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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

The Good, The Bad, The Emo: Warhammer First Impressions

Posted by Daedren Friday September 19 2008 at 11:44AM
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I had a reader of mine once tell me I should review games for a living. My response to that was "No one reads the positive reviews - just look at Zero Punctuation." Today, however, I'm going to start out on a positive note and say Warhammer Online looks like a splendid game and overall well done game. I'm all about the PVP, and I'm all about the RVR, and my last MMO was Age of Conan - meaning Mythic provided a more meaningful PVP experience in the first 15 minutes of playing Warhammer than Conan did for 2 months. Kidding aside, I'm going to highlight, quickly, some of the ups and downs (from my point of view) of Warhammer over the last couple days.

Choosing a Faction and Server -- Pain in the ass.

Unfortunately, the Faction and Server choice in Warhammer seems to be tearing apart friendships and guilds a bit. It's no secret that Destruction is more populated, and this is causing a lot of players (like me) with some sort of "Underdog Complex" to stay the hell away from this side. However, I must admit that the Destruction side feels a bit more complete, a bit more fun, and a bit more, well, interesting. Perhaps players are just a bit burnt out on yet another Elf / Dwarf / Human sort of faction, and are happy to play something kinda new with Chaos and Dark Elves, not to mention a superbly done Greenskin faction (missing Choppa aside!). Hell, squig hunters get to go inside their Battle Squig, Chaos Magus get to zoom around on a unique disc, and Dark Elves get to run around in a g-string. (Must... resist... rolling... Destruction...) All the while us poor Order saps get to run around with yet another Dwarf Warrior and yay, look, Legolas. I can see why people want to play Destruction. I can't see why Order didn't get more love.

On a similar note, rumor is that Destruction scenario queues are quite lengthy due to the population imbalances. Unfortunately for the bad guys, I don't think there is a way to fix this, save getting more people to play Order.

Server choice seems to be muddled due to an odd "Open RVR" ruleset that has players wondering if they can even revisit Tiers 1 & 2 at high level due to the beloved Chicken Mechanic. Also a concern is Open RVR servers actually diluting the RVR action because the fights will be more spread out. While it might be too early to tell for that, it's still causing long time PVP veterans to question their server choice. Core servers are also being called "Corebear" or likened to WoW PVE servers, and while incorrect, it's still causing some indecision or separation in playerbases.

Performance and Stability -- Not bad.

I experienced some horrific performance issues when first playing Warhammer - much worse than the Closed or Open Beta - which surprised me. I found out that this was actually caused by using the Beta Client patched to retail. A full file check kicked my FPS up dramatically. So, if you've upgraded from the Beta client, best to do a full file check or reinstall from the DVDs to be safe. Performance is still a bit iffy in some spots but these seem to be isolated locales. The game feels a bit clunky, but it might just take some time to get used to.

Stability hasn't been bad. The Alt + Tab blackscreen bug hasn't appeared yet, which is great. I haven't had a CTD or lost connection once.

Advancing via RVR and PVP -- Thank God, it's finally possible.

Warhammer Online can go down in the MMO history books as being the game that finally made this possible. Players have been asking for it since... well, forever. I always found it comical that you can "advance" your character in a game by mindlessly killing no-challenge NPC's all day long, yet come an unpredictable and challenging fight with an actual human, you gain nothing in terms of character advancement.

Playing Order, it's definitely possible to just do RvR and scenarios all the time for advancement. Empire/Chaos seems to be the most populated with players, so even in off-peak times you can wait max 5 minutes for a Scenario to pop up.

The only downside is it seems that open world RVR is much less beneficial than these scenarios. Mythic stated multiple times, in various podcasts and blogs, that this wouldn't be the case, so let's hope it's just temporary. I've found it hard to find RvR battles sometimes in Tier 1... and sadly, due to population imbalance, it seems that most battles are quickly ended by the Albion... er, I mean Destruction zerg.

Player Interaction and Community -- Well... no one's perfect.

A couple things to harp on in terms of player interaction and community for Warhammer Online:

No official forums sucks donkey testicles. I know they're a pain in the ass to maintain, but no one knows where to go to talk to other people on their server.

People don't need to talk to each other. I'm fairly certain you can do nearly everything in this game never saying a word. You can wander into RvR and just /join a group, you can go do Public Quests and just /join a group, you don't have to ask where anything is because it's all on the map... That, and with NPC's talking at about 700 words per minute, anything an actual person says is quickly lost in the sea of inane NPC chatter. The positive side to this is that there are no public channels for Dirge spam.

I've leveled 3 characters to level 10ish on the Order side (I suck at choosing a class, bah!) - and I've seen a total of 4 people talk. I'm on a roleplaying server -- (EU Burlok for those that want to stalk me - stay away Erling!) -- and the only people to talk have been shouting insults at Orks in the Public Quests. I do it all the time, so I guess it spurned some others to RP a bit. Other than that, though, Warhammer seems like it's a ghost town.

Fo-shame, Mythic. A strong game and server community is vital for the long term success of the game. Let's hope that the chat system is improved and players are forced to communicate more at higher levels.

That's all I got for now. Overall, the game is new, the game is fun, and I'm just happy to be RvRing again. Of course, I said the same thing for Age of Conan (short of the RvR part) - so take that all with a shaker of salt.

Daedren out.

Original article is here.

Digg it here.

The Steak Just Walked Out

Posted by Daedren Wednesday September 17 2008 at 10:02AM
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Just when I thought I had escaped writing about Age of Conan, something as superb as THIS knocks on my electronic front door. The infamous Gaute Godager, Game Director for Age of Conan and of Steak and Wine fame, has 'resigned' from Funcom. For those that don't know what 'resigned' means, it means that they told him to resign or they'd fire him.

I can't help but feel a little responsible for all this. Sure, my scathing review of sorts of Conan probably didn't help his cause - but I think I've been too hard on the guy. I've called him out multiple times, not only for his Steak and Wine quote (man I love that) - but also possibly one of the weirdest 'welcome to the game' messages ever created. He managed to include slave whipping, confuse it's players on whether they are riding a ship or driving it, use the phrase "nature launches" and even use the word "bumpiness". I'm almost tearing up re-reading that announcement. It seemed so long ago we were so naive of the ways of Funcom and had such high hopes for the game.

While I wish Gaute the best of luck in his new career - and speculation on where that will be will only cause fear in the collective MMO community - I think it's safe to say that MMO's probably aren't your forte. That might be a bit harsh, but for those keeping count, that's 0/2 for Mr. Godager - Anarchy Online and Age of Conan. At least Richard Garriott has Ultima Online to reminisce about as he shoots off to the Moon or whatever.

Adieu, Mr. Go Danger, your savvy wit and cheeky quips will forever be remembered.

Original article is here, at my blog.

Hell Froze Over: An Interview with Funcom's Erling Ellingsen

Posted by Daedren Tuesday September 16 2008 at 10:16AM
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Hi, I'm Daedren. You might remember me from other interviews like "Mark Jacobs: He Didn't Call Me Back" and "Richard Garriott: Corp Por or In Vas Mani?" I write this not with a gun to my head, or a sharp weapon to my balls, but because I'm an advocate of objective journalism in the MMO industry. That means when I strike up a dialogue with someone as unlikely as even Erling Ellingsen, of Age of Conan interview fame, I must adhere to my own code. I think I'm saying that because I've been watching Dexter too much.

A short synopsis of the background leading to this interview: I recently wrote an article titled "Age of Conan: A Post Mortem Analysis" that was, by MMO industry standards, famous enough to have Massively's chief editor send me a couple hookers and a bucket of KFC for my troubles. Some of my readers summed it up as "The harshest review ever done on a game - but mostly true" or "inane babble by a crazed man, obviously driven insane by his socialist European overlords" - in any case, it got the attention of Funcom, probably because I emailed it to all of them.

I eventually came to discussing the article with one Erling Ellignsen. After he realized I was not all fire and brimstone, he lightened up to the fact that reaching out to MMO player base might be a good idea. No one is perfect, of course, and it's only fair to give someone the chance to explain. With that said, I've given Erling 5 questions to answer, and here are his responses:


Daedren: In an interview with Jon Wood of MMORPG.com, you state that "No big features didn't make it in to launch". However, Age of Conan was marketed as a PVP-Oriented MMO. As the game was launched without a PVP system, how is this possible? We understand the need for testing and ironing bugs out, but it really does seem like the PVP system should have been there at launch and wasn't. What gives?

Erling Ellingsen: I disagree with you that the game launched without a PvP system. You could PvP players from day one, both in mini-games, in the open world and in sieges. One of the things we received the most positive feedback on was actually PvP, and Age of Conan is unique in regards to the fact that the majority of our players actually play on PvP servers. We even launched with a PvP cultural server ruleset. However, we know that we need to develop PvP further and that's what we're doing when we're now rolling out PvP experience, levels, armor and the consequence system. Saying that Age of Conan launched without a PvP system would, however, be incorrect in my opinion.

Daedren: In the same interview, you mentioned that "We know better than anyone what issues we are facing with the game". That said, how can you then justify the recent gem changes, the horrible gem balance from before, the past and current in-game itemization, and lastly, failure to fix game breaking problems like gems and epic item farming (effectively ruining the economy) in a reasonable amount of time? What sort of assurance do players have that mistakes like this won't be done again in the future?

EE: I certainly understand your concern, but rest assured that we are doing the best we can at the moment. We would like to fix everything right away, but that's simply not the way it works. These changes take time to develop and implement, and we need to work from a list of priorities. We have done a tremendous amount of improvements since launch, just look at the various patch notes. That being said we know there are still many issues that needs to be corrected, and we are working relentlessly on that. The gem system is being worked on as we speak, and the recent change we did was a temporary one to offer an intermediate improvement until we get it right. We will address all the issues we can, we just need to work from a list of priorities, and that means some issues will be ironed out before others. I know it's hard to be patient about these things.

Daedren: There has been a lot of criticism about Funcom already announcing a pay-for expansion for Age of Conan. A hefty portion of people have been allocated for this project. How can you justify spending time on paid content when basic features (like PVP) are missing from the game, and how can you try and compete with other games like Lord of the Rings Online who provide these content updates at no cost?

EE: I have absolutely no idea where you have "a hefty portion of people" from. Right now the expansion team is very, very small. Our main focus now is, of course, the live game. It would make no sense whatsoever for us to not prioritize the live game -- we need players to be happy with the game or else there isn't much point even making an expansion, so improving on the game that's there is priority number one. We wanted to drop some news on the expansion now because we wanted to show our playerbase that we are making long-term commitments to the game. Again, addressing the concerns the players have about the live game is alpha omega to us. The expansion is far, far away from release and we merely wanted to announce that we are indeed committing ourselves to delivering that sometime in the future. Until then, the live game is top priority.

Daedren: With the release of Warhammer Online and the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, how do you plan to retain players? What is the focus in the next 6 months of Age of Conan to either keep players playing or get them back from other games?

EE: That's a good question, and I'm sure it will be a challenge! Right now what we want to do is work with our players on addressing the concerns they have and making the necessary changes and improvements that both we feel is needed and that the players feel is needed. We're definitely getting there, and I think you will see us picking up speed in the time ahead as more and more good stuff is coming out. The first part of the PvP update is leaving the test servers now, and I can't wait to hear the player's feedback on it. Then we need to get the consequence system out, and I think we have definitely made a heavy improvement to PvP. We're also rolling out a whole new outdoor area for level 55+ players, a whole new dungeon for level 60+ players, Tarantia Commons for mid-level players, as we have at least two level 80 dungeons in production. Then there is epic raid gear coming for all the classes, and we will continue to revamp content similar to what we did with the Black Castle. We are also looking into loot distribution, making the items more meaningful and making raiding more rewarding. We are committed to improving on Age of Conan and a large number of the changes you're seeing is a direct reaction on player feedback.We will also work towards improving communication with our playerbase, and we want to keep everyone more in the loop on what we are doing with the game.

Daedren: How are the current subscription and server numbers? We've hear rumors of server merges and severe population declines on some servers. Any plans for these?

EE: I'm not at the liberty to discuss subscription numbers due to the fact that we are a publicly traded company. The latest number we announced was the 415.000 customers per August 14th. We will certainly do what is necessary to entertain a healthy community of players on the servers, and if we decide on doing anything such as server merges we will make sure to notify the playerbase when we can. Right now I can not give you any definite plans on this, though. We do, of course, register the feedback we're getting on the forums and we're taking it into consideration.


*

And there we have it, folks. I'm a bit disappointed with the answers, of course, but that's not surprising. If you call "able to attack another player" a "PVP System" then I guess that's your call. Perhaps I should have said "No meaningful PVP System" or perhaps "A PVP System different than Bruce Lee on the Commodore 64." Not releasing subscriber numbers might not be Erling's decision, but I think it's safe to say with Warhammer launching this week and WotLK out in November, Age of Conan is going to have a bit of a difficult time not only retaining players but getting new ones as well. From how Erling talks, Age of Conan is being patched constantly and fixing problems, not introducing new ones. How accurate is that?

I'll be honest: I haven't played Conan since June. That said, I'm not the most informed on the current game status: though word on the street is that the PVP patch still hasn't launched and there are still some glaring performance problems. I've heard from a couple MMO hobos that still play AoC that a real patch hasn't been introduced since July or early August, and that the PVP patch (the one promised in June) is hyped up every week, only to be let down come patch day.

That said, I ask my readers to come up with some questions to bring to Funcom. Of course, I'd like to know peoples response to these answers. I'll be compiling what I consider the "best" questions from readers around and giving them back to Erling in a week or two - that is, if he doesn't put a restraining order out for my vivid pictorial references above.

Consider this an open dialog with "the Funcom". I'd like to hear from both ex-customers like myself and also some current subscribers that still enjoy the game.

Oh, on a last note, here is the three month trend for Funcom Stock. If you're too lazy to click, it's gone from $55 per share to $8 per share in just over 90 days. I'm no market analyst, so I ask for help on this as well. Is that healthy?

Original article is here at r1ft.com

Also featured at MMOCrunch.

Coming soon to Massively!

I wish it could be featured at MMORPG.com but it's not possible. Yay for the Second Life blog about to knock my down into oblivion! :P (Paragus will get you!)

Hyping the Hype: From Conan to Warhammer

Posted by Daedren Thursday September 4 2008 at 8:51AM
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The great Sun Tzu, father of modern journalism, once said in his treasured writings: start with a Mime and you can't go wrong. Of course I just made that up, and I assure you that the WoW-killing Mime is not yet with us. We'll leave mimes and memes to rest for a moment, and venture over into the underworld of Hype.

Hype in the MMO industry isn't all unlike hype in other industries like Music and Cinema. People anxiously await the latest release from their favorite artist, film-maker or actor with some level of anticipation, and this "anticipation" can be roughly translated into "Hype". Measuring hype over a large fan base isn't an exact science, of course, so what it comes down to really is a persons impression of the level of hype via various mediums.

I speak for many people when I say that the hype for Age of Conan was absolutely insane. Of course, this could have been one of the reasons for its ultimate demise, a point I actually didn't cover in my "Post Mortem Analysis" - to put it lightly, the game "didn't live up to the hype". People were writing and posting and going nuts over the prospect of finally getting to enter into the Hyborean frontier, possibly under the false impression that the entire game of Age of Conan was as polished and "fun" as the open beta area, and possibly because they hadn't experienced major MMO released since the failure of Vanguard a year before.

People can debate the reason that Age of Conan was hyped so much all day: whether it was the possibility for a revolutionary "Next Gen" MMO to finally be released, a mainstream MMO that was built around the promise of PVP combat, or people longing for a game that catered more towards a mature, adult audience. Funcom even took the phrase "There is no such thing as bad publicity" to a whole new level by trying to piss off and alienate the majority of their loyal playerbase by trying to make a buck or two out of the Open Beta. Even trying to scam 5 bucks out of people to play a beta wasn't enough to scare most people away.

New domains were registered, new blogs were created, and people spent countless hours pouring over beta videos, deciding what classes to play, and trying to get a "feel" for the game. People started throwing terms around like "Wow Killer" and "Finally, a PVP based MMO!". Theory-crafting was rampant, alliances and guilds formed, and at release, roughly 800,000 people rushed into the world, satisfying this primal urge to experience something they've truly anticipated.

Needless to say, Age of Conan let down the majority of players, on a larger scale than Tabula Rasa or even Vanguard: Saga of Brad McQuaid. Age of Conan was marketed towards a somewhat niche set of MMO demographics: adult content and a PVP oriented game. Without argument, the game has completely failed on the latter point, though it somewhat succeeded on the first - it kept its "M" rating, you get to see breasts, and the level of violence is unparalleled in any MMO on the market.

This brings us to Mythics upcoming beast Warhammer Online. It is my personal opinion that the hype level of Warhammer is less than Age of Conan, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. People were so aching for some new MMO blood on the market, especially PVPers, that Conan had a distinct advantage of being "first". In general, it seems people are much more cautious when considering Warhammer. Not that the internets has any shortage of fan sites or ongoing blogs about WAR - there are far more of these than there were for Conan. Warhammer has a clear advantage of using a very established Intellectual Property, meaning the amount of information and fan interest is already, by default, higher than Conan.

This might change once Warhammer Open Beta hits this weekend. Things really took off for Conan once the open beta disaster was underway - while the previews for the game itself were positive, the methods that Funcom used to both distribute and charge for access to the Open Beta caused a huge uproar in the collective MMO sphere, thus generating even more attention and/or interest to the game. Warhammer has taken a far more professional and less controversial route by not charging for Open Beta access, distributing the beta client on their dime (or via partner and fan sites) and generally being very open and forthcoming discussing problems and issues with their upcoming game. It's not easy to tell players that 1/8 of their playable classes won't make release, and only 1/3 of the proposed major cities will be there.

Conan might have had the upper hand with this "first MMO excitement" - but Mythic was clearly happy letting Funcom "pave the way" and learn from their mistakes. In fact, Mark Jacobs and crew have done almost the polar opposite of Funcom in many regards: calculated delays, cancellation instead of inclusion of sub-par game content, and overall a very professional and stable open beta platform.

Without a doubt, the hype level for Warhammer Online is about to peak next week once the Open Beta is up and running. And, while any game is susceptible to being over-hyped or "not living up to the hype" - I think that for the most part, due to the failure of Age of Conan, people will expect less overall from the Mythic team and from Warhammer Online. Using this logic, the failure of Age of Conan will be directly tied to the success of Warhammer Online in the first few months due to players overall caution and lower expectations going into a game.

I don't want to try and downplay Warhammer Online potentially being a good, epic, long lasting game: for a PVP wacko like myself who got tired of killing sad AI MOBS 10 years ago in Everquest, WAR could offer a PVP MMO experience that could rival the fun factor of DAoC many years ago. Sure, it might just be WoW 2.0: PVP Reloaded, but it still beats Blizzards joke of an "e-sport" (emphasis on quotes) even if Warhammer PVP/RVR ends up being a frontier zerg fest. As long as there is an Emain Macha in Warhammer, people will want to PVP, and PVP in any open environment is highly preferable to the controlled and instanced PVP battlegrounds of both WoW and AoC.

So, what do my readers think? Is the Warhammer hype less or more than Conan? Has Mythic done well in their attempts to hype the game? Are people really going crazy and I'm just missing it? Do tell.