Tag Archives: Turbine

Ratchet Up The Excitement!

No, this is not a post about SW:TOR. So far, I’ve been able to keep that particular affliction at bay despite the recent excitement surrounding pre-orders.

No, my hype-meter spiked today after seeing the new set of official screenshots for Rise of Isengard (I can’t seem to locate the official announcement, so I’ll just link to the CSTM post). And I have to say, I’m extremely impressed. I’ve always been a huge fan of LotRO‘s art style – in particular the racial architectures and outdoor environments (honestly, does anyone really like the character models?). But what really got me was this shot:

(click for full size)

I saw that at full size and literally said “Whoa!” (Keanu-style). If you haven’t already, take a look at the full-size version. Impressive, isn’t it?

As a photographer by training (though never by trade…how’s that for getting value from one’s education?), I can say the shot above is good, but nothing particularly impressive. Sure, the tower on the mountain is definitely intriguing and, as usual, the skybox lends significant impact to the environment. However, what it could indicate for the game is something entirely different. What got me the most excited was one detail, which I’m sincerely hoping I’m interpreting correctly. Here it is:

If I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing, those are people. A lot of people. This is the kind of settlement that I’ve always wished for in LotRO; I’m familiar enough with the lore to understand that many of the areas of Middle Earth through which we travel are supposed to be rather low in population. But I’ve always felt that too many of the areas seem downright sparse. Bree, for example, is appropriately sized for how I’d imagine it, but it never seems as if there are enough NPCs to account for the number of buildings.

The “camp” in that screenshot, however, is practically bursting with people. What that could mean about new technology behind the game, and it’s capabilities for presenting a “living world”, is very encouraging. Consider this – how many monsters do we see on screen at once, at most? One dozen? Maybe two? With those kinds of limits, how do you think Turbine will recreate something like the siege of Helm’s Deep? Or the battle at the Fields of Pelennor? With the Jackson films setting a high standard, it would be impossible for Turbine to recreate something even close. At which point we’d be left participating in sidelined skirmishes. Not exactly compelling.

Yes, I know they are just screenshots, and screenshots can be misleading. And even if they are accurate, there’s no promise that LotRO will suddenly be able to handle true crowds of NPCs and mobs. The proof will be in the seeing. But if they are representative of increased capacity, I think we’re seeing a nice incremental increase to what LotRO can deliver. We may never see a battle the size of Pelennor (which is more or less a needless desire, considering the only concern in a battle is likely what is immediately around you!), but it looks like we’re getting a step closer!

December may bring it’s requisite flurry of emotions and activity, but at this point, it’s September to which I am truly looking forward!

Thoughts for the Day

Gah! Seems like every time Real Life decides to get extraordinarily busy (as if I could post any less recently), the MMO industry decides to throw a party and get the ‘sphere all a-flutter.

Age of Conan

I blame Turbine, really. They made the switch twice – once for a failing game that pulled it back from the brink of closure into a realm of respectably-sized piles of gold coins, and once for a game that wasn’t failing because, well, we-can’t-just-leave-well-enough-alone-can-we-and-look-how-well-it-worked-for-that-other-one-we’ll-be-drowning-in-our-piles-of-money. The thing is, for however I feel about Turbine’s business decisions (take a wild guess), they got the F2P/hybrid model pretty much right. No matter how hard they toe the line between appropriate items in their Store and handicapping non-paying players, they have yet to really push into pay-to-win territory. I don’t like some of their decisions, but I also can’t point at any one item and say, “That’s just wrong.”

However, Unrated is not LotRO, and the model Funcom has chosen is just not good. It’s a sad rehash of Sony’s EQ2X, where the access tiers are just convoluted and too much of the game is walled off from the “freeloaders” (because that’s how you’re treating your potential customers, Funcom). If you look at the breakdown between Free and Premium accounts, it’s a little ridiculous. Two-thirds of the classes (and the most interesting ones at that!) are unavailable and great portions of the group content are walled away. And time-based passes to access dungeons? Really? Wow.

The thing about being Free to Play is that either you really go for it or you forget about it. Going halfway is really just nickel-and-diming your players, and we know it! As much as it pains me to say it sometimes, Turbine really has it right in the Cash Shop model – convenience items, cosmetics, and zones of side-quest content. That’s why the model works for LotRO – there’s always a central storyline to which everyone has access, from The Shire to Moria to Enedwaith. Age of Conan might have that, but I have to agree with Keen – going Free to Play doesn’t necessarily make AoC a game worth playing; I might check it out to get to the areas I never saw, but it’s certainly not worth putting money into. The restrictive model they’ve outlined only accomplishes two things – it alienates the players who might have considered paying for something, and it exploits the players who aren’t educated enough to know better. Neither is good business.

Burglar Changes

Orion posted a list of proposed changes to the Burglar and Warden classes yesterday. I won’t pretend to know enough about Wardens to comment. Burglar, on the other hand, is my one-and-only!

Overall, I like the changes. Here goes:

  • Removing some of our highest tier skills from the critical response chain certainly opens up some moment-to-moment options for us and will help with Power management as we don’t have to burn through a handful of other skills just to get to them.
  • Being able to toggle our “stances” (for lack of a better term) after defeat is HUGE. I understand not wanting Burglars to be able to flip back and forth during combat, but losing your stance after death in a group scenario is a major disadvantage. It means not burning Hide in Plain Sight just on the off chance that I might need it to get back into Mischief. So in reality this change frees up multiple skills, at least when playing in groups.
  • The consolidation for Seize Initiative and Escape Clause is nice, but not particularly thrilling. I don’t use either much. It’ll be nice to have another space on my hotbars, though!
  • Adding a 100% chance to Surprise Strike from stealth is a really nice change. Again, it’s more flexibility as I don’t have to save Aim up “just in case”.
  • Subtle Stab ticking off the cooldown timer for Mischievous Glee is great! It somehow “fits” in my mind with the tone of the class and the lore. I can just imagine my Burglar slipping through an Orc’s defenses, getting in a solid hit, and giggling the whole time! And it will greatly aid in survivability.

The last details – Riddle not breaking stealth and it working on all creatures – are the most jarring, and disappointing, changes proposed. I don’t PvMP much, but this could be a huge change to the battlefield in the Moors. More than anything, however, the proposed changes are just too drastic for an aspect of the class that I consider to be fundamental, both in how it plays and in how it fits into the lore. I’ve always thought that Turbine did a great job of building a familiar yet unique set of classes that fit well with the lore (every class being inspired by one of the key characters of the stories), and thought that they really hit the ball out of the park with the Burglar.

But making Riddle so much more…generic…just hurts. It’s a big stretch to the lore, which is important to me. And it robs us of the need to be more strategic in our solo and group play. Sure, many other players don’t understand or appreciate the Burglar, or see it’s usefulness in a group setting. But those that do understand all too well how much of a difference a good Burglar can make.I guess I understand Turbine’s motivation – making it more generally useful and desirable as a member of Fellowships – but it’s just not going in the right direction. If there is a need to expand the Crowd Control functions of the Burglar, at least find a way to do it that makes sense in the lore, instead of just stating “it works on everything now…have fun!”.

It’s almost entirely personal, but these last changes are, in my opinion, quite horrible. These kinds of changes reek of the WoW approach, where the developers start overreacting to a perceived deficiency (often perpetrated by the vocal minority) and don’t stay true to the theme, and vision, behind the design of a class. Then we end up with major overhauls every few months and every new expansion, and no one knows how to play their class or even cares to learn because “it’s just going to change in the next patch anyway”. There should be some aspects of every class that are sacrosanct, and for me the strategy involved in playing a Burglar is one of those.

It does say ‘Advanced Class’ when you create a Burglar. Leave it that way, please.

Free Server Transfers

The timing of the announcement was either sheer luck for Trion, or pure genius; either they stumbled into a pretty nice PR win or they’ve got people inside Blizzard feeding them info. Either way, I hope someone got paid a little extra. Kudos for that.

As a player, being able to move around for free is nice. I’ve been bitten by this before, and being charged anything, especially per character, stinks of a simple cash grab. If it’s meant to be a deterrent, just don’t allow them because otherwise it’s just insulting. I work with databases for a living, and I don’t care what anyone says – moving a set of rows from one database to another is a simple thing. If you can’t do that easily, then your system is designed VERY poorly. Legacy code is no excuse; how can you expect to run an ongoing service if your not willing to clean up your past mistakes?

And if you don’t think that Blizzard or Trion or Sony or whomever can’t pull up anything and everything about your characters, all in a few seconds, you are mistaken. What Trion has introduced is a completely automated system that costs them next to nothing and wins them huge points with their customers, especially in the context of what others charge.

I do agree with others, however, that it’s not entirely magnanimous nor is it as clear cut as the PR announcement. It’s not a free-for-all where anyone can go anywhere. This probably is a way to deal with population imbalances. But you know what? It’s FREE. And it shows that Trion values its customers by giving them the choice, well in advance of server merges, and it will continue to be an option. Every week. FOR FREE.

They’re not saints and its not driven by charity; I don’t expect them to be. But it’s a valuable service that they’re providing free of charge. So, overall, it’s a win for Trion.

That’s it for now!

Hope They’re ‘Listening’

Wise words from a wise man.

Here’s to hoping that someone at Turbine’s read Syp’s piece and takes it to heart. Better yet, take it to the Board Room. The anniversary festival this year is a disaster; the only thing keeping me from calling it an ‘unmitigated disaster’ is that I just don’t care enough to get worked up over it. Everything about the entire situation reeks of the worst type of game design/customer relationship management, and nothing about the festival or its rewards is even slightly appealing enough to motivate me to care. And guess what happens when your paying customers stop caring about your entertainment product?

That’s right.

The thing is, I want to care. So very, very badly. With Isengard in sight and Rohan just over the next horizon (the fact that they even discussed mounted combat in a recent interview got my pulse up!), there are so many reasons for me to want to be invested in LotRO. In theory.

In reality, I’m just a little bit at a loss. LotRO is becoming “death by a thousand cuts” for me – one tiny (or not so tiny) decision at a time, it’s bleeding the fun out of it. And in the face of some extremely strong competition, both current and future, having a disenchanted player-base is not a situation in which I think any MMO company would want to find themselves.

Oh, we're going to Mordor, Turbine...like it or not.

I just want to see Mordor. I want to fight beside Gandalf at the siege of Gondor. I want to stand behind Aragorn and watch the Black Gates crumble. And I’ll get there, even if I have to carry Turbine and throw them into the fires myself.

I want to finish what I began four years ago; I knew it would be a long road and never did I expect that we would have arrived by now. But it was there, that final goal, whispering in the back of my head, on that first day I logged in. How could we not have wished for it, even back then?

But I feel like someone at Turbine knows all this, expects it from at least a portion of the players, and therefor thinks they can drag us through hell on  the way; because we’ll take it. Because they can.

Can they? Sometimes I wonder.

Another Week in the Sun

This week marks our (almost) yearly family trip to Florida, so I’m pretty much out of the loop for gaming. This laptop can run LotRO, but it’s not much good for group activities. Besides, the whole thing is a good excuse to take a break and catch up on some sleep; it’s amazing how different it feels getting a nearly full night of sleep (kids still make the “full night” fairly improbable). Still, smartphones and WiFi mean we aren’t completely cut off, so keeping up with the news is still possible.

Somehow it slipped my attention that I’d be on vacation during the end of the first World Event in RIFT; normally, I’d bemoan the fact that I missed such an event, but it seems that I didn’t really miss anything and, given my gaming schedule, it’s not likely that I would have been able to get in to see the end anyway. I’m a little upset about how the whole thing played out, but mostly from the position of “detached observer”. I was barely able to accumulate enough shardstones to buy the few items I really wanted, and other than that I wasn’t particularly invested in the event. I was more interested in it as a concept – that it seemed technically feasible and demonstrated Trion’s intentions.

I’ve ponied up for the Founder’s Pricing (which, to be honest, is pretty tame compared to LotRO‘s Founder’s deal) and subbed for the next three months, which I would have done even without the River of Souls. However, it seems that Trion really has fumbled for the first time. But possibly not for reasons fully within their control; the “Bring a Friend” weekend was probably planned well in advance, and the unexpected delay in releasing Phase 2 just created a truly unfortunate set of circumstances; despite giving “priority access” to subscribers, once a visitor is actually in the game, I imagine that Trion would not kick them out for a paying customer.

While I agree with Syncaine about the overall response from players (outrageous entitlement and completely undue rage), I do have two points where I disagree. First, technical issues prevented players who wanted to play and were online at the time from entering the game world. That’s not the fault of players, is a pretty straightforward problem, and is an issue that Trion needs to address.

The second issue is much larger, and it’s something that makes me think twice about long-term investment in RIFT – the nature of dynamic events and exactly how far Trion wants to take the “dynamic” nature of the game. Syncaine is right – it’s just not reasonable (but then again, how often are we reasonable in our demands?) for players to laud Trion for providing a more dynamic world, while at the same time screaming about that same dynamic content not being available to them at any time they choose to log in. It’s an issue that Trion will have to work hard to tackle – how do you make a truly dynamic world, one that’s always changing, while at the same time providing equal opportunity and access to all players no matter what time of day/week/month they choose to log in? It would seem that one cannot accommodate the other.

My guess is that there are a lot of conversations about this very topic going on right now; Trion has already acknowledged their missteps and seems to realize the nature of their error. My guess would be that, in the future, “dynamic content” will fall into one of a few categories:

  • World Events – these will come and go, but each phase will last several days or weeks instead of being as brief as the final phases of River of Souls.
  • “One offs” – these will be very short events (days or even hours) that have minimal impact on the world, almost no real benefit (i.e. loot drops/currencies), but provide the “living world” feel and are fun for those who experience them.
  • Rifts/Invasions – these are well established and will continue as they always have.
  • Something else(?)

It will be interesting to see the outcome, and considering that the next World Event is probably right around the corner, I think we’ll see how their design decisions have shifted based on this first event.

In other news (for the games I play!), Turbine announced the Fourth Anniversary Celebration. I’m always a fan of Turbine’s events, but this one just seems like more of the same. Not to mention that it’s apparently quite a grind (when Goldenstar decides to skip, you know there are issues). The mount is nice, and I’ll certainly be working towards it, and I’ve always liked the “Beer Battle” (I still have a title to achieve, if this is the same mini-game as what’s in the seasonal festival), but nonetheless it seems like there is a distinct lack of content to motivate participation. I know that they can’t “hit one out of the park” every time, but after the rather bland Spring Festival, I was hoping for something a bit…more. Four years is an achievement, but not exactly an easy milestone to promote – it’s not a multiple of five. I’m hoping that they really pull out the stops for next year!

That’s about it for now. Back to the beach!

Slow Week

It’s been a slow week for me, at least as far as gaming goes; work has been pretty crazy as we ramp up to stay on schedule for some pretty heavy deadlines, and I’ve been playing around with a personal, MMO-related project as well which has sucked up a good amount of my free nights. We’ll see where that one goes, but so far its been a lot of fun – Google App Engine and data visualizations as applied to MMOs? Yes, please!

(Okay, maybe that’s just me…there’s a reason I do this kind of stuff for a living.)

Oddly enough, what little gaming time I’ve had has been mostly devoted to LotRO. Just before RIFT I decided to finally venture into Enedwaith for the first time. I know, I’m terribly late to the party!

I have to say, I’m very impressed with the zone and with the story so far. Some beautiful vistas, and a great blend of cultural influences. I went through the diplomacy session between the Dunlendings of Lanuch and the Emissary of Isengard last night and, even though it was very text-heavy, it was a fun and memorable experience. Really, if Turbine would just jump on the All-Voiceover Bandwagon, LotRO would see a tidy increase in immersion.

My favorite moment of the last week was discovering Maur Tulhau. I was wandering through the northern Gloomglens, looking for quest objectives and not particularly paying attention to where I was, when I came over a rise. The music suddenly changed (and swelled!) to a somewhat familiar tune and I topped the rise to look down on a small town. A Hobbit town! (And I realized of what the music reminded me – The Shire.) It was a great surprise and a really nice moment that rang of discovery and adventure. I didn’t wander into the village, saving that for later.

Overall, Enedwaith strikes me as a great zone that definitely shows Turbine’s experience at creating spaces. There are a lot of nice environmental touches, little details, and nooks and crannies I know I will spend a ton of time fully exploring! I’m impressed with how much diversity they’ve crammed into one space, while at the same time making it coherent.

It makes me that much more excited to see what’s over the next horizon; even though Update 2 doesn’t really release any new zone (does it?), it certainly reworks a good amount of what’s tiresome in LotRO right now (for me, at least). I’m looking forward to the removal of Radiance and the reworking of Legendary Items, if for no other reason than that it allows me to stop grinding content I’m not particulary interested in doing again, and move on into things I haven’t yet experienced. Also, building my own Legendary with exactly the Legacies I want should be a huge help in making me more viable for the new group/raid content coming in Echoes of the Dead.

In the wider world (in case you aren’t already aware), PAX East started this week; I have yet to attend a major gaming conference, and I’ve determined that next year I will at least attend PAX East – it’s only a few hours from home and there are many, many people I’d love to meet (whether they care to meet me is another issue!). Nonetheless, I’m watching the news sites and blogs closely for news, announcements, and other goodies (such as THIS ONE), as there are many games on display during the show and probably some hefty reveals for titles I’m eagerly anticipating. Can’t wait!

 

Bigger Picture

Oh, the places we'll go!

I was listening to the Return of the King score on my commute this morning (yes, I’m that kind of Tolkien fan…or maybe a Jackson fan?) and it got me excited for all of the things the future holds for LotRO. Let’s face it, there are just some experiences that Turbine cannot skip or ignore, so even though we have no idea of when they will come, we know that, at some point, they will come. Lately, I’ve been so mired in grinding through deeds that I think I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. Assuming LotRO will carry through to Mordor (and beyond!), there’s so many amazing things we’ve yet to see!

Here’s a list of content to which I’m most looking forward, and how I would love to see them implemented (loosely in the order I think we will see them released).

Keep Reading…

“Poor Implementation”

Turbine posted a new Developer Diary this morning, detailing perhaps my most-anticipated and celebrated change coming with Echoes of the Dead – the removal of Radiance. For those not familiar with this particular mechanic, Radiance was added in the Mines of Moria expansion as an additional character statistic that was granted through specific sets of armor. It was meant to be a complimentary system to Hope, designed to counter Dread which can often render a player helpless (if their Dread is too high, they cower in fear).

Like many players, this is a serious cause for celebration for me. With my main currently mired in this particular grind, I am more than happy to wish “Rad runs” a hearty farewell. My Burglar is currently stuck in “Radiance Purgatory”, with enough Radiance to just squeak into the newest raids (Dar Narbugud) but not enough to be truly effective. And I don’t have much time to grind out the content (Small Fellowship or otherwise) that would help me attain enough Radiance armor to be comfortable. Instead, I’m a burden on my kin, and I miss out on running good content with great friends. Not fun.

Ask any player in the endgame about the problem with Radiance, and you’ll probably get the same answer – it’s a pure gating system that prevents players from progressing into higher level content. To make matters even more painful, it’s the worst kind of “grind gear to get better gear” treadmill. Tedious – and that’s being nice.

What really surprised me about the Dev Diary (and frankly, disappointed me as well) was the description of what Radiance was meant to be – a deep system combining Deeds, Traits, and gear. Instead we got a horrific grind. But the way it’s described makes it sound like something I would have enjoyed, and could have really gotten behind.

“We wanted to not only itemize this statistic, but also tie it into skills and deed paths. We wanted to provide players with more character customization and differentiation as they moved into the upper portions of the game. Further, by tying Radiance more intimately into the progression of the character, we wanted to remove strict gear dependencies and provide a more encompassing and meaningful statistic for characters. In essence, the idea of Radiance was a large and inclusive statistic that provided players with something functional and inherently desirable to their character.”

~ Allan ‘Orion’ Maki, Update 2: Radiance Removal

I consider anything that provides opportunities for “character customization and differentiation” to be a very good thing. Perhaps if they had built more avenues into attaining high levels of Radiance instead of tying it solely to instance-based gear, it could have worked. Sadly, this appears to be simple wishful thinking, as Maki states in no uncertain terms that Radiance has been fully removed from the game, and makes it sound as if adding it back in would be nearly impossible (if players would even accept it without full-scale revolt!).

Honestly, I’m a little sad to see Radiance completely removed from the realm of possibility. Having gotten a sense of what it was supposed to be, I think that if Turbine had taken the time to implement it as designed, it could have been a strong addition to the game. I’ve always loved the scenes of Frodo fighting his way through Shelob’s lair, holding the spider back with only the power of light. It’s a hallmark of Tolkien, and if Turbine had been able to give us something like that, I don’t think anyone would have complained. Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see a developer admit to their mistakes, and it renews some of my faith in Turbine – it’s not purely about The Store and profit. They want to provide players with a fun game. The honesty displayed by Maki is well worth checking out (as well as additional commentary over at CSTM).