Tag Archives: BioWare

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!

My Ignorance is Purely Selective

A few weeks ago, Zubon posted some thoughts on the difference between fans of Star Wars and Star Trek. It’s been a lifetime in blogger-time since that post, but it’s been running circles in my head ever since. (For one, what about those of us who are fans of both?)

I agree with a lot of what the post says, particularly when it comes to the greater tolerance of Star Trek fans for material that is of lower quality, and with the reasons Zubon gives. When you have a multitude of offerings within a franchise, it’s far easier to put aside the bad and focus more on the good.When you only have one or two offerings in a given format (e.g. movies) per decade, the requirements for quality are much more critical. I think this is the reason the Star Wars books rarely get heavy criticism for their varying quality – there are just so many more of them from which to choose that it makes it easier to pick the ones we like and put aside those we don’t.

We were discussing this last night, and oddly enough both my wife and I agreed that, as far as Star Trek goes, the first two versions (the original series and Next Generation) were by far the best and, where “family” television is concerned, the only realistic options from the range of shows that are available. Everything else is either far too violent (Deep Space 9, some of Voyager), too intellectual for kids (Enterprise, Voyager, and some of Deep Space 9), or of no interest to those who actually care about it (Enterprise and Voyager, mostly). Namely, me.

But all that is beside the point.

What really got me thinking was the perception of a “unified faith” in Star Wars fandom. Zubon is right; as a whole, Star Wars fans take the sanctity of the entire universe far more seriously, and demand far more consistency and consideration from every decision made by LucasArts/LucasFilms/whoever-is-really-responsible-for-this-stuff. When our concept of the Star Wars universe is betrayed, it truly is a defilement; it hurts in ways that Star Trek fans may not be able to conceive.

“Maybe that comes from The Vision. There seems to be an expectation that there will be one central Star Wars story line. If you mess that up, you have ruined the entire universe. One bad decision about who falls to the Dark Side and now everyone is stuck with that as canon.”

~Zubon, Kill Ten Rats

Except that for many of us, the long-time fans of the IP, so much damage has been done that it’s hard to cling to the belief there there is such a thing as The Vision. How can we considering the haphazard, ignore-everything-except-pure-profit treatment of Star Wars? For many of us, George Lucas has trampled over so much of the original magic and allowed so many bad decisions to be made that we’ve developed selective ignorance purely as a coping mechanism. For whatever his reasons, there is just so much about the current state of Star Wars that old school fans have to ignore if they are to maintain their love of the franchise.

We were (in many ways) betrayed by the Prequel Trilogy, and have been constantly battered by the current generation’s strip mining of our beloved stories. For me, it has become a literal “acceptability” matrix of sorts:

Original Trilogy(*) Prequel Trilogy Television (“Clone Wars”) Video Games
Story Sacred Canon Blasphemous Garbage (Midichlorians? Really?) Unknown. Slightly Interesting? Varies. Pretty good to Bad.
Slightly Damaged Canon
Characters Relatable, Endearing, Growing. Perfect. Shallow, Whiny, Utterly Unlikable. Several should Die In A Fire. Unknown. Mostly Uninteresting? Mostly Positive (outside Prequel-based games).
Stupid changes. Han shot first.
Setting Enthralling. The Gold Standard. At Best: Coruscant.
At Worst: Blandly Undamaging.
Standard Fare (best guess). Standard Fare (overall).
No change.
Visuals Revolutionary. Created Techniques. Real Creativity. Deep, detailed, but soulless digital. Interesting and appealing (but mostly to younger fans). Varies. Mostly good.
Minor (Unnecessary) Improvements.
“Action” Classic. Simple elegance. Duels were pretty good. Few dogfights. Unknown. Varies. Mostly good, with some excellent examples.
No change.
Audience Appeal Anyone Lucas’ children (Podracing) and marketing focus groups Children (and die hard fans) Fans of the IP
(*) The Original Trilogy has here been separated into the original release (top) and the “Special Edition” (bottom) released for the 20th anniversary.

I left out books because, one, they are of wildly divergent quality and, two, because almost everything about them is completely personal; visuals, setting, characters, “action” – the quality of all is more subjective than any other form of media. (And yes, I’m aware that the entire matrix is subjective, but I hold books to a different standard than other media.) Also, the library of books covers the complete range of entries in the canon, as opposed to a specific time period as do the two trilogies and the television series. They just seem to be impossible to evaluate as a single category.

Call me biased (clearly I am), but that’s how I approach the Star Wars material. And I get the feeling I’m not the only one. One thing became abundantly clear to me while putting the above table together – about the only thing that LucasFilms consistently get right is the setting and the visuals. This is the one aspect where there is even a hint of consistency; and sadly, while this may be the easiest thing to “sell” to people, it is also the aspect with which people connect the least. As much as we love the flashy combat and pretty spaceships, it’s the characters with whom we connect, and their stories that stick with us. Lightsabers and the Force are cool, but it’s the redemption of Anakin Skywalker that we love.

So why does any of this matter? Well, it matters for a few reasons.

First, as a long-time fan of Star Wars, and now as a father of two children, the state of the Star Wars IP matters to me. For better or for worse, I am heavily invested, emotionally invested, in Star Wars. Art does that to people, and in the modern era of franchises, art with which we feel a connection is not a static thing. It’s not as straightforward as a painting or a book anymore; it changes and grows over time. And I want to share that art, and that love, with my children. So, naturally, I care about the quality of Star Wars. I want my children to experience the fun and wonder I did and, if they choose, find something to love as I did. To me, that is the original Star Wars, not the marketing-blitz-merchandising-tsunami that modern Star Wars has become. Sure, there are positive aspects of the IP even now (some of the games and toys, and even the television series) but the motivation behind the IP has shifted drastically; the heart of Star Wars has become twisted and the soul has withered.

Two, it matters because there are still offerings in the Star Wars universe that I eagerly anticipate. Namely, The Old Republic. As much as I dislike the direction franchise has been headed these many years, I look forward to this addition to the Star Wars material. Both because of it’s format (an MMO) and because of its setting (the Old Republic). TOR is an expansion of the Star Wars universe, and every expansion is another opportunity to get things right and do something truly exceptional. In many ways, BioWare is adding to Star Wars in the only way that has a real chance at success – by adopting a segment of the timeline that is almost completely unexplored (and untainted). They have more creative freedom, and aren’t operating under the shadow of Luke, Leia, Han, and everything we fell in love with over 25 years ago.

Finally, it matters because I say it matters. Star Wars fans have invested an incredible amount of time, energy, and money into what is essentially a hobby. If Lucas had left things as the original trilogy and it’s accompanying merchandise, I would say the he’s done his part and doesn’t owe us squat. But the moment he opened the Expanded Universe and turned it into a multimedia empire, he became beholden to us, the fans. His empire is built from our love, and he has a responsibility to us. It falls to him to maintain and protect the quality of the franchise; not to let it be raped in the interest of market saturation and quick profits.

It’s a mandate that George has failed. Abysmally, at times. That’s why we have the state of rabid love/hate that characterizes Star Wars fandom. That’s why fans like me have developed coping mechanisms just to remain fans and stomach each new piece of Star Wars that’s released. BioWare is in a precarious position with TOR, and I certainly don’t envy them.

I Have a Bad Feeling About This

Sadly, my skepticism increases.

Two pieces of news in row coming from BioWare that, for me personally, are less than thrilling; first was the revelation that space combat would essentially be an instanced, tunnel-based ‘macro-game’, and then the recent (and quiet) release of details on another Companion – the droid T7-01.

Before getting into the details of my growing dread, let me say this: I’m very much in favor of the Companion System. Though I’m guessing it’s not identical to the single-player implementations of the past, companions have worked really well in other BioWare games, such as Mass Effect 1 and 2. Personal and inter-personal interactions make for great stories, and it definitely increases a sense of depth to a game. As weird as it might sound, companions do a lot for enhancing a player’s character; developing “relationships” with NPC characters does so much for our investment in a game because, just as in the Real World, many aspects of our selves are defined through our interactions with others.

However, I am not in favor of BioWare’s approach to space combat, and I want to touch on this first. Though I haven’t read the PC Gamer article yet, the concept as a whole seems extraordinarily flawed to me. Sure, I’ve enjoyed every Star Fox game I’ve played (the comparison to these games is the best analogy I’ve seen yet). But that was Star Fox, and we’re talking about STAR WARS. Death Stars and the Millenium Falcon. X-Wings, Y-Wings, A-Wings. Tie Fighters. Dogfighting. With LASERS.

When I read about this, it was truly the first time I was disappointed by news about TOR. I would rather BioWare simply said, “Yes, we recognize space combat as a critical aspect of the Star Wars experience, but we cannot implement it in a manner and to a degree which will make our customers, and ourselves, happy”, and just left it out. I don’t expect a fully functioning flight sim of the caliber of TIE Fighter or the X-Wing games; but I sure did enjoy Freelancer a whole lot, and that is one of the strongest examples of free-form, open space flight toned down for a mouse and keyboard. Hell, I’d even be willing to pay extra for it (take note, BioWare, I’m trying to hand you money).

The space combat information was a letdown, albeit a somewhat minor one. It did, however, plant the first seeds of doubt in my mind; is BioWare missing a large piece of the puzzle with their approach to MMOs?

My enthusiasm took a serious hit when I read the following (emphasis added):

“BioWare has not revealed where your Jedi knight will meet T7-O1, just like every other companion mentioned for this game, but rest assured, he’s waiting for you somewhere in that galaxy far, far away.”

~ Massively

This got me thinking: so I’m guaranteed to meet T7-01? Just like every other Jedi Knight? And only Jedi Knights? When I gather for battle, how many T7-01’s am I going to encounter, in addition to mine? And will they all be named T7-01? Granted, the above wasn’t written by BioWare, but I think we can be secure in the overall accuracy, considering the source. So let me see if I’ve got this straight…

Me: I can get my own droid?
BioWare: Yep!
Me: Cool!
BioWare: You meet him at level 5.
Me: Oh. Okay…
BioWare: Just like every other Jedi Knight.
Me: Um…
BioWare: But only if you’re a Jedi Knight.
Me: …wait. What? Really?
BioWare: Yes.
Me: Huh. Can I rename it, at least?
Me: Aww… <expletive censored>!

So much for customization, and a personalized experience. I get my own droid, just like the 10,000 other Jedi Knights. Class-restricted Companions just doesn’t sit right, and based on a Companion’s role in the player’s story, I’m betting it’s going to be pretty hands-off in terms of changes players can make to those NPCs. Granted, BioWare hasn’t released the full details of how the system will work, but so far I’m not particularly optimistic.

I get it; BioWare’s focusing on the story. They’re pushing that facet of the game pretty hard. They want to be the first to inject real story into the MMO genre. They’re going to deliver a personal story to each player. Every class will have it’s own, unique story. Story story story. I’m getting the distinct impression that in their quest of the almighty story, BioWare has blinded themselves to the nature of MMOs, and why we play them; it seems they’re building an online single-player RPG, not an MMO. I like story in my MMOs, but I play them nearly as much for the emergent parts – the unscripted, impromptu, real fun that comes from adventuring in a virtual world with other human players. I want options, an open field, and the ability to choose what’s best for my character based on my own flawed logic (or the logic of a stranger who’s better at math and willing to share on the Internet). I don’t need to be a unique and beautiful snowflake (just like the thousands of other snowflakes), but I certainly don’t want to be locked into anything; customization is the name of the game. They’re called virtual worlds for a reason.

The Old Republic has definitely been knocked down a few levels in my list of anticipated games. Being set in the Star Wars universe will carry the game a long, long way. For me, being set in the Old Republic will carry it even further. But it can’t carry it past blatantly poor design decisions.

I’m still looking forward to it. I’m just beginning to feel like they shouldn’t be calling it an MMO. I have few doubts that it will be a fun game, and have no doubts that it will introduce some new ideas and mechanics to the genre. But my expectations for TOR have begun to shift; if I approach this as a single-player experience with some multiplayer elements, somewhere between your traditional MMO and Guild Wars, I think I’m going to be far less disappointed.

Tell My Wife I Love Her

Quiet week for me last week, but mostly because Real Life got particularly busy, and I was extremely distracted by all of the news coming out of E3. This year was, for me and for many of us, a special E3; the old energy seemed to return, and for the first time in years there was real excitement and a boatload of information flying across the wires. Between work, preparing for TyTy’s (my youngest) 1 year birthday, and all of the videos and news coming from LA, I really had no time to write!

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to much for this calendar year when it comes to MMOs. I’ve slowly been succumbing to the temptations of a console (other than the Wii, which is really for the kids); possibly a PS3 in the future for our household, as it’d be really nice to have a Blu-ray player as well.

I’m still not looking forward to much this year, but, so help me, 2011 is looking like a killer year. There are so many games to which I’m looking forward, I’m going to be fairly absent during the nights of next year (I generally log in after everyone is asleep). The Missus will be less than pleased, I’m sure.

Here’s what’s going to destroy my marriage next year (in no particular order), and why I will probably let it:

Star Wars: The Old Republic – A good amount of new information, and, of course, there was the new cinematic. Some information about player ships and PvP came out, and while it’s nice to see more about what the game will include, I can’t say this is particularly surprising. Everyone was making a huge deal about it when all I could think was, “Yep. That makes sense.” Based on what BioWare has stated in the past, none of this should have been a significant surprise. However, based on what they’ve said, I also don’t think these mechanics are going to play out exactly as everyone hopes they will. I see a “Jump to Lightspeed” going on here – no, you can’t really do Star Wars without space, but I don’t think we’re going to see fully fledged space combat at release. I hope I’m wrong, though.

The cinematic did it’s job, though – it got me completely pumped and sold me on the game, all over again. Even though I know the game won’t be as good, if this is the thematic direction BioWare is headed, I’m sold. If they even come close with the gameplay, I’ll enjoy my time in TOR.

Warhammer 40K: Dark Millenium Online – I’d heard that this was in development, but it was nice to see something. Unlike others, I’m not bothered by the “neon-shaded butchery”. I actually played the tabletop game, and I can say that, while they never tell you how to paint your models, Games Workshop was no stranger to bright colors on their battlefields. There was certainly encouragement for creativity in your selection of colors, and I actually like that the game uses some of that. Not all of us need brown-grey to dominate the landscape, just to feel “gritty” and “real”.

I reserve all other judgements and thoughts until I see more about the game. The trailer was nice, and the fact that its 40K means I am excited (and will at least try it), but until there is more information, I just can’t comment.

Final Fantasy XIV – I never played Final Fantasy XI, but I’ve always thought that these games were simply gorgeous, and that I should have at least tried it. The grind (even if it is only perceived) kept me away from FFXI, as did the requirements for grouping (I just don’t always have the time!). I don’t know yet if there won’t be as much grind in FFXIV, but it seems like they’re trying to address these issues, and the Massively interview with Hiromichi Tanaka actually got me more interested. There are some really great ideas here – the skill system, the guildleves, and the treatment of non-combat professions as viable choices – all have me watching this game closely.

The Agency – SOE’s been very quiet over the last year or more when it comes to The Agency. A while back, when the game was first announced, there was a lot of talk about the game, and then they went underground (no pun intended) and we heard almost nothing. The trailer they released during E3 was a great comeback.

Clearly, they’ve been working on the game. I like the new direction for the visuals, though I can’t say I dislike the cel-shaded look of the original designs. The Agency, for me, is closer to what I’d hoped for from APB – a game where I can jump in for some quick, action-packed, TF2-style fun, but also have character development and some story. I also love the idea of having a team of operatives working for me, even when I’m not logged in (I seem to remember hearing that they will email/text me if I allow SOE access to this personal information – which I will!).

Vindictus – I tried Mabinogi (my only experience with Nexon) for a short spell, and I will say one thing: I loved the combat system. I was pretty disgusted with the spam-tastic insanity of the beginner areas, and never got much farther than that. I also didn’t enjoy the “cutesie” feel. I’ve always thought about going back and looking again, but now Nexon has given me exactly zero reasons to ever go back – Vindictus looks amazing!

Reading through the hands-on article over at Massively got me very interested. I don’t usually go in for the ultra-violent, hack-and-slash games, but I’ll make an exception for Vindictus. I love the idea of destructible environments that can be used during combat, and that players will actually be affected by hits from the larger creatures (I’ve always hated that we just stand there taking hits from Giants, when we should get tossed around…). “Real physics” in the game look like they could be a lot of fun, and visually, the game looks stunning. I’ve read that Vindictus and Mabinogi are very different beasts, but Nexon’s approach to strategic combat and detailed, deep systems has me looking forward to this game.

Rift: Planes of Telara – Not only does this game look breathtaking, but the implied flexibility in character creation and development makes it worth paying attention. I was initially intrigued by Trion World’s initial sales pitch for Rift (then called Heroes of Telara); they were talking up the “server-sided” nature of the game that allowed GMs (or whatever they’re calling their in-game team)  or the game itself, to build a more dynamic world with very fluid events. Basically, because a good portion of the game logic exists on the server, as opposed to standard MMOs that have nearly all of it on the client machine, Trion can make changes to the world anytime, and all the players in that area will experience those changes. Rifts seems to take many of the standard MMO systems and build on them, combining the dynamic world with enough familiar game mechanics to make it a natural choice for MMO players.

Black Prophesy/Jumpgate Evolution – These two are somewhat interchangeable in my mind, as much as the developers may dislike that classification. Hands-down, one of my fondest gaming memories is Tie Fighter. It still ranks in my top 10 single-player games. The company that can create an MMO with Tie Fighter/X-Wing space combat is looking at a winner; it looks like both Jumpgate Evolution and Black Prophecy are shooting for this. The fact that both will support joysticks is reason enough for me to check them out; I’ve been looking for a reason to break out the joystick, but haven’t found a flight sim worth my time.

Massively (I seem to be linking to them a lot in this post – they did have great E3 coverage!) has nice write-ups of their hands-on with both games.

LEGO Universe – I’d like to say, “This one if for my kids”, but I’d be lying. Bald-faced, out-and-out untruths.

I love the LEGO games – Star Wars, Batman, Indiana Jones (though I probably won’t check out Harry Potter for me, my older son, the Bean, is very interested) – and LEGO Universe looks like it takes these to the next level, and beyond.

Wow. Talk about pure, unadulterated fun. This is one I can play with my son AND log in just to have some no-pressure fun. Definitely on the “Must Buy” list.

Lord of the Rings Online, Volume 3 Book 2 – Man, Turbine just keeps giving me reasons to stick with LotRO, my one true love. A new area to explore, especially one where Turbine has more flexibility, is a very welcome addition (I loved Forochel, though it was a bit grind-ish towards the end). Housing and Legendary Item changes. A new hobby. DirectX 11 (I just moved to Windows 7). And, of course, the continuation of the Epic Quests.

All in all, this year’s E3 didn’t bring a whole lot of new games to my attention; but it certainly did solidify my interest in several titles, and renewed my interest in others.

I’m not sure where I’m going to fit all of these in, and keep up with my current games, but I’m sure I’ll manage. Also, the number of “freemium” or Free to Play games on the list above should be noted – this may not be the direction for the entire industry, but it’s certainly found it’s place; and the fact that I’m not paying a monthly subscription means a game is more likely to remain installed on my hard drive, so I’ll jump in every once in a while when the fancy strikes me. Those companies will eventually get some of my money, which is more than they would have gotten if they’d used a traditional subscription model. Developers need to stand up and take a long, hard look at this fact – I’m not alone here.

I find myself caught between looking for the depth and breadth of gameplay that I’ve loved for so many years of MMOs, and acknowledging that I just don’t have the time to get involved with every game in which I’m interested, to the extent that I’d like. I think developers are recognizing this as well; the MMO market, while still a relatively niche market, is becoming increasingly crowded. We only have so much time in a day, and if they want our money, developers need to make games accessible without the extreme time commitments.

A big part of me cringes to say this, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Rising Tide

Two unrelated posts today that got me thinking about the “hype machine”, and why, for me, it does more harm than good. GeeCee over at MMO Gamer Chick highlighted the recent release of an $80 statue for Star Wars: The Old Republic (yes, you read that correctly – eighty dollars for a resin statue for a game that hasn’t even launched). And Ravious at Kill Ten Rats had a bit to say about “content explosion” vs. “content drip” for engaging existing players or attracting new ones. Basically it comes down to letting content or information trickle out over weeks or even months to keep players coming back, or, especially in the case of an upcoming game, using both an explosion of content to build hype and a constant trickle to keep them interested.

“In a perfect world, I think both a content explosion coupled with a content drip would be the best option.  It seems more and more that the roar from the content explosions collapse all the more quickly as veteran MMO players tear through the intricately designed content like a one-year old’s first birthday cake.”


For an existing game, I agree with Ravious. “Content explosions” are great for upcoming expansions or major patches. They get the existing players and community excited about what’s coming, and give others a reason to check out an MMO that they wouldn’t normally play. Around the time Rise of the Godslayer was released, I seriously considered resubbing to Age of Conan (I chose DDO instead, but it wasn’t an easy choice!). But “content drip” also has its place – mostly to keep the existing players engaged and the community strong. The War in Kryta (as Ravious points out) is a perfect example of this; the epic books in LotRO could also fall into this category, despite the fact that recently that particular trickle has nearly dried up.

But, for me personally, there is a definite downside to the hype machine. Especially in regards to upcoming games such as The Old Republic. There comes a point when there’s too much information being released, and I find myself actively working not to read or learn anything new about a game. If things continue as they have, by the time TOR releases I’m going to have the strong feeling that there’s nothing new to learn; nothing to explore or discover. Sure, there will be areas to see and quests to play through, but all of the flavor and “new-ness” of any particular area will already have come and gone. And there’s no reason to expect that the hype will do anything except increase. The Old Republic is starting to approach that threshold; it’s like those movie previews that show all of the best scenes in a movie – by the time you get around to seeing the actual film, it’s grossly disappointing.

Where’s the fun in that?

I understand the business behind the hype. These products take insane amounts of money to create, and have to break even pretty quickly. Ongoing costs are a hard fact of life. Box sales and player retention are critical factors to success. It’s almost as if modern “themepark” MMOs are the victims of their own nature – they are virtual worlds that can rake in millions of dollars of profit, but they are also expansive, thousand-plus-hours-of-content monstrosities (though one could argue the validity of grind as “content”) that must continually be moving towards more content in order to keep their customers happy and paying. I’ll leave the arguments over “themepark vs. sandbox” for another time; but as the sole providers and gatekeepers of content for their MMOs, themepark developers are creating a lot of work for themselves, just to remain viable.

These games need the hype machine, even if it damages their product in the long run.