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The Space Between

Gaming and Life, Rants and Raves, now with 30% more loot!

Author: TesterNGS

"We Listen to Our Players" ...Really?

Posted by TesterNGS Wednesday August 27 2008 at 2:34PM
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                    "We Listen to Our Players" ...Really?
"We listen to our players" is becoming a mantra among MMORPG community people. From Age of Conan to City of Heroes, with each new patch some representative comes out and says that something was done because of community feedback. I contend that this, to some extent, is just simple pandering to the community designed to make us feel like we matter.
The developers have a plan for their game. It is poor practice to not know in what general direction you wish to take your product. You don't develop a millions-generating service by the seat of your pants or the will of the community (EVE may be the exception). Therefore, while the developers may use community feedback to determine which features get worked on first, or which low-hanging, easy-to-implement fruit gets plucked, anything radically outside of "the plan" likely won't get any attention.
On one level, the developers simply can't help but to add things that have been suggested by a player. Read the suggestion forums for your favorite game and you'll find a huge number of ideas. Players want everything, from "More content" to "I want blue fireballs"; anything a player could want from a game has been suggested by someone, somewhere. The developers know this, and so it is easy for them to say, no matter the feature, "Yeah, we're adding XYZ to our game - the COMMUNITY asked for it".
But let's say that the developers really do let players direct the course of their game. Would you really want the subscribers dictating the direction of development?
Subscribers are already paying a monthly fee. And if they've stuck around long enough to worry about making suggestions or filling out surveys, then chances are they will stick with the game no matter what, unless something like a Star Wars Galaxies style New Game Experience comes around. Anything new added to the game, as far as a loyal subscriber is concerned, is just a bonus. You don't want these people telling you what to add to your game.
Why? Because they've already been sold. Because there could be CORE problems with the game that, for some reason, the loyal fan chooses to ignore, or just doesn't see as a problem because they really like some other aspect of the game. You don't draw more people to your product by asking your biggest fans how to make it better. This is why you are often asked to fill out a "How can we make it better?" survey when you go to CANCEL a subscription to a MMORPG.

On some level, the developers DO listen to the players - if an outcry is big enough and general enough, then they'll have to act (like the issue in FFXI with certain Notorious Monsters). But as far as day-to-day development is concerned, I think it is dangerous to let your players have too much influence, but its ok (I guess) to make them THINK they have an impact - it gives us warm-fuzzies.

This is all not to say that player feedback isn't worth something. I've seen some really good player-posted ideas. All I am saying is that when a developer says, "We've listened to the players," that you should take it with a grain of salt substitute.

A Weekend of WAAAGH!

Posted by TesterNGS Monday August 25 2008 at 5:02PM
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                   A Weekend of WAAAGH!
I had the opportunity to play in the Warhammer preview weekend and I have to say I was impressed, with some reservations. So please, sit back, relax and read a beta preview from an unpaid, unaffiliated blogger, and be enlightened. :)
The atmosphere was the first thing that hit me when I got past the (kind of clunky) character creation. Mythic has done a good job in making the starting areas feel like they are embroiled in a war. This is primarily due to heavy NPC activity and the driving war-beat soundtrack - RvR and Public Quests don't hurt either. From the get-go, WAR feels like war.
The graphics are what I would expect from a current MMOG that is interested in keeping framerates high. The visuals are colorful enough to avoid the mud-hued dullness of EQ2 or some Conan zones while not being cartoony. Each race and class has a distinct style and flair. Shadows and lighting help ground your character to the world, but don't expect Age of Conan levels of technical fussiness. Some faces and hairstyles are really ugly, but overall, the visual quality of WAR is high enough to be pleasing while not crippling your machine and forcing you to play with all the options turned down.
The design of the game world is also very strong. Big landmarks, like a burning windmill, to small details, like books and bottles in an out of the way tent, help make the game world feel complete. The Public Quest areas are always special - one PQ features a giant who swats aside trees before attacking the players. Another has NPC raiders landing on a beach via longboats. And another still takes place in a ruined fort-like area, complete with broken towers and walls - all three of those are in one area! There is always something interesting to see in WAR (at least in the starting areas) and Mythic has done a good job of directing you via quests and content to their points of interest.
Once you look past the eye-candy, however, the core gameplay of WAR is not so new. That doesn't mean that it is BAD, but once you get beyond the fun Public Quests, occasional RvR, and interesting locations, you'll eventually realize that you're still fighting your foes by pressing a few key abilities. You get new abilities early and often, and that helps, it's just not the revolutionary step that some gamers may have wanted.
However, the visual flair of combat helps to keep it interesting. Animations are nice and some particle effects are really cool - Mythic did an EXCELLENT job with the fire effects. But, this could just be MMO-honeymoon syndrome for me. We'll see how much I like it after a few months.
The interface is also really good. It feels cluttered at first - there are all kinds of bars, buttons, and indicators - but the game does a decent job of slowly introducing them. The three things that I like the most are:
Quest indicator - the mini map and the world map shows where you need to go to finish a quest. Areas are outlined in red and NPCs are marked with waypoints. It cuts down on the run-around. Don't worry about missing something because the game tells you where to go. Again, the superb world design ensures that you always see the interesting areas.
Group options - WAR has made grouping easy. You see open groups when you enter an area. You can set your party so that it can auto-accept anyone who wants to join - or you can lock it up. And since you are gently introduced to group quests and RvR from the start, it becomes very natural to just join a group. There is a lot less of the weird broadcast-send-a-tell-wait-for-an-invite kind of thing.
Tome of Knowledge - if you've read about WAR then you've read about this. It really is that good. It tracks everything. It lets you review where your character has been and what they've done. It helps fight the disconnected feeling you get from most MMOGs - the feeling that YOUR character is just a grunt in an army of clones. With the Tome, your character has a history.
There is always something to do in WAR. You can run PvE quests while waiting for an RvR scenario. You can break up your kill tasks by joining a Public Quest - it really is just that easy - just walk into the area and you're involved. You can explore the zone to uncover all the Tome of Knowledge entries. Or you can forego the PvE game all together and just level up solely through RvR.
There is one thing I wanted to mention about RvR, something I was guilty of at first. At first blush, I though WAR was going to be too PvP-focused for me; I'm not a huge fan of PvP. But I have found that the PvE game is just as developed as you'd want it to be...and that I kind of enjoy the RvR aspect of WAR. Its just so natural. It flows well with the rest of the game. No waiting at an NPC or scheduling a match. Just go fight the WAAAGH!
No, WAR isn't a perfect unique little flower - like all MMOGs it borrows what works and tweaks the rest.
No, I have not played the game all that much, but so far, I've liked what I've seen.
No, WAR isn't totally polished. Monster pathing is currently off and some animations and textures are just plain bad.
But, yes, I'll be playing Warhammer Online.

All Points Bulletin - What CoV Should've Done

Posted by TesterNGS Friday August 15 2008 at 2:48PM
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All Points Bulletin - What CoV Should've Done

There isn't a whole lot of information available about the upcoming cops and robbers MMOG: All Points Bulletin (APB). But one thing they have mentioned looks like something that City of Villains should have done years ago.

APB is building content around the players. You see, in APB you'll play either a criminal or a (law) enforcer. From what I've read, what will happen is that a criminal player will, for example, rob a bank. This action will trigger an alarm - an All Points Bulletin - that enforcer players can respond to. The enforcer will show up and attempt to foil the robbery. Not only is this a wonderfully contextual way to trigger PvP, it also helps sell the good vs evil vibe of the game...something CoV utterly failed to do.

This very thing could have been done in City of Villains years ago. Villain players could have just decided to attack citizens or destroy things, which could have triggered impromptu missions for hero players. Heroes could have had the option to go after the villain-players, thus creating great contextual PvP! And by allowing villains to rob, destroy, and cause chaos, all of a sudden you've solved one of the biggest gripes players had about CoV from the start - villains not feeling like villains.

But alas, the developers fell short. Instead, they decided to shut villains off in their own seperate game. Only story text and the gritty scenery of the Rogue Isles told CoV players that they were different from the heroes. And the PvP zones did a poor job of creating the good vs evil conflict that should have been at the core of the CoV expansion.
Just a thought.

[CoH] NCSoft Just Doesn't Get It

Posted by TesterNGS Monday August 11 2008 at 2:21PM
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NCSoft Just Doesn't Get It

The City of Heroes forums are abuzz with the news of a survey being conducted on behalf of NCSoft. To the CoH faithful, this survey is the Beam of Light From On High, a promise that their cries for change have been heard; it basically asks them which major feature they want the most. Long-requested enhancements like power customization, the ability to take your hero villain-side and vice-versa, and a custom mission creator were mentioned in the survey, causing much excitement in the community.

To me, it sounds like NCSoft is trying to turn City of Heroes into the game it should be at this point. Under Cryptic's rule, CoH was stagnant, with only the lowest-hanging fruit being plucked and implemented. Now with NCSoft's cash driving a new hiring push, the developers can finally work on "The Big Things" that (to them) would make the game better.

But NCSoft just doesn't get it. Power Customization won't make mission maps any more interactive or interesting. A new archetype won't suddenly make the game's bad guys more engaging to fight or the end bosses more memorable. Allowing players to create their own content will only flood the game with half-assed unprofessional junk. City of Heroes needs remade from its very CORE; it doesn't need more tacked-on shiny object fluff.

You see, the central flaws that makes City of Heroes so boring to play has nothing to do with customization or archetypes. It has everything to do with how repetitive missions are to play, how brain dead the bad guys are, and how limited players are in their abilities.
Missions are lame from start to finish. You are given a mission by a static, boring NPC who, despite the fact that they order around superheroes like delivery boys, are no more visually interesting than the building in front of which they stand. Then, you run off to the "super secret hideout", which happens to be unguarded, and enter what seems to be a small brick building only to end up inside a HUGE warehouse. Then you are treated to mindless, purposeless, fantastically nearsighted clumps of baddies, each spawn of which you attack in the same manner.

Apparently the developers are happy with this, since it hasn't changed in four years.

But how else could the game be? I mean, your character is so limited that the developers have to dumb-down the gameplay. Contrast CoH with WoW, where players have many unique and situational powers. That allows Blizzard to create content that utilitizes the many abilities of each class, which allows for a diverse array of encounters. In City of Heroes, most fights can be won by: Tank -> Debuff -> Nuke, even boss fights. And they don't want to change this? They really think that adding another Archetype will suddenly make the game's content fresh and interesting? The feel that letting players choose the color of their attacks with breathe new life into the world? Seriously?

And then there are the visuals, another point of failure for CoH.

Now, the new stuff looks pretty good, especially the costume parts. The old zones, however, look like utter crap. Seriously, how much concrete did it take to build Paragon City? Talk about dead space. And why don't buildings cast shadows? Is Paragon City in a bubble - the weather is always the same. And zones? Come on, its not as if the zones in CoH are so crowded, interactive, or huge that you MUST have zoning. All of this adds up to a feeling (FOR ME) that CoH is technically and artistically behind the times when it comes to the public spaces.

City of Heroes, at its core, is an old Honda. Cryptic and now NCSoft have done the equivalent of adding new wheels, a stereo, and a huge racing wing while ignoring the engine and transmission. NCSoft, its time to rebuild your old junker, and you better do it before the new cars show up in DC Universe and Champions Online.

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