of information cluttering the screen.

One of the good things of CoV/CoH is the ease with which you can assemble teams. The sidekick/exemplar systems helps with that and I love that feature. That being said, I guess and hope they will not have that feature in Champions Online. I rather think they might pursue the level-less enemies that CoV/CoH has in the form of Giant Monsters and Rikti Invasion forces. In this case there is no need for sidekick/exemplar – anyone can team up with anyone anyway.

This would also fit in with the concept of a changing world a bit better. Anyone can play any content at any time and participate in events that change the world.

The customisation options sounds like they will be at least as good as CoV/CoH, which means that Pagaon City and Rogue Isle residents may finally fall to second place. Cryptic has before indicated that technical limitations with the game engine and graphics hardware limited them in this regard when City of Heroes was initially introduced and how much more they can do now (at the time they were working on MUO).

Adding alter egos and archenemies seems to be just natural for a superhero genre game, so one may just wonder what took them so long. Ayway, still good that it is being added.

I think there is great potential here, but I cannot say that I am particularly excited about the game. But then I cannot say that I am particularly excited about any future MMOG. Trailers, screenshots and feature lists may be great, but does not necessarily add up to a really good game play. In the end it is the people and company behind it. I think Cryptic is in a good position here. But time will tell.

Engineers are from Marshes, Bane from Venus

February 20, 2008 Comments off

Today I took my engineer for another spin in Valverde Marshes. Most missions are done, except for some to the Bane Supply Depot and the Logos research facility.

There is one mission from the Retread City to the Supply Depot area that gives you a sizeable squad of NPCs to help you out (about 8-12 I think). Unfotunately the last time I picked that up most of the squad was annihilated before even reaching the Supply Depot area – they attack pretty much everything that moves. If the outpost you are moving from are under attack, it is a bit difficult to keep them all.

So today I skipped that one and went to vist the Logos Research Facility. This is a place which is a bit difficult to get to. Either you go from the Supply Depot or one of the Control Points through a teleporter. I did also try for a long time to try to climb up to the area from the Stalker Woods/Retread City area, but was not able to get all the way up.

Started to attack the control point which had been under Bane control for a while and some other people also joined in. After some minutes of intense fighint we could take the CP back and I was able to get up to the Logos Research Facility. After running in and trying to be a bit “smart” by killing the first few enemies before taking the mission inside, I then realized my mistake. Part of the mission is to take control of the first room, but since I had already done that part before picking up the mission, there was no update…

This is not the first time it has happened when trying to be “smart”, I should have learned by now… Or the mission creators could have different success criteria that is more flexible.

So out from the Research Facility waiting for the instance to reset. A clan friend (also engineer) asked if I wanted to help out with taking down Daddy Longlegs (Strider boss). This felt more exicting to do at the moment, so I joined up and we slaughtered a good number of Thrax before getting to Big Daddy himself. Striders are typically ok to deal with for an engineer if they are solo or perhaps with very few around them. But make it a boss and a good number of other Bane around it becomes more difficult.

Engineers can bring in some quite powerful firepower with their turrets and we both had turrets up to pump 5 and could thus deploy 5 of them. This can rip apart good chunks of enemies. Kicking in the signature ability (Base Wave) to improve damage resistance and armor regeneration also provides good protection even from Strider firepower and soon enough Daddy dropped down.

There was not really any specific plan after this, but we just moved on fighting the Bane and ended up fighting a lot of them in front of the Supply Depot. A few deaths, but quite intense and good fun. The nearby control point was in Bane control and had been for pretty much all of the evening when I was logged in, so we decided to take it back.

After some itense fighting and other players also joining in, the outpost was back in AFS control! Looking at the map, the other control point was now back in Bane control. An engineers got to do what an engineers got to do… So we headed tp that CP and fought to take that back as well. Some deaths and lots of intense fighting, but after a while this base was also in AFS control.

And so we continued for a few times back and forth, fighting and taking back the control points, or fighting off the attacks on them. Intense fights and great fun, which I think is one of the really good points of this game. No chasing XP (although we probably gained some) or running missions back and forth, just some fighting in teams and a good and fun evening session in the game!

Categories: Tabula Rasa

The hunter’s hunter

February 16, 2008 Comments off

Lately I have spent a fair amount of game time with my engineer, fighting the Bane in Valverde Plateau and Pools. Today he obtained the title of Hunter’s Hunter, which is received when 10 specific bosses in Valverde Pools have been killed.

It is the third time I do missions in the Pools area, but the first time I actually completed this task, killing the 10 bosses. The mission itself does not give any clues to who these bosses are and where they are, so it is something to figure out while exploring the area and doing missions there. Assuming they have not recently been killed by another player, you are bound to see or run into all of them while doing missions.

This time around the control points in Valverde Pools were pretty much constantly occupied by the Bane troops during the times I played, so I was a bit concerned if I would be able to get the waypoints and the logos that were there for the Targets of Opportunity mission. But it seemed that these were actually not necessary for the ToO. Both the waypoint and logos tasks completed even through I never was inside any of these control points.

With these tasks completable, I was also able to complete the whole ToO for Pools and get the Pools Master title. I will still need to go back later to pick up the remaining logos (Lightness), but that will be at another time, when an attack towards the control point can be arranged.

While I did write down some notes for the bosses in Pools, I do not really like walkthroughs and I am not writing the details down here where to find them. But if you continue read below the picure of my engineer here, there is some name-dropping which may be convenient to mark them off when they are encountered. If you do not want to see the names, do not read any further.

Wolf Sente, Engineer

Oakril, Cainynix , Grumble and Goriam runs in the nude, they do not care for armor. But Iceram, Cavalon and Krammitron really do like armor and steely looks. Like my engineer, Lililax likes a blue uniform. Orax and Irix do not like people who make jokes about their uniforms though and are happy too shoot anyone making a comment on them.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Our niche of the universe

February 14, 2008 Comments off

Following the look at the NCSoft earnings and the Tabula Rasa results, I had a look at the analyst reports from earlier in 2007.

One of the analysts had forecasted that about 560K copies would be sold of the game in 2007 (roughly 29 million US dollars in sales) and another 63 million in 2008, assuming that the sequel was launched in late 2008. Another analyst had noted that NCSoft had said that Tabula Rasa should be considered a niche game and would likely not enjoy the sam popularity as World of Warcraft.

Maybe these analysts had different expectations, but selling 560K copies in the initial months is far from a niche game to me, in particular when talking about the Western market space.
The forecasted numbers were based on a 10% penetration of the MMOG player market space, which was estimated to 3.5 million players. That sounds pretty much like the amount of people playing World of Warcraft at the time in North America and Europe.

I do not think that just because people play World of Warcraft they are suddenly MMOG players that actually would consider playing other MMOGs. World of Warcraft shows there is a potential, but if we suddendly gained millions of more players, why have not other existing games picked up a decent amount as well? How many started to play World of Warcraft despite it being a subscription-based game and would prehaps never consider another one?

Another factor included was the sales numbers for City of Heroes at launch in 2004 and the total estimated US market then and the current estimated US market and the penetration of that game in the category of “niche” games. From that point of view the numbers make sense, assuming the estimated market size is valid. Again, does World of Warcraft throw these numbers off?

Sales of the Tabula Rasa pre-order pack had been quite good though according to reports, so it is understandable though that a positive forecast was maintained.

And with some of NCSofts other games – Lineage, Lineage 2 and Guild Wars all selling in multi-millions, it makes it easy to be led to believe anything less than a million to be “niche” from their point of view.

The analyst reports indicated a sequel (expansion?) in late 2008 and also that Tabula Rasa was one of the existing IPs to be considered for a console launch in 2009. Will that still happen? Would more people play Tabula Rasa on the PS3? Perhaps more MMOGs on console will impact more what would be considered niche rather than then influence of World of Warcraft?

Tabula Rasa – 150K subscribers?

February 13, 2008 7 comments

I had a look at the NCSoft Q4 2007 earnings report which was released today. There are some interesting numbers there, but first I am going to focus on Tabula Rasa.

In Q4 Tabula Rasa contributed to about 5 billion won in sales, which roughly corresponds to 5 million US dollars. Given that the game was released on November 2nd that would basically be sales of the game itself – no subscription fees.

How much money NCSoft makes one each Tabula Rasa sale is difficult to say – with digital download they do not have any middle men taking any part of the the sales price, which they have when selling the boxes. I do not know how much of the price that NCSoft gets from a box sale. A guess could be perhaps half of the price (excluding VAT or sales tax).

That would mean Tabula Rasa gained perhaps somewhere between 100K and 200K subscribers in the first month, depending on actual box income and ratio between box sales and digital download. The real number is perhaps somewhere in between.

This is probably less than expected for the game. Comments on the report also indicate that expectation was higher and most of the sales was in the US.

Furthermore the forecast for Tabula Rasa for the year 2008 is 15 billion won, roughly 15 million US dollars. That is quite low I think. Either they do not expect many new subscribers and/or that current subscribers will stay for very long.

They are also planning to launch Tabula Rasa in Japan in the second half of 2008.

Listening to the recorded conference call for the earnings report, a few things were mentioned affecting the less than stellar sales of Tabula Rasa:

  • New type of MMO game, more difficult to attract new players
  • Bad launch period, too much competition from other game titles (any game, not MMOGs)
  • The game was released too early

The forecast for 2008 is a conservative number – they said they hope for better, but it might be more realistic to set this low number. With that forecast they will make a profit in terms of operating costs, but it will not cover for the development costs.

I love the game, so I really hope they can improve on the current state and I think the developers have been doing a great job so far.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

No marvel there will be no Marvel

February 12, 2008 1 comment

In this blog entry there is an interview with Microsoft’s Shane Kim where he confirms that the Marvel Universe Online MMOG has been cancelled. With the rumors that have been circulating about the cancellation it is not really any surprising news.

It is interesting to read Kim’s comments regarding the cancellation though:

  • Kim never mentions Cryptic Studios. He talks about Microsoft and Marvel and that “both parties” came to an agreement. So where does Cryptic Studios fit in all of this? Have they just been hired by one of the two M’s as consultants? In the MUO trailer on Cryptic Studios web page Marvel, Microsoft and Cryptic seemed to be included as partners all three. So what happened here?
  • According to Kim there is only one successful subscription-based MMOG, based on Microsoft’s definition of success. That would be pretty certain that he is thinking of World of Warcraft and that success means a game that pulls in loads of money and/or is a game that many people will know about. He also indicates that a different business model than subscriptions would have been preferable.

I am certain that Microsoft’s main platform for the game would have been XBox 360. With the XBox Live service which in itself is a subscription-based service, would the game have been good enough to lure a significant amount of XBox players with another subscription fee? Perhaps not; certainly not at the numbers Microsoft would have liked for the game (millions no doubt).

I would not be surprised if M&M have looked at material available for The Agency and throught “we should have taken a similar approach”. Will Microsoft try again at some point? Traditionally Microsoft buys companies that make stuff that is better than what they do themselves and that fits in their portfolio. So will they buy an MMOG game studio at some point, or just stay out of the traditional MMOG market?

I think they might focus on more casual multiplayer games than the MMOGs typically offer. That could potentially attract many more players than the traditional MMOGs. If there are some good candidate game companies in this area that are XBox friendly I think they could become candidates for being bought by Microsoft.

Smooth City life

February 12, 2008 Comments off

Today the “Issue 11.5” update went live for City of Heroes/Villains, which provided a good amount of updates to the game.

One of the changes that will affect most players are the smoothening of the leveling curve. XP gained for fighting enemies have been increased in general, but to a more significant extent in two level ranges – 13-20 and 36-50. I had a go with one of my dominators at level 46 to see if the increase was noticeable.

It certainly was noticeable. My guess is that the increase for the missions I did was in the ballpark of 25-40% increase. I did not record exact numbers before the update with the same level and difficulty setting, so it is entirely subjective.

On top of that they have also decreased the amount of debt received at death.

While I am not entirely surprised at the level ranges they have increased XP for I would have guessed that the high 20s/low 30s would have some love also. At least that is the level range where my characters kept getting “stuck”. But that could also be related to the missions to some extent.

I think it is positive now that even at the higher levels a character will not be able to play through all of the contacts and content; this will provide some needed variation when playing alts.

Another noticeable change is the combat attribute display. This provides some real numbers on how much various powers and enhancements affect your character. The list of values available is quite large. By right-clicking an attribute it can be added to a monitor window (see upper left in picture for an example), allowing a player to show selected attributes while playing.

Combat Attributes

It was a bit revealing to see exactly how much some powers affected certain attributes, but I am not so sure I will have much of it displayed permanently. It does not show timers for powers and buffs, which I think would be useful to see. Today I use HeroStats for that. But it is a nice addition.

Many other changes are also included in the update,but these were the ones that pretty much everyone would be affected by, so that was what I looked at first. And so far it seems like a quite nice update.

Categories: City of Heroes

Leveling without levels

February 6, 2008 Comments off

A majority of the MMOROGs today are based on some kind of leveling system – character, enemies, equipment etc are in many cases tied to a leveling system. Sometimes it is combined with a skill-based model. A few game have an entirely skill-based model.

With the level-based systems comes a number of issues, at least for some; segmented areas which are only playable for certain level ranges, difficulties for people with big level differences to play together, mudflation issues when max levels are raised, too much focus on item managment due constant level updates.

Still the leveling system is attractive because it helps people marking advancement and setting up mini-goals – and of course to allow them to go ding 😉

So what if we kept the level advancement for the characters, but got rid of it for enemies and perhaps equipment? Or rather, gor rid of the absolute level values. Instead enemies would have relative levels – same level as you, +2 levels, -3 levels. Results would be scaled individually per character. This would have a few neat consequences:

  • Anyone could team up with anyone, regardless of their actual level
  • All content and areas would be playable by anyone at any time pretty much. New content updates would not have to care about which level ranges to support, it would be usable to anyone
  • The games becomes more resiliant to aging; there will not be any lowbie zones that will be empty because almost everyone is at a higher level

Of course, enemies that might be difficult for a level 4 player would likely be easy for a level 40 player. At 40 there would supposedly be more abilities and other features available. But this could be adjusted by allowing players to have an individual difficulty setting. An enemy that might be +1 level for a level 4 player with a default difficulty setting could become a +3 level for a level 40 player with a higher difficulty setting. Higher setting provides for better XP, better rewards etc.

The rate of advancement could be made an individual business and a player could set it at one setting for solo and a diffierent for team play.

I think this approach could provide more opportunity for interesting story development and perhaps more challenges as well. Any linearity that could partially be enforced through a level-based model would not really be applicable. At the same time it also gives more freedom in creating stories. There should be better opportunity to make world changing events – if a certain area is changed significantly in some way it does not destroy the game for a certain level range.

Of course, the feeling to getting through a zone alive with really high level enemies roaming around will not really be there, unless one increases the difficulty setting on purpose. Perhaps other similar issues also. But I would really like to see some take an approach like this which I think could be a boost to the MM part of an MMORPG.

There are existing games that have implemented parts of it, but I would like to see a more complete exploration of this concept. Perhaps some day…

Categories: MMO Games