Monday, July 28, 2008

No More "WoW Killer" MMORPGs, Please

We've heard the phrase "WoW Killer" in reference to up and coming MMORPGs ever since the release of the retardedly successful MMO that spread the world of escapism via persistent online worlds to the masses.

While being a "WoW Killer" is certainly a lucrative prospect (what development or publishing company wouldn't want 62% or more of the MMORPG market share?), what has this goal given the gaming public?

Mediocre all-in-one attempts at dethroning the online giant. Penny Arcade inadvertently summed up the MMORPG industry with their E3 Press Conference Comic. Now replace Microsoft in the first frame with MMO marketers, Nintendo in the second frame with investors and community relationship managers, and Sony in the third frame with developers and you'll see an uncanny resemblance.

Here are a few games I've tried that attempted to take a slice of the pie from the King of MMOs:

  • City of Villains
  • Dark and Light
  • Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Age of Conan
Thankfully, there were a few atrocities that I was able to avoid thanks to my fellow gamers warning us in advance of how wasted our dollars & time would be if we purchased or played these products (The Matrix Online, Hellgate: London, RF Online, Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea).

What do all of these games have in common? Well, besides mediocrity of course. They all tried to do too much. So much that they failed to deliver in any specific area. So seems to be the trend with MMORPGs these days. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in today's MMO development studios.

I'm a firm believer that every MMORPG that receives financial backing and development support starts off with a few great ideas. A series of innovations that lure investors into green-lighting multi-million dollar products that promise to deliver great results. Somewhere down the line, priorities change. The intended PvE only game (LotRO) is pressured into adding PvP content to capture additional market share. Or the hardcore grind-fest is pressured into being more casual-friendly (Vanguard). In Age of Conan's case, the Free For All hack-n-slash and massive Siege-O-Matic 6000 PvP game is pressured into being more PvE friendly, with PvE raiding content added into the mix. To achieve what? That's right, more market share.

The result of these all-in-wonders is a half-finished, bug-laden, polished turd.

What could have been a "unique and innovative combat system" (AoC) turns out to be a boring, uninspired twist on typical MMO mechanics, pressing up to 6 buttons to achieve what you got with one button press in prior games.

The "most amazing and interactive crafting system ever devised" (Vanguard) comes out as a half-assed puzzle game that inspires suicidal tendencies, not fun.

The "most in-depth character customization" and "exciting new PvP dynamics" (CoV) drowns in a sea of tedious grinding combined with consumable-laden frustration as you attempt to chase down Flash-wannabe #8793 and his mass-teleporting compatriots, hoping to gain a few brief seconds of fighting after a three hour long high-speed chase over the roof tops of what has become a very small gameworld once you started moving at 6000% of normal run speed.

All in all the result is more of the same crap we've seen before, just with a new skin on it.

Meet the New Boss

Same as the Old boss

The one developer who gets major kudos for sticking to their guns is CCCP. They found a solid niche audience, and they resisted the temptation of the masses. Sure, they only possess a 1.5% piece of that pie chart linked at the beginning of this post, but they clearly stand out amongst the other all-in-one clones and wannabes (WoW & Asian grind-fest MMORPGs excluded) as a victor. They found something they're good at, and found success with it.

What's the point? I hope more developers follow this mindset in the coming years so that we, the customers, can receive a product worth our money. The choice is in your hands, oh great and wise developers. Remember, the customer is the one who is going to make or break you, not your publisher. Don't listen to all of us. Listen to the ones who share your vision of the next great MMORPG, and you might stand a shot at creating it.

Read More »

Monday, July 14, 2008

Old MMOs That Should Be Brought Back: Shattered Galaxy Edition

A quick note about the title. When I discuss games that "should be brought back," I don't necessarily mean that they are dead at this point. Hell, even 10Six still maintains a cult following. What I mean by the title is that these games should be brought back to the attention of MMO developers of today in terms of what they stood for and what could be learned from them. Will MMO developers will ever read this blog? Well, we can only hope.

The game I'm talking about today isn't close to being dead, probably, but it's not within the consciousness of the mainstream MMO gamer. Therefore, we can assume the game mechanics are probably not within the consciousness of the mainstream MMO developer.

The game? An oldie released by Nexon (now called KRU) back in 2001, Shattered Galaxy. What makes SG different from most is that it's another one of those games where a different game type is spliced with an MMO setting. In this case, SG is an MMORTS. Similar to 10Six, as previously talked about, but instead of using a first person view of the game world, SG utilizes the traditional RTS view and RTS style.

When a player first starts the game they start on the newbie planet "Relic" (there is another planet a player can inhabit called Morgana Prime). A player can create their own avatar and join a faction on Relic where they fight against the other factions that occupy the planet.

You don't fight with your avatar, but rather through a squad of units you bring into the fight (numbers ranging from 6-12). Each unit has a purpose. Some units are mine layers, and so players will bring in a whole squad of mine layers to lay mines for defensive and offensive purposes. Others will bring in anti-air, or anti-ground units. The fighting system is kind of a complicated "rock-paper-scissors" in that sense, since some units can only shoot at airborn units from the ground, or planes can only shoot/bomb things on the ground, or only shoot things in the air, etc.

The nice thing about this game is that theoretically there are no official archetypes or class roles in the game. Your "role" in the fight is based on what you bring into the fight--which can be a combination of anything. So in a very small sense, there is kind of a sandbox element in the game where you can choose what you feel like fighting with for any fight and not be restricted to the same thing every single fight. You can also modify individual units with buying different kinds of armor, technologies, and weaponry, so there's even a level of customization for the units themselves.

As is stands now there are unofficial "archetypes" in the game based solely on attribute designation, which if you care to, can learn about here. Basically there are four different attributes: tactics, clout, education and mechanical amplitude. Tactics gives you more units to put into your squad, clout gives you access to higher durability for units, education gives you access to better weaponry, and mechanical amplitude allows you to put more stuff into a unit chassis. With these in mind, one can see how people might spec into certain attributes more so than others.

There is also leveling in this game. The units and the character you play as both level, but what's important is the level of your units in the fight and how strong they are. There are checks and balaces, like the "Power Rating" to give newbies a fighting chance and to stop veteran players from becoming so strong that it's game breaking.

The whole premise of the game is essentially controlling territory. As this implies, it is mostly a PVP game, though there are some small PVE elements to the game that beyond newbie levels players usually ignore. There are four factions to a planet, and theoretically all four factions could fight each other.

In order to acquire or lose territory, one faction must beat another, or others in keeping the most PoC's (points of contention) during a 15 minute round. Take a look at the screenshot below this paragraph. Note the red pizza pie looking thing to the right. That's the PoC. You have to hold that poc for a certain amount of time before it's under your faction's control. That is what each team fights for. The attackers fight for positioning in order to take those PoCs and in the end take the territory. The defenders do the same thing, but if they totally destroy the enemy, that can win the round as well.

Given that the game is based on taking and holding territory, there were lots of interesting politics to go along with it.

Factions can also create peace treaties with one another. I remember back in my time playing it, I was still on the newbie planet playing on the Argus faction. We had an alliance with the faction on the other side of the faction. The name of that faction was Dulcinea, but we usually called them the "smurfs" because of their faction color being a light blue. We were generally called "barnies" or something to that effect because our color was purple. The other faction colors were gold and green, though I forget what we called them or what their official faction names were.

Back in beta, I remember that the factions were able to elect a leader for the faction, and the leader could elect a personal council. I remember begging to be on the council, and I did get on the council for Argus for some foreign affairs spot. It was interesting but I have very little memory of the politics since it's been years. Here are some more details you can read up on for faction politics. Other than electing an "Overlord," council and creating regiments, I doubt any of the other mechanics are in the game since apparently there's only enough people playing to fill the two previously mentioned planets.

What can be learned?

Beyond it being "different" as an MMORTS and the fact there are no player classes, one of the bigger concepts that this game makes good on is that the world doesn't control the player, the player controls the world. We can find hints of this in SWG, and in the previously mentioned game 10Six. This factor alone is what intrigued me about PotBS with the capturing and defending of ports. It's probably also why people are so fascinated with Eve politics. The lack of it is also the reason why I personally found Vanguard, EQ2, and WoW boring as hell: the worlds were static and unchanging, and the player simply existed within the confines. On the other hand, players having all the control doesn't necessarily hold a game up all by itself. Even SOE somehow found a way to ruin a good thing with enough revamps. Still, I'm willing to bet that the holy grail of MMOs that we hope to see one day will have have this element to contribute to its overall awesomeness.

If you want to look more into SG, go here. You can play it for free on a "basic" hero account with limitations. Even though it has limitations, you can play as long as you want. To get full access to all the benefits of the game, you still gotta pay up though.

Read More »

5 Things I Hate, Part 3: Jeffe Edition - Sterile Game Worlds

I'll keep this one short and simple, because I just got back from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and I'm friggin tired. I'm also a little inspired. Anyone who has seen it will speak of the awesomeness that is The Goblin Market...I wish I could find better pictures...if you skip to about 1:16 in the trailer here, you'll get a glimpse of it:

In many ways it felt like the first time I saw the Cantina scene in Star Wars (not going to link it, if you don't know what it is...well, there's nothing I can do for you)...or when China Mieville writes about Bellis Coldwine leaving New Crobuzon and ending up in Armada in The Scar (Mieville's world screaming for an MMO IMO, but that's a post for another day)...or when Richard Mayhew first gets dragged into London Below in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Here are little fragments of the world sitting underneath, over, or just beyond the big living breathing cityies. These worlds are all full of monsters and wilderness, but there's life...even some civilization...outside of the big cities as well as inside.

That's what the real world is like...outposts of civilization pockmarked around, above, and below wilderness and intrigue. A good game world should be the same way...big cities are good, but sometimes the best player interraction happens at the outposts. And no, 3 quest-givers standing on a dock don't count as an outpost. Anyone who has played it knows who my target is now: EQ2. I'd love to sit down and interview the original developers about the decision to have two main factional cities, and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles of wasteland in between...with absolutely no life. It was the most sterile, inauthentic, immersion-breaking world ever. They were so proud of the city ecology too; the voice acting...the NPCs that moved around, helping make the city come alive...but once you left the walls of Qeynose or Freeport...nothing. Docks and questgivers. I guess they were trying to centralize the players a bit, but to me, it was a game-killing design decision. I hated that if I wanted to do anything other than kill monsters, I had to make my way back to Freeport (I was evil...go bad guys).

Here's the map of Antonica, with all the monster spawns and such:

That was a 20 minute trip on foot (you could take the bird and get to the next zone quicker); the sheer size of that one zone (or the Commonlands, if you were in Freeport) was staggering. But in that whole expanse, there wasn't one stopping point, one layover. No pubs. Nowhere to craft. No trainers. Nothing. Just fields and fields of nasties of varying levels. All the zones were like that.

I hate to admit it, but when I stopped playing EQ2 and moved over to WOW, that was one thing I loved about the world design in WOW...something that I think made the game very approachable to new players; every zone had at least one gathering spot where players could rest their feet and wipe the blood off of their swords. Those outposts were where we met up, swapped stories, started groups, emptied our bags, wrapped our heads around the lore of the game (though to this day I still remember absolutely nothing about the WOW lore...with the exception of the story of Gnomergan...which is totally awesome). It felt more like the world that I'm used to, and it made gameplay more fun.

Star Wars Galaxies went an extra step...each planet had a few cities or outposts (the more remote "adventure" planets had fewer), but then we were allowed to build our own outposts. Krib has written about sandboxes and city-building in almost all of his posts, and it certainly stuck with me fact...instanced player housing is probably going to be my next "5 things I hated".

So give us rest stops all along the way. Our journey is mighty. Our thirsts will need to be slaked. Repeatedly. Don't worry about spreading the player population out...if your game is good, it will be busy enough that you won't want everyone in Ironforge (or Theed) because of TEH DREADED L4G anyways. And give us a good reason to stop and rest. Takes some of the grind out of the grind.

First developer to put a massage station and a shoe-shine in an out of the way Tavern in a little town in the middle of the wilderness gets a round of expensive microbrewed ale from me. Irish Carbombs if sitting down and getting the massage gives you a short-duration buff of some sort, even if it's totally whimiscal. A bottle of Grey Goose if the shoe shine actually makes your shoes shiny. It's the little things folks. We do pay attention to them, in case you're wondering.

Read More »

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Remember The Dead

On Special Editions, Pre-Paid Subscriptions and Founder's Clubs

I was one of the twelve people that actually liked Hellgate: London enough to buy a Founder's subscription. Did I get my money's worth on that investment? Probably not. In fact, if you do the math, it's more like exactly not - by about half. Hellgate was yet another classic example of a great idea with a ham-fisted execution and a premature release - which seems to typify the management of MMO properties. Recent news swirling around the alleged collapse of Flagship Studios further begs one (one me, at least) to question the true value of "collector's editions" and pre-paid or lifetime MMO subscriptions.

Don't Listen to Me

A bit of background that should illustrate why I am not a financial advisor: In a previous career, I was an anti-consultant. That is to say, people paid me large amounts of money for my opinion and then did the exact opposite of what I recommended. I'm quite comfortable with that, as it was usually the correct course of action. Turns out I'm wrong a lot.

  • For instance, I thought was the dumbest idea I'd ever heard of. After all, who in their right mind would buy a book on the internet when you could hold the same item in your hand (and read it free over a cup of java) at the local Border's or Super Crown?
  • As another shining example, I thought eBay was the most inane business model ever. Online garage sales? What scam artist came up with that and what pack of retards funded him?
  • This whole blogging thing? When my buddy Greg started 'blogging back in 1997 (because in 1997 you still used the apostrophe) I told him it was cute but that nobody would ever care what he had for breakfast. So, naturally, when Rupert Murdoch laid out over half a billion dollars to acquire an online hive of perverts and cops pretending to be high school kids I thought he had gone batshit crazy.
I also genuinely, but for no rational basis that I can discern, believed that the NGE would lead to the renaissance of Star Wars Galaxies. The general theme has been that if I think you're an idiot you're going to be a billionaire and if I approve of your plan you are doomed. So, please - I beg of you - don't heed my opinion on anything.

Special Editions

Galaxies wasn't my first MMO, not by far. I played Ultima Online on and off for five years before SWG, though I can't say I actually enjoyed most of it. I played it because it was there. I also dabbled in Asheron's Call and Sega's highly underrated 10-Six. When SWG launched in 2003, I bought the limited Collector's Edition box (I did it for the goggles, lol).

Though no longer in the anti-consulting racket, I still make make a decent living - so the extra twenty bucks for the CE really wasn't that big a barrier for some cool IG swag. In fact, I kind of decided back then that if a CE was available for any game I was playing that I'd buy it. Because, it turns out, I am the target demographic that really, really wants those exclusive items. After all, any game worth playing is worth paying extra for the optional leather bound heirloom grade slipcase - especially if it's got phat lewtz I can strap to my avatar while I preen and strut around the game like a peacock as if to advertise the superiority of my intellect, income and mating potential.

If I had bothered getting into World of Warcraft at launch, I would have picked up it's limited edition box. But I didn't and it became the most wildly popular MMO in the history of all mankind, achieving a level of success never to be duplicated no matter how often imitated. On the other hand, I pre-ordered Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning from Amazon Prime and the developers are already managing expectations for a gimped launch. Spin it however you want, but do take heed.

I was going to get Age of Conan in order to pass the time until the W:AR launch, since I can't seem to figure out who I must fellate to get into the latter game's closed beta, but all of my acquaintances who rode AoC's rocket-sled of a grind to the top arrived there only to find the PvP endgame bugged beyond salvation and have already quit. I had enough of that crap in Galaxies to last me a lifetime and I figure the cash I saved by not playing AoC almost makes up for what I lost by paying for Hellgate up front.

Pre-paid Subscriptions

I started out month-to-month in SWG, but for some reason fifteen bucks per lunar cycle is a difficult turd to swallow. It averages out to around fifty cents a day, which won't even buy a cup of coffee anymore. It is certainly a value proposition if I'm going to play 4-8 hours a day every day which is what addictive personalities like me do. However, I also evidently have some kind of aberrant psychological condition that causes me to shun recurring monthly costs over the magical $9.99 mark. I eventually upgraded and paid up front for an annual sub because lowering the effective monthly price by pre-paying is a potent enticement for folks so afflicted.

Of course, the downside to pre-paying is running the risk that three to six months into your 12 mo. (or lifetime) subscription period you get a Combat Upgrade or an NGE pulled on you. That just leads to a lot of impotent rage and causes otherwise rational people to flame out with idle message board threats of class action lawsuits, arson and grievous bodily harm.

So, before you whip out that credit card to cover your next year's worth of intended game time, reconsider that "Game experience may change during online play" label on that beautiful special edition box in your hands. Sure, that's in the context of an ESRB disclaimer, but you can just as easily read that as: "We can change the game anytime we want and we've already got your cash, suckas!"

Whither the Founder's Club

When Turbine announced that Lord of the Rings Online would have the option for a $199 lifetime subscription for pre-orders, I pondered the wisdom of such a ploy and questioned whether I would have bought one for Galaxies had it been offered. I decided that I probably would have. SWG just passed it's 5-year anniversary and sixty months at $15 per is $900. Now, I haven't been an uninterrupted paying customer during that entire stretch, but that number makes me cringe nonetheless.

If I had paid SOE $200 at SWG's launch in 2003 and played all the way through, I'd have a net savings of seven hundred dollars. That's crazy! On the other hand, everyone I knew who signed up for LotRO quit within three to six months. If I'd bought that lifetime sub and subsequently quit when they did I'd have effectively paid between $33 and $66 for each of those months. That's just insane! I laid out $149 for the Hellgate Founder's offer. At the standard rate of $9.99, I would have had to play for fifteen months in order to break even. I knew that when I wrote the check, and I was skeptical then too. Instead, I got eight months out of it - which is an effective monthly rate of $18.75. I knew the risks involved. It was a gamble. I rolled the dice and got screwed. Am I bitter? Not really. A little wiser? Maybe.

The conspiracy theorist that dwells within me believes the notion of a "Founders Club" begs the question as to the developer's motivation in making such an offering. Any pre-paid lifetime subscription model ensures two things. First, it provides the developer with a skewed and front-loaded income stream, which may reflect internal cash flow problems and/or indicate a tacit acknowledgment that they intend to deliver a product that they don't expect will go the distance. Call this the "Distract Unagi with a shiny trinket then take his money and run" gambit (though cynical SWG players will recognize this maneuver as "Sacrifice support of the live game by using subscription fees to finance the next expansion"). Secondly, it incentivizes the Founder to stick around and endure a sub-par experience merely to justify his expense long after a month-to-month player might have walked away. This merely breeds spite, hooliganism and a misplaced sense of entitlement.


When considering the amount of money and commitment of time that developers ask players to part with, do we at some point cease being customers and become investors? Of course not. But that doesn't stop the disgruntled Founder from acting like T. Boone Pickens and demanding that the President, CEO and Lead Designer all owe him something. Maybe we are owed something. Maybe we are owed assurances that the game we are paying for and the company we are paying it to are both viable enough to allow us to see an equitable return on our subscription fees.

Is it time for an MMO Player's Bill of Rights? Perhaps, but that is a topic for another article. There is no easy solution to this problem. With the dust still settling at Flagship, assuming the rumors are even true, the short answer is that if a game with over a million paying subscribers can manage to tank eight months into it's live service then I probably won't be joining any more Founder's clubs - irrespective of keen swag, early access or promises of exclusive content.

TL;DR = Grab the special edition but pay as you go.

Read More »

Thursday, July 10, 2008

5 Things I Hate, Part 1: Mason Edition - Delivery Quests

Of all the things I imagine in my wildest high fantasy and science fiction dreams, delivering a letter to General Chamberlain probably ranks in my top 5. For whatever reason, every digital persona I have taken since I took my first hit of crack (see: MMOs) has been 1 part DHL delivery guy and 1 part hero. Better yet, some developers are pretentious enough to call these miserable missions content.

I, for one, would be happy if I never again had to backtrack 2 zones to tell some town politician about my progress so I can advance a chain. I can send billions of dollars, phat loots, and advertisements for gold farmers through the mail, but god forbid sending word of my exploits and receiving further direction via post; much less in a game world in which you fly spaceships.

Delivery quests are just such lazy development it hurts. Please for all that is good in this world, STOP MAKING DELIVERY QUESTS!

Read More »

5 Things I Hate, Part 2: Jeffe Edition - Fucking Corpse Runs

I still hate them actually. Not the fucking part. Don't worry, you haven't accidentally landed on a necrophilia blog. That would be creepy, no? I'll keep this short and sweet, because we all know that corpse runs suck. I guess thing to do, because it gets to my origins as an MMO player, is look at Raph Koster's Star Wars Galaxies design blog (from about 2000), where he says:

For example, knowing that we were looking at a broader audience than MMOs had likely seen before meant that we couldn't demand as much time per play session or as much time per week as other MMOs did. As a result, a bunch of design choices went right out the window: we knew that we couldn't have game design elements that involved spending tons of time online. No macroing, no camping, no lengthy corpse recoveries, no long waits for public transportation.

This would be what we players refer to as an EPIC FAIL. Ah, my first SWG character, the lovable human Bootsy Collins. Bootsy was born on Tatooine somewhere, probably Bestine. He was an intrepid explorer, even right out of the gate, and about 9 hours into play he wandered somewhere bad and got himself killed by I-can't-even-remember-what. I ran back to the corpse about 20 times, dying every single time. Then I deleted Bootsy, picked a different server (Bria, thank god), and rerolled a hideous scaley orange menace (that's a female Trandoshan to the layman) named Gorgoth Goc.

So not only did Raph waste an hour of time on corpse runs, he wasted 9 of my hours leveling up to that point, and 9 more levelling a new character. It's all good though. I have 18 spare hours (I only have two small children, a wife, a house to take care of, a full time job, and an adorable dog). I guess in the end I should thank him, because I loved that stupid orange lizard. Though one day when Bria was down I did recreate Booty and terrorize the fine citizens of Eclipse:

But back to the point...corpse runs suck. They sucked in Galaxies, they sucked in EQ2, they sucked in Vanguard, they suck in Age of Conan. They just suck, and I'd love for somebody to come on here and give me one compelling reason that an MMO should EVER have corpse runs. There are better ways to create consequences for death. I'd rather just lose a random item from my inventory, even if that means time lost somewhere down the road; at least I don't have to stop what I'm doing and go on some random jog to find my rotting dead body. The best is when it's buried in the bottom of some dungeon with a mountain of re-pops on top of it, with no possible way to avoid them. Super.

Some day I'll take Raph to task on that "no long waits for public transportation" comment too. Ask anybody who played SWG at launch what were the most memorable annoyances, and I bet they'll say 2 things: corpse runs and waiting for the goddamn shuttle.

Read More »

MMOs Are A Harsh Mistress: An Origin Story

I love the MMO in spite of its faults, recycling and trickery. I love to progress a character within a game, and to custom tailor it to my heart's content. I love to roam around with others'/friends' characters, and to wreak all manner of havoc and terror. It's also a blast to sit around with said buddies and do nothing but shoot the shit. I also love that little thing we call 'immersion'.

Now a little step back to my MMO origins: Motor City Online, may it rest in peace. There was, as far as I'm concerned, a one-of-a-kind game. A true racing MMO. Granted, it didn't last long. I'll attribute that to poor management and lack of exposure. Bottom line though, I love racing games. And with MCO I got to build my own cars, sell my creations, have my own little greaser guy in the car (yes, it was all muscle/classic cars and set in the 60s-70s), and race in every kind of mode you can think of. Although MCO was built on a Lobby setup, the player base was definitely Massive, and it was persistent. And I have to let it be known, the customization was phenomenal for its time.

This game really blew my mind. I had played plenty of games online. But nothing on this scale; just your usual lobbied games. Here I was indulging in one of my favorite genres, but I wasn't limited to racing the CPU/a friend/my brother like any racing game before. It was from there on that I was hooked on MMOs.

I think I'll leave my first leap at that, as my next MMO was Star Wars Galaxies. Don't get me wrong; I'm one of the people that had an absolute love affair with SWG (still would if not for the NGE), but that will have to be broken down into many posts.

I'll close with a thought I had while out jogging at 5 in the goddamn morning today (because any later is toooo hot): Repetitive gameplay and the $15 standard. I don't mind forking up 3 fivers every month for a great game... but some games (even when great) are repetitive. I could probably get a monthly handjob on the Harvard campus for less, and get more original 'content' out of it. Developers really need to step up the Dynamic in 'dynamic gameplay elements.'

Keep it here for my next installment in textual intercourse : Savagery and Broken Bliss in A Galaxy Far Far Away. ETA - whenever.


Read More »

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Old MMOs That Should Be Brought Back: 10Six Edition

In a previous post I mentioned my lack of enthusiasm for the contemporary cookie-cutter MMO. What's a shame is that there were some great concepts introduced to the MMO market years ago, but they have been forgotten, or are unknown to the average MMO gamer of today. One such game, however, took a unique approach and spliced FPS and RTS gameplay elements together (MMORTS).

Developed by Postlinear Entertainment and published by SEGA, 10Six was designed to hold a million players in capacity, which is pretty ambitious considering the game was released in 2000. Because of that one million player capacity, the game was given the name of 10Six, which refers to 10 to the power of six, equaling 1 million.

The setting of the game takes place on a planet that got caught in the gravitational pull of our sun and entered the solar system. Upon discovery of this new, alien planet, it was also found to contain a valuable source of energy called "transium". The mining of this resource serves as the foundation of the game that powers player camps and their defenses, fuels raids on other player camps, and fuels the economy and political landscape of planet "Visitor".

The game has four corporations a player can join; each faction has their own distinct look and personality, which influences their structures and arsenals. The four factions are Infrastruct, eXtreme, ToyCo, and BruteForce.

So there are four corporations competing for the resources on this planet, and since it theoretically acommodates a million players, there are a million plots of land which can be occupied. What makes the game interesting is that players can occupy those lands and build their own camps, which is where the "RTS" gameplay comes in. You build your transium wells to gather transium in order to make money. Like any RTS, you also build additional buildings, walls and turrets to develop your arsenal, and enhance your camp's defenses.

You can also build and command units called "rovers" which are the bread and butter of any raid/defense on Visitor. You also can arm you avatar with armor, various enhancements, and weapons (which comes in the FPS part). You can utilize your first person perspective and command your rovers to from point A to point B at the same time. In other words, you're able to fight right along side your rovers with your avatar. You can also control your rovers from an overhead perspective in your "Nerve Center" which is essentially the "command center" that you typically build first in an RTS.

With these gameplay mechanics, the player can expand to other plots of land (or take over plots of land from other players). Since this is an MMO, it is a persistent world. That means that even while you sleep all camps but your "main" camp are open to attack by other players from other corporations. In order to combat this, you can join an "MDN" or Mutual Defense Network (guild) so other players in your MDN can aid your camp when you're being attacked, or help you attack others. This also helps to protect your camps while you sleep (hopefully your MDN has night owls) as members of your MDN receive alerts when a camp is under attack. This opens up a lot of possibilities politically, and wars can be waged between MDN's of other factions if anyone rubs each other the wrong way. As this all implies, this game is all PVP, much like Planetside.

The economy was also pretty well done. Players of all corporations can come together in neutral plots of land that serve as market places. Players can buy weapons from players of other corporations through trade, and sell their own goods for a price as well. Players could also make money by raiding other camps that belong to players not of your own faction and loot weapons, armor, rovers, and components for rovers.

10Six allows for a lot of sandbox potential, because depending on the plot of land, the player can build their buildings and defenses however they want. They can raise walls to protect buildings or create choke points. Many players try to take advantage of the terrain when building, trying to optimize their protection. Turrets are often built where the player feels it has the best damage range and defensive potential. Players can even designate waypoints for rovers to patrol, and continue to patrol even when the owner is logged off. The level of customization allows the gameplay experience to be largely based on what other players contribute moreso than what the game itself dictates, allowing a much more open-ended experience.

Considering the context of time in which the game was released, it was very well done, and quite addictive. Unfortunately the game was shut down in 2002 when its publisher, SEGA, was heading in a direction away from PC games. However, the game still exists under another name, called "Project Visitor". It still holds a relatively small fan-base that refines and maintains the game...essentially on fan life support. Still, in spite of its downfall, it provided a novel direction in the MMO universe, and to this day its technique in combining other gameplay genres into one game proves to be far more creative than most of the MMOs out on market today.

It's evident that game companies are trying to break away from the traditional MMO mold with small variations like FLS with Pirates of the Burning Sea, or Funcom and the new twist on combat mechanics in Age of Conan. However, I think with the growing demand of MMOs on the market, game companies should take note of 10Six and its unique combination of genres and ideas. They should realize you don't even need a leveling system, or archetypes in order to make a decent MMO.

I've left a lot of things out about 10Six. Hell, it's been about 7-8 years since I've played it last, so I kind of have a caricature of what the game was like in my mind. If you want to check out what I'm talking about you can go here to get a better understanding (and perhaps even play it? The more attention it gets, the more a gaming company will pay attention to its conceptual potential:

Also, here's a video of some of the gameplay. It does look ugly and outdated by today's standards, but it's an old game, and I think we can appreciate the game in the context that something so old could be so different and cool for its day.

Read More »

5 Things I Hate, Part 1: Jeffe Edition - Avatars In Auto Assault, or Terrible Last Minute Additions to Games

This was the worst last-minute addition to an MMO ever. I wish I could find video of them in action, but since Auto Assault has the dubious distinction of being the fastest mainstream MMO to ever be put out of its misery, very little footage exists. The animation was just terrible, movement was awful, the whole thing was barely even tested, and in my opinion should have just been left out. Vehicle-only games are just fine with me. I swear to sweet holy Jesus on a tree branch, if anyone ever makes a large robot-style MMO... if some terribly animated human or alien ever hops out of the robot to take a stroll around town, I'm going to give myself a Peruvian necktie.

Here's what they looked like. Beautiful, no? Notice the great lighting. Notice the awesome neon glow on the armor. The rebreather. The amazing textures. The map arrow in his head. It's all too beautiful to be true, really.

Note to developers: most MMOers have played a game or two that involve moving characters around a screen. We're not stupid. For most of us, the first thing we do is test the jump, and if it doesn't exist, or is crappy... well, that could be the end of things right there.

Flying Lab gets an honorary mention for deciding to cram avatars and avatar missions and combat in before release. Ugh.

Read More »

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Now It's A Threesome?

I've also got some things on my mind about MMOs. These days I'm starting to spend less and less time playing MMOs, and I think it's mostly because the gameplay they offer is starting to bore the crap out of me, though I guarantee you I've played my fair share.

I think we've all noticed how eerily similar MMOs are becoming in terms of the fantasy genre. When I played Vanguard upon its release, I didn't eventually quit because of the problems it was having. It was because I felt like I'd already played the game for 3 years before I even bought it. I'm sick of this level grinding, archetype, linear fairy bullshit.

But not all of the fault rests upon the developers' shoulders. The consumer has to pony up the cash, and continue doing so in order to keep the game going. It all boils down to that bottom line, and they keep on making games based on formulas that have been known to bring in lots of cash. I can only hope that some game company will have the testicular fortitude to try and make something different.

Read More »

OLMMOD Is Open For Business

Hi. In this blog you will finds posts about MMOs from people who play a lot of them for a lot of hours. We will vomit up every horrible opinion and impression we have on everything from the minute details of UI to MMO economics, virtual world theory, fantasy overload, the abuse of intellectual property, combat systems, world design, AI, sandboxes, theme parks, character creations, races, classes, skills, time-based leveling, grinding, farmers. gold buying, combat mechanics, social interaction, time-sinks, transportation, city design, graphics, lighting, physics, music, art, sex, in-game communication, and shit we haven't even thought about yet.

I'll kick it off with a little meditation...SWG-style:

Read More »