Monthly Archives: April 2010

Only a Matter of Time

I figured this would happen eventually; Realtime Worlds announced their pricing structure for APB, and it includes usage-based billing. Old-school cell phone plans have come to the MMO sphere!

I can’t say it comes as a surprise, or that it’s even something with which I disagree. As a gamer with two young kids, the number of hours I can spend playing is fairly limited. It would likely take me more than a month to burn through 50 hours of play time. That, and they offer the monthly ‘unlimited’ plan and, whats more, for less than a standard subscription! My guess is that players will be able to move from unlimited to purchased sets of hours fairly seamlessly.

It’s always been a question of mine why more companies don’t do something like this. I figured it was easier from the financial perspective to just do flat rates and average out bandwidth consumption across all players. People like me tend to pay for the power users who absorb a higher-than-average amount of bandwidth. That, and it’s just easier for the player – pay your monthly fee and have at it. Don’t worry about how much time you have left.

So APB sits somewhere between the standard subscription model and Guild Wars. I don’t doubt that this will work for some people – some will pay by the hour, some by the month. New business models always make me happy, particularly when they represent more choice for the consumer. I have to wonder – could this be something like the “alternative financial model” hinted at a few month ago for The Old Republic?

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Interference Prevails

Luckily it’s been a slow day or two (at least, as far as MMO news for those games about which I care), so the interference thrown at me by the Real World has been less than bothersome. Aside from the normal bother, that is.

There’s this. And, of course, this. As a current player, I always like the LotRO Welcome Back Weeks/Weekends. I make it a point to get in on an alt or two to make the most of the bonus experience, and the savings at the Stablemasters. Hauling back and forth between the Lone Lands and North-Downs can get expensive, and I’ve never liked grinding through one of those in one swoop; by the time you get through one, the other has lost a lot of its value. And as both are somewhat blah visually, I like to get the most out of them while I spend my time there. Thing is, Turbine seems to be throwing quite a few of these “Welcome Back” events recently, and that makes me a little nervous.

Catching up on some reading, I came across this post by SynCaine. I agree with it wholeheartedly, both as a fan of the Warhammer universe (though I’ve always been partial to the Warhammer 40k setting), and a former player of WAR. I’ve always felt it was a shame that I payed for WAR, because if I’d started now, I’d have saved myself the money. I never took a single character past what is now included in the Endless Trial.

There were several reasons I never stuck with the game, but a lot of them come back to the same disappointments SynCaine expresses. The feeling I get playing WAR just doesn’t match up to the lore of the world I’ve grown up reading and playing; it’s too much like WoW, and not enough like it’s source material. Also, when I was playing, the Tier 1 areas were mostly empty. I imagine this issue has been somewhat alleviated by the Endless Trial, but the damage was done (for me, at least).

There are some great things about WAR, no doubt. Public quests. Item customization and cosmetic items. The IP itself is world-renowned. The implementation, however, is lacking. There’s too much between me and the fun.

ArenaNet Blog

Now with more manifesto!

ArenaNet opened up their blog today with a strong statement:

“Our games aren’t about preparing to have fun, or about grinding for a future fun reward. Our games are designed to be fun from moment to moment.”

That pretty much sums it up, and, for me, it’s the most important point being made. The entire post is a great read, and if you’re a fan of Guild Wars, or looking forward to GW2, I definitely recommend it. Also, Bio Break has a good summary of the major points; check it out.

A few things jumped out at me as I read through it. First and foremost, it really seems like ArenaNet has embraced the idea of streamlining the gaming “process”. The biggest to me was “encouraging” socialization without forcing it into a specific mechanic. From the description, it sounds like the process of formalized grouping has taken a back seat, and the game will automatically recognize a player’s contribution to a situation, and reward them appropriately. At the very least it seems like it will mitigate the competition for grinding mobs. At best, it will enhance the experience by actively rewarding players who come to each other’s rescue. It’s a great idea, and I’m going to love seeing how it plays out.  They’ve borrowed a few ideas from their colleagues, such as public quests, a personal story, and more dynamic combat, but seem to, again, be defining their game on their own terms. Considering that the original Guild Wars is a uncontested success, this only means good things for fans of the game and the genre.

They’re also adding in some of the traditional RPG elements I really miss in the original game. Or so they say. Either way, it’s looking really good. As if I wasn’t excited enough, now I’m practically frothing at the mouth to try this game.

*ding* Welcome to the “endgame”!

My burglar hit the level cap this weekend, which is always an interesting milestone for me.  This time was particularly fun, as I had just joined a new kinship. While it’s always nice to see the “end” of the XP Bar (at least, for the time being), hearing hearty congratulations from others is always appreciated.

Having played quite a few MMOs, but having reached the level cap in only a few, I still find the differences in “endgame” content quite fascinating. World of Warcraft, for example, is oriented around PvP and raiding. Everquest 2 seems to be mostly raiding, though I don’t say this from personal experience. Others, like EVE, don’t have so much of an endgame, as there isn’t much of a path to follow, and how do you get to the “end” of a sandbox? But as you progress, corporate intrique and (as always) PvP are the main activities.

LotRO, at least for me, seems to take a slightly different approach to the endgame. Turbine seems to have chosen content as one of the primary activities for level-capped players. I noticed it in Moria, and I’ve noticed it now in Siege of Mirkwood; I hit the level cap long before I had worked through even a majority of the content. There is, of course, raiding to be done, and PvP is always an option. But my burglar hit 60 in the very early parts of Moria (I hadn’t yet run a single radiance instance), and 65 in Lothlorien. I haven’t even seen Mirkwood yet, nor have I run all of the Moria instances.

For a player like me, hitting the level cap is far down my list of priorities when playing the game. However, this strategy can be dangerous for Turbine – it is never possible to keep up with the truly “hardcore” in terms of content. The power players always seem to burn through the new content far quicker than it can be developed, and what do they do then?

Playing Hero

Finally caught up with the new developer documentary for Star Wars: The Old Republic (TOR). Needless to say, I’m pretty impressed. Syp over at Bio Break does a good job of summing it up. I agree, up until he says “Trooper”. I’m all about the Imperial Agent. And the Smuggler (I mean, really, what person my age hasn’t dreamt about being Han Solo?).

Sure, it was a little choppy in places. The game’s not even in beta yet. And for a product due for release over a year from now it looks pretty good. But great visuals are something I’ve come to expect from BioWare.

What really piqued my interest was the commentary. Specifically, the part about heroics and a single player taking on a group of enemies, fighting through “overwhelming odds”, and making it through. I play solo mostly, so this appeals to me. It adds a whole new level of drama. Players get to be the hero (amongst many, I know…).

What I worry about is that it’s too much focus on the solo player. Will TOR be a single player experience, grouping optional? Hopefully not. I may not always have time to group, but it’s a critical part of the “massively multiplayer” experience, and worthwhile. My hope is that BioWare just scales encounters to group size in some fashion; a solo player encounters 3 bad guys, a group of 6 encounter 15. Something like that.

The thing I always stick on is lightsaber combat. I felt it in Knight of the Old Republic (though they had an explanation for it), and I feel it now. Lightsabers cut through everything. A robot struck with a lightsaber should go down in a single swipe. For that matter, so should anything else. To see a Jedi or Sith swinging away at anything over and over just robs the experience of something, no matter how acrobatically awesome it may play.

Hanging Out in Tyria

Shocking!Guild Wars is amongst my favorite games for a number or reasons. First, it’s just so pretty. ArenaNet has some of the most talented and creative artists, programmers, and modelers in the industry. I’d play the game just to do the sightseeing even if it weren’t as fun as it is. Second, very low barrier to entry – no monthly fee and it’s structured in such a way that you can jump in and out during a lunch break and feel like you got somewhere.

About six months ago, I started to hear things about Guild Wars 2, and started to see the smattering of news that was being released. My interest in the original was renewed, I got it installed quickly, and even purchased the Factions expansion (last I had played, they were leading up to the release of Factions). Because I’m such a sucker for story, and with the indication that Guild Wars 2 actually builds on the story of the original games, I set myself the goal of working through as much of the original content as possible. I have no doubts that I will pick up the sequel, and with limited playing time, I’m unsure if I’ll ever get back to the first games.

When I stopped playing last, I had gotten a Ranger/Monk as far as Bergen Hot Springs. I left him there. I didn’t have a good feel for the game, and as I didn’t remember much of the story, I just decided to start at the beginning. So far, Drannos has gotten to Yak’s Bend. A few observations so far:

  • What’s going on with everyone standing around? Perhaps I’ve never noticed this in other games, but it seems like this phenomena is unique to Guild Wars. The City of Ascalon is packed with people just standing, doing apparently nothing. I’m more accustomed to a higher level of activity; people I encounter in-game are usually doing something, and even in the common areas (Bree, 21st Hall, etc.) where groups gather, it’s usually for a reason. Ascalon is a field of zombies. What am I missing? Guild chat? A title for time spent logged in? What?
  • I love that ArenaNet gives you all the information on the game (or nearly as good as), but has you rely on your skills and your strategy to actually get through the content. Within weeks or months of most MMOs, there are fansites and online databases of every facet of the game; this doesn’t work well for, say, quest design that intends the player to explore or puzzle out what needs to be done. They can just go to a wiki and look up the answer.
  • While I know that instancing is a huge part of the game’s overall design, I find myself (once again) a little annoyed at how this translates into gameplay. Generall, ArenaNet is pretty good about not making the player run back and forth to the same area over and over for a quest chain. But it still happens, and having to clear an area time and time again when all I really needed to do was pop back into town and run out again, can get tiresome.

Finally, I’m experiencing a serious spike in the difficulty curve once out of Ascalon. I ran most of Ascalon with one or maybe two other NPCs. Now I’m hard pressed to get places with a full group of seven (including my pet). Perhaps I’m doing something wrong? I know the game is centered very much around builds and I’ve never been great at figuring out good combinations – anyone have any suggestions?

To Rule Them All

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about this.

Since nearly every other blog I follow has been posting about Warner Brothers acquiring Turbine, I’m getting the feeling that it’s a mandatory subject on which to post. Here goes.

Like everyone else, I’m hopeful that no one at Turbine gets burnt by this, or that Turbine actually finds itself in a better position than they have been in the recent past. Best case, they actually get more resources to play with, and that can only be good for their customers. Word is they’ve been struggling, which explains the very ill-advised Offer Wall strategy. Since they, rightly, pulled that debacle down so quickly, one has to think that Turbine isn’t as bad off as some had feared; obviously they still value their reputation enough to listen to their customers. They can’t be that desperate for cash. (Can they?).

I’m not a big fan of WBIE, but neither do I harbor them any ill will. At best (and worst) I’m indifferent. As a publisher, they’ve had some hits (Batman, of the Asylum and LEGO variety) and some misses. I’d challenge anyone to point to a publisher that doesn’t. My hope is that they just leave Turbine alone; or that they have this in mind, and that’s the extent of their interest in changes at Turbine. If they’re (WBIE) smart, they’ll leave a good developer alone to do their jobs.

There is a good side to this, in my mind. At least, there is a component that hasn’t changed, and that fact bodes well for fans of Lord of the Rings Online. The Saul Zaentz Company and Middle Earth Enterprises have always maintained (relatively) tight control of the LotR intellectual property, and have maintained active participation in the development of products based on Tolkien’s work. While this doesn’t always guarantee a quality product, it has so far played out well in LotRO; they’ve kept Turbine as honest to the canon as is reasonable for a fun game. That hasn’t changed.

So I’m hopeful. I have faith in Turbine (still). Until the details of the deal come out (if they ever do), we can’t know how much involvement or control or influence WBIE will have, or hopes to have, over Turbine.