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F2P Import Death Watch - Blade and Soul

Posted by Ozzallos Wednesday October 22 2014 at 4:01AM
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While my coverage of Archeage has left me thoroughly disgusted with both Trion and XLgames, it simultaneously serves as its own object lesson and insight for anybody looking to drop large sums of cash on a franchise that may or may not ever deliver.  In the world of F2P, past actions are truly the best indicator of future behavior, which is why every last one of us should have seen Trion's bot and hacking typhoon on the horizon...

...And avoided those stupid expensive $150 early access packages like the plague.

Reddit has been a great 20/20 hindsight resources that frankly should have seen all of this coming and sounded the alarm instead of feeding the hype, but one post in particular caught my eye as the forums continued to rage all over Archeage--

Aeolius write: "Most f2p games from Asia are like this. WHy do you think Blade and Soul isn't being released in the states? NCSoft KNOWS all of this and they dont want to ruin their reputation."

Now I've lusted after Blade and Soul for a while and each month without news as to its import status has left me with a painful longing... Or perhaps that was just gas, but it was a franchise I desperately wanted to see come to the United States. Sex did not even begin to describe the game for me, and I'm not talking about the fan service. It looked like everything I could possibly want in an MMO-- The Soul Caliber of MMORPGs. Fuck yes, I was on board with that.

And then I realized I had put those very same fanboy driven blinders on that afflicted many when it came to Archeage. While I could take issue with that near blanket statement being made about the quality of all of those MMOs from that place generically known as "Asia," Archeage had left me with a certain deficit of naivety. I did some digging.

There is now a frown on my face.

I'm not going to dig into as much detail as I did with Archeage, but I'm going to preemptively put Blade and Soul on my caution list as an unsafe purchase. It also leads me to ask the question: What the hell is wrong with these people that they don't put the most basic of security in place to prevent this sort of exploiting? In the many links you can sift through in those google results, you'll see the exact same behavior as Archeage-- Bots teleporting here and there, willy-nilly as if the game code were made of toilet paper and the threat of enforcement almost nonexistent. One of those youtube vids states that it has been the status quo for over a year, which mean significant change is unlikely... Not unlike Archeage, which had a year run-up to the NA and European markets.

Now I know there are people who will groan at the mere mention of World of Warcraft and the franchise is not without it's own bots, but the code was tight enough as to disallow something as basic as teleporting and blatant item duplication. I found bots. I reported bots (without the use of labor you XL dumbasses) and anything as obvious as the exploits featured in the games above usually resulted in foot put to ass by Blizzard, so I gotta ask: What the fuck is going on, Korea? I know f2p margins are tight, but packet insertion hacks are amongst the most basic there is.

I've heard a number of theories thrown around concerning this failure to secure client side data. The most popular seems to be that Korea requires their players to register the equivalent of a social security number before playing any MMO, thus causing the developer placing less emphasis on application side security. It's easy to go after the hacker when you have their state sponsored ID number, right? And in other news, I have a tough time believing somebody can be that naive.

The only thing I have left after that are conspiracy theories. If it should be standard operating procedure to secure against the most basic of exploits and you're not so naive as to think you state ID is going to cross the international dateline to catch that Chinese gold farmer, the only thing I'm turning up is that these games are being built to the bear minimum security standards because it benefits the company in some way. All that hack traffic has to be doing something and some of it even has to be paying to get the ball rolling for the hacker... The cost of business, so to speak. Are these developers purposely neglecting security in the hopes that not only will the legitimate gamer will tolerate it, but the fact that it actually benefits the developer themselves in some nebulous way? They can certainly broadcast that they have five billion players on the banner ad spamming your eyeballs as a way to entice more legitimate traffic, which may stay for a bit before burning out while providing bot fuel like Archeage does.

Like I said, conspiracy theories. I'd be interested in your opinion, because I'm at a loss. In the end, it could be something as simple as just being too cheap to develop real security, but with the backlash facing Archeage, it seems to be an increasingly risky strategy. In the end, I suspect the only reason Blade and Soul has endured it for so long is that it has enough of that unique quality about it that helps the legitmate player ignore it as long as it is convenient to do so.

Even so, I'm almost in agreement Aeolius-- A domestic US and EU release is becoming increasingly unlikely and even if such a thing did happen, we had all better scrutinize it long and hard before succumbing to the early access cash shop land grab urges that afflicted us in Archeage, because there's a good chance you'll get bent over again.

 

A Taste of Archeage

Posted by Ozzallos Tuesday October 14 2014 at 2:21AM
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Now I know it sounds like I've been overly harsh with my coverage of Archeage, but it's my job to make sure you don't get suckered by some profiteering franchise hiding their commerce model- and ineptitude -behind the free to play label. Archeage, in my opinion, is both. This time I baked cookies, courtesy of the offical Archeage forums where the population is crying tears of blood over the dominance of botting. Sure, every game has this problem to a degree, but only a complete leadership failure could allow this--

 

(You might have to view the URL source to get the full size version of this pic)

That's one hellva bot train, folks. All above 15 and thus capable of bypassing the chat filter cutoff. All randomly named and all theoretically capable of farming and crafting by themselves once they hit max level. But hey, once you've got them to 50, why not equip them with the ever popular housing hack that allows you to snipe on several foreclosed houses simultaneously and without physical presence?

 

From a Reddit user:

"There are several Russian hacks that are being used on the US version currently by Chinese and Russian gold resellers. Edit: and of course regular players. To those of you claiming that the person isn't present when the land gets grabbed, you are absolutely correct. They scan the map 24/7 in an external program and then inject packets that spoof the game into thinking they were there and they clicked first. As much as I would love to post sources, I feel like that would only add to the problem by advertising for these private hack sellers."

The in gold spam chat is almost a non event after the broke-fixed-rebroke Seductive Rose exploit that allows you to lock the player in a dance emote, let the owners mark timer elapse on their ship and effect a hostile takeover of their property. Or the trade pack-teleporting-invisibility hack-- Youtube example #1, Youtube example #2. While we're at it, here's a clip of exploiting coding gaps in the out-of-bounds areas of the map to produce virtually inaccessible, large-scale tree farms that are insulated from player reprisal and exempt from the overhead associated with land ownership that regular players would incure.

Sure, you could theoretically report them... At 20 Labor per report, which directly impacts your ability to play crucial aspects of the game with zero guarantee of return or even enforcement.  Archeage has set up a system that actually punishes you for trying to alert somebody that bad behavior is taking place. GG.

 

 

Yes, I rag on games. But I especially rag on games that pull derp-derp bullshit like this, expecting you to pay into a system that has had over a year in foreign markets to squash this bot hacking wankfest. And this already on top of a crafting system rigged against your wallet in a profoundly advesarial manner.

I'm serious, folks. Do your research and do not pay these dipshits anything until they can work this crap out. Sure, every game has bots and is exploitable to a degree, but I'm not sure I could even trust Trion with my personal information or payment details with the level of shenanigans going on here.

 

Other Hacks Found Later 

...Confirmed Worker's Comp pot duplication hack, supposedly fixed. Resulting in the price dumping of a major pay to win mechanism of Archeage with an item you can only buy via real money.

...Trade Window Hack, enabling the exploiter to back out of the trade even though the victim has confirmed the trade on their end. Exploiter gets all goods without having to trade anything, victim is out their trade.

 

Archeage - A Proper Burial

Posted by Ozzallos Friday October 10 2014 at 4:37AM
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So yeah, I just got done panning Trion's Archage as the most overhyped MMO of the year, but didn't really dissect it for content and playablility. So in between character lockouts and growing tired of the tedious monotony of leveling up skill tree after skill tree, I figured it would be only proper to give Archeage a decent burial. Sounds fair, right?

Let's just get this out of the way first: If you're picking up Archeage because of the combat, quests or core mechanisms that generally define an MMO, you're in the wrong place and will be sorely disappointed if you're expecting a half grab at something unique. AA is a merely a poor rehash of every other MMO that has gone before it... And not any old MMO; but a poorly executed MMO. I say that because if you've played any vanilla MMORPG in the last decade, you've played this one... Only this one- like so many others these days -is still a beta product in spite of its launched status.

If I had to pick a single defining aspect about Archeage, it was as if somebody had all these great MMO ideas and wadded them together with duct tape and paperclips; only the duct tape is peeling off and the paperclips twisted into a mangled mess. Leveling to 50 (55 in Korea) is eye-gougingly bad as it features everything you hate about leveling any MMORPG; that is to say bland, grindy quests that have you play errand boy for some meaningless reason for the majority of your leveling experience. That is not to say Archeage is hard or even challenging. It is just so monotonous that you want to rub salt in your eyes and gouge them after a few weeks. If you choose to level an alternate spec, you just signed up for more cornea perforating fun.

Maybe your ears just perked up at the mention of alternate specs, but trust me, it's really not as hot as it sounds. Archeage touts the ability to mix and match any three of ten classes to suit your style of gameplay, but the reality is that like most MMOs that do this, only a handful truly rise to the top as actually being useful. Dig a little deeper and you find a sloppy, poorly constructed system in which some trees are simply useless and refuse to play well with others.

Piss poor itemization rules to the point that most tanks in this game will run leather and cloth; plate being a worthless hinderance. No, really. So even though you could be that stealth-priest-debuffer dual wielding katanas with plate in theory, the reality of this fail system is that you are setting yourself up for failure outside a select group of builds... No matter how many classes you can theoretically create.

PvP does tend to liven things up as PvP normally does, but this is where the aformentioned issues really become obvious. PvP is dominated by ranged warfare. Since tanks are best served wearing leather or less, they are marginalized to the rear ranks or heavily focus on stealth ganking techniques until the front line of ranged casters and arrow slingers soften the other side up. Yes, you heard me correctly: In PvP, you tank with ranged classes.

Healers are another casualty of this completely jacked system. Not that healing is ever easy from either a PvE or PvP standpoint, just that Archeage goes out of its way to punish these players at every turn. The mechanism governing healing is hideously bad. Heals are few, small and on longish cooldowns. Attempting to be an effective Healer pigeonholes you into a Vita-Aura build, which will cripple your leveling experience. Recent changes ensure you will either have lots of mana and sucky heals or meh heals with anemic mana reserves. Not that your healing will ever be that hot compared to nearly every other MMO you've ever played.

The game is playable, but you can just tell that something went horribly wrong along the way.

So we've pretty much determined that at least half the game is a poorly constructed turd, clinging to the other half as it circles the drain. It's this other half that is your best chance to wring any vestige of enjoyment out of the Archeage-- Crafting and the Economy.

When developers create Free to Play MMOs, they have to assfuck you somewhere in order to profit from their creation. In Archeage, that long shlong you're feeling as you get bent over is the player economy. The combat/leveling engine is left largely unmolested, but at some point you will be strongly encouraged to craft the best gear possible. When you do, you're going to realize that this is where Archeage wants you to spend money. They want you to spend money on farms, which are vital to gathering material. They want you to spend money to reduce the impact of their labor scheme, which is required for nearly every action in the game-- From cutting down trees to the mere act of identifying loot. They likewise want you to spend money to make houses, build boats and to generally just participate in the economy to the point that even selling on the AH requires a cash shop bought license.

Hell, it takes labor to report an abusive player or bot, believe it or don't.

In fairness, it's a fairly complex system that might appeal to some. To others, you're taking on another 9-5 job much in the way Mabinogi forced you to. While the complexity is undeniable, there is always that lurking suspicion that the only reason that said complexity exists is to justify the developer's profit motive. Now, can you survive without the cash shop? Yes. Sort of. Kind of. But count on AA to make it just as excruciating as other MMOs do when they handicap the combat experience. You can do it, but you had better have time. Lots and lots and lots of goddamn time. The only positive here is that any crafting or gathering gives you XP; but in all honesty, levels and XP are little more than a gateways to eventially funnel you into the crafting system.

...Or you can say "fuck it!" and use a bot, which brings us to the last nail in this coffin of a turd MMO wannabe.

Thanks to some truly sloppy coding, development and management; cheating, gold spammers and bots all but rule the economy of this game. While Trion employes the Hackshield program to deter this behavior, it is remarkably inept at doing so. Channels will be wall to wall gold buying advertisement. Bots will teleport across the map. Render themselves invisible. Craft goods and trade packs completely independent of human interaction. Auction house sniper bots. Land and housing sniper bots. Bending code to remove textures, increase viewing angles and the like for gaming advantage. All of this is, of course, a violation of the ToS, but enforcement seems to be a lax afterthought.

Long story short, the game is so porous to hacking it's not even funny as a joke.

For as much as people paid for early access to a game that never left beta, Archeage is a remarkably huge failure. The title had a 1 year head start in Korea and was still imported with all of these design problems, which should be a huge red flag in and of itself. That's not to say somebody, somewhere in AA's development process didn't try for a wild, drunken stab at MMO greatness. It has some really interesting ideas that got kicked to the curb by the sheer incompetence displayed in its execution.

I mean, look... It's not an absolutely horrible game and certainly not as bad as some. I know you're bored, but you should in no way spend money on this game. Anybody who spent over $50 for this game in early access was a sucker.  Sure, you can download and play the game, but don't make their mistake.

Archeage exists only to victimize your wallet.

 

Most Overhyped Game of 2014 - Archeage

Posted by Ozzallos Tuesday September 23 2014 at 5:52AM
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Yep. I said it.

With the summer drawing to a close, I think it's a pretty safe to make the call that Archeage will be without a doubt the most overhyped MMO title of year. I'm sure there are those reading that will think this is an overly harsh summation and that I should get my head out of my ass, but at the end of the day when you're all snug in bed you'll realize a very uncomfortable fact: You're playing Rift all over again, complete with the three soul system and an enhanced socioeconomic focus to change things up.

Oh, and boats. Boats are the new wings.

Further drawing attention to the fact is that the graphics really aren't that much better, nor are they especially creative for a game looking to set itself apart on merits other than hype. Hell, Rift even makes a better first impression in terms of the initial dark storyline you play through that introduces players to the world. Game play is also pretty stale by any standard. It's not as offensive as some of the games reviewed here, but it is by no means the next Warcraft killer.

But it takes more to than being a slightly modified clone of another game from the same developer (Nexon, anyone?) to become The Most Overhyped Game of 2014. The launch has likewise been an especially messy affair, complete with all the skeezy things that give players a bad impression of F2P as a legitimate business model. There were, of course, the notoriously stingy and overpriced founders packages for a game that had already debuted in Korea over a year ago, offering questionable value unless the player dropped $100 or more; product which has yet to be delivered in some cases.

Likewise, they've taken to locking all but a handful of their servers because of the epically mismanaged loads. Que times are averaging several hours depending on various factors, and Trion has taken to freezing character creation on them even if you choose to endure the wait. The developer has single handedly managed to create one of the most divisive pay versus f2p populations i have ever seen to date, all while spam bots run rampant on the main channels with impunity.

And hey, they want to charge a subscription for this shit, because if you don't pay up, you can't sell on the AH without a visit to the cash shop. Now granted interweb polls don't mean a whole lot on average, but I think this one has something to say... It says people are getting pissed off over what is rapidly becoming a stupidly mismanaged NA and European launch.

Will they fix these problems? I'm sure they will. The technical ones, at least. But when it comes to F2P games, I bet on good ol' Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #1: Once you have their money, never give it back.

Honestly though, if you can overlook they financial shenanigans, Archeage is a competent game. Innovative and groundbreaking? Not really; especially when directly compared to Trion's sister game, with socioeconomics being the only thing separating the two. Because if you put them side by side, you'd almost swear you were playing the same game, graphical nuances not withstanding.

I've been playing it and will probably to continue to do so here and there, but in the moment of real that resides within this blog, it fails the hype train almost as badly as Star Wars Old Republic; That is to say pretty damn hard.

I pretty much in agree with Jim Sterling these days. F2P gaming is its own economic bubble... An unstable, gasoline-napalm bubble that is vaguely hostile to the consumers it services by way of cash shop subterfuge, carrot on stick scams, and now the early access phishing scheme. One of these days it's going to pop a fiery, horrible death. And maybe then we'll see a return to consumer centric gaming, not a marketing apparatus specifically designed to abuse and take advantage of its customer base.

 

Firefall v1.0 Launch Review

Posted by Ozzallos Thursday July 17 2014 at 7:28AM
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So here we are for what is more than likely the last chapter in the gaming emo drama known as Firefall. The franchise is sordid tale of waste, mismanagement, layoffs, buyouts and borderline player fraud, barely saving itself from the latter by proudly flying under the Buyer Beware Beta flag. When the corporate hammer finally came down at the end of 2013, however, Red5 was given six months to produce what they had failed to do over the last seven years: A release ready game.

On the surface it would seem a nigh impossible task, save for the fact that Red5 has been sitting on gigs of ready material waiting to be used, stagnanting for years thanks to broken developer priorities and epic mismanagement. That all changed with Kern’s forced retirement. R5 was given one goal and one goal only: Make it work.

…Which was easier said than done. The core of the game was a fractured mess and the player base knew it, forcing R5 to all but admit their open beta had been an open disaster. The public test servers were closed down and the game reverted to ‘delta testing’ specifically geared to proof what was to be Firefall v1.0. The rest of the player base ran down the clock on the soon to be defunct beta, enduring R5s piecemeal dissemination of news and lame transfer incentives with varying degrees of patience, or lack thereof.

Time, if not money, was running out on Firefall and everybody knew it.   

Information on Firefall’s new direction was slowly released. The skill based game was taking on a distinctly generic flavor in terms of progression, featuring a leveling system and banded zones stereotypical of most vanilla MMOs. Crafting and gear was being simplified, while talks of visual customization made the rounds. In short, R5 was taking the safest route possible in the short time they had. Most of the players merely shrugged and simply hoped this iteration of the game would be better than the last.

That wait is now over- at least for the beta participants. As mentioned in the previous entry concerning Firefall’s debauchery, squeezing a release ready product into a six month time frame sounded overly optimistic, likewise the claims of ‘delta testing’. Make no mistake: Red5 is going for ‘good enough,’ so the question now becomes: Is it?

First impressions: The world environment has undergone a noticeable change and was the first thing I took notice of when stepping foot into the great outdoors for the first time at night. Gone is the perma-dusk environment that has proliferated since v.6, reverting to something darker and more realistic. In my opinion, it’s a change for the better, though some of the graphical tweaks are hit and miss. The melding curtain isn’t nearly as appealing to look at and some of the frame advancement visuals likewise fall under “what were you thinking?”. New maps were added and the existing ones modified. In fact, there's a ton less landscape clutter, so you won't be drivingg your motorcycle into a chunk of coral every 30 meters.

Most of it is for the better, though I could swear they've simplified the graphics engine to a degree. Either way it won't break your experience.

Tutorial wise, the game hand-walks you through your initial steps, pointing out things like SIN towers and how they’re necessary to the game. It even teaches you how to glide, which is somewhat central to the game. That alone is a huge improvement, though when I say huge, I mean from nothing to something. More advanced things, like research and crafting still fall to the wayside, but are approachable once you get past the fact that R5 still struggles with tooltips and what vital information they should- yet don’t –contain.

Cores now dominate your gear, on that note. Gone are frame parts, in favor of what are essentially socketed "gems" for nearly everything. Your frame is a complete piece of hardware now and your only concern therein is how you equip it and socket those equips. Even the guns and abilities have sockets, streamlining Firefall’s customization. You research the gear then build it. Cores can also be built added.

IMHO, it’s a fair compromise given the fail R5 was running before and the timeframe they had with which to develop something new. This is one complaint they heard loud and clear, and thankfully it was addressed I the right direction. Yes, it’s absolutely generic, but more than that, it’s safe and not likely to alienate too many people just for having existed. We’ll leave aside the fact that research is still just a bad idea and all too obvious time sink, but it’s evidentially not going away. Another thing the community managed to get through to R5 was that permanent gear breakage needed to go fuck itself. Amazingly, they listened. Durability still exists, but it’s repairable for a nominal fee.

On the other hand, R5 continues to prove they cannot design a UI if it walked up to them and bit them on their collective asses. Amazingly enough, it continues to get worse in spite of the simplicity they have attempted to instill. The battleframe garage, for instances, does a great job of getting out of the way of the player and letting them customize their frame. It’s a fairly intuitive, if bland setup. Unfortunately it suffers from a cramped, clunky layout that completely lacks any of the elegance of the previous versions. In fact, most GUI experiences in Firefall scream “developed by amateurs!” and that includes anything research related. Why the fuck am I zooming in and out and dragging around what looks like an XML web page?

I mean, you’ll figure it out, but damn.

The biggest change comes in the form of leveling, and by that I mean honest to God leveling for experience ala that vanilla MMO you were just playing. Tiers are gone, and in their place are level based zones and gear. The higher your level, the more powerful gear you can use and that’s it. Any stab at depth and complexity evaporated like a snowflake in hell with this change, though given R5’s track record to date on that, it’s hard to complain too much since every attempt prior to this was akin to a sucking chest wound in an otherwise decent game. It also follows the watchword this launch operated under from day one: Safety.

Few risks were taken with the launch of v1.0, because Red5 frankly couldn’t afford to screw it up again. This iteration of the game takes no chances and break as little ground as possible in order to offend the least number of eyeballs as it can possibly get away with. If I had to point to the biggest sin committed in the release of the new Firefall, it would be that… And even then, it’s hard to get worked up about it. It’s so vanilla, you just end up shrugging and thanking the powers that be that they didn’t fuck it up worse than before.

Getting back to leveling, Firefall played it too safe. The game still lacks direction and this is made even worse by centralizing most of the mission content into a job board. Don’t get me wrong—A game as bland as Firefall desperately needed some ‘Kill X of Y’ or ‘Deliver A to B’ missions to round out the dynamic ARES content, but the world is painfully static, with little to no interactions with the NPC populace unless you grabbed it from a job board first. Worse yet, they’re badly constructed missions with multi stage objectives several hundreds of meters apart all the while our handler is talking to the client via radio. Why did I need to meet with them in person, again? You’re on the goddamn Radio! Patch me in! Hell, why don’t I just use that fancy SIN network to grab the jobs directly off the clearly electronic job board?

Yes, R5 will continue to iron out the inconsistencies, but this is the offical launch. Wait. The Pre-launch launch. It doesn't really matter anymore, frankly.

To be fair, some of the content is more dynamic than before. For example, I watched somebody drop a large thumper and the Chosen dropped pods on them in what looked like a resource denial op. The mobs are a bit livelier and less predictable than before, which is a bonus, and new ones are making their rounds. This is good stuff, to be honest, but not enough to keep my interest.  Hand walking the player through the game is a lost art, as is telling them what they should be doing next and where. This has been a constant stumbling block for the franchise and while a tutorial is finally there, players are kind of left to their own devices. Take this simple question, for example: What am I doing here?

Well, you’re fighting the chosen invasion! Saving humanity from extinction!

Sweet! How do I do that?

Well, ah… These job boards! Yeah, stop those poachers or something!

Okay, back to the extinction thing…?

You can thump, and do random ARES missions. And that damn wounded bandit needs saving again.

But how do I progress toward my goal of saving humanity from annihilation?

Ummm…

And that's where Firefall bleeds out in my opinion: You simply wander around. That’s the majority of the game. You wander around, hoping that you stumble across something interesting. There is no focus. And don’t even claim sandbox because this game doesn’t match that definition. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s fun to wander and explore, but without definite focus, it gets old. Go here. Do this. Your ultimate goal is this. And while you’re at it, explore a little. That’s a good formula that even the plainest MMORPGs tend to follow but Firefall just doesn’t- nor has ever –gotten. part of that problem lies in the past: Firefall has never had enough material to define that progression. Unfortunately, it still plagues the franchise in the here and now, and I promise you there is not nearly enough content to last you 40 levels without serious rehash.

On that note, New Eden has become a waste land of activity. Not that it lacks bugs and critters to shoot, but level banding has ensured you cater to the lowest common denominator: Level 1; which means new players will stay bored for a good long time before seeing what the veterans know is out there from experience. That experience isn’t killing a lobster here and there. It is fighting the chosen, watching drop pods fall from the sky, retaking towers and the like. The higher level maps are better in that regard, but the question is how many players R5 will lose just getting through that boredom.

Oh, and good news! That financial wizard- read ‘ass’ –that R5 supposedly employs has seen fit to create an intermediary currency between game money and Bean money for use at the auction house. And you can only convert 5000 a day at 250:1 as of my last glance at it.

What. The. Fuck.

Yeah, go figure that one out. Another goddamn currency. I can only imagine this to be some inane attempt to stabilize the market since you can now use this secondary currency to buy beans, but seriously? I’m beating my head against the desk.

Moving on, there are balance issues and the like, but they aren’t worth mentioning since every game has their share. What is worth mentioning is that this game is still rife full of bugs. They can call it a launch all they want, but it’s still beta in every sense of the word. Sure it’s a step in the right direction after so many wrong ones, but R5 should have been here years ago working the issues out of something like this, not rushing to slap shit together because the executioner was giving them the evil eye, and certainly not trying to convince their player base that this milestone is something it’s not. Again.

That may be enough for some people, but I can’t help but to remember how others have spent hundreds of dollars at the cash shop on this game, helping the studio test broken version after broken version of their product, only to receive the “sorry, all sales are final” finger upon launch. With all the corporate shenanigans, I would have liked to have seen them take the high road with partial or full bean refund. No such luck. Did I mention that New You still hasn’t seen any love? All those slot machine visuals are still locked up behind the random chance wall, while New You remains stagnant with the same crap it has had since 2013.

It comes down to this: Firefall is a game stuck in perma-Beta and I would be remiss in my job here to recommend you even download it. Its developers- well intentioned as they may be –have proven time and again that they cannot grasp the basics of how to make an MMO, judge player psychology or how to implement micro transactional business model. Worse yet, the basic moral foundations of the company have been called into question when dealing with their player base, and if it’s happened before, it’ll probably happen again.

Firefall has become a bland game that tries too hard to be safe, and in the process loses much of its original charm. Is it playable? Yes. But it is also an amazingly vanilla game full of bugs that claims to be launch ready, but once again really isn't. What is truly sad is it is the game nobody wanted. The developers even asked: What do you dislike about vertical progression? Reading through this thread is an amazingly depressing experience because it is here you realize that nearly everything players despised about vertical progression made it into the game anyway.... And then the thread was locked with a big 'fuck you'.

If you're looking at this game with unfiltered optimism, it will probably hold your interest for about a couple weeks before you realize just how one-dimentional the game really is and that you would rather be playing Team Fortress, Loadout, Wastelands, or any other shooter with vastly more coherent advancement experience that rewards skill instead of cutting it off at the knees.

I give it a year, year and a half before its US and European servers fold.

The Beta Weekend Fail

Posted by Ozzallos Tuesday April 29 2014 at 3:12AM
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BETA [Definition] - Developers release either a closed beta or an open beta; closed beta versions are released to a restricted group of individuals for a user test by invitation, while open beta testers are from a larger group, or anyone interested. The testers report any bugs that they find, and sometimes suggest additional features they think should be available in the final version ... Open betas serve the dual purpose of demonstrating a product to potential consumers, and testing among an extremely wide user base likely to bring to light obscure errors that a much smaller testing team might not find.

 

 

Ah yes, the Beta Weekend. First off, lets dispell any illusions you happen to be operating under when you get accepted into one of these. The only prerequisite required to become part of one of these is a pulse. You were on their mailing list, which means you will more than likely not be troubleshooting in any way, shape or form. You are now a warm body to be used as part of their advertising campaign, nothing more, nothing less.

Is that a bad thing? Well, actually, no. You get to play their game for free and they hopefully get word of mouth off your experience. You might actually find a bug or two, but by this point, it's unlikely. Most of the core features were ironed out by the people who got accepted into the real beta before you, so you're more or less playing the Release Canidate of that title. Such is life... and sometimes, the good life, even.

So what's the problem?

Well, Beta Weekends are starting to piss me off. Not that I have any hard objections to playing their game for free. No, I'm good with that. Just that- and I've bounced this off a few of my colleagues -it's a goddamn complete waste of time. WTF is with the expectation that you'll magically download a multi-gigabyte game sometime between when you actually receive their email and the meager two days you actually have to play it?

I'm sorry, but I don't have a college T1 through which to siphon the advertisement campaign you're labeling a beta when we both no it's nothing of the sort. I mean, sure, if I want to kill my bandwidth for nothing but your download, I guess so... And in the process my regular surfing will slow to a speed equivalent to that of snail shit.

Look, devs... Just stop this bullshit. Really. I'm liable to get a better impression of your game watching youtube than trying to download gigabytes of worthless data, hoping I complete the download- and patching -before my free time is up. Be creative. Think up a worth while advertising campaign that doesn't lock me into such a finite timeframe if you're going to saddle a full download on me. Make it worth my while.

Because frankly, the beta weekend ain't.

Death of an MMO - Part 3

Posted by Ozzallos Saturday April 5 2014 at 5:25AM
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The rise and fall of promising titles within the gaming community isn’t a unique phenomenon, unfortunately. Anybody can have an idea, but it takes talent, resources and money to execute one successfully. Simply put, some games have it, some games don’t. Firefall by Red 5 Studios appeared to be made of natural twenties and crits for days. It was founded on the seemingly awesome premise of a skill based shooter with elements of RPG-like progression thrown into a world of dynamic events and coordinated, intelligent enemies. I am not exaggerating when I say that this was probably the game Halo was originally slated to be before Microsoft’s buyout for the first Xbox—An epic, sand box FPS where anything could happen.  With founding talent from hallowed franchises like Tribes and World of Warcraft, the sky was the limit.

I can’t help but to sadly laugh at just how far this game has fallen from that promise.

The roots of its failure can be traced back through seven years of development; nearly five of it in relative secrecy before finally emerging into the public spotlight with promises of greatness. By the time the shroud of mystery had been pulled away from Firefall, many of its original Founders had left or been forced out, while the partnership between Red5 and developer Webzen Games had likewise come to a bitter conclusion. CEO and co-founder Mark Kern was the last man standing when the dust settled and made the command decision to sell the franchise to The9 Limited in order to secure 20 million in continued funding. Further funding was obtained through player founders packages and more promises of content.

The future seemed bright in spite of the warning signs*.

Production of Firefall continued to lag through 2012 as the first real signs of leadership failure began to emerge. It didn’t take insider information to discern that there was a critical fault somewhere within Red 5’s development process, and that fault pointed to a distinct lack of vision as Red5 began to compromise Firefall’s initial goals and features. Design and priorities shifted wildly from the world content that had stagnated since beta to an unwanted progression system that continued to mutate through 2013 into a product that punished players with excessively redundant grind in the form of battle frame progression, manufacturing, gear decay and research. Skill had effectively taken a back seat to big numbers, and the official forums became an increasingly poisonous environment as to the direction Firefall was heading.

The truth was more desperate. Red 5 was once again running low on funding. The initial war chest that CEO Mark Kern had secured was drying up due to his ineffectual leadership and player income was at an all-time low. Red 5 wasn’t producing a game players wanted to play and its player base wasn’t buying the severly limited content available. The in-game economy became his answer. Once again lacking the resources to get the job done, Kern cut began to lay off his workforce and cut Firefall back to life support. The decision was made to axe PvP and turn PvE progression into a self-sustaining, player based economy that required as little of Red 5’s development resources as possible. In theory, it sounded like a decent idea with shades of EVE thrown in for good measure.

In practice, it was a nightmarish kludge of grind and fail with multiple currencies and a number of overly-redundant advancement checks to compensate for the ongoing content drought. It highlighted in every way possible Red 5’s lack of financial wherewithal and ability to execute Firefall’s original vision. It was, in fact, the anti-thesis of what the franchise had initially set out to be- A skill based shooter with shades of RPG. Whatever Firefall had become, it had almost abandoned that mission statement outright and public opinion began to follow even as Red 5 ignored their pleas for a return to sanity. Further desperate measures were taken in order to "encourage" Founders to retire the currency they had been hording for lack of substance and hopefully jump start the economy. The first new cosmetic content since beta was finally release in mid-2013… Through slot machines and random chance, not the established cash shop vendors. It was an obvious, unsavory tactic to prompt players to gamble until they got something they wanted, not make single targeted purchases.

As mentioned in the Crush Depth - Firefall entry of this blog, something had to give. Finally, it did in a big way: Mark Kern was removed from his position as CEO, likely due to gross mismanagement and a continued, unescapable track record of failure since taking over sole responsibility for the company’s wellbeing. Coincidentally- or not so -The9 Limited was able to secure another 23 million in funding for Firefall through Shanghai Oriental Pearl Culture Development Co. Along with Mark Kern’s exit, another price was exacted, specifically a 20% minority stake in Red 5 Studios, with acting CEO James Macauley at the helm.

Now we turn to the future.

Specifically, does Firefall even have one? It’s tough to say, really. Red 5 Studios appears determined to remain tight lipped as to any specific direction they will take with the franchise. In fact, the only official word coming down the pipe has been the same one that their player base has received for the last three years—“Trust us, it’ll be great!” Needless to say, the official party propaganda is being met with a lukewarm- if not openly hostile –reception.

On the other hand, 23 million can make a heck of a dent in any budget, but how big of a dent very much depends on how much of it goes toward damage control. 23 million can likewise get slurped up in the blink of an eye just through operations alone, and while I’m confident there will be tighter budgetary controls on spending, the 2014 timeline to re-launch is suspiciously ambitious and in my opinion, overly optimistic considering the damage the brand has endured; as if the developers and shareholders realize that the axe head of time and competition looms closer with each passing day, as does the waning interest of their audience.

Much as I hate to do it, I’m going to pronounce summary judgment against Firefall and recommend you avoid it like Ebola herpes. At very least, keep an eye on it, but under no circumstances should you feed cash into what is looking more and more like a money pit of financial despair. The original start-up capital, plus Founders money, plus The9’s investment couldn’t build this game into a successful franchise. Maybe the new leadership an 23 million can, but Red 5 isn’t the sole issue here. The9 Limited isn’t what you would term a sound financial investment either, nor do they seem any better at avoiding legal action.

I might very well be wrong. I hope I am. But I’m all but certain that Firefall won’t be the game we were all hoping it would be when it re-launches.

[late edit] - I've come to the conclusion that the problem is not talent or money. It's the mindset of those in charge, even after Kern's exit. When a developer addresses specific player issues on the forums, it's invariably turned back upon the players in some way, shape or form. Excuses are likewise made for bad game design, as if they are rooted in concrete and cannot be changed or should not be questioned. It's development through apathy. The will to succeed seems completely absent, hiding behind a myriad of justification and excuses.

This, more than anything, is why Firefall will fail.

 

 

*Glassdoor. Specifically noting any review prior to 2014.

Aura Kingdom – MMOs for Lazy People

Posted by Ozzallos Sunday February 9 2014 at 5:58PM
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Aura Kingdom – MMOs for Lazy People

Genres like cutesy anime MMOs are bound to resurface over and over again. Once we get past the idea of kicking the dead and decomposing horse, all we can do is hope for the best from a development standpoint as players. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and just because they’ve been made before doesn’t mean they can’t be made- or played –again.

Such is Aura Kingdom, Aeria’s newest entry onto their free to play roster. Going in, you already have a good idea of what to expect: Teenish anime avatars fighting equally cute fuzzies before weaning you off onto marginally less cute monsters. Sure, we’ve all been there, done that, but how does Aura Kingdom do it? Will you want to pay the money Aeria is hoping you’ll will?

Well, about that…

I’m of the opinion that we, as gamers, occasionally like stuff handed to us on a silver platter when playing MMOs. Challenge and depth can be the meat and potatoes of a title, but sometimes we just want to be entertained. Aura Kingdom’s takes this theory and makes it the centerpiece of its game in a way that almost completely devalues the game. This concept is threaded throughout the entire game, as if you the player shouldn’t be weighed down by trivial matters such as content, mana bars and role playing. If you just want leveling on rails that merely requires you to press the appropriate buttons at the right time, this is the game for you.

It’s not completely without redeeming value, however. In fact, Aura Kingdom seems to have an almost split personality when it comes to character management, allowing players to assign stat points to offensive and defensive categories, as well as a branching talent tree reminiscent of several console RPGs. Passive skills can be assigned to a number of mastery categories and you can even choose a second class at level 40 ala every other Asian MMO along these lines.

Forty levels before you can branch out may seem excessive, but here it’s really not. In fact, I would go so far to say that your first 40 levels is merely a tutorial. To point-- you literally have to stand AFK in the middle of a hostile field of mobs to die in normal play. Everything is provided to you up to this point, and you will never want for gear. Even elite mobs offer little challenge in open world questing, and Aura Kingdom has made it even easier by adopting the super obvious telegraphing attack system to help you avoid the big, flashy attacks used in other bigger budget titles, like Wildstar.

Now I’m going to go off on a minor rant here and ask a serious question—When did that ever become a good idea? Who was this genius that said to hell with challenge and skill? Instead, we’re going to lay down a giant red carpet that tells you exactly where the attack will occur so you can all but mindlessly avoid it. That’s fun, right? Honestly, this is one gaming mechanic that seriously needs to fuck off because it adds nothing to the game besides dumbing it down. And here’s the crazy thing—I’m fine with hints that a super attack is coming… Maybe a gust of wind that will kick up dust along the line of attack or something likewise subtle, but painting the environment with a giant red highlighter to indicate the no-no zones is complete fail sauce and should be on the short list of MMO fails, whether your name is Carbine or Aeria.

Back to Aura Kingdom, however, the above is yet another symptom of the AK’s biggest problem—The game goes out of its way to promote laziness. Questing progresses along a singular track regardless of how you shape your character and the gameplay encourages extensive use of auto-pathing. In many cases, player interactivity is abdicated as the game will not only autopilot you to your quest destination, but perform the action required of you when you get there as well. It’s actually too bad, because there’s wit in the NPC interaction if you bother to look for it. Unfortunately, all you need to do is show up and press the appropriate keys in order to slay the required number of furries. The linear quest progression will ensure that by the time you’re ready to try a new class combination, you’ll be skipping every last dialogue box just to get the prerequisite grind out of the way faster.

Speaking of which, nine classes (once katar unlocks) and the ability to take on a sub class at forty attempts to add some much needed depth to the game, as does the ability to take on combat pets. Both help, but not in any significant way; almost as if the game acknowledges that the RP portion of Aura Kingdom is little more than fluff for the faction based PvP.

On the bright side, your character generation options are fairly generous and not gender locked. Laziness rears its ugly head once more when it comes to equipping them, however. While the gear itself can be socketed with gems and crafted, your appearance will not change. Aura Kingdom uses a costume system exclusively, and there’s only about a dozen or so templates to choose from at the moment. I can see the benefits of such a system, but they are not beneficial to us as gamers. The decision reeks of a small development team with limited time and resources looking to maximize their profit potential, which brings us to everybody’s favorite part of the show: The Cash Shop.

Aura Kingdom is a game of little substance that hands you everything. There is no significant challenge in the first forty levels, which might as well be an over grown, bloated tutorial for as little as it offers. With linear, one dimensional questing options and very little in the way of in-game avatar customization, you would hope that Aeria would price accordingly. This is a cotton candy game; something you would maybe consider wasting time on while your primary MMO was patching.

Sorry for your luck.

As of the last check, the founder’s packages were laughably expensive and the normal pricing options would put most subscriptions to shame. I would go so far as to say that there is very little worthwhile content to actually spend hard money on besides a costume rental here and there. Now I like my hats too, but there is so little of actual substance to this particular title that pushing money in their direction would be a crime. Being in an import title (see: Fantasy Frontier Online) and already working through Open Beta, I don’t see a whole lot changing for the Western market.

So I guess the verdict here is pretty obvious and I’m not going to lead my readers around by the nose: Aura Kingdoms is in no way worth your time or effort if you intend to actually feed money into it. As a free game, it’s fine, I guess—It’s a cheap, budget title that will provide you with some modicum of entertainment without weighing players down with such things like mana management or deep proficiencies, and therein lies AK’s double edged sword. It’s far too simplistic for it’s own good, and while I’m a fan of hand walking gamers to their destination, Aura is ridiculous. Nor is it worth the Aeria brand name premium they’re attaching to its commerce model.

 

Crush Depth - Firefall

Posted by Ozzallos Sunday September 15 2013 at 1:59AM
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Something had to give and it finally did. Red 5 has officially put PvP and its E-Sports ambitions on hold to concentrate fully on bringing PvE up to par. On one hand, i applaud the decision... Not the choice, mind you, but the decision.
 
Make no mistake however; This is damage control. Desperate, hail Mary damage control. No company cuts out one of its core features like this, especially one that it has been carrying the banner for since day one unless shit has hit the rotary impeller. One thing that has become painfully evident is that Red 5 cannot walk and chew bubblegum at the same time. Whatever has been happening behind the scenes has been killing the game and the community, and I can only wonder if Red 5 can hold it together long enough to perform a successful relaunch.
 
I also wonder which will kill them first: Their hemorrhaging fan base or the sucking chest wound sustained by The9's stock.

Death of an MMO - Pt2

Posted by Ozzallos Sunday September 1 2013 at 9:24PM
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Some things you just don’t expect. Some things you just look at and wonder to yourself, “How could that possibly fail?”

Take Mechwarrior Online. The franchise is quite literally a license to print money. The fanbase will literally throw bricks of cash at you if you do it right, and therein lies the problem:  Doing it right. The initial roll out seemed to be made of complete and utter win. The game was solid and mostly faithful to the source material. Piranha assured their players that certain pay to win principles wouldn’t be violated and that more content was coming. More maps. Open world campaigns. If Piranha could even come close to fulfilling these promises, MWO would quite possibly be the most epic Mechwarrior game in history.

And then it went horribly wrong.

Communication between the developers and player base broke down.  Core principles were backtracked upon. Pay to win was introduced. Consumables were introduced. Coolant flushes. The rumors of founder funds being diverted to other projects surfaced. Time frames continued to slip. Deep progression mechanics fell by the wayside. Third person was offered in spite of overwhelming community resistance. From there, players were explicitly advised they would never have to play those who use third person due to perceived viewing advantages. Another promise broken.

MWO is turning into the poster child of what not to do with a killer app franchise. Not simply that, it is the preeminent example of what people perceive when they hear the term F2P—A title that will go back on its word compromise its principles in order to make a buck.

It also seems to be a rather contagious condition.

Firefall isn’t there yet, but it’s showing the signs of compromising its principles to the dollar as well. With the latest patch came a new frame and the first new cash shop content the game has seen in ages. The initial awesome, however, was quickly dulled by the fact that this new content isn’t assessable via any of the cash shop outlets… It’s only offered via vending machine lottery in what appears to be an obvious bid to kick start their stagnant cash economy. 

Even though this very tactic was initially eschewed by Red 5, here it is, apparently preying on the player’s desperation for new content in order to solve their financial problems. It's a monetary equation that blatantly favors Red 5 first and formost, enticing people to retire the currency they've horded due to lack of content in order for a luck based chance to win a few XP/resource boosts that they could care less about and the new stuff they desperately want. R5 could have used the established cash shop that has suffered a 2 year content drought in order to sell these items, but that will apparently remain barren.

And don't forget to buy more Beans.

With the back side of Firefall’s advancement still in ruins and hints of slipping business morality, it almost appears that another game is ready to walk down the path of profit versus players. In fact, I would say the only reason Firefall hasn’t fallen from the good graces of its fanbase yet is that unlike MWO, Red 5’s lines of communication remain generally open. It also helps that the front side of Firefall’s action based gameplay holds so much promise, yet the offical forums seem to be running that fine line between fandom and malcontent with every patch.

Even so, these are two promising titles-- Neither is quite irreparably damaged but both are showing the disturbing signs of profit mongering and internal corporate dissention. MWO appears to have all but lost that battle of conscious while Firefall is still putting up a fight. I’m hoping my initial suppositions concerning the non-viability of F2P aren’t true; that there are indeed free to play titles that aren’t willing to sacrifice their player at the altar of the dollar like so many others in the past.

I personally would like just one to prove me wrong, but it doesn’t appear my two first string champions will be that standard bearer short of a minor miracle.