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r1ft Gaming Blog

A mirror of my gaming blog at r1ft.com. The jaded game designer turned corporate lackey. Feedback is always welcome.

Author: Daedren

AoC: First PVP Impressions

Posted by Daedren Tuesday May 27 2008 at 9:10AM
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So, AoC launch has come and gone. Aside from a few annoyances and a fetish with sharpening weapons, Funcom did a moderate job at not pissing a large portion of their customers off. I wouldn't go as far as saying everyone is happy - but realistic expectations must be set. "Not pissing everyone off" is about as good as you can get in today's picky and competitive MMO market.

I've joined many of my long time gaming friends on the Aquilonia RP-PVP server (EU region) and our guild Karma is going strong as usual. We always play on PVP servers, and mostly RP-PVP servers as we prefer a more mature PVP environment (and some of us even roleplay). Expectations were high for the PVP aspect of Age of Conan, so I'll share what my thoughts were during the first week / weekend in the world of RP-PVP Hyborea.

As I'm a working / family man, with not as much time as some of my friends, when I first logged in, many of my buddies were already nearly out of Tortage. If you're not at the exact same stage of the game as someone, grouping can be very counter-productive, especially at lower levels. I breezed through the first 8 levels or so no sweat, and didn't even have a chance to attack / be attacked by another player.

My first PVP experience in the game was at level 10. Zoning into the Wine Cellars, I experienced something similar to a WWF cage match. I didn't know why, and I didn't care, but there were about 12 people, all around level 10, just beating the hell out of each other. As I snuck over to try and grab a wine bottle (a quest item) - and I couldn't - I realized what all the fighting was about. People were fighting over these wine bottles. Not one to pass a fight, my Bear Shaman proceeded to club the hell out of everyone. This royal rumble lasted a good 5 minutes or so. Then, spoiling our fun, a level 23 assassin (still doing what on Tortage?) decided to start slaughtering everyone. I escaped with my life down the hall, switched instances, and grabbed a wine bottle in the deserted instance. I could have done that at the start, but what's the fun of that?

Tortage passed relatively peacefully, with only a few bouts of PVP, mainly on White Sands isle. Spawns / quest items got very crowded quickly, and rather than changing instances (most people either dont want to, dont know how, or dont care) and having a less crowded place, ganking galore was commonplace. It's in this forge of leveling and questing that server personalities are born, and by the time I was thankfully 19 and the hell out of Tortage, I had a good idea of how the server politics were going to be just by reading the OOC chat.

After Tortage, it was off to Cimmeria and the first real "open" part of the game. Heading outside the city walls, and being tasked with killing wolves / Alpha wolf, I had the choice of swapping instances (for less people) or interacting with people. I choose to interact. People for the most part were quite nice, and the unofficial "first there, first in line" mentality was pretty well preserved. Had a few good conversations just waiting around for quest stuff to respawn. I found that if I wanted PVP, I usually had to initiate it, save for a few gank incidents that are to be expected.

I longed for open PVP, so I found it. In the heat of a battle (with some quest mobs) a Ranger misfired and sent a couple arrows at me. I confronted him, asking him to apologize. He stood still for a good minute or two, decided speaking was not his strong point, and tried to leave. After a fierce beating, he finally responded to me (with many expletives) and then announced to the zone that I and my entire guild was ganking everyone in the zone and respawn killing them. I chuckled a bit and headed off to the next quest, which consisted of waiting for something to respawn for 15 minutes before finding out it was bugged.

I mention this not as a quick jab at an unfinished game (AoC has it's problems, but that is another topic) - but because this broken quest was actually one of the best things possible for world PVP. The specific quest (for those that know) is/was to kill the Vanir supply master at some Vanir camp. Reportedly, he spawns once, gets killed, and never respawns. Fair enough, it happens. Most people didn't know this, however.

People would clear their way to the mighty Supply Master and find a few people waiting for him. Some would be civil and group together, waiting for the mob that never spawns. However, some - feeling that they could be saving a good 15-20 minutes of play time - take an offensive approach of "kill whoever the hell I see that might kill my quest mob". Battles ensued. At the peak of the battle, I was in a group of 5, while we battled a guild group of 5-6 people for this prized quest mob. They died, came back, took us out, and we hurried back to get there in time to fight for the boss who would never come. Someone then mentioned that the quest was bugged in OOC. We had a good laugh about it and went on our way.

In my 20's, I gave PVP-minigames a shot. My first impressions of these are - *yawn*. The only potential fun I could ever see having here is with a group of friends / guildies, but that's stretching it. Both the Annihilation and Capture the Skull games are terribly boring in the sense that it's hard to care about guarding X or capturing whatever skull to win the game. These style of games are very similar to the guild wars mini-games, leaving out the Guild vs Guild and ladder aspects which were the heart of the PVP game. In the end, we won some and lost some, yet came out feeling like we didn't really do anything meaningful. Let's hope these get funner in the later stages of the game.

In my late 20's I encountered my first roleplayed PVP event. It wasn't much - just a bunch of guys playing Highwaymen at Cascade Falls in Conarch Valley. I commend them for some pretty good sneak tactics - putting a sole Highwayman on display in the middle of a bridge and jumping anyone that approached (6 on 1- can't do much there). I rallied some of my troops and we had a couple good battles before some level 50's came in and ruined our fun (before that we were all about the same level).

Leveling through the 30's was almost painfully quiet, mainly due to the fact you're forced to go do grey / green quests in other starting areas. This means you're usually 10 levels above anyone you see - so if grey ganking isn't your thing, it's hard to find a proper PVP fight - even as a guild labeled "the bad guys" on our server. I grouped mainly with my buddy who is an assassin, so we bombed through the thirties in a day or two. 40 brought new zones and equal level players, meaning more politics and fights. Unfortunately due to the lag / graphic problems in these zones, PVP fights were often unsatisfying (these have been fixed in the latest patch supposedly).

So, how is PVP shaping up? It's ok. Not spectacular, but not that bad. World PVP is the only "real" PVP I've seen - though instancing really, really hurts this. At peak times, popular zones have 5-10 instances running, so it's just too easy to avoid people. If a PVP group is in one instance fighting for a resource, just swap instances and go about your day. It's extremely easy to avoid people if you don't mind watching a loading screen more often.

My second gripe about open world PVP is the level system. Yeah, I'm against level based MMO's - they're just tired, lazy and played out in my opinion - and it makes for open world PVP while leveling just plain silly sometimes. If you're not in the group of "powerlevel until I pass out" people who want to be max level the fastest, you're at a huge disadvantage in any battle. I've seen rogues 10 levels below someone do moderate damage still, but if you play a soldier / mage archetype, you'll be doing piss to anyone just because they're a bit higher than you. I've found that +5 - 8 levels isn't that bad, after that it starts scaling tremendously in a bad way. I guess it won't matter much at end game, but it makes for much less dynamic and challenging PVP fights while you're advancing.

My last and final thought on Conan PVP is the Rock - Paper - Scissors game. Though the devs tried to assure us this wasn't the case (at least end game) - the PVP system hasn't done anything too revolutionary to try and break this stigma. One thing at these levels that is remarkable is the speed that everyone dies at. This is emphasized dramatically if you play a Healer / Mage / Rogue Archetype - people just don't last long in battle. Mages have it worse off - and seem to be the least played classes on PVP servers - they die incredibly quickly to any of the high-DPS classes. Priests can do ok if they survive the initial attack (which is sometimes hard). At the moment it just looks like another Fantasy - Rogue kills Mage - Mage kills Soldier - Soldier kills Rogue thing. I suppose this is an over generalization, and it's still not max level, but it still seems to be shaping up to be the same old jazz. Let's hope it's a bit more dynamic at 80.

In conclusion - first thoughts of PVP give a real overall mixed feeling. I see great potential in the PVP aspect of the game, but some serious roadblocks exist to really make it mature fully. Instancing and PVP Mini-games seem to be the negatives at the moment, while the dynamic combat system and good group play could make for an interesting server battlefield later on.

The Incredible Conan and its Sharp Weapons

Posted by Daedren Monday May 19 2008 at 3:48AM
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The Early Access program for Age of Conan launched this weekend. So, how'd Funcom do here?

The Saturday launch was kicked off 3-4 hours after it's scheduled time. Servers came up between 8-9PM GMT, which gave us EU players only a few precious hours to dive in before keyboard facing on a load screen in the early hours of the morning.

Funcom kept the users somewhat updated - the official forums were not operational, but they at least updated the patch message to tell people what was going on. They gave us the following "Welcome to Hyboria" message:


By Crom! By Mitra! By Set! They day is here! I bid you Welcome to Hyboria!

For 5 years, we, the galley slaves of Funcom, have toiled on the oar for your future pleasure. For 5 years we have felt the merry whip inscribe the letters “Conan” on our backs, mixing sweat with blood, reminding us to pull harder. Now we have at last reached the shore. The barge now transformed into a luxury ship and we bid you welcome on board. Not as slaves, naturally, but as captains, esteemed passengers or pilots.

The point is - from now on, Hyboria is yours as much as ours. We will build this world with you. We hope you will fall as much in love with it, as we have. Know though, that we might experience a bit of rough sea the first days. This is the nature launches… Let me take this moment to apologize for any bumpiness. Smoother waters are sighted ahead!

Welcome to Hyboria, welcome home!

Yours truly,

Gaute Godager
Game Director, Age of Conan


I don't really get the whole "luxury ship" analogy. So, we're pilots and captains and passengers? How many people can steer a ship? I envision some sort of sausage-fest party near the ship's steering wheel as 50,000 geeks battle to be pilot/captain of said ship. The whole "slave whipping" thing is a bit odd to. Anyway, this is probably one of the weirdest welcome or official messages I've seen for any game. Anyway, moving on.

Shortly after server launch, Funcom updated the patch message to tell us:

Due to the incredibly high demand, we will be launching two more PVP servers in the North America and English-EU regions.

Cool beans. At least they had a couple spare servers lying around to use for this. Weird thing was - this was predicted, especially by forums users, a few days before the launch. I guess Funcom didn't believe us. What is a bit amusing (or sad) is that they seemed to not care about the RP-PVP server in North America being horrifically overloaded. Cimmeria, the only NA RP-PVP server, was so crowded that people are even still experiencing bad lag problems and overcrowding issues. I know there is supposed to be more servers at launch, but that won't solve any problems as almost everyone playing AoC has friends they are going to join on one of the Early Access servers.

Server stability at launch was pretty good. Once the servers were up, there were very little latency problems that I saw. Also, the release client is about a million times more stable than the Open/Closed Beta client. It's not perfect, by any means, and there are still quite a few bugs (some game breaking) that you can experience early in the game. If you're lucky, like me, you'll dodge these bullets and be able to glide through and get the hell out of Tortage, which should be any sane person's goal.

Back to the launch: One thing to note about this "3-4 hour delay" is Funcom's patch server welcome message. After explaining that they are ironing out the servers, and there will be a 3 hour delay, they nicely told us to go "sharpen our weapons" one more time before we plunge into the world of Hyboria. At first, I didn't think much of this. It's cute that the Funcom Community guys (or whoever writes these messages) come up with witty little antidotes like this.

However, the next day (Sunday), during server maintenance, we had the following message (in regards to a bit more downtime for maintenance):


... and just when you thought. There is one more little tweak that needs a tad bit more testing. But Hyboria will open the gates in just a few more minutes. The servers will come up in about 30 minutes from now. Just enough time to sharpen your weapon of choice.


Ok, this is just weird. Does Tarib and the other Funcom guys picture gamers sitting near their desk, waiting for the servers to come back up, with some sort of medieval weapon-of-choice in our hands, grinding away on a sharpening stone? It was cute the first time, but if this is an ongoing theme, I think the CM's might need to have a bit of an in-house psych check or something.

So, Funcom, keep this in mind: Sharpening our weapons in a gaming sense really means practicing the actual game. We need the servers up to do that. I don't think you want to encourage MMO geeks to have sharp object lying around near their gaming PC and to be sharpening it constantly. Hey, I'm just trying to save you a lawsuit here, you know?

Anyway, Early Access launch went pretty smooth overall. The game, in it's current status, looks quite playable. A few bugs need to be ironed out and the server crowding issue needs to be solved (allowing free character transfers might do it). Other than that, a pretty smooth launch from Funcom.

Age of Conan: Server Names Released

Posted by Daedren Thursday May 15 2008 at 11:27AM
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Tarib, a Swiss chap that plays Community Manager for the AoC forums by day, let the bomb drop today in the forums:

The gates to Age of Conan open in just a few days from now and legions of adventurers can hardly wait to set foot on Hyborian soil. Many want to chose their future home (also known as ‘Server’) beforehand and we know the list below has been eagerly awaited.

Since we know how important those server names are we ran several polls on all our community forums to find out which names each territory prefers the most. We then distributed those names among the different territories/languages.

These servers are the ones that will be available on 17th of May when the Early Access play starts. The servers are scaled to modern industry standards, and will hopefully serve as your home for years to come! During Early Access we will closely monitor the number of players on each server to find out which types are the popular ones. Additional servers will then be made available for launch.

So, without further ado: here are the servers for the Early Access starting 17th of May:

US Servers (Early Access 17th of May)

PvE Servers
• Set
• Dagoth
• Zug
• Omm
• Derketo
• Thog
• Wiccana
• Gwahlur (recommended Oceanic)
• Anu

PvP Servers
• Tyranny
• Bane
• Deathwisper
• Bloodspire (recommended Oceanic)
• Doomsayer

RP-PvP Server
• Cimmeria



European English Servers (Early Access 17th of May)


PvE Servers
• Crom
• Dagon
• Ymir
• Bori
• Astoreth

PvP Servers
• Fury
• Wildsoul

RP-PvP Server
• Aquilonia



French Servers (Early Access 17th of May)


PvE Server
• Ishtar

PvP Server
• Ferox

RP-PvP Server
• Stygia



German Servers (Early Access 17th of May)


PvE Servers
• Mitra
• Asura

PvP Server
• Aries

RP-PvP Server
• Asgard



Spanish Server (Early Access 17th of May)

• Zingara (PvE)

 

There we have it, folks! Now, I won't be the only one who expresses dismay over some of the abysmal choices for server names. As a EU player, one that often resides on RP-PVP servers, and one that could even play on the English or French server, I'm given the choices of:

Stygia

Aquilonia

Which, quite frankly, fails to impress.

The damn Germans won the day with getting "Asgard" as their RP-PVP server. Now, along with breakdancing to 80's music remixed into bad techno, they'll be able to play on the server with the most kickass name. I don't blame you, Germania, I blame Funcom, as usual. Die!

So, who the hell would play on a server called Bori? Or Anu? Give me 2 S's there and we've got Boris and his pet Anus.

So now me and my band on minions will have to ponder whether to roll on the ill-named Aqua-lonia or brave it in the wilds of a cool  named server like Wildsoul. Such are the difficult decisions our generation is faced with.

Your Ideal MMO - Part 2 - The World You Live In

Posted by Daedren Wednesday May 14 2008 at 2:33AM
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Welcome to your ideal MMO. Last week, in Part 1, I asked what people wanted for Classes and Character Customization. I received quite a few responses, and I thank my readers for their feedback on this. It's good to hear what real players want.

So, what's next? The world you play (and live) in, of course. At first glance, this sub category seems huge - daunting, even - but I'll try to encompass most overall topics and try and get a feel of what people want as far as the world they interact with in an MMO.

Keep in mind we're assuming a post-apocalyptic world, here. We can assume a post-apocalyptic Earth for the sake of argument.

I've split the "World" category into three subcategories here: Design, Interaction, and Size

Design

1. What level of realism do you expect/want in the world you interact with?

2. What game, in your opinion, has provided the best world to live and interact in?

3. What freedoms do you want in a world that haven't been provided before?

Interaction

1. Should you be able to interact with almost anything (like in Elder Scrolls / Oblivion or Ultima Online) or do prefer a more static world (like World of Warcraft)?

2. Sandbox vs. non-Sandbox - what to you like, what do you want, and who's done it the best?

3. How much interaction with the world is required to keep you immersed?

Size

1. How big do you expect a MMO world to be? What's your ideal size, in terms of content and explorability?

2. What are your thoughts on travel time - should you be able to quickly get to one edge of the world to another, through some magical or other means? Or do you prefer having to travel through, with considerable time, to some destinations? (ala EVE Online)

3. Do you prefer a centralized world with trading/hubs and marketplaces or do you want these services to be available in any guild town / small town that you come across? (Basically: should you be forced to travel to major hubs to do some things like sell / train / buy , etc?)

***


Designing a world is tough stuff! As always, please feel free to elaborate or expand on any of the ideas. Tell me the world you want to live in.

Thanks in advance for taking the time to reply.

Your Ideal MMO - Part 1 - Classes, Backgrounds and Character Customization

Posted by Daedren Wednesday May 7 2008 at 10:14AM
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Designing a game, much less a MMO, is no easy task. Developing a game of such magnitude is not a small endeavor. So, while I continue to mull over the other complications of designing such a game, I'd like to ask my readers for their input on the subject.

This will be an ongoing series, of sorts - in which, at the end, a good idea of information will have been gathered and put to good use. I've always thought that the community, as a whole, is largely unappreciated by developers. Why not listen to what players want?

Anyway - On with the show!

* * *  * * *  * * *

Part I - Classes - Backgrounds - Character Customization

Disclaimer: We are using the assumption of a skill based progression system here. Oh, and we're going Post-Apocalytpic. ;)

The questions I ask are these:

1. Do you prefer a "Class" system or a completely open progression system, and why? (For example: You can be a "Soldier" and get certain abilities, or you could progress through Soldier-type skill trees and get them, sans "Class")

2. Should backgrounds and/or race choice affect your gameplay dramatically? Should you be rewarded and penalized severely for choosing a specific race or background?

3. Is it ok to have certain backgrounds / races to be more powerful in certain aspects of a game?

4. How much character customization do you want in a game? What are some main features that you'd like to see?

5. Should you be able to change your characters appearance in the game world? New face, new body, etc - or should it be limited to only cosmetics like hair color / tatoos?

6. How do you feel about certain actions within the game world causing permanent scars or disfiguring on characters? (Hello, vat of acid...)

Any other comments on the subject are highly welcome.