Tag Archives: APB

Onwards to 2011

“Vacation” is now over, though this year’s holiday break didn’t look much like those previous; working for a university means I get the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, but with two young kids at home it was more of a “working” vacation and didn’t provide much time for gaming. It was still highly enjoyable, however, as spending a week with the kids is a rare thing; between chipping away at some massive LEGO sets and TRON: Legacy with my older son and naps and “stair ball” (in which I throw a ball with blinking LED lights down our stairs hundreds of times to immense hilarity) with my younger son, we had a great time.

2010 was a tough year for our family; my wife and I were discussing this over New Year’s Eve dinner at our favorite restaurant and both agreed that we were definitely ready for the new year. We should have seen it coming when we started with a horrendous stomach bug that hit everyone in the house – it was going to be a difficult year, including, but not limited to, work trouble for both of us, major car troubles, and several large and unforeseen expenses. Some good parts as well, to be sure, but overall a year we’re glad to put behind us. Life goes on, both Real and Pixeled.

I’ve never been much for looking back, and if you had asked me at the start of last year about developments in the MMO industry during 2010, I would have been dead wrong on many counts. So instead of making general predictions for MMOs in 2011, I’m going to keep it personal and mention the games about which I’m most excited; I’m only predicting what I will end up playing or doing this year. Besides, if you want predictions for the coming year, there are some very good ones on Bio Break, Keen and Graev, and Kill Ten Rats (most of which I agree). And anyway, any predictions, be they about personal choices or industry developments, are going to be reflections on the genre as a whole.

2011 looks to be a banner year for our genre, so there’s a lot to discuss. Here goes.

RIFT: Planes of Telara: A lot of positive buzz is coming out of the recent RIFT betas, and though I haven’t done a ton of reading up on it, I’m definitely interested. Interested enough to pre-order. From what I have seen, the game is absolutely gorgeous, and polishes the genre staples to a high gloss. The lack of new or “revolutionary” features doesn’t bother me; like Gordon over at We Fly Spitfires, I’ve realized that I like themepark games and I don’t need revolutionary mechanics or gameplay as long as I’m having fun. I’m a tourist in MMOs – not in the sense that I jump from title to title without commitment, but that I play them mostly for the sights and the stories.

RIFT looks like the perfect game for a tourist such as myself. I’ll play it on and off for long enough to see the sights, then retire the account.

Guild Wars 2: If this game even launches in 2011, I have a feeling that my relationship with Guild Wars 2 is going to be much like my relationship to its older sibling – I’ll want to love it and play through its content, but something about it just won’t click. Everything I’m seeing and hearing about the game has me excited, and the visuals are stunning (as always), but the current incarnation can only seem to hold my attention for a week or so at a time, and I have a suspicion that GW2 will be the same.

However, if ArenaNet can cut back on the heavy instancing and really do the dynamic content the way I’m hoping, this could surprise me and take up a good chunk of my time. No matter what, this is near the top of my “Must Buy” list and I have no doubt that I’ll be there on launch day.

The Old Republic: As a serious fan of the franchise (more BioWare’s Old Republic, less so Star Wars these days) this is The Big One on my list for 2011. I stopped reading almost everything about the game several months ago, as I was tired of the hype cycle and the inevitable noise, from both the über-fans and the hardcore skeptics, that accompanies every announcement. Not that my excitement or anticipation is any less, but more that I want to go into the game as fresh as possible.

TOR is Number One on my list of new games for 2011 (as I’m sure it is for many), and I already know it will be a serious contender for my attention. Based on their past performance I have faith that BioWare will create a fun experience, and their supposed focus on story definitely sits well with me. It almost doesn’t matter what they charge – the Collector’s Edition shall be mine!

Lord of the Rings Online: As weird as it seems, this one is the hardest for me to predict for 2011. Despite recent evidence to the contrary in my many “opinionated” (negative) comments, I’ve been having a lot of fun in LotRO recently. The lore and my kin keep things interesting as always, I’m still enjoying the Yule Festival, and I’ve yet to seriously look into Enedwaith, so there’s no lack of content for me. Moreso, the announcement of Isengard has me excited and hopeful for the future of LotRO; if Turbine can do this expansion “right” and give us something new, it would go a long way to keeping us engaged.

But, if I had to make a prediction for 2011, I’d have to say that I’m going to stop playing LotRO. I absolutely love my Burglar, and I love the game, but it seems like the things I love about LotRO are things I loved about the game that have since changed, been lost over the past year, or have been crowded out by the “business side” of Turbine running their MMO.

I hate to think about leaving, but between a series of small but bad decisions regarding the Store and the looming threat of newer MMOs, I think it will become harder and harder for me to log in. I’ve been with LotRO since the beginning, which is three times longer than any other MMO I’ve played, and I have some great friends there, but Turbine’s treatment of its players and the incessant, unmitigated “upsell” of the Cash Shop is becoming a tougher and tougher pill to swallow.

I get the distinct feeling that Turbine cares only for converting Free Players into Paying Players and how many nickels and dimes they can wring out of every customer; either they no longer regard their long-term customers and fans as viable income (perhaps we spend less in the Store per person?) or it’s simply not an option to try to keep us happy. Either way, its looking like its only about Money now, not Fun or Enjoyment or creating an Experience, and that hurts. Hell, I imagine the only reason they haven’t pushed harder against Tolkien’s canon is because of contractual obligation, not a desire to stay true to the material or please Tolkien fans.

Of all my predictions, this is the one about which I hope I’m the most wrong. I hope that next year I’m still hopping around Middle Earth, fighting alongside Dunedain, Hobbits, and Ents(!) and standing toe-to-toe against Orcs, Trolls, and Nazgûl. Isengard could be a killer expansion that keeps me coming back for more and more. I hope.

MMO “X”: I don’t yet know what this game will be (hence the “X”), but I’m convinced that this year I will start to play more games with my older son (5 years old). He’s shown an increasing interest in playing something that goes beyond simple Flash games and I see no reason not to have him join me in a hobby I love (if I can just convince his mother!). Maybe it will be LEGO Universe, maybe Wizard 101, or maybe something else. Whatever it ends up being, 2011 will likely see my son’s first steps into a virtual world.

It makes a father so proud!

Earthrise: I’ve been following this game on and off since it was first announced, and I will likely give it a try. I’ve been looking for both a good sandbox-style game and a good Sci Fi MMO, and Earthrise looks like it could be both! I have a few reservations and concerns, but I think I will enjoy this one. It launches early this year so there’s not much competition in terms of time.

I don’t think Earthrise will gather a huge following, but I think it will do well enough and, given time, grow into a strong community.

“Free-To-Play”/“Free-To-Try” Gaming: Two types of predictions for this category. One, which games will make the switch to the Free To Try/F2P Hybrid that grew in popularity throughout 2010 and, two, some thoughts on upcoming F2P titles I’ll likely jump into and play.

First, if I had to guess, I’d say that Star Trek Online, Warhammer Online, and Age of Conan will all move to the Cash Shop/Hybrid model this year. Others will as well, but as this is a list of personal predictions, I’m only going to comment on these three because, if they do, I will likely play them. Age of Conan more than the other two, but all three are games in which I’m interested and would love to explore, but don’t feel they are worth the price of admission.

On the side of new games launching in 2011, I can safely say that I will try Black Prophesy and Jumpgate: Evolution. Both remind me of what is probably one of my top three games of all time – Tie Fighter. I’ve been dying for a good space combat flight-sim that makes me break out my joystick again, and both could fit that bill. I think both will launch in 2011.

Also launching this year, and which I will at least check out, are APB: Reloaded and The Agency. I will likely drop DDO and Vindictus from my regular cycle of games, but because the barrier to entry and exit is so low, I will check in from time to time.

So that’s it. My thoughts on the coming year.  As I said, 2011 doesn’t hold much of interest for me in the single-player games, but looks to be a hallmark year for MMOs. And, yes, some of the above is undoubtedly self-fulfilling, but there’s always a chance for a surprise hit (or bomb) and, as always, a chance that any of these games could be pushed back to 2012.

Finally, no discussion of the new year would be complete without a resolution or two. Mine is simple: more attention to writing. I haven’t been able to write here as often as I’d like, and I’m going to make a concerted effort to post regularly. I also have an MMO-related project or two in mind that I’d like to move forward.

It’s going be a busy year, but undoubtedly fun!

Forever Spoiled

I’ve never been a fan of any game, MMO or otherwise, that advertises itself as a “revolution”, or which claims to have “revolutionary” features. Mostly these end up as bullet points during the hype-cycle, spawn some discussion and debate in gaming circles, then fade into oblivion when the developer announces, “Not at launch”. Or that feature is released in a completely bastardized form, barely recognizable from the initial description, and not at all revolutionary. Viva la Revolución and whatnot.

Revolutions, in any form, real or digital, are generally not fun for anyone involved. When it comes to gameplay or mechanics in video games, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen or experienced a truly “revolutionary” idea. And I’d like to keep it that way. Revolution is a complete tear-down of an existing system to replace it with another, presumably more appealing to the oppressed. One, I’m not oppressed in my entertainment choices and, two, I don’t consider disregard for good mechanics an idea worth exploring.

Evolution, on the other hand, is preferable and, at least in gaming, necessary. In many ways it’s a given, considering the relative youth of our type of entertainment and the kinds of people who create them. They continually strive for new and better ways to create fun. Take something, a mechanic or system, a story, a visual style – anything – and push it’s boundaries. Combine it with others, find something new. Make it something more.

*sigh*

These thoughts are all the product of a rather sad revelation; a permanent dissatisfaction with something I very much used to enjoy – crafting in LotRO. The culprit for my disillusionment – All Points Bulletin. I recently gave the game a try during the “Key to the City” open beta event. I’m not going to discuss the game here other than to say that, while I found many things I liked about APB, I just don’t think it’s a game for me. I’ll play through the time I’ve bought (once it launches), and maybe it will change my mind, but I don’t foresee staying with it. I wanted to like it, but it just didn’t click.

However, there was one part of the game that completely blew me away – the part about which everyone is raving. The customization. My word; APB makes City of Heroes’ character customization look almost simplistic. A child’s coloring book next to a masterful stained glass window. Now, considering how lauded CoH is for it’s customization options, how can any other game even compete?

For those of you who may not be familiar, APB allows players to customize the appearance of nearly everything in the game, from your avatar’s physical appearance to their tattoos, clothing, weapons, and vehicles. The tools Real Time Worlds (RTW) created to enable this are marvelous in both their usability and their flexibility; this is an example of the finest in user empowerment, and the industry as a whole (not just MMOs) needs to take a moment to recognize and appreciate what RTW has accomplished. Whether their game succeeds or fails, this system is something that needs to be kept alive.

I spent nearly all of my game time in APB playing around in this system. I struggled at first, but mostly because, upon entering the tools, I had trouble adjusting my thinking to what I was presented. Once I wrapped my brain around what I’d been given, I realized there are no real limits to what is possible. It’s pretty much a game by itself, and I would pay money for an offline version of this tool if it could create just a little bit more than it does now; it creates “decals” that can be placed on nearly anything, and I would want it to create more “objects” that could be shaped and attached to human models.

After having played with such a powerful system, how can I possibly go back to the Easy-Bake oven that is your standard MMO crafting? “A + B + 2-of-C,*click*, wait for progress bar” and out comes your leather armor. Wow, how…thrilling.

This is not to criticize the artists at Turbine. Far from it. LotRO is one of the most beautiful games I’ve played. The item design, particularly the high-level raid armor sets, are gorgeous and desirable enough to help me want to run through that content, even multiple times when necessary. And I don’t think that a system as extensive as APB would be appropriate within LotRO. But even taking a subset of those tools and making them available to players for crafting would be an amazing step forward.

Can you imagine being able to combine various components of armor or weapons and create new designs? For an example piece of torso armor – a scalemail base, with Elven leather pads in chosen locations, and “upgraded” (i.e. fancier) leather pads at the shoulders and elbows? All with their own colors and surface design or texture? The possibilities are mind-boggling, and the “fun factor” of crafting, in my mind, jumps up several levels. There are numerous additional components to just torso armor – the neck, chest-piece (directly over the sternum), abdomen, and hems, for example – that could all have component options from which to choose. Weapons work just as well: pommel, grip, guard, and blade are all components of a bladed melee weapon.

Implementing this into LotRO, with its existing mechanic for “crafting”, would be difficult to say the least. However, a system like this could still be made to work within the current framework:

  • Recipes could still be used. Instead of recipes simply dictating what components are necessary for which output, recipes instead could be used to ensure that different visual components could not be mixed together (thus preserving the canon). Bree-Land, Elven, Dwarf-make, and Moria/Lothlorien variants of armor or weapons can still be made, but only the same type of components could be combined into a single piece (i.e. all Elvish or all Dwarf-make). The other mechanic of recipes – controlling who can make which items – is preserved. Single-use recipes for special statistic increases are also still possible (see further points below).
  • Harvested components would still be required. Though APB has nothing like this (that I ever encountered), it’s easy to maintain this mechanic. Because recipes still exist, material component requirements can still be enforced. Single-use and critical successes for recipes can continue to function, with the requirement of special components during crafting (much like they do now). Also, as it generally works now, materials used would also translate into the statistics of the item – Toughness, Armor/Damage, statistical bonuses, and so on.
  • “Critical Success” is still possible. Critical successes mean two things right now: slightly different appearance (though I’m not sure this is always the case), and different stat boosts provided by the crafted item. As recipes and materials are still required, this mechanic doesn’t really need to change at all.
  • Statistic increases would still exist. Similar to critical successes, this aspect of crafting really wouldn’t change. However, with the greater flexibility inherent to the system, stat boosts could actually be more customizable. Want a bit more of an Agility increase than the recipe would normally provide? Use certain materials, or make sure you don’t have stiff leather pads in certain key areas.
  • Crafting skill levels would still exist. The type of system I’m envisioning would probably result in fewer overall recipes. I don’t think this is a bad thing. But crafting levels (Journeyman, Expert, Artisan, etc.) should still exist, to represent the time and effort invested by individual players. However, instead of controlling to which recipes a player has access, crafting level could instead control which materials a player can use in their recipe, and the visual styles to which a player has access. Skill level could also contribute to base item statistics (Toughness, Armor, Damage) in conjunction with material components.

Most of the fundamental ideas around crafting would remain; mostly this comes down to visual appearance, and a greater flexibility in resulting item statistics. In my opinion, the best part of a system such as this is that, in general, it would work for more than just armor and weapons. Imagine an interface where players could mix components for cooking foods or scholar’s potions? Or combine runes, inks, and writing materials to make scrolls? Stones, metals, and different styles of settings combine for Jewellers. Outfits, by far one of my favorite systems in LotRO, work identically in terms of crafting the items, as does the actual ownership, equipping, and transfer of items when they are sold (they are still represented as icons which fill an inventory space).

Other aspects of player appearance and itemization, i.e. “armor sets” and rare drops, could still work as they currently do or they could be modified. Participation in high-level content (or maybe I should instead say “significantly involved content”) could still reward tokens for bartering, or they could drop special components or recipes (permanent or single-use for either type). Use of these components or recipes in crafted items would result in unique visual pieces (i.e. a special sternum piece that is only available from The Rift) and could even produce Bind on Acquire items to prevent the sale of “high end gear”.

The real value-adds of a system like this are many; greater immersion, greater player involvement in the economy, higher player satisfaction, and (the most important) significantly increased options for players to customize their appearance. The celebration caused by the Outfit system should attest to the importance we place on our avatar’s appearance.

A lot of the systems in APB are built around the mechanics of the customization tools and were done so “from the ground up”; these tools aren’t a replacement or upgrade of existing systems. This fact alone makes it extremely unlikely that anything similar to what I’ve detailed above would be implemented in LotRO. Ever. Not only is it a major overhaul of a relatively small system (and we’ve all seen how quickly changes have come to other “small” systems *cough* housing *cough*), but it would require a complete overhaul of most of the player and item models used in the game, and the implementation of a system that would put all of the pieces together, at runtime, for every player. That’s huge. I’m guessing (though I’m no expert) that that is nearly New Game Engine huge.

But, a person can dream. And the fact that APB has implemented such a system means that it can be done. This is the direction MMOs are headed – the Web-Two-Point-Oh-Player-Generated-Content-Etc.-Direction – and all developers need to take note. Not having systems like this may become a detriment in the future. Were a system like the one I’ve described ever to be introduced it would solidify LotRO as a world-class game with few, if any, peers. And the kinds of fun it would introduce would be untold.

Voice Work

Chau chi lan tsu sun tsa!

Massively pointed to the recently released APB opening cinematic over on GameTrailers. I’ve been interested in this game since it was announced, became even more so when Real Time Worlds announced their pricing structure, and am now getting truly excited. Already pre-purchased it on Steam.

The cinematic does a nice job of showing off the game engine, and a great job of setting up some of the backstory and, more importantly, the explanation of why vigilante Enforcers have been empowered to fight crime. Violently.

When I joined up with the kinship, I bit the bullet and finally hooked up the mic on my headset, and started using in-game chat and Ventrilo. It’s made a world of difference in my level of participation in kin events and instance runs. So it occurred to me, when watching that video, that players could be in for a serious disconnect when logging into APB.

When I log into our kin’s chat server, I’m greeted by a lot of friendly people, all speaking one version or another of English. But it’s all pretty vanilla English. Though it doesn’t really jive with how I think the inhabitants of Middle Earth should sound (no English or Scottish accents to be heard, though we do have some Canadians!), it’s pretty close.

Consider the setting for APB, and listen to the voice work already in some of the APB videos. This is a cops ‘n robbers game with a decidedly gangsta influence, in an urban setting, with heavy Rap influences throughout (from the music to the fashion to the  vehicle “accessorizing”). Should I be working on my ‘gangsta’ accent?

Some people might think this plays into cliches (or worse). That may be, but not anything that Real Time Worlds hasn’t already put there themselves.

So what does this have to do with Indiana Jones on a rope bridge?

It actually plays into something I wish we saw more of in MMOs – the language barrier. Most chat mechanisms in games are built for accessibility, and to bring people together. To facilitate communication, cooperation, and teamwork. But what about that scene on the rope bridge, where Indy calls out to Shortround, telling him to hold on. Sure, a language barrier can be a deterrent. But it can also be strategic, and it certainly adds to immersion.

Besides, as most will agree, there are some people who just aren’t worth talking to.

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?