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Archive for July, 2008

The City wants your money

July 31, 2008 5 comments

It is now possible to buy respec:s for real money in City of Heroes/Villains.

I think it was last year that City of Heroes/Villains added the option to buy a server transfer or a rename of an existing character. A couple of other MMORPGs already had that option. While one can argue about the size of the fee, it seems fair to have some cost associated with it to avoid abuse and it does not affect gameplay.

Not long ago NCSoft added the option to buy more character slots – this means more storage used in some databases, which will have some cost for the company – again ok to get some fee for it, leaving the exact size of the fee as a separate topic.

NCSoft has also tried to introduced in-game ads into the game. As far as I know I do not think they have been very successful in attacting advertisers there, but I may be wrong. No fee and you do not have to see the ads unless you want to.

Now they have introduced a new service with a fee, and this does affect gameplay – a respec option that can be bought. A respec is the option to reselect which powers to use and how enhancements slots are allocated for these powers. Originally in game one had to complete a respec trial, a set of missions to be able to get the option to respec. When they introduced veteran rewards a couple of the rewards include a free respec also.

The veteran rewards have most likely reduced the number of people that would want to do the trial missions, which makes it more difficult for those that do not have any veteran reward respecs to actually to the trials and get the respec.  I certainly think that the way the respec trials are done have some room for improvement. But I do not think that the company should take advantage of a design flaw like this to get more money from their customers. Fix the flaw instead.

In this case I think NCSoft is going in the wrong direction with monetizing the game. What is next? Buy double/increased xp ? Rare recipes?

But it is the same company that introduced the Bling Gnome in Dungeon Runners. Although in that case it is free to play as default and you have to pay for a number of improvements; but in essence the gnome is also taking advantage of a design flaw in my opinion.

Categories: City of Heroes

Harassing the countryside

July 28, 2008 5 comments

Since I reactivated my interest in Guild Wars my excursions in Rogue Isles and Paragon City have mostly been put oh hold. Instead I have started roaming the countryside in Tyria, Cantha and Elona.

In good old tradition I did create a few alts (5 of them) and spread them out through the starting areas – although with 3 in Elona, one of them will likely be put on hold or re-rolled later. All the old characters were deleted also since I wanted a fresh start, although I did rob them of their valuables first.

It has been quite interesting starting as an old newbie. Found the /age command and with some calculation I concluded that I had more than doubled my total play time in the game in the past 9 days, out of a total of 38 months.

In a way, I get a feeling that the leveling to level 20 is a bit like Tortage in Age of Conan – an introduction to the game, an extended newbie area. Although in Guild Wars it is not isolated from the rest of the world, but a part of it.

The story progress has mainly been with Prophecies and Nightfall; quite enjoable both of them. Most of the quests have been quite doable, but did stumble into some trouble at times, only proving my newbie-ness.

  • Was going to kill some patrols of undead soldiers, which happened to be 3 levels higher than me and my heroes at the time. I was killed many times and severe penalties, until I after a long time notice the indication “4/8” in my party window. Party/team size had increased from 4 to 8 at this time! Grabbing some more support into the team and the quest was cleared easily.
  • Hunting for the duke’s daughter (her ghost in fact) in Charr-infested land caused some trouble – she was surrounded by a few Charr groups with bosses. While a few of them could be eliminated, the bulk was still troublesome to take piece by piece – they all came running and with too many healers fighting was less than a success. Again many deaths – after a long time I noticed that she can spawn on a number of different spots and it just happened to be a bad one in this case. Rezoning sorted that problem and a much easier spot was established.

The bulk of my time so far has been with my dervish, my ranger and my necromancer, all of which I have enjoyed. The easiest has been with the necromancer, but she is going through the same content that my dervish has already been through, so that learning experience is probably part of it.

Leveling seems to be fairly quick, especially in Elona, so I guess it will not be that long before any of the characters reach 20.

Categories: Guild Wars

It is official now – Star Trek Online

July 28, 2008 Comments off

The countdown is done and the Star Trek Online web site with Cryptic look (i.e. generally same format as for Champions Online) is in place.

A few details are provided:

  • You can/will play as captain of a starship, either from the Federation or Klingon empire. You can customize the ship; recruite and train your own crew.
  • Gameplay should be a mix of exploration and combat – in space, on the ground or on starships.
  • Both for PC and console (did not say XBox 360 explicitly though)
  • Player generated content options (ship customization part, other things?)

They are obviously taking advantage of features they have when developing the tools used for Champions Online – it would be silly not to do that.

Will people only play as captains, or can/will they play as other members of the crew? How much will be NPCs? Will away teams be multiple players, NPCs (henchmen, pets)?

Cryptic seem to be going for the same format to run the web site, which means there will be Q&A sessions, probably some “meet the devs” posts etc. The Champions Online web site has a nice format I think, so this should be good.

There are some screenshots posted on the web site – only environment views, but looks pretty nice. They will show the first gameplay footage at a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas on August 10th – with a webcast for those that are not attending.

It is probably at an early stage, but that they will show something is good news I think.

Categories: Star Trek Online

Cryptic + Star Trek = true

July 27, 2008 Comments off

It seems there is an early confirmation that the counter counting down at Cryptic Studios is indeed for Star Trek Online. WarCry had discovered that a game career E-zine contained an ad for Cryptic, where Star Trek Online was explicitly mentioned as an upcoming game.

Worth noting is also that the ad says “developer and publisher” and “launching publishing operations around the world”. Which of course makes sense if they are going to do the publishing themselves, they would certainly need something to handle European countries and different parts of Asia, if they intend to go there. Champions Online is going to be published by 2k Games, but maybe Star Trek Online will be handled by Cryptic themselves?

Categories: Star Trek Online

Improving the group – group definition tools

July 26, 2008 Comments off

The grouping concept is something that most people playing MMORPGs think is important to the games/worlds, but how much thought is given to improving the ways the game can support forming of groups?

In most MMORPGs there are typically three types of groups supported by the game itself:

  1. The party or team that is formed for multiple players to tackle some task, typically involving combat. Quite temporary in nature.
  2. The guild/clan, a more permantent and often larger group that sometimes have been formed for a purpose
  3. Informal groups covering specific zones, classes, levels etc. The only element that ties them together is a chat channel

A possible fourth type that I considered would be the friend list; but I decided to leave that out since that can not provide a common view for all its members.  Although it would perhaps be interesting with a six degrees of separation implementation for it, something like LinkedIn. But that is another topic entirely.

Looking at the three types, each and every one of them typically has a fixed set of properties. A property can typically be some of the following

  • Temporary for a session or persisted beyond a gameing session
  • Chat channel, voice chat
  • Show basic member information (name, class, level etc)
  • Show detailed member information (health, buffs/debuffs etc)
  • Shared spaces (storage areas, money, housing)
  • Shared missions/quests
  • Shared experience and income
  • Membership hierachies (leaders, trustees, plain members etc) – none, simple, complex
  • Membership types (characters, other groups)
  • Membership limit (max N members in group)
  • Access control (free access, invitation only, read/write restrictions etc)
  • Member modification (sidekick/apprentice systems)

So a typical team/party implementation will likely include: temporary, chat+voice channel, basic & detailed member info, shared experience & missions, simple hierachy

Except for the more informal groups, any character can typically only be a member of one of any of the defined groups – one party, one guild, one raid party etc.

Why is that limitation there? I certainly do not see the point with having a restriction of one guild for example. In real life I am a formal member of a number of different groups covering various areas of interest? Why can’t I be that in an MMORPG?

For practical and technical reasons the number of such groups would have to have a limit, but even a couple of them would be a big improvement over the current state.

And also, why not provide some of these properties as building blocks to let people defined what their groups can do? I may want to set up a group for raiding purposes and another one for crafting and a third one just for some friends to hang out. The properties used for each may be different.

There are of course restrictions on what properties can be used with a temporary or persited group, again for technical and practical purposes. Some properties would have to have member limitations for the same reason – showing detailed info on all members of a group of 200 characters would not be realistic for example.

But still, I would like to see that the group concept opens up for more group memberships for a character at the very least. Empowering the players with some group definition tools as well would be even nicer.

Categories: MMO Games

Guild Wars, perhaps for real this time

July 23, 2008 5 comments

Guild Wars is a game I have had a strange relationship towards. I bought the original game (Prophecies) as well as Factions and Nightfall, but never played any of the campaigns particularly much. The highest level I reached in it was level 7 in Prophecies and even lower in the other two.

And this in a game which many says just has just started when you reach max level 20. The game has a number of qualities that made it interesting to me – the extensive respec options and flexibility  in terms of skills and attributes on your character, the quite nice load-on-demand system for updating pieces of the game, nice graphics without causing a major performance degradation, a crafting system that seems simple and viable etc. A number of things that my brain said “nice features” to.

But for some reason I stopped playing after at most a few hours each time I tried it.

That is, until now. Recently I was contemplating uninstalling it from the computer, but decided to try it again before though Nightfall campaign – just in case. And this time it was a bit different. Maybe they have done some changes to the game last time I tried. Whatever it is I got past the point where I usually stopped and I while there were some moments of confusion and what-the-…, I have started to quite enjoy it. And the main story missions also start to get quite interesting.

I have two new characters at the moment, one at level 11 (dervish/paragon) and one at level 7 (elementalist/mesmer) and I am feeling eager to try some other alts also.

Maybe this time Guild Wars will actually stick for a longer time period – time will tell.

Categories: Guild Wars

MMO franschises or pure content developers

July 22, 2008 Comments off

One thing that pretty much always is seen in complaints with MMORPG titles are lack of content. When will we see a change in business models for improving the content provided – quality and quantity?

While player-created content is an option often mentioned (with the potential issue that at least 90% will be crap and will include various sexual manifestations), one that I do not see mentioned much is to set up a kind of MMORPG franschise for an existing virtual world or open up to 3rd party content developers. The developer of the virtual world provides the tools, concept rules and perhaps also the art assets – 3rd party developers develop the zones, the missions and encounters etc. Perhaps also run events.

A number of the major MMORPG titles we see or that are coming out soon have been in development for a number of years, perhaps 4-5 years. A significant portion of that time in those cases are likely spent on developing the tools to develop the games themselves.

For example Funcom has said that part of the investment and time spent with Age of Conan was for the tool and engine development, which they can reuse for other projects, such as their upcoming MMORPG The Secret World. That project started in 2006 and was reported in a “playable state” in 2007.

I recall an interview with one of the developers from Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment (developers of Stargate Worlds) who said one the tools were there, a major MMORPG title could be developed in 2-3 years. With that timeframe in mind, we might see Funcom’s The Secret World next year perhaps.

Still, a lot of the time of these 2-3 years will be developing concepts, art assets and other building blocks to build the virtual world itself, using the tools available.

I believe it was Jack Emmert from Cryptic Studios that said that it took 8 months to develop City of Villains. They had the engine and tools, they had a number of art assets that they could reuse. And look at Turbine, who reportedly have produced a good amount of content for Lord of the RIngs Online after it was released. My guess is that they have good tools and mechnisms that helps them produce content at a decent rate.

There will of course be issues to solve on how to charge for the content and how customer support is handled. And intellectual property like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings might n

Categories: MMO Games

2009 – the year of SciFi MMOs?

July 21, 2008 1 comment

Many blog discussions and topics seem to have been centered around some fantasy games and expansions from Mythic Entertainment, Funcom and Blizzard this year. Not that many and not something I share a few others excitement for.

Next year seems to have potential for more interesting prospects though and this in the SciFi area of MMOGs:

  • Stargate Worlds seems to be aiming for an early 2009 release. Based on the Stargare SG-1 TV series, one of the things they emphasize is their strong story content. They are taking beta applications, over 150000 has reportedly signed up so far.
  • Jumpgate Evolution is space oriented SciFi MMOG, where NetDevil has based it on their old Jumpgate game and then work to make an improved and evolved version of it. Seems much a combat and trade oriented game with player driven economy. They are taking beta applications.
  • Black Prophecy seems also to be a space oriented game, from Reakktor – creators of Neocron/Neocron 2. I have not seen much information abouth this game. Screenshots on their site looks spectacular. They are taking beta applications.
  • Earthrise is a game with a postapocalyptic theme from Masthead Studios.  Character development is purely skill oriented, promises player driven economy and extensive crafting and territorial PvP.
  • MechScape is a new MMO from JagEx, creators of RuneScape. It will likely be a browser-based MMORPG like RuneScape

Depending on who you ask, some would also put superhero games like Champions Online and DC Universe Online as SciFi games, both which seem to be aiming for 2009. So far there has only been two games released in this area and these have been siamese twins with each other, so one may argue that they are just one game. SciFi has a broad definition, so it certainly can include these games as well, although it may not be what everyone thinks of when talking about SciFi.

Some other SciFi games being developed have not had any release plans announced yet. Fallen Earth developers says it is ready when it is ready. Cryptic Studios will likely announce a SciFi game in development in a week, which many belive may be Star Trek Online. BlackStar is the game from Space Time Studios which may still be looking for a publisher. These may not be released during 2009 though.

It does show some potentially exciting future in the area of MMORPGs, at least for us who would be very happy to play more SciFi oriented games rather than the fantasy themes that are currently dominating.

I would not be surprised if there are more games than these, but these were those that I could think of right away that I have seen mentioned.

Heroes and villains under one flag – City of Superpowered beings

July 21, 2008 1 comment

Well, almost under one flag. NCSoft announced a few days ago that City of Heroes and City of Villains now officially are one game universe – everyone who bought either game will now have access to the other side.

This is hardly a surprise; for a long time the new releases of the game packages have been the combined “Good vs Evil” edition with both games in it. When NCSoft bought the Cryptic part of the game they also celebrated with giving all current players access to “the other side” if they did not have that already.

Most new content update of the game for over a year has been for the benefit of both sides, except the villain epic archetypes in Issue 12, plus some revamps of old heroes zones.

In their announement NCSoft also talks about this merge being in line with the way they are going to take the intellectual property of City of Heroes/Villains. From a business perspective it makes sense; do things that benefit both sides since this will cover most of the players. While most players probably play both heroes and villains, one side is likely to be the preference. And sometimes friends’ preferences could be different.

With an MMORPG that is more socially oriented than achievement oriented, a divide like that is likely a big concern for the designers. Just look at Cryptic’s next superbeing MMORPG, Champions Online. They are not going the same path again when it comes to heroes vs villains.

Small details in the game makes it evident that a merger of some kind it taking place, with the hero side terminology slowly seem to be replacing the villain side terminology in a number of places in the game.

So where will NCSoft go with the game? My guess is that they are going to allow all archetypes to be playable on either side and that content updates will continue to focus on storylines that involves heroes and villains working together against external threats. Rikti Invasion was the first major step, the Ouroboros and the time travel to Cimerora were the next ones.

Which means we might see more non-city environments or perhaps “alien” environments (Rikti home world perhaps).

If this happens, it is a definite change to the environment and setting, which is probably welcome by many. On the other hand some people, including myself, are concerned that the lack of single side content updates will stop the exploration of villainous content in particular. For a number of us the villain side is simply so much better – better story arcs in general, more friendly to travel and contents and missions better organised, better colour schemes, more varied city environments. And mayhem missions are more fun than the safeguard missions.

So I have some mixed feelings about where this might be going. But only time will tell what will really happen.

Categories: City of Heroes

Another dominator final ding

July 21, 2008 2 comments

Yesterday I reached the max level with my earth/electricity dominator. It is a quite enjoyable character to play, so it has had a fair amount of play time lately. As with all dominators, an active play style is beneficial particular in teams – keeping track of mobs, trying to avoid aggro and helping out with crowd control. Plus of course do a bit of damage.

While I had not planned to reach max level, I got caught in “the moment” with the double reward weekend in the game and ended up being close enough that I thought I just continue to the end.

The little bit disappointing part though is that I have not been able to pursue much of the story arcs, leveling was perhaps too fast at times and also often when in teams the leaders tended to run their missions mostly, causing everyone else to outlevel their own missions. For some it is not important though as long as xp progression is good, but I think it is nice to be able to follow some of ones own story arcs also.

I will probably pursue more non-dominator paths now though. On villain side it is probably not going to be brute or mastermind. Everyone else plays them it seems, probably because they can do a lot of damage and can be simple to play.

Categories: City of Heroes