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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

Gods and Heroes Part II: The PR Strikes Back

Posted by UnSub Wednesday December 12 2007 at 12:47AM
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In an ironic follow-up to my post yesterday, Kohnke Communications Inc (Kohnke) - G&H's former PR company - is suing Perpetual Entertainment (PE) for a number of things including breach of  contract and other sleight of hand things that come from PE selling itself to itself. On the surface of it, Kohnke is going after money owed for the work it did up to the point G&H was cancelled -they only billed around a third of the $15k per month on the agreement that when G&H was launched, the outstanding amount plus an incentive up to 400% would be paid based on the number of G&H subscribers after 90 days after launch - which seems fair enough for at least the first $80k. I'm sure a secondary objective is to dissuade any other MMO companies from trying the same trick on it in future.

I say 'ironic' because i predicted that STO would not ship from PE, with the project dying before launch. I certainly didn't expect such a large potential reason for this death to appear so soon. Plus their would certainly be irony in PE dumping shelving G&H for STO, only for G&H to ultimately be behind the death of STO.

 

Gods and Heroes - You Missed Nothing Important

Posted by UnSub Tuesday December 11 2007 at 12:37AM
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I wrote the below elsewhere a day after it was announced that Gods and Heroes (G&H) was on 'indefinite hold', but feel it deserves a touch of post-scripting here. Since writing the article, Perpetual Entertainment (developers of G&H and Star Trek Online(STO) ) has sold its assets to itself under another company structure that may also have new management. Information releases about STO's features are making no-one happy with what appears to be pretty standard MMO mechanics spun to sound like they are something new. Since cancellation postponement, G&H seems pretty unlikely to ever rise from the grave - it'd need a complete graphics overhaul (DX10 compatibility would probably be necessary for any MMO launching after mid-2008) and further money pumped into bug-fixing at the very least. Given that Perpetual only has eyes for STO right now, I can't see G&H ever being dusted off and prettied up for release (unless STO is a blockbuster success ... yeah, right).

The below was posted a day after G&H was put on 'indefinite hold', ever so slightly tweaked to make more sense in this context:

"Okay, after 24 hours in respect of the deceased, here are my impressions of G&H, which I make only because the game is dead. I agreed to an NDA during the beta testing of G&H, G&H is over, NDA is over - this is the way I see it. Should those in power disagree, I expect to see this post disappear or be edited.

SUMMARY FOR THOSE WITH ADHD: G&H was mediocre and wouldn't have been able to cut it in the MMO market of 2008.

It has been asked if G&H was really that bad that it deserved cancellation. Here's the thing: it wasn't that bad, but it wasn't that good either. It was absolutely mediocre; 50th percentile stuff. Sure, it had some nice features and ideas, but nothing outstanding. Execution (when the servers didn't crash) was passable, but 'fun' - the kinds of driving, OMG I want to play this game fun - didn't really live in G&H.

I was in beta for 3 - 4 months, iirc. I only started playing it properly about 2 weeks ago because before then the servers were up and down like <*insert your own Paris Hilton joke here*>. The month I joined in beta had a bug where one of the Soldier's powers - one of that classes normal, everday powers - would crash the entire server (iirc - it might have been two common Soldier powers used in unison). Either way, server goes up, server goes down, damned if I can be bothered to try to play off-peak times where the server might not get reset until the morning. A few weeks ago things appeared to be stable enough to actually run through the game.

Kudos where it it due: the character creation was nice. Not great, but the facial sliders meant your chracter could be facially pretty unique. Two tone colour for hair, a reasonable number of hair styles for male and female. The body model was fixed. Appearance was dictated by the armour / items worn.

Other nice stuff: the god system, where your character picked a god at creation and got some minor face time with that god as well as extra quests and abilities from them. Every class got to pick between 2 gods which were relatively dissimilar. The squad combat system needed work (because AI healers that never, ever heal you are something that might need fixing) and the control of them was limited, but it was a reasonable idea. Of course it meant that no-one ever teamed, because they had their own little army surrounding them and few enemies were hard enough to require more than one player... but it was a nice thought. Every class being a pet class meant that (in theory) devs weren't trying to adjust difficulty levels for both individual players and those who surrounded themselves with pets.

Attack animations were nice, with some enemies able to pick you up, throw you around. It made combat a little more interesting to watch. Actual combat mechanic was still 'run in, autoattack, spam your special abiliies', but the animations were alright.

I played the Gladiator class predominantly, which had the unique weapons of Fighting Gloves and ... Rope. The idea of becoming some sort of uber-rope master who could kill all he surveyed with rope amused me greatly.

The downsides: it was pure PvE where you completed missions / fought enemies to get XP. No PvP planned for launch. No crafting planned for launch. For all the 'it's not a fantasy game', it played a lot like a standard fantasy game - just switching out dragons for sphinxs and making players run around in togas instead of tunics doesn't change this. No imagination or evolution was really on display in G&H.

Prior to the large scale beta, a number of players were part of a longer term beta program that was more focused - this was a good idea. A pseudo-regular tester diary would come out that talked about what was going on and what features were in G&H - another good idea. However, on getting into beta, I found a number of these features cut or missing. The skills system took a massive hit just before I joined beta (that's fine, but devs have to be careful when trumpeting flexible skill advancement system if they are going to cut it and replace it with a more fixed 'tree' system). It was mentioned that every class got a unique starting area by the beta diary - with the characters I played, every one of them started on the same shipwrecked beach. I respect that MMOs change, but I also think leaving outdated information floating around smacks to me of misinformation.

Graphics had an odd plasticine quality to them. It looked odd, falling closer to realistic than cartoonish, but there were certain things I'd look at and would just think looked a bit off.

Maps weren't huge (and the ones I saw contained plenty of restricted areas, so were in reality even smaller) but you had to run everywhere. CoH/V has ruined me on that part of MMOs.

From comments made by the devs, G&H was either content complete at time of cancellation OR was very close to it. Many beta players were surprised by this, since the game still felt incomplete. You fought monsters, leveled up, repeat to max level. That's it. It was suggested that prior to launch the monsters would suddenly get much tougher (or, more likely: their XP per kill would drop) but that wasn't going to really add to the game and make it fun.

So, why was G&H dropped? Purely based on my own suppositions, I think G&H still needed a lot of bug fixing. SOE cut off a supply of money for that fixing process, leaving PE to develop the game themselves. I wouldn't think that Star Trek is a cheap IP to hold onto, and PE sees a lot more money coming from that project than from a Roman Mythology game. Sure, G&H was better than Vangard (according to players of both - I stayed away from that train wreck) but it was much more limited in scope. I doubt all but the hardest core G&H fans would have lasted more than 2 months playing this MMO.

G&H may have been exciting when the project was announced, but the MMO market has passed it by. SOE is likely to be that party to have given up on it (rather than PE walking away from SOE), forcing PE to make a decision to either spend a bit of money in order to get a meager income from it, or save that money and invest it all into STO. Although the hardest of decisions, G&H would have sunk very quickly if released, so canning the project now and maybe coming back to it later (which is unlikely) probably wasn't the dumbest of ideas.

On a side note: this just further confirms to me that you can't try to develop a game and build middleware at the same time. At least one project suffers as a result."

My prediction for STO at this point - it will never make full release (EDIT - from PE... I'm sure someone else will take a swing at it), for a number of reasons, and it's failure will mirror G&H in a number of eerily similar ways.

MMO 2007: A Year of Mediocrity

Posted by UnSub Thursday December 6 2007 at 2:49AM
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Some people may think that early December is a little soon for a recap of 2007, but I see it as a good time to look back. According to MMORPG.com's game list sorted by date, no major MMOs are due to be launched this month, with the latest launches occuring in early November so the games are on the shelves for Xmas. 2007 has seen all the MMOs that count already released and, quite frankly, it's been a hell of a mediocre year for the genre.

If you went back to late 2006, 2007 seemed to be a reasonable year for MMOs. Both Warhammer: Age of Reckoning (WAR) and Age of Conan (AoC) were due out for 2007 release. Tabula Rasa was a likely release that was meant to offer something new and exciting, as was Dungeon Runners and maybe Exteel. Vangard still had the potential to not be awful. Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) was meant to be a challenger for WoW. Meanwhile, existing titles such as World of Warcraft (WoW), City of Heroes / Villains (CoH/V), EVE Online and so on appeared to be in the position of picking up their game if they wanted to maintain market share.

At this point of 2007, the above paragraph appears naive. In no particular order -

  • Vangard: Saga of Heroes set the bar very low at launch in January, with a buggy game full of some nice ideas but conflicting execution. Pretty much everyone involved in Vangard agreed it needed more time under development, but arguably under Sigil's management at the time, the game could have been in development until Rapture and still not be ready. SOE bought out the IP for Vangard, only to continue to draw the ire of players for making changes to what had been established, no matter how badly planned or implemented.
  • Both WAR and AoC were pushed back into 2008 for release, with both games apparently needing a lot more time to be polished for release.
  • Tabula Rasa received mixed reviews, with its much vaulted innovative features not meeting player expectaitons. Lord General British took to outer space to avoid having to answer criticism, leaving the awesomely-named Starr Long to deal with the problems.
  • LOTRO launched to strong sales and lots of comments about it just being a reskinned WoW. Given that Turbine doesn't want to talk player numbers, preferring instead to talk about the 4 million unique characters that have been created, I can only think that the churn rate on LOTRO must be fairly high. Estimates in the same article that LOTRO has between 800k and 1m active paying players based on these character numbers seem wonderful excessive and simplistic. I'm sure that LOTRO is making Turbine money, but it certainly wasn't the WoW killer.
  • Dungeon Runners turned out to be a more basic Diablo with more humour. Hellgate: London turned out to be a prettier Diablo with a lot more bugs.
  • Fury's launch was a non-event.
  • Gods and Heroes went on 'indefinite hiatus' on the cusp of launching while its developer Perpetual sold itself to ... itself and kept working on Star Trek Online, the only game more likely to more people than Star Wars Galaxies (SWG).
  • Fallen Earth (along with every other MMO that is developed at the same time as its supposedly time saving middleware which other MMO devs are meant to license and rely on) went into another year of development with nothing but vague promises of things happening 'next year'.
  • Existing MMOs did pick themselves up a bit. WoW's Burning Crusade got a lot of players back so they could hit the new level cap and find all their equipment was outdated. EVE Online continued to be the MMO-of-choice for the increasing number of paranoid meglomaniacs (I kid! I kid!) who found it. CoH/V was sold by the developer (Cryptic) to the publisher (NCsoft) who promised to put more funds into it while releasing free new content. SWG continued to be the MMO that could have, but didn't.  

And so on. All in all, 2007 was a year that offered much in the way of the new but delivered little. Let's hope that 2008 sees a positive step in the MMO genre, with some new offerings appearing that help wash the taste of this year out of our collective mouths.